Note: Rick Lewis is no longer the chef here.
I got the text Tuesday: "we open tomorrow." I began to prepare myself, both mentally and physically. I burned some calories on the treadmill. I took acid reflux medicine. I put some tums and pepto tablets in the car. My body was ready for Southern's grand opening and their Nashville style hot chicken. If you're not familiar with this style of chicken, take a moment and watch this video of Husk chef Sean Brock sweat, cry, and breathe heavily as he visits the famous Prince's:
Southern is destined to become a St. Louis staple. Not only is Pappy's co-owner Mike Emerson one its proprietors, but it's physically connected to Pappy's, replacing whatever forgettable restaurant you vaguely remember being in the front. Emerson partnered with Rick Lewis, the James Beard nominated comfort food king, who brings with him an arsenal of home-style good eats.
There are detailed menus at the front and back of the line (and online), but the chalkboard gives the gist of it: you can get snacks, you can get sandwiches, or you can get chicken. I know the sandwiches will be good (I need that Cubano in my life), but I was there for chicken. Lewis worked under fried chicken sensei Josh Galliano, so I figured he had a few tricks up his sleeve.
When you order the chicken, you pick a sauce (or choose sauceless 'original'): mild, Cluckin' Hot, or General Tso's. Unlike your typical buffalo sauce, Nashville-style involves using spices and chili oil. We got the 4 piece wing platter tossed in the mild, then 4 a la carte legs - one per sauce. The platters are served with a piece of white bread to soak up all the good stuff, plus two sides. At the recommendation of my Sauce magazine friends, we picked mac & cheese and vinegar slaw.
At the last minute we decided to add on the fried green tomatoes, which, of course, was a good decision. They had crunch, they had tang, they had spice.
Remember that these were all taken on the restaurant's opening day (June 24) - I typically avoid writing anything about new restaurants as kinks are being worked out, but the food at Southern was really good. The slaw was fresh and had a bright vinegar kick; the mac & cheese had that addictive burnt cheese top flavor all throughout. The chicken though...
The chicken was spectacular. Juicy. Spicy. If I can't have Galliano's chicken anymore, this is a more than satisfactory replacement. The mild has just enough heat for you, and the General Tso's is surprisingly great. It tastes like the soy wings you'll find at Korean chicken places, like 4Fingers or Bonchon.
I was nervous biting into the Cluckin' Hot sauce, but it's surprisingly tame - no diaper required. My hope is that as they get into the swing of things, they'll add a dangerously hot option. I think calling it Colonblow would be fitting (SNL reference), but I'll also accept The Punisher, Liquid Fire, Nuclear Fallout, Szechuan Surprise, and Tiger's Blood.
I highly recommend that you order A la carte your first trip and try each sauce.
The queue at both Pappy's and Southern reminds me of The Walking Dead; hordes of people staring straight ahead, waiting for their opportunity to eat meat. And just like at Pappy's, the wait is worth it. Rick, Mike, and the rest of the Southern team nailed it on their first day. Just imagine how good it will be in 3 months.
As I waddled to my car after eating way more chicken than I planned, a term coined and defined by Anthony Bourdain came to mind: "Foodfucked: to be fed more food of a ridiculously high quality and deliciousness than deemed judicious by any reputable health authority whilst in no position to refuse."
Sounds about right.