OPENING NIGHT AT SOUTHERN PROPER (SOWA, SOUTH END, BOSTON MA)
Spur of the moment, we decided to check out opening night at Southern Proper, featuring Chef Jason Cheek (ex-KO Prime, Toro, Coppa, Little Donkey, Sam's on the Waterfront, Merrill & Co, The Maiden) returning to his childhood roots in southern cooking.
Opening night was packed, and since the reservation book wasn't opening until night two, we got placed on a 1-hour waiting list after arriving at 6PM. No big deal, since we could wander next door to Gaslight and have a couple of cocktails while we were waiting (also giving us a $15 off validation for the parking lot next to Gaslight).
So far, media write-ups have suggested that Jason's menu represents so-called "low country" cuisine of the South Carolina coast, as well as up-country "Piedmont" cuisine. Which is interesting, considering he hails from North Carolina. While I'm no expert on southern cooking, the menu seemed more general than that (shrimp & grits, fried chicken, hushpuppies, a small variety of smoked meats) and didn't feature the greater seafood focus I was expecting for low country cuisine.
COCKTAIL: Pinochle, a draft cocktail of peanut-washed rye whiskey and Coca-Cola
~Apparently, Jason's grandma would soak Coca-Cola in peanuts, and this was certainly a very peanutty drink. Interesting, but I wouldn't it order again (and it needs a longer straw, which otherwise sinks into he Coke bottle and is useless)
DEVILED EGGS: Dill, paprika, vinegar powder ($5 for 4 halves)
~Quite serviceable, but nothing unusual
CHEESEBURGER: American cheese, pickles, cheese sauce, fried potatoes
~A messy, but tasty burger, particularly if you are into cheese, mayo and more cheese. I can't remember ever seeing a second slice of cheese melted on the outside TOP of a bun! Is that a thing??? The fried potatoes were good, but needed some hot sauce and the 2 provided house sauces lacked punch and were not that interesting.
FRIED CHICKEN: Hot ($18 for 4 pieces)
~Also available in a non-spicy version, I thought this was very good fried chicken, with a nice crispy, spiced crust and tender, slightly moist meat. Apparently it was brined in Lipton tea, although I can't say I could really tell, and pressure fried. I'm not sure if there is any attempt to reproduce Nashville-style hot chicken here, or if the spice blend is completely different, but I do have to say, it wasn't very spicy (although I'm a spice-nic, so YMMV). If you are familiar with the famous Hattie B's in Nashville, this would rank as the mild level or a bit more.
SIDES: Buttermilk biscuits, pimento mac & cheese, collard greens
~Good size sides. The biscuits (2) were delicious, crispy on the outside, airy and buttery on the inside. The greens were also good, with chunks of pork and a strongly smokey flavor I liked, although I would have preferred them a bit more al dente. I'm not a fan of mac & cheese, so I only ordered it to text a picture to my mac & cheese-iac friends Ron & Katie, but it seemed serviceable to me.
DESSERT: Chef's selection of fresh pies daily, it was a Smores pie tonight
~Tasty, covered in thick burnt meringue, although I was so stuffed I don't think I could really appreciate it
Service, although a bit slow at times, was generally good and enthusiastic, despite being a packed opening night.
The airy interior of SP is attractive and intriguing, with 16-seat bar, open kitchen, quirky antique lamps hanging from the ceiling, and very extensive use of pine wood that supposedly harkens back to a tobacco barn (so much so, that the aroma of pine trees pervaded the evening). I also thought the round, tri-tiered standing room tables (one tier for your coats and bags, one for food and another for drinks) looked like a cool way to casually hang out with friends after work. Overall, seating for about 100. Noise level was energetic, but not over the top when packed.
Street parking is not too bad in this area, depending on time of day, and there are two lots further up Harrison (although no validation by SP).
Overall, I think this is some of the best southern cooking I've had in the Boston area, and I will definitely return. However, I was a little disappointed that the menu seemed so generally Southern in nature and was not as focused as we had been led to believe.