Let me make a bold claim – Southern Cuisine might be the only authentic cuisine in the United States. Yes, New England got lobster and clam chowder, Maryland got blue crab and crab cakes, but it hardly constitutes a “cuisine”. Even barbeque is more of a cult or a culture if you will, but more often than not, the word “barbeque” would simply associate with the specific method of cooking rather than a cuisine in general.
Say “Southern cuisine”, and immediately the words and images for “shrimp and grits”, “chicken and waffles”, or ‘fried green tomatoes” pop in one’s head. Same as Thai, Japanese, or Mexican, Southern cuisine is something we can easily identify with.
While the Southern cuisine is, of course, better experienced in the South, over the last few years we were lucky here on the East Coast of the USA with a number of restaurants representing the cuisine very well. Today I want to offer you a perfect example – Peaches Restaurant in Norwalk, Connecticut, officially known as Peaches Southern Pub & Juke Joint. Peaches is the newest endeavor of the serial entrepreneur Greer Frederick, who is deeply involved in Connecticut restaurant scene for many years.
I love the rustic decor at Peaches, very homey and calming, but very modern at the same time:
Of course the restaurant visit started at the bar. Spicy Okratini (Oola Aloo Vodka, dirty okra juice, pickled okra) had a nice bite and literally no sweetness, which I really appreciate. Bee’s Knees (Bar Hill gin, fresh lemon, Mad Hatter honey) was made with an artisan Mad Hatter honey, which we also had an opportunity to taste. Again, despite the honey base, the cocktal was perfectly balanced with right amount of acidity and sweetness. Peaches’ Old Fashion (Rittenhouse Rye, Damerara sugar, Angostura bitters, Fee Brothers Peach bitters), was very tasty, but also a bit too generous with alcohol.
Once we got to our tables, the little bowl with various pickles was the very first plate arriving in front of us – not overly sour, quite tasty. Then our first appetizer showed up – Devilled Eggs (beet brined eggs, braised bacon, pickled okra). Definitely a very creative dish, an unexpected color of the eggs, nice touch with the bacon crumble on top, creamy. Devilled eggs are very popular in Russian cuisine, so I’m more accustomed to a different style, but this was still a tasty dish.
The Chopped Kale (charred corn, pickled beets, green goddess dressing, cotija cheese) was one of the best kale salads I ever had. Additional of charred corn worked very well, and creamy dressing was outstanding, very flavorful. The Fried Green Tomatoes (tomato jam, country ham, buttermilk ranch), a timeless Southern classic was excellent as well – great interplay of textures, and I would eat that tomato jam by the bowlful. Our last appetizer, the Country Fair Bacon (funnel cake batter, braised bacon, black pepper maple) was good, but maybe a bit too simple to my taste.
We started our entree round with another Southern classic – Shrimp and Grits (andouille, smoked shrimp broth, pickled okra, heirloom grits) – the grits were creamy and super-flavorful, one of the best ever, and the shrimp had a perfect amount of spice and cooked very well – that was one delicious experience. The Pork Shank (black eyed peas cassoulet, pickled veg, onion jam) was a standout. It was a huge hulk of meat on the bone, marinated for 36 hours and cooked at 275F for 3.5 hours – I can’t even describe how comforting this dish was. The meat was falling apart, and all you needed to do was just to savor ever little bite. Outstanding.
And then there was Bucket O’ Chicken (pickle-brined fried chicken + Nashville style cornbread, coleslaw, collard greens, mac ‘n’ cheese). Do you like properly made Southern style fried chicken? Then get away from the screen and head over to the Peaches right now – that dish was a quintessential Art of Southern Cuisine right on the table. We had both regular and Nashville Hot style – in both cases chicken is brined before cooking, but the Nashville Hot style has the addition of a hot sauce (smoked paprika, brown sugar, cayenne, oil) brushed on after the chicken is fried. It was also served with lots of different side dishes – cole slaw, collard greens, mac ‘n’ cheese and delicious corn bread – every bite of chicken was tender and bristling with flavor. It was also served with apple cider vinegar on a side, which, as Greer explained, is considered a Ketchup of the South. Great experience all in all.
Peaches is not called the “Pub and Juke Joint” for nothing. The restaurant has a second floor with another bar, perfectly suitable for dancing or as an event space, as well as an outdoor patio – definitely the space with a lot of potential.
We finished this outstanding meal in style with Old Fashioned Southern Peach Cobbler (brown sugar peaches, vanilla ice cream) – delicious dessert, candied pecans packed a lot of flavor.
I hope that the pictures and my notes explain my point about the Art of Southern Cuisine – this was truly a soulful cooking, and we experienced the tasty food with unmistakable personality – like the familiar face we are always happy to see in the crowd, the Southern Cuisine is something we can now spot anywhere we go.
Hope I didn’t make you too hungry. And if I did – oh well, I’m not going to apologise. Cheers!
Peaches Southern Pub & Juke Joint
7 Wall St
Norwalk, CT 06850
Phone number (203) 831-0399
Looking for the Southern hospitality, great food, great cocktails and a great time? Shhhh… I got a place for you. Read on, but…may be you should eat something first, as there will be pictures. An aspiring food porn pictures. Yes, consider yourself warned.
And the Connecticut bloggers got together again! This time we visited a restaurant in Norwalk, Connecticut, called Mama’s Boy. The restaurant defines itself as “southern table and refuge”. On outside, the restaurant is located on the first floor of the ultra-modern glass-and-metal building. Inside, it is rustic, simple and inviting. You know you will be comfortable from the moment you walk through the door and set your foot on the dark wooden floor.
The first thing not to miss in Mama’s Boy is the bar. The bar is well stocked, showing the top shelf full of great southern favorites – bourbons and whiskeys. When you get the cocktail from the list, you know exactly what you are getting – it will not be just some vodka of questionable pedigree – depending on the cocktail you know that you are getting Ciroc, or Three Olives, or Fire Fly.
We had a few cocktails to start. The Dirty South (Homemade Sweet Tea, Fire Fly Vodka, Lemon) was outstanding and super dangerous – you have a full impression of drinking just a nicely sweetened iced tea with the slice of lemon, delicious and refreshing. You think you can have many of those. Until you realize that you talk slower. And need more time to move around.
Then I had the Blood Orange Jalapeno Margarita (Chinaco Blanco, Blood orange puree, Jalapeno). First of all, I was very impressed with the fact that they actually used Chinaco – this is very rare and one of the absolutely best tequilas you can find. And the taste was purely spectacular – a perfect balance of spicy and refreshing, with just enough sweetness. This was definitely my best cocktail I ever had. Until Chris, the maestro behind the bar counter, offered something which was not even on the menu – gin-based, barrel aged cocktail which didn’t have the official name, so it was called The Drink.
The Drink was based on gin, but then there were cucumbers of a different kind, as well as many other ingredients – it was a pleasure watching Chris really engaged in the process of creation of this masterpiece, tasting, adding, tasting again – until he reached the point of perfection. Once I tasted it, I realized that while previous cocktail was spectacular, The Drink was simply amazing – it got my “best ever” title, with the refreshing and uplifting combination of all the ingredients.
And then, there was food. The bread was presented in the form of a basket of warm cornbread muffins, accompanied by butter and a tangy “jelly”. The first dish which already was on the table was Redneck Edamame (Georgia peanuts boiled in house spice blend) – believe it or not, but these peanuts had practically complete textural identity with edamame! Definitely this was a very interesting dish to start with.
Next up – Deviled Eggs (house-smoked Tasso, okra pickles). I’m very particular about devilled eggs, as this was one of the dishes I grew up with, and we make it quite often at home. The Mama’s Boy devilled eggs were outright delicious, very generous, with bacony goodness of Tasso perfectly coming through in the creamy filling.
Fried Chicken Skins (pickled beets, jalapeno-garlic honey) were perfectly resembling fired calamari – I actual think it should be renamed on the menu into Redneck Calamari – but then they already have one Redneck dish listed : ) Light, crunchy, delicious – if you don’t read the name “chicken skin”, you would never guess what this dish was made out of. The sauce was delicious, tangy with a spicy twist.
Charleston Crab Cake (creamed corn, house smoked bacon, red pepper, green onion) came up next. As we tasted it, Valerie, who was sitting next to me, commented that she spent many years in Maryland, and she knows real crab cakes – and this one was probably one of the best she ever had (I fully concur). Big lumps of crab meat, perfectly seasoned, nice creamy corn goodness surrounding it – that was one delicious crabcake.
Once we were done with the crab cake, we were given small bowls, and then the big pot showed up in a middle of every table – Low-country Bouillabaisse (Grouper, white shrimp, mussels, house-smoked andouille, baby corn, potato, shrimp broth). I’m big fun of bouillabaisse dishes – if there is one on the menu, there is a high probability that it would be my choice. I know I’m abusing the word “perfect” throughout this post – but it is very difficult to fully represent the food and try to stay within the precise culinary terms – so let me continue abusing “perfect” and “delicious”, as there is not much else I have to say. This dish was Delicious! Touch of heat from andouille sausage, sweetness of mussels and baby corn, all perfectly wrapped around together. I’m glad we had bread, as it would be a crime to waste a single drop of that broth…
So at this point I was practically full (okay, not yet) – but I didn’t expect anything to topple our experience so far. And then the BLT Salad (fried green tomato, candied bacon, artisan lettuce, buttermilk-herb dressing) arrived… What can be so special about BLT, right? Well, everything, if B stands for lightly candied bacon, L stands for super-fresh and crunchy lettuce, and T stands for fried green tomatoes – every bite was ahh so good!
Tired of the food pictures – here is the a little break for you – the back of the shirt of one of the waiters, and then Greer Fredericks, one of the owners of the Mama’s Boy, talking to Bonnie from The Home Place and her husband:
Next up – Shrimp and Grits (white shrimp, Fall’s Mill grits, house-smoked Tasso, spring onion, pimento cream gravy) – yes, I had no doubts that we will experience a southern favorite such as Shrimp and Grits. Beautifully presented, very delicious – creamy grits, perfectly cooked shrimp, nice complement of smoky bacon – all in all, an excellent ( and very filling) dish.
Next The Little Yardbird (marinated country fried game hen, corn bread waffle, braised collard greens, Brookside Farms maple syrup, habanero jelly) arrived – the cornbread waffle was perfectly supportive of the maple syrup, and the whole dish perfectly worked together, as you would expect of “chicken and waffles”.
Last but not least was Crispy Pork Shank (Sea Island red pea maque choux, herb infused braising liquid) – the peas and the borth were immaculate, and the shank was incredibly crispy and succulent at the same time. This was the only moment when people at the table regret having each other’s company – this shank required quiet, intimate one on one time with two hands on the bone…
We finished our southern food extravaganza with Trio of “Home Made” Cakes – that included Red Velvet Cake, Spice Cake and Carrot Cake. While I think consensus favorite was the spice cake, my personal winner was the carrot cake – I’m a carrot cake junkie, and I love when it is balanced in flavor so cinnamon and cloves and overall sugar are all together – so this cake was exactly like that.
You know how it is easy to understand that you just visited a great restaurant? If the next day you crave the food you had the day before, that is clearly the sign of greatness. While the group was torn between Bouillabaisse and BLT, we were all chatting next day how great it would be to experience that wonderful food again – this constitutes glowing endorsement in my book. All left to say here is thank you – Thank you, Chef Scott Ostrander, for the wonderful meal. We will be back…
Disclaimer: I attended the dinner as a guest of management. All opinions are my own.
19 North Water Street
South Norwalk, CT 06854