Here in Yankee country (no, not THOSE Yankees), bona fide Southern food is about as scarce as hen’s teeth, which is why it made sense to ask a bona fide Southerner where he gets his fried chicken-catfish-sweet tea fix (and his hen’s teeth). Will Horne, Thrillist Boston photographer and Alabama native, weighed in on local spots where he has found real-deal-just-like-home grub.
Local fave Blue Ribbon, the smoked meat mecca, goes slow and low for major Southern street cred (or is it dirt road cred?). For Will, they just get it. "They know their BBQ and they do fixin's (read: sides) right. Black-eyed corn and ham hock. Yup. Mashed and collards? Ok. Double kudos for no sauce on the meat -- you grab it on the way out and slather appropriately. Also, sweet tea is PERFECT here." Chow down on the ample Texas beef brisket platter with your choice of two fixin's (sides, remember?) and cornbread.
The Coast Cafe’s made-with-love family-style soul food (i.e. brain-melting fried chicken) is simply too legit to quit. Will asks, "Do people realize how spoiled they are to have a cooked-to-order, true-to-God, soul food fried chicken joint right in the heart of Cambridge?" Good question. Hopefully they do. "It takes 15 whole minutes from the second you call to the minute you’re chewing crispy, delicious chicken breasts -- but that’s why it’s called comfort food and not conference-call-cellphone-in-one-hand-and-burrito-in-the-other-hand food. Just relax. Eat some chicken." Bonus endorsement: this is one of only two places Will lets his Southern Momma and Southern Pops eat fried chicken in Boston.
Commonwealth is the other Hub restaurant with the Horne Family Fried Chicken Seal of Approval. Commonwealth fries their birds in duck fat for extra duck-fatty awesomeness. Mmmm... duck fat. Stop by the market on Wednesdays, and take home some fried chicken (with two daily sides) for a mere $18. Fear not, it’s also on the dining room dinner menu as a starter dressed with buttermilk slaw, black garlic, and house pickles.
From Carol Sue’s pimento cheese to pan-fried catfish, Tupelo is a little dollop of Mississippi right here in the Hub. Will says, "I dig this place, but since it’s in Cambridge you have to specifically request andouille sausage IN your red beans and rice, instead of the other way around. But I would order that every time." Add a side-car of collard greens and house-pickled veggies. Tupelo also pours some Southern craft brews, like Dixie Blackened Voodoo from NOLA, and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale from Lexington, KY.
If you haven’t made the not-so-arduous trek to Highland Kitchen, then you’re missing out. And you really, really don’t want that. Highland is all about seasonal American comfort food, such as spicy jambalaya with duck confit, or seafood gumbo -- and you should be, too. Will suggests the legit catfish po-boy with remoulade on French bread. "The 'missus and I always hit up some deviled eggs as well," he says. "No one does them better up here." Bonus: Highland Kitchen rocks a Sunday Country Brunch with live country and bluegrass music. There's smoked pork hash in your future.
Hungry (and thirsty) hordes flock to this Inman Square mainstay for their eclectic mix of stick-to-your-ribs fare and killer cocktails. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Trina’s fried chicken and waffles are crazy-good. They’ve been featured on TV so many times, they should have their own show. According to Will, "These fine folks have delicious, inexpensive grub, and the sports bar next door has never confiscated my cowbell. FACT." More facts: you can never have enough cowbell... or enough of Trina’s fried chicken and waffles.
Although Will contends that Sweet Cheeks has more Texas-style comfort food, one item in particular pleases his palate. "We’re here to talk about those motherfluffing biscuits, right? I’ve consumed a lot of biscuits in my life, but sweetbabyJesus these are the real deal. These butter-delivery systems are scientifically perfect." And they’re available by-the-bucket with house-made honey butter. Roll up your shirt sleeves on a tray of Berkshire pork ribs, and then Zamboni that sauce with a biscuit.
In addition to Will’s picks, here are some other Deep South depots worthy of your attention. If you need a po-boy (you do), Estelle’s Southern Cuisine has you covered. Hungry Mother offers chef’d-up versions of country classics, like fried green tomato parmesan. Need more delicious fried chicken?(Yes). Hit Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen for Bob’s Glorified Chicken. Immediately upon arrival at Loretta’s Last Call, order Pimento & Bacon Grilled Cheese Bites. The newly retooled Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar puts on a full Southern spread, but you really need some pie a la mode (banana cream, blueberry crumble) paired with buck-a-cup coffee. Redd’s In Rozzie keeps it real with hay-roasted house-made ham (with buttermilk mashed and cracklin’) and Oma’s Pecan Pie.
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1. Coast Cafe233 River St, Cambridge
2. Commonwealth11 Broad Canal Way, Cambridge
3. Tupelo1193 Cambridge St., Cambridge
4. Highland Kitchen150 Highland Ave, Somerville
5. Trina's Starlite Lounge3 Beacon St, Somerville
6. Sweet Cheeks1381 Boylston St, Boston
7. Estelle's782 Tremont St, Boston
8. Darryl's Corner Bar & Kitchen604 Columbus Ave, Boston
9. Loretta's Last Call1 Lansdowne St, Boston
10. Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar381 Summer St, Somerville
11. Redd's In Rozzie4257 Washington St, Roslindale
If you're craving soul food, make a beeline for Central Square's Coast Cafe, where authentic Southern-style fried chicken, slow-smoked BBQ ribs, and hearty sides like baked mac & cheese and fried plantains are yours for the gorging. The friendly team here serves only lunch and dinner, but the kitchen opens at 11am on Saturdays, making Coast and its chicken & waffles a solid brunch contender. Be prepared to take it with you, as there are only a few seats in this modest counter-serve spot.
Part market, part restaurant, Commonwealth is a huge, 500sqft space including a dining area, bar/lounge, a raw bar, and a 10-seat chef's table (plus the aforementioned market section) -- they are focused on utilizing the products of nearby farmers, fisherman, and other local providers.
From the owner of Petsi Pies, Tupelo purveys "comfort food with a Southern flair" offering incestually authentic Louisiana recipes in a redwood-walled 45 seat space with white tile floors and chocolate wood tables.
This Somerville spot is a casual comfort food haven with a solid list of beers, live bluegrass music, and a delicious menu that has everything from Buffalo Fried Brussels Sprouts to Banana Bread Pudding. Stop by for brunch and get yourself some Shrimp and Grits and a Patron XO and coffee.
The exterior of Trina's Starlite Lounge looks like your typical dive (could it be the Miller High Life sign?), but once inside, you'll discover a hip, retro-style diner and bar that's serving up killer takes on American classics like hot dogs, burgers, and chili, plus craft beer and seasonal cocktails. Come at night for the local brews, chili-cheese fries, and double-patty cheeseburger, and on weekend mornings for Bloody Marys and the Good Ol' Breakfast Sandy: a buttermilk biscuit with cheese, two eggs over easy, and your choice of bacon, sausage, or chipotle-tomato jam.
Launched by a former Top Chef contestant, Sweet Cheeks serves heaping trays of exceptional BBQ, including homemade biscuits that are Boston bucket list-worthy. On each tray, you get your choice of succulent meat (pork belly, pulled chicken, chopped brisket), a hot scoop (mac & cheese, collard greens), and a cold scoop (coleslaw, potato salad). It all makes for an extremely filling meal that will comfort your soul, but make sure to save room for a bucket of those flaky biscuits with house-made honey butter. The dining room tends to get noisy thanks to communal tables (they're made of repurposed church doors), so if that's an issue, opt for a spot on the covered beer garden out back.
Located in an old video store and named for the once-popular nearby neighborhood hotspot, Estelle's is an 80-seat celebration of the South from chefs Brian Poe (Tip Tap, Rattlesnake) and Eric Gburski (East Coast Grill) that pours one more than 99 beers (not on the wall, but at the bar) alongside burly sustenance from the area that didn't vote for Lincoln in the 1800s.
Found in the space formerly known as the Stork Club (... and Circles... and Bob's Southern Bistro), this friendly South End neighborhood bar/resto from the guys behind the original Bob's is slinging hearty grub like barbecued steak tips alongside a long list of house cocktails, like their Chicken Martini (Tito's with apple and orange liqueurs, a splash of lemon, and topped with Hennessy).
Loretta's Last Call is a rare treasure in Fenway, featuring live country/blue grass/roots honky tonk on Lansdowne St. Beer, bourbon, and whiskey will pair with fried chicken and other Southern fare to keep your good times going.
Located in Davis Square, Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar offers roadhouse regional comfort food from Chef/Partner John Delpha and Chef/Owner Joe Cassinelli, known for his nearby Davis Square faves Posto and The Painted Burro. There are traditional plates like fried green tomatoes and the fried chicken thigh platter, as well as distinctive must-try dishes like dry fried green beans (with smoked pork shoulder) and the "BBQ Baconator Meatloaf Fatty" (poblano-onion gravy).
The inaugural offering from a chef formerly at Coda & Harvest, RnR's a retro'd-out 80-seater slinging Southern-flair'd "great local Americana" in the sun-soaked, patio-abetted former Geoffrey's Cafe dressed with neon signage and walls painted "Hawaiian bronze", which Troy Polamalu could probably pick up in pretty much any event he wanted.