There are few restaurants in Chicago where all things Southern are prepared with such reverence. At Table 52 in the Gold Coast, Southern dishes and ingredients are re-interpreted; take the fried green tomatoes.
"The tomato plants go right into the fall, and so you have all these green tomatoes and the fact was people didn't waste anything, so people would fry things," said Art Smith, Table 52
But first, they're dredged in flour, then dunked in buttermilk and finally, thoroughly coated in fine cornmeal laced with fresh herbs. Deep-fried for just a minute or so, they're stacked three-high, along with layers of smoked bacon, herbed goat cheese and greens and topped with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and surrounded by an olive tapenade and sun-dried tomatoes. It is clearly a long way from the dish's roots.
"There's something called show business, o.k. Show business and the restaurant business are very much kindred spirits. You'll go other places where they'll serve it with maybe a remoulade, or maybe they'll serve it by itself with a little salt on it," said Smith.
In Hyde Park, the dish is prepared and served in a much more humble manner at the Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop, which also has locations in Evanston and Lansing.
"It's an appetizer, a lot of people order just that a lot of people order it as an appetizer/starter... every 8 out of 10 people order the tomatoes," said Harry Wilson, Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop.
The thickly-cut tomatoes are first dredged in seasoned flour and then briefly dipped in water, before being thoroughly coated in cornmeal. They're fried for just a minute or two and to serve, they're plated along with some shredded lettuce and a handful of chopped scallions.
"It's a simple dish, but it's very tasty,' said Wilson.
On a side note, one of the other dishes that was just spectacular at Table 52 was the shrimp and grits -- a real low-country dish from the Carolinas. That will be the subject of another story down the road.
52 E. Elm St.
Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop
5225 S. Harper Ave. #A
825 Church St., Evanston
2352 E. 172nd St., Lansing