You can take the chef out of the Carolinas, Georgia or the Florida panhandle. But when you move him to Chicago, you can't take those southern recipes away from him. And that's precisely what's been happening at three different restaurants each honoring southern tradition with great ingredients.
The South is rising all over the city. In Bucktown, of all places, The Chaise Lounge morphed into The Southern a few weeks ago and now Georgia native Cari Taylor gets to cook the food he grew up with: corn-infused johnnycakes, as thin as crepes, paired with chow chow - a pickled vegetable relish - along with smoky pulled pork.
"I don't really think it's any different than you seeing certain Latin American people starting you know, their own restaurants, or Italians, or Polish. It's what we're comfortable with and what we want to show what we love and where we're from," said Chef Cary Taylor.
Fried green tomatoes are another favorite and even though the space feels like a bar, if you give them 48 hours' notice, your party of six to 10 people can dig into a traditional feast of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, collards, black-eyed peas and homemade biscuits.
In Lincoln Park - another surprising location for good Southern food - Kith & Kin has Low Country riffs all over its menu, including their incomparable shrimp and grits.
"It's a dish that we wanted to bring up here because of just the simplicity of it. Traditionally it is cooked with a lot of pork products, we wanted to create something that was more pescatarian to appeal to more of the local area here," said Chef David Carrier.
Carrier uses smoked shrimp broth and Anson Mills grits for his dish, tossing in a few sturdy collard greens for color.
In the South Loop, Custom House Tavern has undergone a renovation of sorts, bringing in North Carolina native Aaron Deal to head the kitchen.
"We are still trying to hold on to that fine dinning, three-star experience in our dining room, but the influences of where I'm from are obviously coming into play with the grits and the she crab soup," said Chef Aaron Deal, of Custom House Tavern.
A rock crab garnish is set into the bowl first, then the silky-smooth bisque is poured over it. Deal also uses mustard oil and homemade pickle relish in his deviled eggs, sprinkling them with Syrian Aleppo pepper instead of paprika. His take on chicken 'n dumplings is also unique - he makes his own gnocchi, and garnishes the roasted thigh with Spring pea shoots.
"I'd say it's a little more fusion, obviously. We're aware of where we are and we kind of want to continue to mantain our clientele and the people who enjoy what we do already," said Deal.
1840 W. North Avenue
Custom House Tavern
500 S. Dearborn
Kith and Kin
1119 W. Webster Ave.
5347 N. Clark St.
1001 W. Washington
3300 N. Lincoln Ave.
6611 W. Roosevelt Rd.