A post courtesy of local writer and Southern gentleman at heart, Cameron Sperance.
Every few months, I receive a package stuffed with jars of grits, vacuum-sealed bags of pecans, a brick of Mississippi State cheddar, and a note containing any new updates to my aunt’s pimiento cheese recipe. I’m a decade into my post-Memphis life up here in Boston, and my family still sees me as a Southern refugee without access to any of the finer delicacies of home. Luckily, my time here has shown that Boston kitchens aren’t just for churning out chowdah and lobster rolls. From biscuits in Fenway, burnt ends in Kendall, to Cajun catfish in Inman, I’m never devoid of some South for my mouth. Herewith, a few of my favorites:
• The Smoke Shop BBQ (1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, 617-577-7427): It’s unclear whether Tennesseans hold barbeque or Peyton Manning in higher esteem. Either way, we don’t mess around with our smoked meats, which is why I was a bit skeptical when friends said this new outpost by local celeb chef Andy Husbands was the be-all and end-all of local ‘cue. Three visits later, and I’m officially a convert. While it’s tempting to gorge on appetizers like the kitchen’s twist on the Deviled Egg or the hearty hot links and pimiento cheese, save a little room for the mains. Each visit resulted in a table debate over who had the best dish—I have argued on behalf of the burnt ends, brisket, and ribs, so it doesn’t appear as though one can go wrong here. Go all in and sample one of the sinful desserts (the butter cake proved highly popular) or a nightcap from the extensive whiskey list.
• Sweet Cheeks (1381 Boylston Street, Boston, 617-266-1300): She had me at bourbon and biscuits. Top Chef alum Tiffani Faison has the Midas touch to Fenway dining, and there’s no better example than her family-style Southern outpost. Arrive starving, as an order of barbeque pulled pork means a mile-high pile. Fret not, vegetarians! The sides at Sweet Cheeks are as much of a delectable draw as the meat. Fried green tomatoes, mac and cheese with a Ritz cracker crust, and those infamous buttermilk biscuits kept my veggies-only friend just as pleasantly stuffed as I when we rolled out after dinner.
• Holly Crab (1098 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, 617-487-5957): Southern isn’t always biscuits, brisket, and sweet tea. Allston’s Holly Crab has served Boston with build-your-own Creole cuisine, and locals are noticing: it won Boston magazine’s Best of Boston for Southern food this year. Choose a seafood and customize your boil with your preferred sauce and spice level. Simple, Southern, and scrumptious.
• Tupelo (1193 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, 617-868-0004): After my first visit to Tupelo in Inman Square, I called my grandmother in Mississippi and told her that, despite being north of the Mason-Dixon, I had just had the best catfish in my life. She replied, “Boy, that’s blasphemy,” and promptly hung up the phone. Call me a traitor, but I would hold the dishes at Tupelo in the same category as anything I’ve had back home. The fried oysters are the perfect kickoff to dinner, the shrimp and grits makes frequent appearances in my dreams, and, yes, the fried chicken is a religious experience. Be it brunch or dinner, the staff at Tupelo make every meal a Southern staple, so be sure to try them all, y’hear?
photo courtesy of The Smoke Shop BBQ.