Three time's the charm.
After two foiled attempts to visit South Restaurant, it's not until my third attempt that we finally get a table. The difference? Trying to book on a Friday and Saturday night, a week prior. On a Tuesday evening, we ring up on the spur on the moment and get a table with no problem.
Once we arrive, it soon becomes apparent why getting a table can be difficult - the restaurant is tiny, seating less than thirty patrons. A huge mural spruiking Tabasco and oysters flanks one wall. The look is low-key cosy, with Bentwood chairs, red-and-white tablecloths and a view past the counter and dessert cabinet into the kitchen.
Billy checks out the menu
South Restaurant is all about Southern American cuisine, the rib-sticking hearty homecooked dishes I've always had a soft spot for, and not just because of its affinity for everything that is deep-fried. The menu is comprehensive, a journey through the southern states of the USA that includes Bucktown prawns, Maryland-style crab cake, muffaletta sandwiches, blackened fish, jamabalaya and a heart-stopping battered and deep-fried steak described as "country-fried".
House-made iced tea $4
It's a nice touch to see house-made drinks on the menu, and we find the iced tea sweet and refreshing. Housemade lemonade has a sherbetty tang and later, Simon is offered the option of the Arnold Palmer, an off-the-menu drink that is half lemonade, half iced-tea - personally I find it a little too wishywashy in flavour - neither strong in lemonade or tea.
House-made lemonade $4
Fried oysters $3 each
We start with fried oysters, Pacific oysters that are creamy and sweet in a light and crispy golden-fried beer batter. A accompanying remoulade sauce adds a creamy tang.
Hushpuppies Italienne $12
I've always had a fascination with hushpupppies, probably because for years I kept picturing people eating a bowl full of comfortable shoes. I'd first tried hushpuppies at Sweet Mother's Kitchen in Wellington, and feel compelled to try them here too.
Inside the hushpuppies
In fact the name hushpuppies allegedly came about because these fritters of cornmeal and flour were often used to keep barking dogs quiet, thrown to them with the accompanying plea to "hush, puppies".
Despite the cute name, I'm still not overly won over by hushpuppies, the fritter quite dense and mealy, even when dipped in the supplied Napoli sauce.
Fish tacos $4 each
On the other hand, fish tacos are a clear winner. The crunch of batter gives way to a tender ling fillet that is wrapped in a super soft fresh tortilla and rolled with crunchy cabbage shreds, a smear of gaucamole and a drizzle of tartare sauce. A wedge of lemon is squeezed over the lot for extra zing.
Half-an order of Hot Wings and a sampler portion of BBQ rib tips
Hot wings are not overly spicy and we enjoy the celery sticks in the blue cheese sauce. However it's the BBQ rib tips that stop all conversation.
"Oh my goddddddd," Billy moans as he takes his first bite. "This is sooooooo gooooood."
I remain sceptical until I take a bite and then ohhh..... I understand. The meat doesn't just fall off the bone. The bones disintegrate in the mouth as well. The pork ribs are slow-cooked to a melt-in-the-mouth consistency, then grilled and basted with a homemade bbq sauce that is sweet and spicy.
Housemade gumbo $13
Housemade gumbo is a satisfying stew made with chicken, okra and smoked Andeouille-style sausage.
Crawfish etouffe $32
Crawfish etouffe is a complex dish made with chunks of red claw yabby tails in a spicy gravy.
Pulled pork sandwich $16
Feel like a hamburger and fries? In the south, you're better off with a pulled pork sandwich, a spice-rubbed pork shoulder that is slow-cooked for hours and then shredded and simmered with a barbecue sauce.
The teased shreds of pork are tender and succulent, especially comforting when served with coleslaw, a giant pickle and a mound of crunchy shoestring fries.
Best pumpkin pie $11
Whilst Aussies tend to put pumpkin into scones, Americans love to incorporate into pumpkin pie, particularly a favourite for Thanksgiving. The pumpkin filling is light and fluffy with a warming spiciness from ginger and cinnamon.
Cherry cobbler $9
Billy's cherry cobbler is a refreshing contrast between the buttery sponge top and a muddle of sour cherries at the bottom.
Pecan pie $12
The surprise hit of the night is the pecan pie, a dessert I often avoid because of too many disastrous encounters with cloyingly sweet versions. This pecan pie is amazing - a generous layer of toasted pecans on top of a layer of filling that is sweet with molasses, brown sugar and a touch of bourbon. The shortcrust pastry tart shell snaps with a buttery crispness.
It's so good that Simon immediately orders another serving to take away. I'm now regretting I didn't do the same.
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222 Military Road (cnr Waters Road), Neutral Bay, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9908 5225
Dinner Monday to Sunday 6pm - 10pm
Lunch on Sundays 12pm - 4pm
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12/08/2009 02:17:00 a.m.