Although the name begs to differ, SOUTH is situated along North Broad Street (you’ll find it next to a popular event space and another local favorite—Alla Spina), so it’s not a spot that gets a lot of foot traffic.
But at first entry—there’s an outdoor garden with a long wooden table sitting underneath twinkling lights just before the main entrance—it’s easy to see that it’s worth the (short) Uber drive from Center City.
The space is big, a welcoming characteristic that is hard to find as restaurants downtown seem to get smaller and smaller.
A chef’s counter and full bar sit on the outskirts of long, round and two-person tables. The décor has a natural feel, with plants hanging from the ceiling and whitewashed shiplap on the walls. The atmosphere instantly transports you to a Charleston farmhouse, only enhanced by the light jazz sounds reverberating from the Jazz Parlor, located behind the wall of the main dining area. But, maybe the most distinguishing trait is the wall of jars, filled to the brim with spices, pickles and sauces, all made in-house. They even have their own professional pickler on hand who comes in after closing to pickle each vegetable to perfection.
By doing this (does anyone else have a pickler on staff?), SOUTH takes the current farm to table food revolution up a notch, handcrafting everything that touches your lips—from the aforementioned spices to the cocktails. They age their own bourbon on site, too.
And while the décor is worth noting, it’s the food and drinks that bring the restaurant to life. Growing up in the south, I am probably more familiar with menu items like Wreck fish, shrimp and grits and gumbo than the average Philadelphian. So my expectations for southern cuisine were high.
We’ll start with the cocktails.
I was pleased to find juleps on the menu, but more so intrigued by the cocktails on draft, so I ordered the Sunday Afternoon Tea. Fused with Tito’s Vodka, agave nectar and spiced black tea and brewed for a week, it wasn’t until I quickly finished my first glass that I realized how delicious the cocktail was. My fiancé ordered one of the drinks on special for the evening, which, also on draft, was equally as tasty. We also got a chance to try the Georgia Peach Julep with Bulleit Bourbon, peach syrup and mint—in mini julep glasses, might I add—and SOUTH’s version of the old-fashioned, mixed with maple syrup.
The drink menu—while heavily brown-based—is an introductory nod to the precision that goes into each menu item. Adding a hint of maple syrup to an otherwise classic drink is just one of the small details SOUTH incorporates that makes a big difference. Those kind of details are also found in the food.
The starters are where the restaurant shines. A simple Caesar salad is anything but—mixed with fried green tomatoes, anchovies and smoked Gouda—and the blue crab ravigote topped with avocado is a refreshing interlude between courses. But it’s the crispy rock shrimp that would have me hopping in a cab during happy hour to order a few helpings with a glass of wine.
As for the main event, I went with the Florida Mahi special (being a Florida native, I couldn’t pass up the chance to try a Philadelphia take on the fish) and my fiancé went with the wood-grilled chicken. Not one to ever order chicken (he is a red meat guy through and through), when we were told that the skin and grilling process was heavily debated on, we knew we had to try it. And we're glad we did. A side of grits with three cheeses and smoked bacon (because, why not) completed the meal. That is, before dessert.
I’m a chocolate girl. Fruit, caramel, all those additions are usually things I steer away from when I order a sweet treat. But with the recommendation from the general manager that the Rhubarb Tart (another weekly special) was a nod to his grandmother, we ordered it anyway. A flaky crust and a unique fruit—rhubarb is a rare find on menus in the Northeast—alongside creamy vanilla ice cream was the literal icing on the cake.
After our meal, we sauntered over to the Jazz Parlor to catch the last ten minutes of a set. A full room (really, it was packed) with two-person booths facing the stage and larger booths in the back created a cozy feel. The jazz was soothing as people around us ate, drank and swayed to the loud tunes (there is no chatting in the parlor) that we could faintly hear from the dining room.
Overall, a jazz parlor and restaurant under one roof is a welcome addition to the Philadelphia food scene and the food, well, it gets two thumbs up from this southern girl.