The South Rises!

I love the Southern USA. In the west, the desert is gorgeous and the food has a spicy, Mexican inspired kick. But when people talk about Southern food, they’re talking about the South East — Louisiana, Mississipi, the Carolinas, Georgia, and on and on. Fried chicken, BBQ, gumbo, biscuits and gravy, catfish — all not that good for you, but all completely, utterly delicious.

Every year we do a monster road trip. We’ve done the South West, the US West coast, the South East and last year, along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Chicago. Maureen doesn’t know this, but I picked the last route just to cover some of the same Southern ground we ‘ve done on previous trips because I pine for Southern food.

When we heard that Chris Lord, formerly of the Whalesbone Oyster House and, most recently, of Wellington Gastropub opened his new restaurant, UNION 613, on Somerset St. and it specialized in Southern-inspired dishes, we had to check for ourselves. Its location on Somerset Street has suffered from high turnover in recent years having been at least four different eateries in recent memory. We certainly hope that the latest tenant breaks the pattern. We loved tonight’s visit. The menu made good on the promise of a refined  (but only slightly) take on southern classics, most of which were represented in some form or another. Fried greed tomatoes, pimento cheese, muffuletas, fried chicken, mac salad, grits, biscuits and gravy, fried catfish, ribs and cornbread all made appearances.

After sipping on sazeracs and splitting an appetizer of fried green tomatoes, that came with a bibb salad with a peppery ranch dressing and pimento cheese, Maureen had the fried chicken (what they called “yard bird”) with a side of chile-lemon green beans and cheddar-roasted garlic grits. I had a pork chop with a peach BBQ  sauce, with a shrimp-boil macaroni salad, and we split a small cast-iron pan of hot cornbread with bourbon brown butter.

The appetizer was delicious enough to make me forget my documenting duties, so no pics here. Maureen’s chicken was crisp and well-seasoned and juicy on the inside. It was served with a vinegary hot sauce that complimented it well. Her green beans were bright from the lemon with a little spice. They were very good, but we both found the lemon a little over-assertive.

As for the grits — we LOVE grits, and we’ve written many times here that Canadians don’t “get” grits, mostly because they don’t have the opportunity to eat really-well-prepared grits. Union 613’s grits were tasty, cheesy and comforting, but they weren’t really grits, which come from coarsely ground and boiled hominy, blended with other delicious complementary flavours. The restaurant decided to eschew this course and served whole hominy, cooked with cheese and roasted garlic. It was comforting, and cheesy, but folks looking to find out what is so special about grits won’t find out here either.

My pork chop was juicy, perfectly cooked and the chunky, peach BBQ sauce was an excellent addition. My macaroni salad, cooked and spiced with shrimp boil seasoning was absolutely killer. It was the hit of the table. The cornbread was soft, fresh, rich and luscious.

Our table sampled all three of the desserts offered on the menu (there were four of us) and all were inventive and unique.

Now I have to determine how long a waiting period I need to suffer through before I don’t seem too desperate to go back. Maybe a day? Two? Union 613 absolutely satisfied my jones for good Southern food. Having it here in Ottawa makes it even more special. There’s something to be said for eating fried catfish purchased from a roadside shack right on the bayou, but there’s also something to be said for a taste of the South a 5-minute drive from home.

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