Shockingly Southern

A Dakotas-turned-Southern hot spot shines

New South Kitchen and Bar
8140 Providence Rd.
The Arboretum



Chef Chris Edwards deconstructs chicken and dumplings.

Chef Chris Edwards deconstructs chicken and dumplings.

As a transplant from the hinterlands of the Northeast, otherwise known as Buffalo, Boston, and Philadelphia, there are things I cannot hope to understand about the South. NASCAR is one—for the life of me I can't figure out what is so dang compelling about driving around an oval for five hours—and Southern cuisine is another.

It's not that I don't have the capacity to understand it, it's just that it seems to be a sorority of sorts. One that you are born into. No Yankees allowed. I think about this as I peruse the menu at New South Kitchen and Bar, hoping Southern hospitality will prevail.

New South, formerly Dakotas, is a recently retooled restaurant in the Arboretum shopping center. Owners Chris and Sue Edwards decided to scotch the Dakotas concept because they “were tired of being a special occasion restaurant.” So they brightened up the place with a vibrant color palette, added a bunch of menu items, booked some bands, and opened last summer as New South Kitchen and Bar. Along with the bright yellows, oranges, and blues, they have also turned up the lights—now you're able to see in from the outside. The result is a more welcoming façade, complete with café tables out front. Their goal is to provide progressive Southern cooking in a more casual and upbeat establishment that diners will frequent more often. If the packed dining room on several visits is any indication, it appears that they have succeeded.

There is a palpable energy here. The bustling bar area in the center of the restaurant has been expanded to accommodate more guests and a live band. There is a well-chosen selection of handcrafted beer on tap and in bottles. The wine list is big and varied, with two dozen or so offerings from around the globe by the glass and many more by the bottle. Included are plenty of excellent wines below $40 (a Ramsey pinot noir is a steal at $33) and a surprising number of higher-dollar selections, if you like to spend more than $100 per bottle. My guess is that these are leftover from Dakotas, as the casual vibe here doesn't really dovetail with $150 bottles of Silver Oak.

The smiling and informed wait staff capably answer our questions about the menu, which is rife with Southern staples. For me, it is sort of a condensed lesson in Southern cooking. For years, my idea of a spicy Southern dish was Flo on the TV show Alice. (For a time I actually believed that grits were a part of her anatomy.) Thankfully, I have since been shown the light. And at New South, most of the time it works. Andouille sausage skewers ($6) are zippy with a housemade mustard sauce. For being out of season, fried green tomatoes ($5) are also good—crunchy and tart. Other small plates include Brunswick stew, house-smoked tasso ham, and a shockingly good foie gras served with polenta and a cider reduction and jalapeno cheddar muffins (a must have for $3). Disappointing, though, are the fried oysters, which I so desperately want to be great. They suffer from a heavy hand of salt and cayenne, which overpowers the delicate oyster, and a few precious seconds too long in the fryer, which spongifies the texture. Also a bit too ambitious is the smoked salmon cake. If you're going through the trouble of smoking your own salmon, why not just serve it as is? To ball it up with bread crumbs and fry it seems forced and unnecessary.

In the "big plate" section ($10-$18), there are some carry-over classics from the Dakotas menu, such as the meatloaf. A purported big seller, they say, but I taste nothing special here, and I'm not a fan of the cloyingly sweet “tomato demi” sauce served with it.

New South Kitchen has a warm and inviting feel that reflects its Southern menu.

New South Kitchen has a warm and inviting feel that reflects its Southern menu.

Chef Chris Edwards, however, has made some clever additions, which round out the menu, as it features wild game, beef, poultry, and seafood. Edwards is self taught, and his talent and passion show in such dishes as beefy braised short ribs and meltingly tender and deeply flavorful pork shoulder in a bacon-mustard reduction with peeled baby carrots. He also treats fish nicely with pan roasted flounder in a lemon tarragon sauce. Piquant and perfectly cooked. The mountain trout is a home run. A pan fried, delicately crisp outside yields tender pearls of trout cloaked in smoky bacon and a neat tomato brown butter sauce. It's among the best fish entrées that I've tasted in this town. Also very good is the classic Low Country shrimp and grits. Edwards adds a rootsy flourish with sausage and sautéed mushrooms, which provide an earthy bass note to the sharp white cheddar grits.

Sides ($5-$15, depending on how many you order) are copious and well chosen to accompany the solid lineup. Mac and cheese is gooey and decadent, although we found the choice of penne pasta in lieu of the traditional elbow to be odd. Golden beets are sweet and firm; crunchy green beans are perfectly sautéed in bacon fat. The best plan: order a few and share. Desserts are like the rest of the fare, Southern classics with a twist. Try the panna cotta with fresh berries or the beignet—the Franco/Southern version of the humble doughnut—sugar dusted, light, flaky, and delicious.

There are many bright spots at New South, and only a few dim ones, and the Edwardses have achieved their goal of making excellent Southern cuisine accessible to more people, more often. For me, the epiphany occurs the moment I taste the collard greens. They are a revelation. The wilted, bitter greens hold a slight crunch and swim in a cauldron of smoky bacon-infused liquid. They are stunningly good. But it is more than that. I feel as if I were going through some sort of Dixie transmogrification. Sweet jumpin' sassafras, what have I been missing? Bring on the chitlins! More okra! If this is the New South, I like the direction it's going, and I think I'll hang around a spell. See you at the track.

The Skinny

Small Plates
Shrimp and Grits
Sausage and sautéed mushrooms add
an earthy bass note to the sharp white
cheddar grits. $14.

Big Plates
Pork Shoulder
Meltingly tender and deeply flavorful pork shoulder in a bacon mustard reduction with peeled baby carrots. $13.

Mountain Trout
A pan-fried, delicately crisp outside
yields tender pearls of trout cloaked in smoky bacon and a neat tomato brown
butter sauce. $14.

Wilted, bitter greens hold a slight crunch and swim in a cauldron of smoky bacon-infused liquid. Close your eyes, and you can taste
the South. $5.

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