Southern Comfort

Taylor Mathis
Dori Sanders, who created this Blackberries and Dumplings recipe, helps run her family's farm stand in York.

Charlotte may be the new, modern South, but that doesn’t mean our city — and its surrounding small towns — don’t have plenty to offer when it comes to old-fashioned Southern fare. From fried frog legs for adventurous eaters to peach pie for those looking for a sweet fix, we found twenty-one local dishes that offer a real taste of the South. And because the most satisfying Southern food is served by someone who calls you honey and whose grandma runs the place, we’ve included five country kitchens where every meal offers a taste of local culture

Deep-fried Chicken Livers
Price’s Chicken Coop
Never has anything so greasy tasted so good. You could order them as an entrée with coleslaw, tater rounds, hush puppies, and a roll, but why dilute the sheer indulgent delight of ordering a single side dish ($3.75) of these deep amber-colored livers? 1614 Camden Rd., 704-333-9866, priceschickencoop.com

Carolina Burger
Brick House Tavern
Tavern owner Nick Lyssikatos moved to Davidson from New Jersey and quickly picked up on how Carolinians "have a thing about coleslaw" on their burgers. Lyssikatos makes his slaw at his eatery, housed in a 120-year-old former cotton mill, with light mayo, vinegar, julienne cabbage, and a dollop of Caesar dressing ("to give it just a hint of a kick"). It’s served on a char-grilled certified Black Angus burger with grilled onions and a spoonful of chili made with the restaurant’s own Brick House light beer. "You don’t need any ketchup on this burger," says Lyssikatos. 209 Delburg St., Davidson, 704-987-2022, brickhousetavern.com

BBQ Fried Chicken
The Bar-B-Q-King
Is it any wonder that this was the first Charlotte eatery chosen by Guy Fieri to be featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives? Co-owner Gus Karapanos says he’d never heard of Fieri when the show’s producer called in 2008. "It’s just the way we do our barbecue chicken: fry it, dip it, and serve it. We didn’t do anything different for TV." Karapanos coats the chicken breast in self-rising flour and then sinks it into a wet mix of milk, water, spices, and cracker meal. It’s then deep-fried before he "drowns it" in a warm homemade BBQ sauce of vinegar, ketchup, and spices and serves it up on a bun. Tip: ask for extra napkins. 2900 Wilkinson Blvd., 704-399-8344

Brunswick Stew
Hickory House
Co-owner Kevin Carter says this homemade stew hails from Georgia, not Virginia, and they make it with ground pork and beef, pepper and salt, sugar, chopped whole tomatoes, and corn. "We boil the heck out of it for about two hours," Carter says. "And if you eat a barbecue sandwich and a bowl of our stew, you won’t be hungry for a couple of hours." 6538 N. Tryon St., 704-596-8014

Salt & Pepper Catfish
The Palmetto Bar and Grill
This may be the only Southern dish that Charlotte can claim as its own. An itinerant fry cook created this dish after World War II at a small fish camp on the Catawba River. Donnie Lyles at The Palmetto has given it new life in recent years, turning it from mere Carolina Fish Camp fare to an epicure’s delicacy. He fries baby (smaller than eight inches), bone-in, skinned catfish that have a coating seasoned with ground black pepper and little or no salt. For a basketful of seafood, get a half order of the catfish and a half order of frog legs, oysters, flounder, or shrimp. It’s less than 12 bucks and so large it’s hard to eat in one seating. Lyles doesn’t use heat lamps, and customers’ only complaint is that the fried seafood is served so hot you have to drink half a glass of the sweet tea while you wait for it to cool off. 2910 Highway 161 (halfway between Kings Mountain and York), 803-684-6737

House-made Pimento Cheese
Harvest Moon Grille
This uptown restaurant in the Dunhill Hotel serves some of the finest locally raised meats in Charlotte, including its own Grateful Growers artisanal pork, but it sets off our Southern Food Radar with its pimento cheese flavored with Uncle Scott’s Root Beer from Mooresville. 235 N. Tryon St., 704-342-1193, harvestmoongrillecharlotte.com

Fried Pies
The Bradford Store
Walking into this refurbished, ninety-nine-year-old general store feels like stepping back in time. You’ll find locally produced goat cheese, milk fresh from the dairy, and piles of produce. But don’t leave the store without one of the fried pies. Dig in to these crispy sweet versions of apple, blueberry, blackberry, and even sweet potato desserts. 15915 Davidson-Concord Rd., Huntersville, 704-439-4303, thebradfordstore.com

Cherry Lemon Sundrop
What-A-Burger
The What-A-Burger in Mooresville is the local king of the South’s sweet soda concoction elixirs. For $1.67 you can get a large Cherry Lemon Sundrop, which is a slice of lemon, cherry syrup, and Sundrop on the rocks. Or for the truly adventurous, there’s the Witch Doctor, which is a surprisingly refreshing mix of Sundrop, cherry, Sprite, Coke, and a slice of lemon with -and we’re not making this up -three slices of dill pickle. 210 S. Main St., Mooresville. 704-664-5455

Pan-fried Chicken
The King’s Kitchen
Some believe that two of the secrets to true Southern fried chicken are brining and pan frying in an iron skillet. The folks at this restaurant/urban ministry are true believers in all of the above. They call it "Aunt Beaut’s Pan-Fried Chicken," and yes there was a real Aunt Beaut and she cooked it just this way. 129 W. Trade St., 704-375-1990, kingskitchen.org

Chicken and Dumplings
Dish
This is an old-school prep of a classic Southern dish made from scratch: boil the chicken, hand stir the roux, roll out the flour, let it rise, and cook it up in a pot. For the final Southern touches, add a handmade biscuit and deviled eggs to your order for $7.95. 1220 Thomas Ave., 704-344-0343, eatatdish.com

Fresh-ground, Piedmont-style Livermush
It goes by scrapple in Pennsylvania and liver pudding in the South Carolina Lowcountry, but here in the Piedmont, it’s just plain ol’ livermush. It’s a morning staple in many Carolina homes, and if you haven’t had a sandwich with an egg and freshly made fried mush on home-baked bread, you’re missing an authentic bite of regional Americana. Fitzhugh McMurry of McMurry Farms in Fallston, about an hour west of Charlotte, makes freshly ground livermush, never frozen. "It’s something we do here in this part of the Carolinas," says Fitzhugh, seventyone. "And I’m making it the same way my mother did over a half century ago." He uses lean backbone and pork shoulders, corn meal, sausage seasoning, pork liver, sage, and a little salt. How does the mush grand master like his? "In an iron skillet, with a little oil or bacon fat, cut a little wider than a quarter inch, and fried crunchy on the outside and mushy in the middle." McMurry Store and Farms in Fallston, on Highway 18 at the only stoplight in town, 704-538-0225

Fried Green Tomatoes
The Cajun Queen
Coated in cornmeal and deep fried, these fresh, crispy tomatoes ($7.95) at Charlotte’s granddaddy of Cajun cuisine are served hot and drizzled in a creamy, tomato rémoulade. 1800 E. Seventh St., 704-377-9017, cajunqueen.net

Tabasco Fried Pickles
Mac’s Speed Shop
Mac’s executive chef Kevin Kuruc soaks dill pickles in a bath of pickle juice and Tabasco for up to eight hours. The pickles are then coated in buttermilk and seasoned flour and cornmeal before being deep fried. The hot and tangy medallions are served alongside a cool and creamy ranch dipping sauce. "Our plan here is try to take traditional Southern dishes and kick them up with a uniquely Carolinas spin," says Kuruc. 2511 South Blvd., 704-522-6227, macspeedshop.com

Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding
Savannah Red
From the restaurant that the James Beard Foundation said in 2009 was turning out the "boldest food in Charlotte" comes a classic bread pudding made with North Carolina’s own sweet glaze wunderkind, Krispy Kreme. But the decadence doesn’t stop there. This bread pudding is cooked in a caramel Maker’s Mark sauce and topped with crème anglaise. Good luck resisting licking the plate. 100 W. Trade St., Marriott City Center, 704-333-9000

Homemade Frozen Fresh Fruit Lollies
Several years ago food entrepreneur Leigh Brinkley’s grandmother passed away at age 102, but her nickname, "Lollie," lives on in Brinkley’s food creation — a frozen fruit pop on a stick. Brinkley uses sustainable food principles -such as using local, seasonal strawberries, peaches, blackberries, blueberries, and apples, and local supplements like buttermilk and cream. "I want to make Lollies with what my grandmother would have cooked with — the fruits right here in the Carolinas," says Brinkley. Lollies can be purchased at Common Market South End, 1515 S. Tryon St., 704-332-7783, commonmarketisgood.com

Banana Pudding
Spoon’s Barbecue
Some say it’s a scientific fact that banana pudding is the dessert that pairs best with barbecue. Because, as a food nutritionist once explained to us, it’s sweet, cool, and creamy and balances out the tart and spicy meat. We just know that nothing hits the spot after eating a plate of ‘cue like a bowl full of Bill Spoon’s thick and chunky ‘nana pudding. 5524 South Blvd., 704-525-8865, spoonsbarbecue.com

A Soul Roll
Mert’s Heart and Soul
Co-owner James Bazelle says he generally stays away from fusion food, but couldn’t resist with the "soul roll." This sumptuous dish is an egg roll wrap pulled around chopped collard greens, black-eyed peas, minced chicken, and rice. The roll is then deep fried to a golden brown and served alongside a spicy honey mustard dip. "I think that is how good recipes develop," says Bazelle. "Taking the best of one culture and adding it to the cuisine of another culture." 214 N. College St., 704-342-4222, mertscharlotte.com

Categories: Feature, Food + Drink, Restaurants & Food