In 2010, acclaimed Charleston chef Sean Brock, proclaimed “Southern food is the best food in the world.” The South, in his eyes, had risen again — and food was its new foundation.
Putting aside the fact that Southern cooking is hardly monolithic, other chefs, in other cities, have rallied to the born-again Rebel cause: Donald Link in New Orleans is one, self-proclaimed “Korean-Brooklyn kid” Ed Lee in Louisville (now Washington D.C.), is another … and perhaps underpinning the whole movement is The Southern Foodways Alliance, with its director John T. Edge, which “documents, studies and explores the diverse food cultures of the changing American South.”
Apostles in spirit, if not card-carrying members in fact, exist even in semi-Southern San Antonio. Chef couple John and Elise Russ gifted us Clementine (“seasonal Southern and American eats”) late last year, with a menu that tweaked Southern standards and introduced new classics such as heretical hush puppies. And now we have Meadow, bought to us by another culinary couple, San Antonio natives PJ and Lindsey Edwards, she formerly with the Jason Dady Restaurant Group, he most recently culinary director of Austin’s Contigo. “Seasonal, Texas, Southern” is their mantra.
There are references to Texas products on the menu — pecans, apples and beef among them, but plates seem to suggest more “I Suwanee” than “boy howdy.” Wood oven cornbread with jalapeño pimento cheese and honey lard butter both reinforced that impression and started us out with a bang. OK, the cornbread was a tad crumbly, but its smoky-savory flavor played beautifully against both irresistible honey-lard butter (you could slather this stuff on almost anything) and exemplary pimento cheese that had the sort of snakebite heart that is often masked by Southern politesse. ‘Nduja, a spiky/spreadable Calabrian sausage, enlivened the savory marmalade that gave a nestful of crusty creamed corn fritters a needed boost; they were good, but the pudding-like filling needed a little more textural push-back. Individually house-pickled green tomatoes, green beans and cucumbers, or their seasonal counterparts, are a must-order, no matter what else you’re having.
My first taste of chef Edwards’ food was at the recent Harvest Festival at Mission County Park — an event to keep in mind for next year. There, from behind a temporary counter, he served a heart- and belly-warming chicken and dumplings that was perfect for the occasion. (It’s not on the current restaurant menu, but should it appear, snap it up.) The new Meadow space, opened up and re-colored from its previous incarnation as Tre Enoteca, provides a far less casual setting for dishes such as grilled broccoli béarnaise with crispy shallot rings and Texas pecans. I’d appreciate this one more with broccoli a little less crunchy, but the constellation of flavors is simply yet subtly sophisticated.
If pecans give the broccoli a marginally Texas edge, the cabbage pancake topped with a fried egg and anointed with red cabbage syrup comes out of left field; its origins are Japanese. If you’re not trying for vegetarian, the optional, crisply rendered pork belly is a good idea; it provides texture that the pancake might envy, its center being a little mushy. But, again, great flavors.
Texture and degree of doneness were an issue with another dish, the handsome wood oven-roasted carrots with oyster mushrooms, mushroom duxelles with chopped pecans, and dollops of shishito jam. The crown of overdone carrots may have dominated visually, but the supporting-player mushrooms and zingy chili jam stole the show.
A charcoal-grilled ribeye holds pride of price at $32 on the menu’s “large” section. It’s supported by butternut squash and roasted peppers. But, inevitably, fried chicken. Edwards does a masterful job with the bird, all craggy and crusty and moist within. Its hot sauce and honey drizzle didn’t do much for me, but at least it wasn’t cloying — and it played well with the vinegary greens, cooked to just that perfect degree of Southern doneness. A chow chow made from the stems of the greens added crunch, though not much more. A burger distinguished by house mustard, mahi-mahi, and pork loin round out the large listings. The thoughtful wine list, most of which also comes by the glass, provided a brilliant sparkling rosé and a robust, Washington red to accompany all the above.
The dessert list is short and, well, sweet, consisting currently of lemon ice box Pavlova with “burnt” meringue and a chess pie. The burnt meringue didn’t scare me, but the pie seemed more on point. I think it would have been good if it had had time to warm up a bit. As it was, the crust was fine but flavors were muted. Cacao nibs provided a welcome accent, as did luxurious Luxardo cherries and a syrup with Amaro Montenegro.
Southern Foodways claims “Our work sets a welcome table where all may consider our history and our future in a spirit of respect and reconciliation.” If food, Southern or otherwise, can help to do that, bring more of this on.
555 W. Bitters Road, (210) 481-4214, meadowsanantonio.com
5-10pm Tue-Sat; 10am-2pm Sunday
Cornbread, corn fritters, seasonal pickles, fried chicken
Texas ingredients bolster recipes that respect their old-South origins while adding contemporary, and worldly touches such as shishito “jam” and ‘nduja sausage. Fried chicken may seem knee-jerk, but it’s a jerk that works. Vegetables loom large both grilled and wood-roasted. Have the house pickles.
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