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Southern Fried: Southerleigh Haute South succeeds with new, if caloric, spins on regional comfort food

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Southerleigh Haute South's maque chou-like warm bay shrimp cocktail starter is generous enough to be considered a main dish. - RON BECHTOL
  • Ron Bechtol
  • Southerleigh Haute South's maque chou-like warm bay shrimp cocktail starter is generous enough to be considered a main dish.
If county and state fairs have taught us anything over the years, it’s this: if they fry it, we will come.

San Antonio’s Southerleigh Haute South has taken this lesson very much to heart. Perhaps literally.

Sure, many of its menu items seem like they might impede the orderly flow of blood in the veins if consumed on a regular basis. However, there’s also this to contemplate: an occasional well-prepared indulgence can also warm the heart. Southerleigh knows how to do this, too.

The drawling design of this offshoot of Southerleigh’s original Pearl establishment has a kind of soft-South look — the sort of décor espoused by Southern Living and Magnolia Journal. Think washed brick, driftwood tones and polite gray-blues.

The aesthetic induces a state of calm that almost makes it OK when a server tells you that the fried, soft-shell blue crabs aren’t available, and rarely are, and when you also learn that the oysters for the po-boy hadn’t yet been delivered.

But when life denies you lemonade, have a lavender-inflected and gin-based Porch Swing, one of the restaurant’s six draft cocktails, and order cheddar-fried mac and cheese balls. The golf ball-sized bites are even better, I’m guessing, than the “famous” non-fried side they’re made from. They arrive five to an order, their crunchy coating cloaking a molten, cheesy interior flecked with pimento. The accompanying “comeback” sauce is a little thin for my taste, but the punchy, pink “tiger” option works just fine. This isn’t medical advice, but you may not want order these if you’re also contemplating the fried chicken, a signature item.

The maque chou-like warm bay shrimp cocktail starter, generous enough to be considered a main dish, is only marginally less artery occluding. But its bold flavors, heightened with thyme, butter and Crystal hot sauce, almost-crunchy corn and abundant shrimp add up to a guilty pleasure.

Fried chicken isn’t part of my personal culinary heritage, but if it were, I’d be happy to admit Southerleigh’s yard bird onto the table any time. Unlike those TV commercials that feature fried parts encumbered by lethally craggy coating, the quarter bird — I ordered dark — arrived discreetly dusted, judiciously fried and blessed with a moist interior. A single honey-fried biscuit, another signature item, shared the platter.

The hot sauce presumably meant for the chicken was fine, too, but almost better as an enhancer of the already well-seasoned “Southern-style” collard greens I selected as a side. Haute South’s take on the classic was contemporary — still bacon-y but forgoing “pot likker” for more texture.

It’s fine manners to eat fried chicken with one’s hands — even in polite society. However, there’s no way an over-stuffed po-boy — I subbed fried flounder for the absent oysters — can be consumed with any degree of grace. If dining in company, just shrug your shoulders apologetically and have at it.

Southerleigh’s roll is pillowy without being namby-pamby and the substantial pickles are just sour enough. If only the well-fried fish hadn’t disappointed in its underwhelming coating — a deficiency that the asked-for side of remoulade almost compensated for. Seasoned fries made a perfectly acceptable sidekick.

At Southerleigh, it’s hard to escape fried things, even at dessert. Enter its “famous” fried pies. Start by imagining a piping hot funnel cake in all its sugary, greasy glory. Then, transition to a folded and flaky pastry filled with — in my case — that quintessentially Southern fruit, the peach.

The combination is just haute enough to suggest pairing with a Southerleigh 75, the house’s riff on the French 75 with locally distilled Seersucker Gin and Champagne. The bubbles won’t neutralize the pie’s calories, but on a trip to Southerleigh Haute South, who’s watching those?

Southerleigh Haute South
5822 Worth Parkway, Unit 112 | (210) 236-8556 | southerleighhautesouth.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

Price point: $9.50-$36

Best bets: Warm bay shrimp cocktail, cheddar-fried mac and cheese, fried chicken, seasoned fries, Southern-style collard greens, fried pies

The skinny: The folks behind Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery and Brasserie Mon Chou Chou, both at the Pearl, have spun off a casual satellite, Southerleigh Haute South, located at The Rim. The focus here is on chicken (fried and rotisserie), oysters (fried and fresh) and other deep-South classics. Think collard greens with bacon, Galveston Bay shrimp boil and po-boys of several varieties. The fried chicken is deftly done, sides such as the balls of cheddar-fried mac and cheese and the warm bay shrimp cocktail with corn are new takes on old South cuisine that merit a try, and fried pies are just too damn good. Have it all with a crisp Front Porch cocktail with gin or a Southerleigh 75 with both gin and Champagne.

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