Down Home Dishes

Fried and true, Southern cooking is the star of these four restaurants


Every now and again, everyone needs a good dose of comfort food. Breaking the Manhattan mold of bagels and dollar-slices, these restaurants look to the South for inspiration instead. From fried chicken and greens to biscuits and grits, these spots offer some of the best Southern fare north of the Mason-Dixon.

Since opening in 2010, the exuberant celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster restaurant has been a main propeller of Harlem’s recent renaissance. As an ode to its surrounds, the restaurant draws its name from the neighborhood’s original Red Rooster, a legendary speakeasy that staged the American jazz greats of the 20th century. This Red Rooster is stage for Samuelsson’s most soulful culinary performance yet, with hearty brunch and all-day menus filled with nouveau renditions of chicken and waffles, wings, and spiced pork with apple mole and greens. Gravlax and meatballs with lingonberries are nods to Samuelsson’s Swedish roots; strong, ingredient-driven cocktails are nods to the thriving bar scene. While the restaurant’s initial three-week wait to get in has died down, a reservation is certainly recommended for this evergreen hot spot. (Lenox Ave. nr. 125th St.)

B.B. King Blues Club & Grill is all you’d expect for a Times Square supper club with a name as such—bright stage, star performers, and good American grub. In fact, the latter is so good that sometimes the popcorn shrimp and brisket sliders could easily be deemed as the show-stealers of any given night. The Memphis-style slow-smoked ribs fall off the bone, and what better topping for mac and cheese than a cornbread cheese crumble? Paired with a Blues Brew draught beer custom made for the club by Magic Hat Brewing Company and a live soundtrack from comfortable old-timers like Belinda Carlisle and Darkstar Orchestra, meals here are the best way to experience the blues. (42nd St. nr. Seventh Ave.)

In the cold weeks of early January, Williamsburg’s beloved Pies ‘n’ Thighs opened its first Manhattan outpost, warming up its Lower East Side surrounds with its buttery, fried, spare-no-indulgence home cooking (and easy-on-the-wallet prices). Its classic fried chicken, fried catfish, shrimp and grits, and bourbon pecan pie see this cozy, light-wooded diner space packed with Manhattanites coming to get their southern fix, though mornings are a quieter time to stop in for eggs and grits and fluffy biscuits smothered with gravy. Reasons to go here rather than the original? The sourdough doughnuts—exclusive to this side of the bridge—which have been rated as some of the best doughnuts in the city. (Canal St. nr. Ludlow St.)

In oh-so-hip Alphabet City, Root & Bone is a welcome anomaly, flush with comfortable charm—towel napkins, eclectic china plates, imperfect wood—and a familiar menu of mom’s specialties, albeit reimagined by executive chef Jeffrey McInnis into fare innovative enough to have landed the restaurant as a James Beard semifinalist. (Okay, it’s pretty hip here too.) “Roots” come as entrée-accomplice pickled roots, root chips, mashed roots, and salads including one of peaches and green tomatoes atop a pimento cheese croquette. “Bones” come as short-rib meatloaf, pork chop with beer-battered onion rings, and the restaurant’s signature Bucket of Bird: fried free-range chicken served with options such as a sweet tea brine and side of waffle with whiskey maple syrup. Don’t miss the Southern-themed cocktails, particularly the Pistol Punsch based with sugar moonshine. (3rd St. at Ave. B.)

(Photo Credit: Root & Bone)