Our beef-boiling Yankee town has come a long way with its southern cuisine. But North Carolina native Jason Cheek goes beyond the conventional canon, rattling off the sort of nuanced, modern riffs they’re rocking right this second in Charleston and Atlanta. Think: whole grilled trout nestled in stewed fregula. Short-rib meatloaf dolled up with bone marrow and bracing piperade. And a tea-brined, thyme-scented fried chicken—craggy and orange-rust in color—we can’t stop clucking about.
Regulars at Southern Proper know that the cocktail menu changes every few weeks. “I get so bored,” jokes beverage director Katie Gilroy. “After I make the same cocktail 100 times, I’m like, ‘It’s time.’ ” As the fried chicken joint’s one-year anniversary rolls around, the bar team’s playing some of the greatest hits—including this delicate tequila drink, featuring a herbaceous anise-honey liqueur that will even have black licorice haters getting on board.
“This is the best pimento cheese I’ve ever had,” declares a Georgia native, swiping a popover through a smear of zingy orange paste. In an improbable farmhouse-style room in the South End, festooned with antique lamps and vibrating with classic rock, chef Jason Cheek (Coppa, Toro) pays homage to his North Carolina childhood. His food makes even hardened Northerners swoon: smoky shrimp and grits, airy little biscuits rich with buttermilk, and greaseless heaps of tangy fried chicken, all enlivened by stiff rye cocktails and a happy staff.
The thrill here is not just that Southern cuisine has finally come to the South End, but that the food is so outstanding. Chef and owner Jason Cheek, nostalgic for his North Carolina upbringing, has concocted a tranquilizing menu of decadent shared table eats. The crunchy, juicy fried chicken is a no-brainer -- when you walk in, it seems every table already has a plate of it -- as are the baby back ribs, best accompanied by the extra-rich mac & cheese.
Opening his own place after years as a mercenary chef, North Carolina native Jason Cheek brings Southern cooking to a South End setting reminiscent of the tobacco barns of his youth. In addition to a strong cocktail and beer program, Southern Proper proffers an array of elevated picnic foods like deviled eggs and pork rinds as well as quality slow-smoked barbecue. But the jewel here is Cheek’s spectacular, juicy fried chicken, with its medium-thick, crisp batter and mild or hot seasoning.
When chef Jason Cheek opened Southern Proper this year, he sought to bring a taste of his native North Carolina to Boston. Step inside the South End restaurant, and you’ll see he’s done just that: The eatery takes design cues from Cheek’s grandmother’s living room, serving up comfort food on mismatched plates. The kitchen, meanwhile, cranks out platters of tender fried chicken, not to mention flaky popovers and out-of-this-world homemade pickles.
You can tell a lot about a neighborhood by its newer restaurants. When a Seaport tower goes up, its first floor gets some national chain outlet that’s soullessly indistinguishable from hundreds of convention-center-adjacent restaurants in Houston or Phoenix. By contrast, new South End buildings tend to be anchored by locally owned spots like Bar Mezzana and Area Four. Add newcomer Southern Proper to this list, in which chef/owner Jason Cheek (ex-Little Donkey, Coppa) showcases his native North Carolina’s low country cuisine with fried chicken, barbecue, hushpuppies, grits and collards.
Brunch officially begins this Sunday at chef Jason Cheek’s new Southern Proper. Find regular menu favorites, like shrimp and grits, pimento cheese and popovers, and chicken and waffles on weekend mornings, plus new dishes including egg plates with pimento hollandaise, house ham, and an English muffin; and a waffle-wich with bacon, eggs, cheese, and avocado sauce.