Southern Proper Will Feel Like North Carolina, Right Down to the Scent of Pine

Southern Proper’s chef and proprietor Jason Cheek wants his restaurant to be a haven, a place where people can come after work and feel comfortable — a place where people can take a deep breath and relax.

“The best way I knew how to do that was to use a lot of raw woods and to incorporate a lot of plant life,” said Cheek, an alum of Toro and the defunct KO Prime. “Relaxation is about getting away from the metal and glass. Smell the pine, smell the flowers, smell the smoke in the air.”

The irony, of course, is that Southern Proper is housed in the Girard building (50 Malden St.), one of those new South End structures that’s not short on metal or glass. But cross the threshold from the concrete exterior and into Southern Proper, and that modern facade melts immediately away. Creating such a smooth transition wasn’t exactly easy, though.

“One of our biggest challenges was trying to dissolve the interior from the exterior,” said Cheek, who hired local firm RODE Architects to design the space. “The exterior is very modern and very Natick Mall. A lot of 90 degree angles, glass, and metal. It would have been easy to come in and make it look like a commercial restaurant. I didn’t want that. I wanted it to look like a tobacco barn. A tobacco barn my grandmother invaded.”

Southern Proper’s bar is built exclusively from the recycled wood of antique tabletops, and the tin that wraps around it was procured from an antiques dealer in Brimfield, Massachusetts, who sourced it from a turn-of-the-century movie theater in upstate New York. The lamps are all antique, and there is plenty of pine — much of which was sourced from North Carolina, Cheek’s home state.

“I want this place to look like it’s been here for a while,” said Cheek. “I hate when a place looks brand new.”

And as for the food?

“It’ll be heavily oriented toward chicken and beer,” said Cheek.

That won’t be all, though. Cheek also noted that Southern Proper will be doing things like smoked sausages, pig legs, pig head, lamb, and, of course, pulled pork.

“I love it,” said Cheek. He wouldn’t be a good North Carolinian if he didn’t, after all.

Cheek plans to source as locally and as seasonally as he possibly can.

“We’ve got SoWa market right down the street — are you kidding me?”

As far as the bar goes, Cheek said that he’s going to try to keep the draft list as local as possible, but he also plans to bring in some beers from the South if they suit the menu.

“I want people to get a good variety and flavor profile with beers,” he said. “We’ll do mostly local because it’s the right thing to do, but I want to have some beers from Nashville and North Carolina and the rest of the South, too. They all have different flavor profiles, and I know some beers are going to do well with a plate of fried chicken.”

For example: a shot of whiskey and a Miller High Life.

The cocktail program will feature classic southern cocktails. But don’t expect to be able to always get a mint julep.

“Listen, it’s a classic Kentucky Derby drink — everyone knows that,” said Cheek. “We’ll serve it at brunch from time to time, but it’s not always going to be on. Same goes for a Pimm’s cup. It will make an appearance.”

Southern Proper is slated to open for friends and family on February 26, welcoming the public on March 2.