“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.
Full and noisy, but not unpleasantly so, on a chilly Saturday in February. A yellow rooster sign welcomes guests as they enter what looks like a high-beamed farmhouse — and so does a blast of music. If you’re a classic rock fan, you have found Valhalla: munch hushpuppies and tear apart fried chicken to the tunes of Steely Dan and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Antique lamps and plants dangle from the ceiling, and ornate dishes are mounted on the pine walls. While this approach could call to mind grandma’s attic in a more claustrophobic setting, the space is big enough that it’s just an eccentric design quirk, stuff to stare at while waiting for rye. A healthy cross-section of the South End is here: young dudes on a date, a happy toddler on someone’s lap munching a biscuit, a swarm of ex-pat thirty-somethings in from the suburbs, marveling over their ace parking space.
Openings: Southern food comes to the South End with Southern Proper, opening on March 1 (600 Harrison Ave. at Union Park Street) with executive chef Jason Cheek (Toro, Coppa, Little Donkey, Merrill & Co.) in the kitchen. Cheek grew up in North Carolina. He says he wants to “serve stuff people might not be familiar with,” such as chicken pilau, a favorite version of chicken and rice.