We’ve been trying to get ourselves to Southern Charm since we heard about it months ago. How could you not want to try a place opened up by the folks that gave us Reggae Shack? And if you’ve never been to Reggae Shack, you can just slap yourself in your big, pasty white face.
Southern Charm Kitchen is out on the east side, where Hawthorne Road branches off of University. This may be crossing the tracks for a lot of you, but don’t act like it’s the ghetto. Spoiler alert: it’s worth the drive across town.
We popped in a little late (let’s face it, The Man and I always run about 15 minutes behind), and our dinner pals had scored a table and ordered wine. The wine turned out to be a Cremaschi Syrah from Chile, a label I loved since a nice bottle of carménère. Tasty without being knock-out sweet. It seemed an odd combination to have very elegant wine glasses rubbing elbows with mason jars of water on our table, both alongside the Tabasco and Sriracha.
Anyhow, the building was great and the interior was clean and trendy looking, so feel free to bring your cool friends. There’s not a lot of seating and I can see it can get crowded at times. A great bonus is that it’s not wall-to-wall white people and students. Here’s the real Gainesville, folks!
Anyhow, the food… where to start. SCK doesn’t have a website yet, but they are on Facebook and in their photos are a few pics of the menu, so you can get an idea of what’s there. Since we were at dinner, we got a few nibbles and then did entrée-plus-sides. They’ve got the menu clearly marked for vegetarian and/or vegan items.
I ordered the Country Fried Seitan with mac & cheese and cornbread. The Man opted for the Country Fried Tofu with pickled greens and the sweet-n-cajun fries. Our dinner pals went all out carnivore and seemed pleased with the sea of plates and food that arrived not too long later.
The Man was taken aback by the small portion of the tofu he received, but it was eclipsed by the ginormous size of my seitan. It took effort to tackle the seitan, even with the proper flatware we were provided. It was somehow fluffier than the traditional dense seitan, but the breaded crust added a challenge (and probably prevented The Man from stealing more off my plate than he did).
My mac & cheese felt very homemade, without even the slightest glimmer of orange cheese in most restaurant versions. The corn bread sat somewhat timidly next to the huge seitan steak. It was sweet and bready, almost like cake, rather than savory and mealy like I’m used to. But it was delish with the salty mac & cheese. Even though it was clssic southern style food, it never felt greasy or heavy.
Despite the small size of The Man’s tofu, he nommed it up (possibly a little more seasoning, please?). The sweet-n-cajun fries are basically a skinnier version of the dutty fries at Reggae Shack (which are awesome, topped with a sweet/spicy/salty sprinkle). And best for last, I am not normally crazy for greens, but these were fantastic. I did barter off some of my seitan for his greens, and then stole more off his plate while he was busy talking.
There’s all kinds of other things on the menu we want to try, so we’re definitely going back. The two servers we had were super nice and helpful. And on the way out, I drooled over the cake on display even though I was hugely full.
Even if it wasn’t delicious, I would still urge you to head out east and support local business. Skip the Archer Rd / Newberry Rd clusterfuck of chain restaurants. Push past the Main St boundary and try out something new on the other side of Gainesville. I get the feeling that Southern Charm hasn’t quite nailed down their menu (that’s not a bad thing), but they do have a strong sense of their food culture and the story they want to tell you with it.
After it was all said and done, and the wine was emptied, we paid less than $35, and our dinner pals paid about the same. Vegetarian note: they clearly state that all of their vegetarian food is cooked and served on designated dishes, so there’s no cross-over issues. (Considering the amount of ‘other’ material allowed on most processed food, I’m not sure that’s a comfort. And by ‘other’, I mean bugs, rodents, hair, dirt, and other traditionally non-food materials. But that’s another tangent.)
So, seriously, go there. Eat. I’m not kidding. You might actually enjoy yourself.
Buy local, spend local, support local. It’s your community. And your community is delicious!
Southern Charm Kitchen
1714 SE Hawthorne Rd
Gainesville, FL 32641
Tues-Sat | 11:00AM-10:00PM