South Kitchen + Spirits is a brand-new restaurant at 3638 Park St in Avondale, opened by Brian Siebenschuh. Brian was super influential in my entrance into the Jacksonville food scene. Two years ago when he was at Restaurant Orsay he helped me plan my first food event. It was a fundraiser brunch for about 40 people, and we used most of the proceeds to host a multi-course dinner for my culinary school class at Orsay. (On a side note, that was the first time I tried popcorn ice cream, and I remember it like it was yesterday.) Brian didn’t go to culinary school. He went to the University of Oklahoma for Business. The cooking side he learned in restaurants. Fast forward two years and 50 events, and now he has his own restaurant.
Brian left Orsay shortly after that first event. I was scared that Orsay wasn’t going to be good after he left, but those fears have proven unfounded. The first question I asked him in a recent interview was, “Where have you been?” South Kitchen has been in the works since July 2014, but he took a detour. He was working with a sports bar called Taps fixing operational challenges, retraining employees, and revamping the menu.
When asked about South Kitchen, Brian describes it as, “an upscale, casual restaurant with a focus on casual. It’s only upscale in that the building looks nice, and the food comes on nice plates, but it’s casual.” You’ll see servers in shorts; he doesn’t want to have a server in the middle of summer with a long pants and a long sleeve shirt trying to serve someone on the patio and sweating bullets. He adds, “It’s come as you are, order as much or as little you want, and hopefully have a good time.”
South Kitchen’s layout is like a house. When you walk in the door you’re greeted, you walk through the living room, a.k.a. the more formal dining room, then you hit the family room, a.k.a. the bar. There are televisions, and a sun room as well, for a less formal but no less enjoyable dining experience. If you want some fresh air, you can eat on the patio, or you can join some friends at one of three beautiful fire pits, or you could just sit outside at the front of the bar with huge windows that open to the street.
The most popular dish is the Fish and Grits. Brian says, “A lot of the stuff I’m trying to do here is elevate humble ingredients.” This allows them to hit menu prices that are extremely approachable. As for the catfish used in the dish, Brian says that, “Catfish has a reputation for being mushy and fishy,” but he figured it out. They have a buttermilk and hot sauce brine that they use for their fried chicken. They decided to throw the catfish in there and see what happens. It worked out. They pair the catfish with smoked gouda grits and some collard greens that have been prepared in a pressure cooker.
Of course, I had to try the Fish and Grits. Prior to trying this, I had only tried the grits separately, and they were legit. But with their powers combined (catfish, grits, and collards) this dish is Captain Planet. Easily a must order.
They also have family-style offerings that are no-brainers to order. You can get a 10-piece bucket of that buttermilk & hot sauce marinated fried chicken, and you get mashed potatoes, collard greens with smoked pork & chilis, AND a napa cabbage slaw for twenty bucks! Split that two ways: $10/each. That’s a major deal.
Since we’re talking about chicken, let’s talk about the “Fil A. O. Chick.” Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. And, yes, it’s good; I’ve had it twice already. We joked around about doing a Fil A. O. Chik event on a Sunday. I told him to make some waffle fries and a shake, and it’s a wrap. (Let’s just say that this event may or may not be happening soon.)
Other items include: filet mignon, cowboy-cut pork ribeye, stuffed rainbow trout, chargrilled short ribs, chargrilled tempeh, a family-style fish fry platter, burgers, and a Cuban sandwich.
In the end, South Kitchen + Sprits is a must. It’s affordable; the food is bomb; the place is beautiful–what else do you need? A beer? A cocktail? Dessert? Well, guess what? They have that, too.