Saturday, November 27, 2010

Southern Cooking Takes New York (Again)

I've been watching with interest as Southern food continues to further capture the fancy of Gothamites.  Barbecue rib joints started taking off a few years ago.  Now Southern cooking is going upscale. just reviewed two new Southern-themed restaurants--Seersucker and Peels--that are wowing New Yorkers with shrimp and grits, country ham, and pickled eggs.

Seersucker, the creation of Arkansas-born Robert Newton, has been earning raves from many quarters (and a few brickbats from others, especially for the high prices).  At Peels, it seems, you can have your down-home treats like biscuits and hushpuppies in a thoroughly high-end New York restaurant environment, complete with a security guard at the door and a 90-minute weekend wait.  The fried chicken will run you twenty bucks, but it is free-range and freshly-killed.  And that, I guess, is proof positive that Southern cooking has arrived.

But, of course, Southern food in New York City really is nothing new at all.  The tens of thousands of African-Americans who came North during the Great Migration in the early part of the 20th Century brought with them the traditional cooking of their home states, and Harlem developed a thriving Southern cooking tradition (dubbed "soul food" in the 1960s).  Between 125th and 135th street, rib joints flourished eight decades before Blue Smoke and RUB came into being.

Now, curiously enough, the Soul Food restaurant tradition is dying out, as the New York Times reported a few years ago.  The food gets a big knock for being heavy, fried, and salty, plus food costs are rising and local tastes are trending more toward Indian, Thai, and Chinese places.

The rise and fall of Southern cooking in New York City, happening at the same time.

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