Thursday, February 21, 2019

Has Southern Food Colonized San Antonio or Vice Versa?

Posted By on Thu, Feb 21, 2019 at 9:58 AM

INSTAGRAM / ROBFP27
Draw a vertical line down the center of Texas. If east Texas is the South and west Texas is the Southwest, where do you plot San Antonio? 

To make the calculation into a cultural one, the indicators could be diehard Mardi Gras celebrants measured against the number of ranchers in your bloodline. Call it crawfish versus cowboys.

The restaurant scene lately certainly seems to be more eastward looking, but a deeper look reveals a more complicated picture.

Conjure in your mind all of the recently opened restaurants in town that picked up any degree of media buzz, be it local or national. Then cancel out any of them that involved barbecue or tacos. What's left?



San Antonio had one restaurant make Texas Monthly's recently published list of the ten best to open last year — Clementine. Meadow also landed an honorable mention. The menus at the two spots have similar moods. At both, you can order elevated hush puppies and Instagram-friendly beet salads.

These are hardly the only two menus to signal in this direction. Periphery leans on cornbread and pimento cheese, just like Meadow, and elevates lentils with sumac, which Clementine uses on its hushpuppies.

Add Southerleigh into the club of restaurants not too haute for cornbread, grits, and chicken cracklins. The Cookhouse has cracklins also and fried boudin balls filling a hushpuppy role among the appetizers. NOLA mutates Creole dinner into Cajun brunch, serving chicken and beignets instead of chicken and waffles — which are no longer a novelty in San Antonio.

Lost among these nouveau cuisine southern iterations are the soul food establishments, like Mr. And Mrs. G's, Sweet Yams or Tony G's, where San Antonians can learn the vocabulary of southern cooking.

Hypothesis: the appeal of opening a southern restaurant here is that nobody is going to get mad at the experiments. Eastside Kitchenette serves duck confit chicken-fried. Those hush puppies at Meadow come with 'nduja, which is deep cut Italian. Sumac is Middle Eastern. Aspiring local franchise The South Chicken and Waffles runs all over the Gulf Coast for inspiration.

If you opened a crunchy taco stand here, there would (rightly) be riots. We have a sense of The Taco, just as we know good brisket from bad brisket. But not knowing can be freeing. Southern food has an approachable reputation but its canvas is still relatively blank in San Antonio.

Not for long, it would seem.

So many restaurants, so little time. Find out the latest San Antonio dining news with our Flavor Friday Newsletter.

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