Anyone heard of Empire State South?
Yes, they’ve only been open a week, but I’ve been hearing great things pretty much since day one, so I was excited to get together with a few friends for a long lunch this past Friday. I took a half day off from work just to ensure I had enough time to thoroughly enjoy myself. ;)
We arrived around 11:30, and only a few tables were occupied… that quickly changed. The restaurant was slammed within thirty minutes, but if Hugh was stressed out, his demeanor gave no indication. Chef Acheson knew a couple of people at my table, so he came by and talked about how things were going, and about the restaurant in general, a glimpse I enjoyed. While ESS can be somewhat classified as a “meat and three”, Hugh discussed how one goal for the food was to be light enough for the local day-time clientele to be able to eat and go back to work without wanting to take a nap at their desk (which I call the “Carver’s effect”).
I found this goal to be true, the vegetables in particular are prepared in a manner which I find to be very similar to Dynamic Dish. Snappy, light, delicious, with flavors layered beautifully. Meat portions are moderate to small, but won’t leave you waddling out.
But on top of the simple comfort of the food, there is a touch of elegance in each dish, in the service, and in one of my favorite areas – the wine list. With so many European (Burgundy!) and other affordable, delightful options, I was a happy guy. I wasn’t aware that Hugh is quite the wine buff, and I couldn’t hide my ear to ear grin when he put the restaurant this way to me, “We want a place where you can have Potlikker in one hand, and a glass of Burgundy in another”.
You may be able to find some things to nit pick about, but I’m not going to do that because my experience from start to finish was exceptional. To me, the food is not about sous vide, trendy offal, or showing off. It’s feel good food, communal and wholly Southern, and Hugh is continuing his active redefinition of what “soul food” really should be.
Each of our party of four started with a salad, including the crispy okra salad with beans, bacon, and a buttermilk dressing. Wow.
The “super food” salad includes hanger steak, tomatoes, beans, farro, lettuces, and green beans. This could easily be a whole meal.
I ordered the chopped salad, a crunchy medley of okra, radish, corn, green beans, lettuce, etc. Texture and summer greatness.
After eating our entree sized salads, we moved onto the actual mains, where diners are instructed to pick a protein then their selection of two sides. My friend Don picked the catfish (unfortunately out of focus), but at least this photo highlights the very interesting minted yogurt green beans and warm cucumbers. I love the frosted hue the yogurt gives to the beans.
My selection was the smothered pork chop with peppers, radish, and a warm from the oven cheese biscuit. Isn’t it amazing how much of a difference hot bread can make?
Another friend ordered the popular meatloaf sandwich on Holeman & Finch bread.
Monster slab of cake for dessert? Yes, please.
We did bring a bit of our own wine…I thought this ’97 Chezeaux was feminine and beautiful. As my friend Dennis says, “All roads lead to Burgundy”.
Want to get in on the wine action? Check out the upcoming LaTour wine dinner at Empire State South.