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Savoring the Sights, Sounds and Tastes of South.

September 20, 2016

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Text by Dan Halma. Images by Charles Shan Cerrone.

The scene behind the front doors of 600 N. Broad St. provides a sharp juxtaposition to the flat gray façade – directly ahead lies a decidedly rustic dining area replete with wooden tables and chairs, accented by foliage and dyed glass bottles hanging from the skylights in the room’s center. By the entranceway, a door leads to a secluded patio area lined with flowers and fresh herbs. Directly ahead of the entrance is the bar, wrapping around the corner of the room, and behind the bar the staff is dressed in uniform button downs, bow ties and aprons.

The atmosphere is Southern without showing allegiance to any one state in particular – fitting for South, the latest restaurant from brothers Rob and Ben Bynum of Warmdaddy’s and Zanzibar Blue fame.

“Encompassing the entire South is a challenge,” says head chef Paul Martin, dressed in a black polo underneath his apron.

In front of him lies the open kitchen area and as he speaks, staff members rotate bread in the oven and prep meats coming off the grill.

“I’m from Louisiana but the entire menu can’t be New Orleans focused,” he continues. “It’s gotta spread out a little bit and open up the borders. So the idea is to try to represent Southern food as a whole.”

There’s a lot of square mileage to cover in the American South, but Martin’s background in Southern cuisine handles the challenge. Born and raised in Lafayette, Louisiana, Martin got his start cooking in his dad’s restaurant before working in Austin, Texas at a couple of French bistros. Martin moved around the U.S. for a few years before settling in Philadelphia in 2004, when he signed on with Steven Starr at Washington Square (now Talula’s Garden). He left there to work at Catahoula, which is where he met Ben Bynum.

The two hit it off and when Bynum approached him with the idea of a new restaurant, Martin signed on. South opened in September of 2015.

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The menu at South is as eclectic as the regions that it embodies. Diners can expect a range of dishes, with starters including chicken fried oysters and smoked tuna rilette and entrees spanning from cornmeal crusted trout and Carolina shrimp and grits to Berkshire pork chops and wood grilled chicken.

Although several mainstays have remained, Martin points out that the menu always changes.

“The menu’s sort of an organic process,” he adds. “I think it’s more of what people are in the mood to eat right now. Things come on, things come off as they’re relevant – as they’re seasonal or not seasonal.”

“Everything you see here,” he explains, motioning to the shelves that comprise nearly every available inch of wall space, each filled with pickled vegetables and hot sauces, sealed with clear glass cabinet doors, “are all done by my former sous chef, Kieran McSherry. He’s our ‘Pickle Master.’”

In addition to the sauces and vegetables that dress the interior, the herbs and fruit in the garden get used on the menu, including the Summer Berry Cobbler – a cocktail comprised of compote made from the fresh berries in the garden alongside Fishtown’s Stateside Vodka.

“It’s the marriage of the front of the house and the back of the house,” declares Harry Hayman, the director of operations for the restaurant.

Hayman has been with the Bynum’s for 24 years, starting his career with the brothers at Zanzibar Blue and, like Martin, has been at South since day one. Hayman’s duties range from purchasing for the restaurant to marketing, including special events and food ideas.

The Southern Regional Series is one of these ideas, inspired by the ROAM (an acronym standing for Regional Original American Menus) dining series at Heirloom, another of the Bynum’s restaurants. The Regionals are a monthly event on the first Wednesday of every month that revolve around crafting a menu that pays homage to one specific region of the American South and the food associated with it. The series kicked off with a Louisiana-focused menu on July 6, with South Carolina and Alabama being the respective features for August and September.

“We’ve already farmed a ‘table on steroids,’ bringing in Anson Mills and trouts right from the Georgia/South Carolina border,” he says, noting the concern for the highest quality ingredients carries over from their approach to cultivating the restaurant’s regular menu. “We’ve already tasted, like, 10 different trouts until we found this guy who likes to grow the fish out so the 10-ounce filet is on one side of the fish instead of having to butterfly the trout to get a nice filet.”

In addition to the Regionals, South has their classic series every Tuesday, a three-course meal for $25 that changes monthly and pairs well with their “Hours of Happiness” happy hour from 4–7 p.m., featuring both food and drink specials. South hopes to add brunch as a regular offering beginning in the fall.

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Though quality and adventurous Southern food is the backbone of South, the heart of the restaurant lies in the live jazz that happens six nights per week in the intimate venue section of the restaurant, tucked behind a set of glass doors. The restaurant works closely with local jazz musicians, curating special events, including Tuesday’s Open Jazz Jam led by percussionist Leon Jordan, Sr. and pianist Orrin Evan’s What’s Happening Wednesdays. In addition, they will book larger, nationally touring acts looking to pick up dates in between New York or D.C.

“Back in the day, Philadelphia was known for jazz,” says general manager Rian Mitch. “There were so many great artists here in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Philadelphia was a bustling bed of all this jazz energy but it’s been forgotten. The idea of this place is to bring back that culture – the energy and drive that the old jazz heads had.”

A former “hopeless musican in doom metal bands,” Mitch’s interest in jazz was fueled by working the restaurant and running sound at one of the Bynum’s other ventures, Paris Bistro.

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“Jazz is like punk rock,” he continues. “It’s like the underground of music. It’s where musicians go to be musicians, to break out from tradition and push the envelope.”

The concert programming includes performances by trombonist Robin Eubanks, singer and pianist Freddie Cole, Blue Note recording artist José James and saxophonist Grace Kelly. In September, South is participating in the 2016 Philadelphia United Jazz Festival, curated by bassist Warren Oree of Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble fame.

“We’re always planning,” says Hayman, regarding future events at South. “We’re gonna do the ‘Young Lions of Jazz’ series, bringing in some younger up-and-coming stuff. We’ve also got the ‘Living Legends of Jazz’ series with more mature artists.

“But generally we’re just booking the best goddamn jazz in Philadelphia.”      

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