I have much reverence for the culinary contributions of the people and traditions that are at the root of Southern cuisine. Southern food is a wonderful mélange of many cultures. Native American, African, European and West Indies. Domestic workers who cooked for their own families and for their white employers developed many of the recipes that the world now identifies as Southern.
It is also a cuisine that is forever evolving. If you travel to the South, you’ll discover just how different Southern cuisine is in each locale. North Carolina, Kentucky, Florida and Georgia have varying interpretations on Southern classics. The culinary influence of the South has extended far north of the Mason-Dixon line in an Ottawa restaurant called Union Local 613.
Union Local 613 bills itself as a brotherhood of growers, cookers and eaters, providing a Canadian take on Southern hospitality. It’s clear that they have a vision and they are sticking to it. The chefs at Union Local 613 are true nonconformists. While they pay homage to traditional Southern cuisine, they are unafraid to exploit combinations that are less obvious of the region. To a purist, it may seem like culinary radicalism.
Hickory smoked hog jowl, Granny Smith apples, celery, toasted walnuts and horseradish dressing. BBQ foie gras torchon, black pepper biscuits and strawberry ketchup. Roasted carrot and parsley salad, Feta, cashews, cumin vinaigrette. This restaurant is courageous with ingredients, and their dishes are more artfully executed and more technically masterful than anywhere else in the city, in my opinion.
Eating there is also a hell of a lot of fun. This, as far as I can tell, is the only place in town where one might find cat head biscuits and gravy, a spicy catfish po’boy and fried pickle spears. Though the menu is always changing, I would expect that classics like shrimp and grits, mac n’ cheese, collards, red velvet cake, fried chicken and cornbread will persist as maintains.
The seating is predominantly communal. Sharing a dinning space is not every one’s preference, but in this restaurant, it works. A nod to Southern neighbourliness. The service is friendly without being overzealous. They seem to love what they do and are proud of the restaurant’s offerings. They care about food and go to great lengths to make sure that you have a good dining experience. When I expressed an interest in the boiled peanuts, the server brought out the cookbook to show me the recipe. When I assaulted them with questions about the restaurant, they invited me to the kitchen and introduced me to the chef. Although the rest of my dinner party raved about the mac n’ cheese, I was less enthused about the flavour combo of macaroni with cauliflower and remained mute. But when the server observed that I had not consumed my serving, she excised the offending dish off my bill. “Why pay for something you didn’t enjoy?” she surmised. I was flabbergasted. Their commitment to hospitality and passion for preserving the culinary traditions of the Southern food that I revere has made me a patron for life.
|Union Local 613, 315 Somerset St. W., Ottawa, ON|
|Buttermilk fried yard bird and pepper vinegar, fried green tomatoes and mac’n cheese|
|Cracker crusted Louisiana catfish, pecan puree, wilted frisée and lemon, and cheddar and roasted garlic hominy grits|
|A closer look at the cheddar & roasted garlic hominy grits.Yummm!|