As my wife and I were seated at the last available table at Seersucker at 329 Smith Street, the White Stripes echoed above the clinking of glasses and genial laughter. How appropriate that son of the south Jack White would invite us into this gourmet southern culinary experience. Our meal at one of the newest additions to Smith Street was delightful, made all the more pleasant by the impeccable, friendly service.
We were warmly welcomed into the crowded dining room at Seersucker, and it turns out the warmth is especially important to Kerry Diamond, co-owner:
What we’re trying to do is cuisine with a southern twist, very inspired by the south. And we’re also very obsessed with hospitality – we really want everyone who walks in here to feel taken care of. It’s not always easy, but it’s really something that’s important to us, and we hope that people notice that when they walk in. Because we hate when you walk into a restaurant and it takes forever to get anyone to notice you, and no one says thank you, and welcome, things like that. We felt that the word seersucker conjured up so many of the things that are important to us – the traditions of the south, both in terms of food and hospitality.
The crudite plate pictured above was a wonderful example of the merging of the restaurant’s southern roots with their desire to take advantage of local markets and fresh produce. A pimento cheese accompanied creamy deviled farmhouse eggs, house-smoked ham and homemade potato chips, along with a selection of house-pickled specialities – the fiddlehead ferns and okra were especially delicious. Our second appetizer, a small cut of lightly breaded catfish, was moist and light and paired with a subtle roumelade.
The shrimp and grits was a standout, full of rich, umami flavor, and the sausage gravy that accompanied our warm biscuits may be the best gravy in all of New York City (and I’ve searched, but if you know a place that makes a mean sausage gravy, I’m all ears).
The highlight of the meal were the house-made pickles and preserves: the apricots that topped the duck breast entree, the ramps, okra and fiddlehead ferns of the crudite – anything that resides in the shelves that separate the open kitchen from the dining room should be sampled with gusto.
Says head chef and co-owner Rob Newton:
The preserves [are] something that I think is really important. And it’s the right thing to do, because you can be in control of all the best products while they’re seasonal, while they’re at their best. You can be in control of it, and as long as you’re in collaboration with Mother Nature and she cooperates, like she’s doing this year. I think it’s a good way to utilize products when they’re at their best, and it’s also something that my family did every summer – not to this extent, obviously, but we picked green beans, and we canned green beans, and we canned tomatoes, we made pickled beets, and we had bacon grease on the stove all the time – not that that’s a preserve… This is just an extension of my culinary experience.
Newton, a native of Arkansas, has cooked at Aquavit, Tabla and the Four Seasons, but he says it’s a natural progression to end up back with his roots.
There’s this circle that takes place, and you come back around to what feels most right to you. Not even most right, just… something you could make a contribution in. It makes sense for me to make some kind of contribution to Southern food, because i’m from the South. It just feels natural and right.
Seersucker will start offering brunch soon, which will give all of us ample opportunity to experience the warmth of Southern hospitality, a perfect complement to a belly full of biscuits, sausage gravy and home-made preserves.
Have you been to Seersucker yet? Tell us what you think!