Sunday, April 15, 2012

Southern Hospitality

Even before we received a gift certificate for $40 over 4 months ago, Bug and I talked about going to SoHo, shortened for Southern Hospitality, in Ohio City because Bug is a fan of Southern cuisine and I was interested in the midwestern-modern-urban twist. I admit that modern-urban [insert rustic cuisine here] has been done to death and often with pomp, then stumbling into obscurity.  Each week, we would talk about going "later in the week," until we finally agreed to go "now."

365-286 SoHo Menu
Day 286/365

I have mixed feelings about presenting gift certificates because I want to let the server know up front that we have one so we're not being dodgy, but I also don't want them to think we're going to stiff them on their tip based on the paid total and ignore us. As always, I flashed my certificate as our server seated us and verified it would be all right to use. It was.

Having several months to review their menu, my mind was set on the chicken and waffles. My next choice was shrimp and grits in the event it was not available. I had never had grits before but was told it is somewhat similar to Malt-O-Meal. I like Malt-O-Meal.

Menu prices are standardized -- soups ($6), appetizers ($9/$7), salads ($8), suppers ($17), po'boys ($12), side dishes ($5.50), and desserts ($6). There is a happy hour special in the early evening.

After we ordered, a plate of warm and fluffy petite biscuits baked onsite arrived with butter and homemade blackberry-apple curd that had a similar texture and flavor to firm guava paste. This was a welcome, tasty, and appropriately sized distraction between ordering and receiving our first course. We're not here to be hogs lined along a trough, after all.

365-286 SoHo Biscuits
Day 286/365 - Biscuits with blackberry-apple curd and butter

My steaming bowl of duck gumbo arrived with chunks of flavorful and tender duck, andouille sausage, and shrimp, along with firm okra and rice. The soup was peppery, complex, and bold, as one would expect with dark meat, but did not feel heart-clogging greasy nor were the textures like death simmered over. The zing was pleasant, but may be too spicy for anyone who cannot tolerate any kind of spicy food. Misty, our server, warned us as well.

Bug makes a better gumbo, but this is the first restaurant gumbo that he has wanted to take a third sampling. I would order this filling soup alone in the future, after trying all the dishes on the menu, likely to the dismay of the server, as it is only $6. Perhaps I'll order a soup and salad.

365-286 SoHo Duck Gumbo
Day 286/365 - Duck gumbo

While I was quietly enjoying the gumbo, Bug crunched through one of the fried green tomatoes with fresh cut corn, red peppers, cheese curds, green onions, and okra remoulade. They were presented beautifully.

After he finished his first slice, I pushed the remaining half-bowl of gumbo across the table so he could enjoy the soup while it was piping hot. As he enjoyed the soup, I had my first fried green tomato. When I have heard "fried green tomatoes" in films, I never expected them to be breaded and fried.

365-286 SoHo Fried Green Tomatoes
Day 286/365 - Fried green tomatoes

The texture was similar to eggplant, meaty and substantive, simple to eat without a stringy or sloppy mess. The nutty, perfectly crisp breading did not leave a greasy residue and complemented the fresh and crisp corn and red peppers. I expected the tomato to be tart (it was green, after all), but it was delicate. The cheese curds added a nice heft without being overwhelming. 

One of the diners next to us ordered a fried green tomato BLT po'boy. It was large enough to feed two people. The sandwich was stacked high, stuffed with several fried green tomatoes, thick cut bacon, and crisp lettuce. I look forward to trying it some time in the future!

Bug's charred ribeye steak arrived in a large platter. Stacked on top are fingerling potatoes and spinach, pickled vidalia onions, Tabasco hollandaise, and a fried egg. The dish was executed well technically, but I would take my dish over this any day. Perhaps I would feel differently if I ate more than a bite of each component.

365-286 SoHo Ribeye
Day 286/365 - Charred ribeye steak

At the last moment, I decided to order shrimp and grits instead of the much anticipated chicken and waffles. I'll have to save the waffles for next time. What can I say about the grits?  They were velvety, buttery, and creamy. The corn, asparagus, and red peppers were firm and distinctly flavored, while the mushrooms added depth.

365-286 SoHo Shrimp Grits
Day 286/365 - Shrimp scampi and grits

The shrimp were larger than I anticipated and retained its tenderness while being fully cooked. Whoever was in the kitchen tonight nailed everything perfectly. The shrimp and grits is another dish I'll revisit.

Bug enjoyed the pecan pie immensely. The filling was densely packed with pecans, not some overly sweet cheap goo. I loved the bourbon-brown butter ice cream with it's boozy, smoky, thick and creamy texture.

365-286 SoHo Pecan Pie
Day 286/365 - Pecan pie and bourbon-brown butter ice cream

It was only after returning from our meal that I read reviews online that spanned from fanatic to disgruntled with contradictory complaints of too much or too little food for the price. I felt the amount of food commensurate with the price considering the freshness of and attention paid to (consistent spot-on food doneness) the discernible ingredients.

Our server, Misty, was phenomenal. I can't think of anything that I could offer to improve our experience. She was attentive, prompt with our water, and clearing off our table, including used utensils. In my nearly 20 years in Cleveland, this is the first restaurant that removes used utensils and immediately replaces fresh utensils; commonplace in similar restaurants I've visited in other cities.

Service in Cleveland is generally dismal. Receiving the food as you ordered, a server who stops by once to ask how your meal is and brings your check in a timely manner is above average service. Unfortunately, those who strive above that are few. 

The only other restaurant that quickly comes to mind with outstanding service in Cleveland is right down the street at Flying Fig. There is the possibility that I could be resting my utensils in the wrong restaurants, on the wrong nights, with the wrong server.

I look forward to eating through SoHo's entire menu!

- Cassaendra

SoHo Kitchen and Bar
1889 W 25th St
Cleveland, OH 44113
Tel: (216) 298-9090

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