Photo by Astrid Warberg
“I like Dawn’s salsa: it fires up your tongue, not your stomach,” says Daniel Bader, a German punk with a soft spot for cakes (which he doesn’t eat) and cocktails (which he doesn’t drink). Nonetheless, Bader is a dedicated owner of two cafés on Krossener Straße in Friedrichshain: Berlin’s first cupcake shop – Cupcake Berlin – and, since February, a Southern-inspired bar/restaurant called Dirty South, as spelled out in cursive on Bader’s right hand, complementing the cupcake tattoos inked across his other hand.
Bader is the business mind behind the two ventures. The creative head is Dawn Nelson, the native Floridian who engineered the cake recipes. The beef brisket at Dirty South is also hers. It’s just stuff she used to make back home, inventive, mouth-watering combinations like Louisiana Cajun Tofu, BLT and Kimchi Beef, which she serves in delicious mini soft corn tacos, inside burritos, or “naked”, i.e. without the tortilla.
Although we weren’t wild about the corn shells (which weren’t actually that “soft”), we definitely enjoyed the sufficiently addictive fillings. The overall concept is Mexican with some undeniably Southern inspiration and Asian touches (kimchi!) thrown in.
The beef brisket is deliciously juicy and nicely spiced (€7), while the vegetarian Black Bean Burrito (€6) comes as a pillow of jasmine rice, shredded cabbage, mushrooms, white sauce and cheese. Never have burritos come so close to comfort food.
However, this is not primarily a restaurant. Or not yet, at least. It’s more of a rustic saloon with a Bible-length cocktail list. Our tip: order a giant basket of nachos to share, generously topped with salsa, kidney beans, guacamole and fresh tomato (Vegan Chili, €5) alone or with sour cream and cheese, and a choice of beef or tofu (Deluxe Chili Cheese, €7) according to taste and dietary creed – it’s a pity the corn chips are crunchy supermarket style, but the toppings and XXL portions definitely make it worth your euros. Plus, you’ll need a hefty foundation to enjoy the booze.
The cocktails are the centrepiece, mostly classics executed with aplomb and a rightful measure of alcohol: the Bloody Mary (€6) had even more kick than the house salsa; the Mint Julep (€6.50) felt just right. The Dirty South Martini (€6.50) was none other than your perfect old classic turned dirty by the olive brine.
Though it was just February when Dirty South opened in a pocket-sized former fashion boutique, the reassembled vintage wooden bar purchased on Ebay makes it feel like it’s been there forever. A bar’s atmosphere is often the result of the existential mood of its owners. Here the congenial vibe seems to be the direct result of the two indefatigable entrepreneurs: equanimous, affable Daniel, and Dawn with her infectious, upbeat energy. More ‘comfort food’ is on the way – next up: mac & cheese and chilli con carne – but, as the quickly established crop of Dirty South regulars can attest, the comfort is already palpable.