For a while it seemed as if new-wave Southern cuisine – you know, gussied-up soul food classics served on nice plates by men with beards – was gaining traction everywhere but in Berlin. We’ve already been through a barbecue wave that got every mediocre snack shack pulling their pork. Wasn’t it about time that dishes like cheese grits, fried green tomatoes and chicken ‘n’ waffles made their way over as well?
So thank Craig Vega, a thirtysomething ex-shipping manager turned restaurateur from Knoxville, Tennessee, for bringing the cuisine of his home region all the way to Prenzlauer Berg. He and his still-tiny kitchen team have put together a mix of “barbecue, soul food, Appalachian and low country” dishes meant for sharing, all smartly presented against an impressionistically rendered backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Here’s where Berliners can at last sink their teeth into America’s 2017 culinary trend, Nashville hot chicken (€13). This is fried chicken smothered in a thick paste of cayenne, brown sugar and various other spices, and it’s not for everyone: even the “mild” version here packs a helluva kick and a somewhat harsh garlicky aftertaste that distracts from the juicy, perfectly craggy main event. For something more comforting, order that same chicken sans spice piled on top of a fluffy waffle (€14), a pairing that’s commonplace down South but as-yet unheard of here. As of recently the syrup-drizzled, sweet-savoury concoction is also available for brunch on weekends alongside pancakes, a variety of (American) biscuits and more.
With all these novelties on the menu, is it worth ordering the barbecue? Actually, yes; the east Tennessee-style pork ribs, coated in a thick bourbon-spiked glaze that you’ll be tempted to lick off your fingers (a moist towelette is provided for etiquette sticklers), count among Berlin’s best smoked meats. Get them alone or as part of a combo plate that also includes both types of fried chicken and beef brisket (€19). The hefty platter ought to feed two or three if ordered with a few sides, which include mac and cheese (€4) and the cornmeal fritters known as hush puppies (€3.50).
As you might guess, vegans need not apply, although vegetarians dragged here by a carnivorous date will still be able to make a meal out of fried green tomatoes with polenta “grits” (hold the sausage gravy, €9) or spinach-artichoke dip, that most caloric of vegetable delivery vehicles. There are a couple of comparatively virtuous salads, but where’s the fun in that? You’re here for one reason: to get as close to the South as possible without actually taking a trip into Trumpland. And for that, Southern Vittles delivers.