Dont let the cigarette smoke turn you away. Unfortunately, entrance to Southside 815 is through the bar, where cigarette-smoking is still socially acceptable. The whimsically-decorated dining room that boasts Southern casual cooking is decidedly a separate venue.
On the back wall, a large mural features swimmers, all legs and underwater debris, as if the dining room were under water. Three ceiling murals continue the theme with such views as the underbelly of a catfish and faces peering into the water from a canoe.
About half of the dozen or so booths are sequestered behind wooden arches; separate tables are available indoors and on the patio.
Service is usually prompt and always friendly, and our appetizers appeared quickly. One of our favorites is the fried green tomatoes with a zippy remoulade that nicely sets off the crunchy deep-fried starters. Deep-fried breaded oysters Rockefeller (we decided it was a different Rockefeller), although untraditional to the point of being something else entirely (maybe Oysters Vanderbilt or Astor), are served, not on a half-shell but in a flavorful Rockefeller bisque.
Those who expect the Classic Cajun Caesar Salad to have a Cajun accent would be disappointed, but anyone who enjoys a fresh Caesar salad with slices of grilled chicken, moist and tender, would just be in chicken Caesar heaven. Served up with a chunk of tasty cornbread, it would make a Cajun or anyone who can spell Cajun smile.
As a main dish, we especially enjoy the orchard pork chops, moist and delicious, topped with savory apple chutney and cider pan gravy. But the star of the menu is probably the slow-cooked baby back ribs, tender and flavorful, comparable to the incomparable ribs at King Street Blues.
We tried the gulf-spiced chicken on a couple of visits, once finding the skinless breast with Caribbean jerk seasonings robust and flavorful. On a second visit, the chicken seemed less savory, but the house-made peach-pepper jelly that accompanies it saved the day; a little bit sweet and a little bit spicy, the apricot preserves are married with crushed peppers for a zesty sauce that makes the chicken sing. Figuratively.
The club sandwich that appeared on a recent lunch menu was not as exciting. Its construction either surpassed our engineering ingenuity or the sandwich designer thought that Jerry Colona had stopped by for lunch. Not only was the white bread (we were not offered a choice) at odd intervals for breaking it down into normal-mouth sized sections, but all the filling was toward the sharp end of the sandwich wedge, so trying to compress it into an edible portion generally resulted in the far end flying up like a loose hood and looking like Mike Jagger was blowing my lunch companion a kiss.
Zing is the Word
As befits the Southern tradition, diners can order a variety of side dishes, including southern greens or cheddar grits, tangy with cheddar cheese, or go for the French fries, fresh and hot, greaseless and perfect. We also enjoyed a side dish of State Fair pickles that reminded me of the bread-and-butter pickles my mother put up when I was a child.
Of course, zing is part of the party at Southside, where Texas Pete Pepper Sauce and Crystal Louisiana Pure hot sauce grace the tables — just in case.
Put out the fire with some delicious desserts, whether an ice cream parlor sundae with house-made hot fudge sauce (that also makes an appearance on the house-made fudge brownie with vanilla ice cream), or the warm, bronzed pineapple upside-down cake saturated with Myers rum and brown sugar syrup with more of that creamy, hearty vanilla ice cream on the side. As delicious as we found the pineapple cake, it is so sweet that it could kick-start the onset of diabetes. Sharing one serving might be a wise choice. But, if you can only eat part of it, be sure to start with the rich brown outer edge.
Our favorite on the sweets menu is the Southeast Peach Pound Cake, two golden brown squares overflowing with a vanilla ice cream filling and drenched in house-made butterscotch sauce.
Drink prices are quite reasonable, with wine by the glass generally in the $6 to $7 range. House wines are just under $5 a glass, or in the $20s by the bottle. Beer is mostly in the $3 to $4.86 range, with Guinness topping the chart at $5.75. One recent evening, 815 featured a Pinocchio Nero dAvola ($5.93/$23). Without resorting to the obvious comments about nose or woody accents, suffice it to say that this amusing product of Sicilian grapes is fragrant, soft-bodied and fruity; strongly reminiscent of blackberries.
Southside 815 offers various lunch and dinner specials, and regular menu offerings too varied and extensive to do justice, but it is best to stick with their down-home, Southern-style dishes. Off the beaten Old Town track, Southside 815 is a restaurant worth the shoe leather it takes to get there from the King Street corridor. For those who must drive, theres plenty of free parking in the complex behind the restaurant.