Lorri spent several years in North Carolina (and at least 22 years in the South), so my ears perked up when I heard about Southern Proper, a new restaurant in Boston’s South End / SoWa district that’s SO North Carolinian that the interior is decked out with North Carolina pine.
The southern food / bourbon space in Boston has gotten pretty competitive in just the last 2 years, with Southern Kin, the Smoke Shop, State Park and Buttermilk and Bourbon entering the scene, among others. While all of them have their merits, there wasn’t one that totally nailed the Trinity of “Great Southern Food, Great Bourbon Selection, and Great Cocktails”.
Southern Proper’s pedigree was promising, being a Jason Cheek production (KO Prime, Toro) so we had high expectations as we stopped in for lunch on a gorgeous summer afternoon.
Now, this is not a restaurant review blog and DEFINITELY not an architectural appreciation blog, but daaaaannnnggg this place was stupendously designed and I just have to give you a sense of what this place looks like.
Being early for lunch, the place was empty, so we grabbed two of the luxurious bar stools (seriously, you could sit in these things ALL day/night) at the large 16 seat bar. Our bartender was extremely new but cheerful and gregarious and not afraid to ask his co-worker when he didn’t know how to make a certain drink (all excellent qualities when you’re not an experienced veteran).
I went for the Abused Peach, which contained something mysteriously called a “peach-rye bounce”, alongside cognac (I’m a SLUT for cognac drinks and peach flavored stuff, so I was an easy target for this one). And of course, the egg-white.
On instruction from his coworker, our bartender was instructed to do a proper dry shake where you shake the egg white and some/all of the other ingredients without ice, and then shake again with ice – this process results in better egg white foam (but not as much as the REVERSE dry shake, which results in maximum foam which can be annoying to drink but makes for killer Instagram photos). As a gesture of appreciation, I remarked to both of them that the dry shake made drinks a lot more work to execute and I got a slight nod from the co-worker – sometimes these remarks result is a fun nerdy cocktail conversation (especially during a slow lunch hour) but in all fairness she was immersed in other prep tasks.
The drink was served tall on the rocks which is not my favorite configuration … but in this case it was right on the money. This was a stupendous drink, creamy & fresh & fruity and a gorgeous use of cognac. This was easily the best peach cocktail I’ve ever had, so I asked if the peach was a puree or a syrup – it was a puree, our bartender said.
But the “peach-rye bounce” term made me think there was more to the story – it was time to fire up the Google engines. And lo and behold, I learned that the “bounce” was a specific method of preserving fruit (I’m gonna guess that it’s one of those Southern traditions that they don’t readily share with us Yankees). You chop up a crapload of fruit, toss some sugar and liquor in with it, let it sit in sunlight for a few days, then put it in the darkness for a month or more (here’s a recipe).
Despite the fact that this sounds like an excellent way to make a substance that will make you go blind, I’m dying to try this at home. Getting a fresh fruit taste in cocktails is a pain because fruit is so perishable and preparations like syrup and shrubs are tricky to make without losing the intense fruit flavors. Being able to prep a concentrated fruit component that’ll last (I assume if you stick it in the fridge or freezer it’ll keep a long time thanks to the liquor component) and that you can whip out in the dead on winter would be a godsend.
Continuing her epic trip down Negroni Lane, Lorri went with Don’t Blame Louise. It’s a sort of Negroni, with tequila and Gran Classico instead of gin and Campari. It’s also got Clement’s Creole Shrubb, an extremely cool orange liqueur using Clement’s agricole rhum (she is a SUCKER for agricole!). Boozy and flavorful without being syrupy or heavy, it’s a fantastic alternative for those who like Negronis but are a bit bored of them.
Lorri followed up with the Gallagher’s Garden, a drink that invoked my Three Fruit Warning: any drink with three fruit flavors is in imminent danger of tasting like nothing in particular. The fact that one of them was watermelon (in addition to apricot and lime) made this an even riskier choice, watermelon being a fairly limp, faintly sweet and super diluted juice that usually has to be added in massive quantities to register on the palate.
Therefore, we were pleasantly surprised to get a beautifully balanced drink where all three fruit flavors were present. The pisco base was a great choice (a light brandy from Peru or Chile) and the basil honey a suitably subtle sweetener. A truly skillful creation that doesn’t have to tip its hat to any predecessor!
I just HAD to finish off with the Pinochle (our bartender was impressed that we could pronounce this correctly, but Lorri’s parents were huge pinochle players/fans so she nailed it and they were impressed! Apparently people up here try to call it a Pino-cheley or some such nonsense). Since our trip in Charleston, I’ve known that putting peanuts in Coke (and eating them) is a THING down South. Yeah, it’s bizarre to us Yankees but it’s one of those flavor combinations that really sticks in your taste memory so I was eager to see what these cocktail wizards cooked up with this drink.
It was cool to see it served in a Mexican coke bottle (Mexican being superior as it’s made with only cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup) and even cooler to see the soda come out of the tap into the bottle. The booze added was a peanut washed rye whiskey – to be honest, the rye wasn’t to my taste, something about the rye anise spice colliding with peanut flavor gave a mildly darker/bitter edge to the drink – I probably would have preferred bourbon or perhaps a less anise-forward rye (keep in mind that I’m a BIG rye fan).
Still, it was a hugely fun drink and I had a great time chewing down the soggy peanuts and pretending I was on a porch on a sunny day among the densely packed trees of Raleigh.
And the food? Terrific – even Lorri liked it, including the hush puppies: super cripsy on the outside, steamy and soft on the inside and almost perfect (the butter was too cold so it took awhile to melt to the proper consistency). Her hot links sandwich hit the spot and my fried catfish sandwich was startlingly fresh and sizable. While we love a proper southern barbecue as much as anyone (Smoke Shop is the unquestioned titleholder in our opinion), it’s fantastic to see a place that specializes in the many other wonderful southern dishes out there (and as a flexi-tarian, I’m happy to not have to FLEX so damn hard – BBQ is my vegetarian kryptonite).
And so we crown the New King of The South, the first Southern Triple Crown Winner in Boston: Southern Proper delivers a good bourbon selection, superior Southern cuisine and a virtuoso-level cocktail program.