One of our newest favorite places is the latest edition of Chef Jason McConnell’s growing Middle TN empire, 55 South. Chef McConnell’s other Franklin, TN restaurants include both Sol and Red Pony, which focus on mexican/tex-mex and new southern cuisine, respectively. 55 South is a special breed of restaurant, focusing on the cuisine that dominates the Interstate 55 corridor from Memphis to New Orleans. Having myself grown up in Memphis, gone to college in Jackson, MS, and spent plenty of time in NOLA, going to 55 South is a lot like reliving some of the better parts of younger days.
On our latest trip, we started with the restaurant’s fried green tomato appetizer, which included shrimp in a cold, tangy remoulade sauce. The fried green tomatoes are slightly smaller than I’m used to, but the small, silver dollar sized FGT’s are just about the right size to be eaten with one of the small shrimp or two. Rather than paring the tomatoes with ranch, as usual, Chef McConnell managed to combine a delta favorite, fried green tomatoes, with a creole staple, shrimp remoulade, with great results.
Sarah has become partial to their tamales, a spicy, meaty staple of Mississippi’s Tamale Trail, topped with a black bean chili mixture. The tamales feature a hefty amount of dough in relation to the meat, which is slightly spicy, but very flavorful.
55 South also features the closest I’ve found to an authentic New Orleans style shrimp po-boy. The shrimp are large, crunchy, and feature a slightly spicy seasoning, while the french bread is chewy, but soft. Po-Boy’s come dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo, while the crinkle cut fries are crispy and salty, but really an afterthought to the main course.
55 South also excels with its drink menu, which includes a prickly pear margarita, the first we’ve found outside of Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in Vegas, and a more than adequate representation of the original, no less.
While we’ve still got many more trips to 55 South in our future (hopefully), other friends we’ve taken to the restaurant have declared the shrimp and grits with its barbecued shrimp and blue cheese grits a perfect example of the low country cuisine taken to another level. The barbecued shrimp are not barbecued as we know it, but rather intensely flavored with a creamy, buttery sauce and placed on top of smooth, buttery, blue cheese grits.
Overall, 55 South is probably the best example Sarah and I have found of true, New Orleans style Cajun and creole dining. While neither of us are originally from the area, we have a great appreciation for all applications of the flavors and presentations that great area of the USA is famous (or infamous) for. Any of you readers out there have any suggestions for good quality cajun and creole dining in Middle TN? We’ve got a few in our queue, but we’re more than happy to listen to anyone else’s suggestions on whether the jambalaya or the gumbo is the best to try at any given place.