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REAL southern food in boston?

Hi y'all -

Now i'm a southern gal with a hunkering for REAL southern food. The best that I've found so far was Bob's Southern Bistro, but they closed down a while back. I really want some sweet tea (the real kind, not the kind where "there's sugar on the table"). Suggestions PLEASE!


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  1. Magnolia in Inman Sq, Cambridge
    Coast Cafe in Cambridge

    Maybe Poppa B's in Dorchester?

    Try a search on this board for these names.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Prav

      i know coast cafe's fried chicken gets lots of praise here, but (speaking as a southerner), i just didn't like it. i thought it was over crisped. plus their biscuits (or was it cornbread?) was very industrial tasting--my gf the baker took one bite and said it was from a mix.

    2. Second on Magnolia in Inman. I also used to love the fried chicken at the Fish Pier in Southie (in general a solid fried food shack) but the last time I drove by there I saw a sign saying "under new management" and I haven't tried it. In general, your best bet is to pick up and season a good cast iron skillet and start working your way through Edna Lewis' recipes.

      1. Chef Lee's, and United House of Prayer (both in Dorchester) have a certain appeal to me. But I'm certainly not a southerner.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Bostonbob3

          Also not a Southerner. but I've been to Poppa B's in Mattapan recently and thought it was outstanding. Lots of people going after church on a Sunday. Very much a soul food based menu and I appreciate that it is a locally owned business making good in a marginal neighborhood. The food IMO is much better than Bob's Southern Bistro (even in its heyday) and magnolias has always struck me as haute Southern wannabe without the depth of flavor that I experience in the South.

          1. re: Bostonbob3

            Hey Bob,

            Could you tell us more about United House of Prayer? I've never heard of this place!

            1. re: Prav

              Yeah, it's a church/temple hard by Franklin Park. They have a kitchen that serves cafeteria/buffet-style from 11:30-6:00, with all the soul food essentials. Nothing fancy, just tasty grub.

              1. re: Bostonbob3

                Chronicle or maybe PG did a piece of the United House of Prayer awhile back, and I thought the fried chicken looked pretty good. They said alot of people stopped on their way home from work to get a to go order. Did you try the chicken?

                1. re: Pegmeister

                  Yes. And LOTS of sides. It's really good, down-home food. But don't expect some Bobby Flay twist; it is what it is.

          2. It doesn't have fried chicken but I love Blue Ribbon BBQ in Newton.

            1. Haven't been for a few years, but Keith's Place,
              469 Blue Hill Ave., does the sweet tea to a T....Only breakfast and lunch,but you can alwys do a fried walleye and grits for brunch...

              2 Replies
              1. re: galleygirl

                Keith's place is no longer there and hasn't been for a few years. they were replaced by Flames

                1. re: Johnresa

                  Aww, bummer! Well, I DO like Flames, but I stop at the first one (Morton ave, I think?)

              2. Regarding sweet tea, you're barking up the wrong tree. I grew up in GA and lived in Boston from 1998 to 2006 without finding much in the way of real sweet tea, It's better to make it yourself. Some places up there even add a little lemonade to the tea (shudder).

                Chef Lees (SC natives I think) used to be your best bet, better than Bob's, but it is steam table style, so be aware.

                Coastal Kitchen can be pretty good, but no seating really and they substiture smoked turkey where they should be using fatback.

                I agree Uncle Pete's has some good Southern items. Avoid the hockey puck/sweet potato biscuits like the plague.

                Most of the cornbread I tried in New England was of the sweeter, cake-like consistency rather than the crumbly cornmeal kind that requires a nice pat of butter.

                Blue Ribbon and even some of the items at Redbones (well, aside from the pulled pork) have some great items and sides.

                Magnolia is gussied up NOLA fare more than Southern Food/Country Cooking/Soul Food.

                1. Time to air out a pet peeve of mine- please stop calling Magnolia Southern food! It is a second-rate "southern new gourmet" restaurant along the lines of a New Orleans cajun-revival restaurant, or a classic like Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill, NC. However - it is nowhere near as good as those places. I will never understand why Yankees love that place so much.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: bobot

                    The reason why"Yankess" love it so much is because they don't know any better. Most White Northerners have never had real southern cooking. It's not really their fault.

                    1. re: bobot

                      You pays your money and you takes your choice. You don't get good chowder in the deep south, just as you don't get sweet tea and non-ironic fried pickles in Boston.

                      To the specifics, Magnolia says on their web site new southern, so I don't think it's misleading to point people there. After more than ten years up here in the north, if someone asks me about southern restaurants, i'll point them to a place that serves hoppin' john. As to whether it's GOOD southern food, that's worthy of an argument we can have - but southern food it at least attempts to be.

                      I'm also curious as to exactly what "southern" food is to everyone here. To me it's about smothered steaks, buttermilk fried chicken, skillet bread, and pig-only BBQ with a thin tomato sauce hot with vinegar. Baked beans with molasses and bacon. Cold root beers in jars full of crushed ice and moon pies. Chicken and dumplins. Beans and greens on new years. Biscuits with homemade baking powder, etc. Bacon grease in a jar on the stove.

                      That's stuff that is hard to transport without an audience. And Quentin Compson legends aside, there isn't that big of audience up here. Also most of the great southern cooks I've known can't stand the cold :-) A lot of what people call southern food I call soul food, frankly, as it seems to be food you find in NYC and Chicago, instead of based on core southern flavors, vegetables, and game.

                      But I have lived in at least two other southern cuisine areas (mideast NC and NOLA) and the food there was significantly different from where I grew up. Northern Florida has different food than eastern virginia...which is it that people mean?

                      1. re: wilbanks

                        Good point. Southern cooking varies greatly, depending on the region, local ingredients and the skills of the cook.

                        1. re: wilbanks

                          Good, hunger-inducing post. For reference, I grew up just north of NOLA, and lived for a brief time in Houston and Columbia, SC.

                          1. re: wilbanks

                            wilbanks- other than tomato in BBQ sauce (Eastern NC all the way for me!) I agree with your definition of Southern food. It's not soul food (which I love as well), and it's not Cajun/Creole.

                            I think that's what bugs me the most about these posts- I know that I will never get this food, outside of my kitchen, in Boston, so why bother looking for it? I'd rather just save my money/appetite for when I go home. It's not like ethnic food, which is supported by adventurous eaters and immigrant communities.

                          2. re: bobot

                            MMMMMM. Crook's Corner. Brings back my college days!!!

                          3. Mrs. Jones on Dorchester Ave. is very good

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Guinness02122

                              I was going to mention Mrs. Jones as well. It is small, and take-out only, but if you are in the Lower Mills area it would be worth checking out.

                              I don't know for sure (I haven't tried it yet) but I believe their cornbread is made with sugar; other items on the menu look promising.

                              I was disappointed in Magnolia too. The fried oysters were very good, but that is all I would return for.

                              1. re: Guinness02122

                                Third on Mrs.Jones. I would suspect that Mrs. J leans towards soul food but being a born-n-bred New Englander, I'm not sure where one draws that line. The fried chicken (wings only) are very good.

                                Mrs. Jones Soul Food
                                2255 Dorchester Ave, Boston, MA 02124

                              2. Displaced southerner here as well. I keep thinking my Mom should open a restaurant and fill this niche, but my dear husband says that there is no market for good southern food. I can't believe it.

                                Best fried chicken I've found in a restaurant - Firefly's in Marlborough. No, I don't like the bbq there, or the weird dirty rice with red beans (red beans ON the dirty rice??) or the cake-like cornbread or the bland, undercooked collards. But the chicken is first rate, and they have real swee'tea. I will admit to liking the sweet potatoes with pecans. Sugar-y goodness.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Eatin in Woostah

                                  There is definitely a market, but it is so hard to get authentic ingredients. The okra is expensive and hard, peaches, pecans and tomatos have likely traveled a while before they make it up here.

                                  There are compensations. Local scallops are very expensive, $27.00/lb., but it is worth buying even 1/4 lb. and searing them lightly. Winter is also good hard-shell lobster weather.

                                  Thoughts of Southern food lead me to get out the cast iron pan and the stone-ground cornmeal - no sugar.

                                2. OK, someone's going to flame me for this--but if you really want good sweet tea, may I offer that you should head for the Chick-Fil-A in Burlington. Not even kidding. And yes, I was born and raised in the South.

                                  12 Replies
                                  1. re: okello

                                    Nope, right there with you. That's the only place I know of in the area that serves a proper sweet tea, and as a son of the south myself, I have been known to invent excuses to go to Burlington Mall just so I can have lunch there.

                                    1. re: okello

                                      THere's a Chick-Fil-A in Burlington? I'm on my way! Boston will be a REAL food town when the first Waffle House opens up!

                                      1. re: Valyn

                                        My reaction exactly - there's a Chick-Fil-A in Burlington? Is it in the mall? Bachslunch (cute name!), of course the bun gets soggy. That's like complaining that a McD burger is too flat and cooked all the way through. Just part of the experience. :)

                                        1. re: Eatin in Woostah

                                          Yes, it is in the mall. Food court on the right, on your way to the bathrooms.

                                          1. re: smtucker

                                            There is a Chick-Fil-A in the North Shore Mall in Peabody also.

                                            1. re: Infomaniac

                                              and the pheasant Lane mall in nashua. When i used to travel the south for work alot, I would hit either sonic or chic fil a drive thru for breakfast sometimes. I dislike most all fast food breakfast food and most non-fastfood breakfast foods. Sonic serves the lunch menu all day and chic fil a has a chicken/biscuit breakfast sandwhich that i would get

                                              1. re: hargau

                                                I really like the chicken & biscuit breakfast sandwich, and agree with others about their iced tea.

                                                My kid has been bugging me to take her to the Sonic for a while. It it worth visiting?

                                                1. re: Infomaniac

                                                  I definately wouldnt drive to NJ to go to one which is the closest there is to here.

                                                  1. re: hargau

                                                    I see...I thought you were talkin Nashua for sonic too. Thanks.

                                                2. re: hargau

                                                  I haven't been to check it out in awhile but there used to be a Chick-Fil-A in the student union at Harvard.

                                                  1. re: mats77

                                                    Unless it reopened in the last 3 years (when I last tried to go there), its gone.

                                        2. re: okello

                                          Haven't tried sweet tea there, but am not a fan of Chick Fil A's chicken sandwiches. They put them in a foil pouch and the buns (and sometimes the filets) get soggy.

                                        3. I've never been able to find good non-cake-like cornbread up here (I'm from North Georgia) so I've given up. I had to stop making it for my Yankee husband's family because they avoided it like it was poison, but I was able to bring my husband around..

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Valyn

                                            I haven't found it anywhere either, and my husband won't eat it when I make it from scratch. But I can't stand the sweet Jiffy mix that he likes, so I guess we just don't make cornbread very often.

                                            1. re: Eatin in Woostah

                                              I'm a northern girl, but I was lucky to have a Kentucky grandmother on one side of the family who was the best cook I have ever known. I'll dig out her cornbread recipe and post it on the Home Cooking board.

                                              I'm sure there are some other great recipes out there. Keep on making the cornbread - your northern relatives should get it eventually, and if they don't, all the more for you.

                                              Great cornbread = no sugar, no cake. A cast-iron skillet, hot butter and stone ground cornmeal are basic ingredients that are hard not to love.

                                          2. As an aside, Frank Stitt's Southern Table is the cookbook of the month for February on the Home Cooking board. I haven't seen it yet, but I'm hoping to get some inspiration to liven up my Boston dinners.

                                            1. Sad to say, I can't find good southern food either - here in New England. I loved Bob the Chef but it was limited in menu. We found a great place in Manchester, NH - she closed this weekend to open a place in Pa. - awesome fried okra, bbq items, callard greens, etc. she was from Georgia. My solution was to buy a timeshare just outside New Orleans so we could get our fix once a year. Eye of Katrina wiped it out, we're back to square one.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: lexpatti

                                                Here is my suggestion for people looking for the following:

                                                Southern Food In New England
                                                NY Style Pizza in Wyoming
                                                Chowder in Utah
                                                Philly Cheesesteaks in San Diego
                                                Po' Boys in Minnesota
                                                And so on..................

                                                If you are prone to say, "It's not like my MaMa's" or "Only NYer's can make real pizza", or "I'm from __________ and a really know ____________", then stop asking for something that you are never going to be pleased with.

                                                If you are looking for a well executed style of food rather than opening some Pandora's Box simply to bash them because they don't live up to some childhood dream, please ask away. Additionally, the response "make it at home" is always a great response (I mean how hard is it to make a pitcher of sweet tea??).

                                                Thank You and have a great day.

                                                  1. re: TonyO

                                                    My answer exactly! When you see a horse run, don't complain that it's not walking on it's hind legs like you, instead appreciate how swiftly and gracefully it gallops. Every region and every cook for that matter will always place their own unique stamp on any dish, no matter how simple. Try to appreciate the new and fun interpretation of your old favorite food being cooked by talented local chefs that are clearly bringing their own culinary vocabulary and skill to the dish. Just because someone makes a dish you are used to having one way in a different manner does not make it "bad" or make them "bad cooks". I've traveled to the south and had authentic corn bread and I'll admit, I still like the sweet northern style better, mostly because I tend to have bit of a sweet tooth in all my baked good preferences. I also make a mean clam chowder, but I add a bit of sherry and don't make it too think, which many of my fellow northerners would tell me is heresy too. I've ordered boiled Maine lobster in FL and was delightfully surprised to find the local chef threw in a mystery batch of spices into the boiling water that beautifully enhanced the lobster meat in a way I had never sampled before up north but thoroughly enjoyed. If I had demanded, "send this back and do it the New England way I am used to", I would have missed out on a great meal.

                                                  2. re: lexpatti

                                                    Eatin in Woostah, my Yankee husband came around to my cornbread when I started buying cornmeal directly from a farm outside Athens, GA. I don't know why it makes such a difference, but it cooks up a little lighter than the cornmeal I bought at the grocery store, not like cake but just lighter. I buy it by the pound (they sell polenta and grits too); here's the link:

                                                    To TonyO and InmanSqGirl, geez don't be so hard on us expatriates, especially those of us from such a food-oriented culture. Just because we're looking for a taste of home (and maybe the community that goes with it) doesn't mean we're small minded or limited in our food vision. If we were, we wouldn't be on this site, would we?