Q • Chef Rick Lewis from the chicken place Southern grew up behind us. We love his Mac + Cheese Casserole! — Mary Kaye May, Des Peres
A • Barbecue? Fried chicken? Make your way to midtown, then follow your nose. Enter the back door. Turn right for Pappy’s Smokehouse or turn left for Southern, Rick Lewis’ take on a Nashville-style “hot chicken” joint.
When Lewis says “hot” chicken, he means it. Southern’s chicken scales from mild (still hot, Lewis says) to “double cluckin” (so fiery hot with ghost pepper, it’s not even on the menu). It’s lightly dredged in a signature flour and fried in corn oil at a lower-than-usual temperature so the skin is crisp with sweet, buttery flavor, says Lewis, whose style has captured both local and national attention, including a chef of the year award from the Post-Dispatch in 2013 and a James Beard “Rising Star” nomination in 2014.
To keep up with hot fried chicken, Southern’s sides are familiar yet in a class of their own. It’s no surprise that Lewis grew up in a family of fine home cooks, especially his mom and his grandmothers — in the buffet line, look up, you’ll see their pictures, scenes from another era.
Since opening Southern in 2015, Lewis has tweaked his interpretation on a cross-generational favorite. “St. Louis is a creamy mac ’n’ cheese town,” he’s learned, so the current recipe is a border-state middle ground between that and a southern-style looser casserole.
The key ingredients? Brown ale (for yeasty hoppiness) from local craft brewer 4 Hands; spices (for flavor and heat) from local purveyor McCarthy Spices; and smoked gouda (for nuance). Oh and one more: Velveeta, which Lewis says is essential to the texture of Southern’s casserole. “Velveeta is so melty and creamy,” he says. “With all cheddar, the sauce would break.”
And Southern’s fans? Well, they eat this stuff up Wednesday through Sunday (days the restaurant is open), 20 gallons of cheese sauce worth’s every week, even more during summer.
3108 Olive Street
To request a recipe
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