Review: Social Southern Table and Bar

by Elizabeth Rose

Eclectic to the nth degree, this new speakeatery' on Johnston is not your mama's home cooking.

Eclectic to the nth degree, this new speakeatery' on Johnston is not your mama's home cooking. By Elizabeth Rose

Friday, Feb. 1, 2013

It's appropriate that Social Southern Table and Bar's owners chose the bee as the centerpiece for the restaurant's logo, because there has been a lot of buzz surrounding the joint.

The bee is the "most social insect in the world," according to Jody Ferguson, who teamed up with Social Executive Chef Marc Krampe and Charley G's owner Charlie Goodson to open an extremely elevated gastropub they have deemed a "speakeatery" in the 4,600-square-foot former Canton City Inn on Johnston Street.

"Food is meant to be shared in a social atmosphere with good company," says Krampe, who created the menu to include small plates meant for sharing or snacking and entrées for full dinners. For now, the restaurant is only open for dinner, but Ferguson hinted at a "social hour" and the possibility of expanding to include a lunch menu. Sit at the bar or at one of the tables made from old warehouse oak flooring and enjoy one of the specialty cocktails, 16 beers on tap or a bottled beer from the extensive selection.

Krampe's menu is eclectic, to say the least. The dishes rotate around Southern favorites with international influences; Krampe is a classically trained French chef but has worked in kitchens specializing in Ethiopian, Japanese, Thai, New American and French cuisines.

"I love all different kinds of foods, and I wanted to try to put that all together somehow and make it work," says Krampe. "I like to take dishes, like shrimp and grits, and put my own twist on it - smoking the shrimp, sautéing it in Indian Madras curry oil. Instead of grits, we use stone-ground polenta that we cook for four hours. I like to take different aspects of different cuisines and make a cohesive dish out of them."

Krampe's favorite dish is the Social burger on a pretzel bun, accompanied by the frites - "crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside." If you're a sucker for duck wings, look no farther than Social for a finger-licking treat covered in a fish-caramel sauce - salty and sweet. The pork belly sliders are topped with a pickled mushroom and onion relish to cut the often overly rich, fatty meat.

If you absolutely cannot decide, the boudin kolache is a sure thing. Krampe stuffs a sweet roll with boudin and white cheddar and then serves it with a caramelized apple-and-onion coulis. Your friends are going to want to try it, too, so it's probably best to order a few. While you're sharing, the social flatbreads are easy to split, and there's one to satisfy any craving. Want something light? Try the farmers' market vegetable flatbread. Exotic? The house-smoked mozzarella, tomato jam and Thai basil will be smoky, sweet and hot. Something heavier? The loaded flatbread with leeks, manchego, country ham, fried quail egg and garlic confit should do the trick.

The supper plates are heartier helpings and are the most noticeable nod to Southern cooking, from smoked shrimp and polenta complete with roasted pork broth and pickled green tomato relish to the Guinness-braised cochon with wild mushrooms and citrus oil. However, the most enticing - if you're feeling adventurous - is the smoked fried chicken-n-foie gras biscuits, not at all like mama made 'em. A lot of love goes into the chicken alone, and it's apparent. Top it with a honey syrup made with local ghost peppers, and there's nothing else you could desire.

Except maybe a cocktail. Krampe had his hand in creating that menu, too, and it features some unlikely elements. The blackberry bourbon lemonade is a good place to start with Buffalo Trace bourbon, housemade lemonade, blackberry purée, sparkling wine and, surprisingly, cardamom. The Social Animal is the bar's specialty Bloody Mary, with housemade Mary mix, cracklin-infused vodka, pickled okra, cracklin and cheddar cheese. Now, it isn't as spicy as this imbiber would desire, but the meaty cracklin taste is a nice change of pace. For a lighter taste, the Ruston Peach is a blend of Woodford Reserve bourbon, smoked Ruston peach preserves, Aperol and iced tea. The Creek Water was inspired by a drink Krampe and his friends made in a cooler, but now it's a bit more sophisticated with Beefeater gin, lime juice, soda, simple syrup, cucumber and mint leaves - but still just as refreshing.

We're not finished yet. The dessert menu, designed by pastry chef Amy Salsman, is incredible. Bring some friends to share the salted brownies with hazelnut brittle, or the carrot cake made with cornflakes and topped with buttermilk glaze, or the lemon and white chocolate pots de creme with sweet biscuits (which resemble scones), or the cereal milk and fresh baked cookies (or upgrade to a Southern Russian, which is the cereal milk with Kahlua). Krampe, a friend of The Lab's Thomas Peters, says there is a chance of expanding into a specialty coffee menu as well.

If you plan on spending many an evening at Social, the PO Box membership program is probably a good investment. For $20 a month, you can have the VIP treatment with your own bronze mailbox stocked with a gift handpicked by Krampe, like wine or beer, personal tasting notes, food pairing suggestions, recipes, and "imported foodstuffs or Social kitchen creations." With it also comes special invitations to exclusive events and tastings.

Find Social at 3901 Johnston St. and call 456-3274 for reservations.