Southern Rail's New Winter Menu
“American classics with a Southern twist” is how Chef Justin Beckett describes the food at Southern Rail, and his new winter menu at Southern Rail debuts vegetable-driven dishes that are sure to become guest favorites. Wednesday night, I was invited to sample these delicious odes to local bounty as Chef Beckett described his inspiration.
“One of the things that really struck me was when I did all these eat-a-thons traveling through the South, in Austin, Ashville, North Carolina, New Orleans, and Charleston. I was really impressed by the amount of vegetables that they actually bring to the table. When people think of the South, typically they think gravy and biscuits, fried chicken, heavier meals. Those are fantastic, but I think the surprise is you can incorporate a lot of lighter items and still make them flavorful and delicious. It’s really important for me to express and show that we have great local farmers working really hard year round."
"How can we make vegetables really craveable, how can we make them really taste good? If you cook them properly with delicious spices and take care of them, I think you can make vegetables be the star on the menu. That’s really the focus of tonight’s meal. "
But first I start with my favorite cocktail at Southern Rail, That Dog Won't Hunt. It's made with Templeton rye whiskey, smoky Sombra mezcal, fresh lemonade, maple syrup and AZ Bitters Lab Figgy Pudding and Orange Sunshine bitters. For wine, I"m a huge fan of Southern Rail's commitment to Arizona winemakers (for my interview with sommelier Scott Stephens, visit this link). I chose Sand Reckoner's "W", a floral white wine blend that pairs beautifully with the vegetable dishes. For more details on this wine from one of my favorite Arizona vineyards, read AZ Wine Monk's description here.
We begin with a Southern tradition - deviled eggs . "“I think the classic deviled egg is really important to the South. We use a little bit of a mayo and a little bit of sour cream in the filling with some mustard and then just garnished simply with radish, carrot tops, and paprika," Chef Beckett tells us.
Spinach salad followed, piled high with salmon smoked in-house, tart apple slices, heirloom carrots, creamy avocado puree, and fried capers dressed with a tangy roasted red pepper vinaigrette.
The pure taste of corn was the star in a chowder garnished with crispy potato slices, mushrooms, and bacon. “The corn chowder is very simple. We really wanted this dish to be clean and shine," says Chef Beckett.
Another new item is wood-oven roasted cauliflower, with pesto, smoked tomato puree, charred green onions, and stewed apples. “Cauliflower is a very humble vegetable," Chef Beckett notes, "but if you treat it with a little bit of sex appeal, all of a sudden it becomes this magical vegetable. The juices from the stewed apples are turned into a gastrique with a little apple cider vinegar and a little bit of brown sugar.”
Gorgeous colors arrived on a plate as avocado on toasted Noble Bread was set before us. “ This dish is near and dear to my heart. I grew up hating avocados and my whole family loved them. My issue was the texture." "I really like this combination with citrus, leaves, sprouts and 'chicken-fried' Fresno chiles. It's our version of avocado bruschetta."
Chef Beckett challenged himself to create a dish of vegetables that may not be on everybody's favorite list - beets, brussels sprouts, and butternut squash - to see if he could make some new converts. He transforms them by roasting to coax out the vegetables' sweetness and adding textural flavors with sprouts, grapefruit, radishes, celery leaves, crunchy beet chips and toasted pepitas. "It has a lot of different components - we took crème fraiche and infused it with black pepper honey and then mixed it in with a citrus salad. " With more than one at our table admitting they're a new fan, his experiment was a success!
Mushroom pasta is made with dehydrated mushrooms ground into powder, mushroom stock, and sautéed mushrooms for a “triple mushroom whammy," says Chef Beckett. It's tossed with spinach and pesto and showered with freshly grated parmesan. A vegetarian dish, proteins can be added such as andouille sausage, salmon, shrimp, or smoked chicken.
The smoked trout is not a new menu item, but it's a best-seller and it's easy to see why. The layers of sweet tomato jam, flavorful pea cakes, fresh greens, and pecan wood-smoked trout is a wonderful meld of flavors. "This and the fried green tomatoes have become our signature dishes," we're told.
You can't go wrong with any of the desserts, and the perfect finale for a Southern-inspired meal? Beignets and red velvet cake.
This was a complimentary media event.