There is no one way to define “Southern’’ cooking. Different regions in the southern U.S. have their own culinary cultures and dishes they define as “Southern.’’
I’ll define “Southern’’ cooking this way: You know it when you taste it. With that in mind, welcome to Root & Bone at the Shelborne South Beach. Chef/owners Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth, each alumni of Bravo TV’s “Top Chef’’ show, opened Root & Bone this past December after closing their Sarsaparilla Club, an American dim-sum restaurant, in the Shelborne, this past Fall.
McInnis and Booth also own the Stiltsville Fish Bar in Miami Beach.
Root & Bone is comfortable, pop up restaurant located in the front of the Shelborne – far enough away so as not to intrude on the lobby, but close enough make you feel like part of the SoBe action. McInnis and Booth have created a menu that captures what most people believe Southern cooking to be. That is, Root & Bone is loaded with “comfort’’ foods such as shrimp and grips, deviled eggs, meatloaf, mac & cheese and fried chicken.
The restaurant also has an outstanding menu of specialty cocktails and whiskeys, to go along with wine and beer.
“Janine and I chose most of our favorites that we’ve cooked over the years,’’ said McInnis, who was raised in Florida Panhandle town of Niceville and started peeling shrimp and cleaning fish on a cooking line when he was 16 years old.
McInnis and Booth (a native of Australia) opened the first Root & Bone in Manhattan’s Alphabet City in 2014. The restaurant quickly gained a reputation as having the best fried chicken (brined in sweet tea, onions and garlic for 24 hours) in the city.
The same can be said of the fried chicken at Root & Bone at the Shelborne – a free range bird brined in sweet tea, lemon dusted and spiked with Tabasco honey. The bird comes out light, flaky and moist.
Even guests who don’t normally order fried chicken need to try this tender bird. But if fried chicken isn’t your dish (shame on you), don’t pass on the Carolina spare ribs with cole slaw and a mac & cheese waffle; or the shrimp and grits with melted tomato and sweet corn. The short rib meatloaf with loaded baked potato and tomato jam is a showstopper.
“Root & Bone’s comfort style fits anywhere,’’ McInnis said. “The food is humble and comforting. Our service standards are relaxed and honest.’’
So honestly, how does McInnis – Southern raised and trained at the culinary school at Johnson & Wales in Charleston, S.C., – define “Southern’’ cooking?
“I’ve never been asked this question,’’ he said. “I’ve grown up in the South and lived most of my life in the South, but never really thought on what the definition of southern cooking is.
“I think it’s important to pay respects to the classic dishes and if you are to cook your own twist or version of a classic that you stay true to the dish and its original form.’’
McInnis and Booth each have accomplished those goals at Root & Bone.