Ryan Trimm opened Sweet Grass in 2010 in Cooper-Young and introduced Memphians, already smitten with Cajun and Creole flavors, to Low Country cuisine, a similar yet distinct regional fare.
When in 2011 he took in adjoining space and opened a second restaurant with a shared front door that he named Sweet Grass Next Door (known simply as Next Door), he introduced a more casual menu with items such as a pimento cheeseburger, Bad Ass Nachos made with beef brisket, and the occasional corn dog. Good pub grub.
So when he opened his third place, Southward Fare & Libations, in July at the Regalia Shopping Center, Trimm planned a menu to reflect all the South, not to limit himself to a specific region. You’ll find rabbit, Berkshire pork, seafood in many forms and a good selection of local vegetable sides.
Southward is housed in the space that was once Circa, though it’s hardly recognizable. The bar has moved to the front entrance and been given a clubby polished wood atmosphere (though the televisions, for sports fans, are present). The main dining room is country chic, with barn doors closing off a section known as the loft, mismatched chairs at a long community table, wood tables (white tablecloths randomly placed on some), and numerous chandeliers lighting the space. Banquette seating lines two walls; a massive blackboard stretches across the back wall announcing brunch and bar specials.
Speaking of the bar, Trimm has staffed it with veteran bartenders Chris Ferri, who moved from Next Door, and Terry Allen, longtime bartender from The Grove Grill. They serve a solid drink as well as pouring signature cocktails and a good selection of mocktails.
There’s a bar menu that includes the excellent pimento cheeseburger, a hefty two-hander that’s cooked to order and sports, of course, pimento cheese with housemade pickles (you can order a jar of mixed pickles at the bar).
Trimm has established himself as one of our local charcuterie experts (there are a fair number), and you can order a plate at the bar or in the main dining room (some items are exclusive to the bar, though we were able, with something a little too close to begging, to order pickles in the dining room).
While preparing charcuterie for a platter, it makes sense to prepare items to be served in other dishes, and Trimm’s housemade sausages and cold cuts make their way into items such as the croque madame at brunch and the mussels and shrimp pirlau, a signature dish.
Pirlau takes us back to Low Country food, which is in good hands at Southward. It’s a rice porridge, a thick stew that at Southward contains big shrimp, housemade sausage, mussels, pieces of white fish (it could’ve been anything), and slivers of Benton’s country ham. It’s a hearty dish, filling and delicious, but very, very smoky. It was a favorite at the table, but I preferred the big dish of mussels we ordered as an appetizer. The mussels were good-size, and the broth was spicy and fragrant with chorizo and fennel.
But my favorite dish at dinner was the chicken-fried rabbit served over beet slaw. Rabbit tastes a good bit like chicken, a little lighter, though. It’s tougher, though certainly not tough. Here it’s battered and fried until crisp and coated with a tangy, slightly sweet sauce that barely coats the crust. The julienne beets, tossed in a light dressing with the same hints of sweet and sour, are also available as a small plate.
The executive lunch is a daily special that includes a choice of soup or salad, an entree and a soft drink for $14. Try the butternut squash lobster bisque if given the option; it’s superb, an excellent version of creamy squash soup, with the unmistakable essence of lobster in the broth. We ordered crab ravigote, a toss-up that mixed large pieces of crab meat in a lightly creamy, zingy dressing that was excellent. The delicious fried chicken is an enormous boneless breast that’s fork tender. The creamy potato salad that came with it was very good, too.
Brunch is served on Saturday and Sunday, and I was smitten with the croque madame, an open-face sandwich traditionally made with ham and cheese, topped with béchamel and a fried egg. At Southward, they call the meat “pig leg pastrami,” but it tastes like good sliced ham.
Southward fare & Libations
Address: 6150 Poplar, Suite 122
Hours: Monday through Friday, lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner Monday through Saturday 5:30 p.m.-until (no set closing time, but it’s about 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; bar stays open one hour after dining room closes); brunch Saturday and Sunday 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Reviewer’s Choice: chicken-fried rabbit ($16 small plate); pimento cheeseburger ($12); mussels ($15); executive lunch ($14); butternut squash lobster bisque ($8).
Alcohol: Full bar.
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars