Esquire's Mariani Names The Southern the Best New Steakhouse in America



Esquire's food blog tweeted yesterday to call attention to some year-end picks on the website by restaurant writer John Mariani. It's a slideshow proclaiming "The Best of Food and Drink in 2012" — and Nashville's The Southern Steak and Oyster lands this pearl of an appellation: Best New Steakhouse. (The link is here. You may have to click patiently through ads to get the slide.)

The tweet is a little confusing, since much of the content in the slideshow looks similar to what Esquire released in October, under the heading "Best New Restaurants of 2012." As I reported then, The Southern scored a place on the best new restaurant list, and its general manager, Kendall Morales (daughter of restaurant founder Tom Morales), was named Hostess of the Year.

Whether the slideshow represents new kudos or a repurposing of previous content in a year-end package, it doesn't really matter: It's wonderful recognition for The Southern, which represents one of the blockbuster new restaurants in a year of bountiful high-profile restaurant openings in Nashville.

“I’ve got one more arrow in my quiver, and I’m going to use it to do something downtown for Nashville to be proud of,” Morales told me in April when The Southern opened.

In June, Scene critic Carrington Fox gave it a positive review, praising innovative menu items like the Nudie Suit — where the customer gets to go to the back counter and tell the butcher how thick to cut the steak — and "the decadent Southern burger, topped with pimiento cheese and jalapeno-tinged bacon."

Then came a brief controversy.

In late August, contributor Bruce Barry wrote a post describing a meal at The Southern as "a perplexing disaster," with cold food and other surprising lapses in service, and the ensuing comments were nothing if not colorful. To the restaurant's credit, the staff was apologetic and most of the food was taken off the bill. (In an update, Barry said management contacted him with a further apology and an invite him to return, which he said he planned to do.)

It was much smoother sailing publicity-wise about five weeks later — when Mariani issued his praise of Kendall Morales as hostess and The Southern as one of the best new restaurants of 2012, lauding The Southern for breaking out of the "straitjacket menus" and tired macho ambience associated with the steakhouse genre: "The Southern Steak & Oyster ... puts forth a wide-open bonhomie that's as appealing to women as it is to men. (There was even a softball game on the bar TV one night.)"

Speaking of Mariani, we can't help but wonder whether he will ever write about another celebrated new Nashville restaurant, The Catbird Seat, following some pointed comments from Catbird's two chefs. In a June interview with GQ, they were asked how they deal with restaurant critics.

Josh Habiger: There's nothing we can do differently, honestly. Except if [Esquire restaurant writer] John Mariani comes in, because that guy can suck a dick.

Erik Anderson: He sends in a rider, like a band.

It's been one lively year on the restaurant beat. Keep reading Bites as it continues to unfold.

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