If you don't watch a lot of television, you may not know the name Carla Hall. But, chances are, you probably recognize her face, whether it be from Top Chef (where she competed in two different seasons, making it quite far both times) or from the daytime talkshow, The Chew. On television, her persona is warm, energetic, friendly and caring. And, in person, she's exactly the same way.
Carla is opening (potentially the first of many) Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen in Cobble Hook (the area in Brooklyn between Cobble Hill and Red Hook). The restaurant will draw on her Southern roots and serve Nashville-style hot chicken with traditional Southern sides and desserts. To get the restaurant up and running, Carla launched a Kickstarter campaign last year (which I backed (full disclosure)) with overwhelming success, beating her $250,000 goal by nearly $15,000.
In order to test out the menu, Carla hosted a pop-up restaurant at Root & Bone (the popular Alphabet City eater of fellow Top Chef alums Jeff McInnis & Janine Booth. Coincidentally, Root & Bone is one of my favorite NYC brunch spots). The menu for the pop up combined offerings from both Root & Bone and Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen.
With a price of $60 for four courses (+ $25 for cocktail pairings), this was a reasonably-priced (for NYC standards anyway) way to sample delicious Southern cuisine (Which the hubs and I have been sorely missing since moving to New York).
The food came out family-style, and we started off with bread service, which came with cornbread and biscuits and accoutrements like honey butter, sorghum and peach lavender jam. Root & Bone has been one of the few places in the city that has served me a delicious Southern-style biscuit, and these didn't disappoint. What made the entire course was the peach lavender jam. I'm not a huge fan of cooked peaches or lavender (smells like old people), but this was delicious. When I ran out of bread, I just ate the rest of the jam with a spoon.
Then, we were served two types of deviled eggs. Carla's was a well-made traditional version that had a touch of heat (from cayenne, I think). And Root & Bone's were actually pink and served with pickled root vegetables. We also got a Southern version of a Caprese salad - heirloom tomatoes, basil, pickled green tomatoes and a pimento cheese croquette. It was super refreshing, even with the gooey fried cheese. I'd come back to Root & Bone just for this and some of those biscuits.
The main event was the chicken. We each got a drum stick (Root & Bone's sweet tea brined chicken with lemon and Tabasco honey) and a thigh (Carla's crispy hot chicken tossed in a hot chili oil with white bread and pickles). Both chicken offerings were delicious in their own way. Root & Bone's chicken had great flavor and a nice zestiness. Carla's was definitely spicy, but not as hot as chicken at say Prince's in Nashville. She actually came to our table and spoke to us and said that they knew they would have to tone it down for the New York palate. Often, hot chicken is served at several different heat levels, so if you like it really, really spicy, you can request your chicken to be extra hot. The chicken was also served with Carla's potato salad (with Yukon gold and sweet potatoes), Carla's collard greens and Root & Bone's grilled corn (with cornbread butter, fried hominy and popcorn). Everything was excellent and there was so much food. We were stuffed, and dessert was still to come.
We wrapped up the meal with housemade ice cream sandwiches with chocolate cookies and chocolate ice cream and Carla's banana pudding. Now, I'm not a huge banana pudding fan. I like bananas, and I like pudding, separately. This was the most amazing banana pudding I've ever eaten. There were chunks of shortbread inside the pudding as well as toasted meringue on top. The combination of textures was delectable.
Even if I hadn't backed this restaurant through Kickstarter, I would totally make the trek all the way from my abode in Harlem to Cobble Hook, Brooklyn (probably an hour by subway) to enjoy a taste of the South in the Big Apple. I can't wait for Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen to open; I'll be the first person in line.