“It’s so nice that you can live in South Side and eat so well,” the woman said to me as she dismounted her barstool to leave. Indeed she was right.
Southbound, a family friendly restaurant serving comforting suppers, opened this past fall in Bon Air’s Stony Point Shopping Center. A creative and delicious lineup of dishes with fresh locally purveyed ingredients, fun cocktails, effortless hospitality and charming atmosphere make Southbound a hot destination south of the James.
When we arrived without a reservation at 6:45 p.m. on a Thursday to a boisterous restaurant, every table in the dining room and every seat at the bar was taken. My dining partner and I posted ourselves near the bar after learning of a 45- to 60-minute wait.
After spotting seats opening up at the bar about 15 minutes later, the host offered us the option of eating at the bar. We very much appreciated the tip, and were already starting to like this place.
We joined a handful of other diners at the big, wraparound bar, which commands the front of the restaurant. My gaze fixed onto the tostada a woman was eating next to me. “We’re going to have to order that,” I told my dining partner, and she nodded in agreement.
Crisp corn tortillas set the foundation for a delectable gluten-free tostada ($12) that was topped with fatty, flavorful carnitas and smoky pinto beans that were garnished with a bright, sour green tomato salsa and drizzle of gooey queso. Thin slices of hot peppers here and there added a pop of heat to the Mexican-inspired dish.
Other appetizers include crispy chicken skins served with Alabama white sauce ($8) and a half-dozen East Coast oysters ($10). Gluten-free options abound, such as the crab salad ($12) with grapefruit vinaigrette or cauliflower soup with pickled raisins and curry ($7). Veggie dishes are aplenty, too.
We were craving the Virginia ham plate ($12), three warm buttermilk biscuits served with slices of ham, pickled veggies and housemade condiments.
A colorful palette of pickles included sweet-and-sour red onions, cucumber rounds, briny okra and carrot shavings punctuated with potent mustard seeds. Housemade butters and spreads include dollops of creamy pimento cheese, mustard-sweet potato purée, apple butter seasoned with warm spices, and a creamy and subtly sweet sorghum lardo that we wanted to eat by the spoonful.
The list of entrées dazzled us with choices ranging from the homemade pastas (think orecchiette with collard green pesto and rigatoni bolognese) to hearty meat dishes of coffee-braised short ribs ($22) and a pork loin with hash and salsa verde ($21). There is even a menu for children — chicken breast with grits ($9) and mac ’n cheese ($7) to name a few.
Served with its crispy and scaly nutrient-rich skin intact, a mild fillet of tilefish ($21) and shoots of broccolini were served over a bed of white beans. A beautiful orange stroke of romesco sauce painted across the plate gave the dish an appealing presentation. The entrée could use some refining, though, as the fillet was overcooked with a chewiness to it, and the beans and broccolini with mere hints of citrus (preserved lemon) and garlic called for more seasoning. The creamy romesco sauce offered some excitement with a slight smokiness.
The mustard fusilli pasta ($19) is a riff on beef stroganoff that reads like pot roast with sinewy, fatty braised beef and al dente cipollini onions and carrot chunks. A flavorful broth of beef and tomato gave the dish a delightful heartiness. On top, a dollop of sour cream was brilliantly mixed with mustard seeds that created a pungent and tangy taste, along with an unexpected texture, to the cool cream. Not your typical pasta, this heavenly dish was spot on.
To end, we split the dessert du jour, a homemade ice cream sandwich ($7) of creamy vanilla ice cream between two chocolaty wafers. The sandwich was delicious, but messy to share.
Throughout the evening, a steady stream of diners and drinkers came and went from the new neighborhood watering hole. Reservations are recommended, as the restaurant is always bustling. According to our trusty bartender, most evenings (except Sundays) are this lively. So come prepared for a happening atmosphere.
The restaurant is the culinary child of two of Richmond’s most lauded chefs: Lee Gregory of The Roosevelt and Joe Sparatta of Heritage. Before arriving, I kept wondering how the new restaurant would compare to their highly acclaimed individual creations.
After dining at Southbound, it’s clear the new restaurant has its own special identity. The dishes are familiar and comforting yet stand out as new and intriguing. The new place has similarities to its sister restaurants, but it shines on its own with the menu, the hospitality shown by the host and our bartender, the colorful wall murals by local artist Ed Trask and the family friendly atmosphere.