The opportunity to lead a kitchen turning out Southern-inspired eats at Back Bay Beats was tempting all on its own for Mississippi-bred chef Nicolas Swogger. But add in a stage for live music and plans for art installations from street artist Marka27, and Swogger—who grew up going to hardcore punk shows in his teens and is now a regular at the legal graffiti walls in Beverly—was sold.
“There’s lots of music history in Mississippi. I played in the band in high school and middle school. And I did graffiti art,” Swogger says. “That’s my thing. Music, food and art all fit together. When I found out that’s what they were doing here, I figured that was a pretty good fit.”
The restaurant inside Berklee College’s new Mass. Ave. high-rise is slated to open in mid-March, when Swogger will debut a menu with international riffs on Southern dishes—as well as vice versa. The menu is split into four sections, including a charcuterie category with pates, terrines, a ham biscuit and a pickle plate. Among a handful of small plates will be a scallop crudo dish, and a similar-sized vegetable section will include a spice-roasted cauliflower. The large plates feature dishes such as lamb tagine with couscous, dates and pecans as well as cornmeal-crusted skate with dirty rice, chicken livers and pickled okra. Swogger is especially enthused for a chicken pot pie dish that deconstructs the Southern classic, serving a half-roasted chicken with miniature biscuits, heirloom baby carrots, parsnips, wild mushrooms, celery leaves, pea shoots and neck-bone gravy.
“When you get it all together in one bite, it’s pot pie, but it’s not what you expect when you see it,” he says. “We’re going to be doing a lot of stuff like that. There’s a gumbo dish we’ve been playing with where it’s an andouille-stuffed gumbo or andouille-stuffed chicken breast with dirty rice and gumbo sauce.”
The food isn’t the only draw, as a circular stage between the bar and the 60-seat main dining area will have an acoustic musical act seven nights a week (and during Sunday brunch), with Berklee students, alumni, faculty and visiting artists all getting a chance to perform. Behind the dining room is a 24-seat private dining spot with red velvet walls hung with backlit music cases.
B3’s beverage program will include housemade syrups, shrubs and infusions in cocktails such as a pecan old fashioned. And while there’s plenty of bourbon for Swogger to serve his Mississippi pals when they’re in town, he’s looking forward to smashing some other Southern stereotypes.
“I like to educate people on the fact there’s more than fried chicken in Southern food,” Swogger says. “I do a lot of vegetable-centric dishes. I kind of want to take the approach we take around the New Orleans area and transfer that approach with the produce and seafood around here.”
Back Bay Beats 160 Mass. Ave., Boston (617-997-0211)