Southern cuisine is having a moment on the Boston restaurant scene. Beyond the neighborhood soul-food spots that have long peppered Dorchester and Roxbury, our barbecue joints essay the distinctive slow-smoked styles of Texas, Tennessee and Carolina. Dozens of tonier restaurants now feature Southern gumbos, shrimp and grits, and deep-fried dishes of chicken, pickles and catfish. But the level of apparent sincerity varies. For every Tupelo doing heartfelt Creole and Cajun, there’s an eyebrow-waggling, high-concept pastiche of Southern cuisine: “We have country music and bacon/pimento-cheese bites, yee-haw!” So it’s gratifying to run across the new Frogmore in Jamaica Plain, where executive chef Jason Albus is showcasing the little-seen, seafood-heavy Lowcountry cuisine of coastal South Carolina—a fascinating old fusion of African, Caribbean, native and Western European influences—with real feeling and only occasional creative flourishes.
For instance, an appetizer of pork n’ beans ($12) is dressed up just enough to shed its cheap-calorie origins with tiny, al dente petite rouge beans and a slab of crisp molasses-glazed pork belly in place of humble fatback; it kicks the ass of its mushy, cloying New England cousin. Grilling instead of frying okra ($8) eliminates most of its gooey mucilage; the crisp/crunchy result is nicely counterpointed with peak-of-season yellow tomatoes, presenting a potential conversion moment for the okra-averse. Runner bean salad ($8) coats green beans, onions and fried garlic with a refreshingly light dressing of clotted buttermilk, mild and cooling. Soups and stews consistently dazzle with richness and complexity, as in the Lowcountry classic of she-crab soup ($9), which smoothly blends crab, crab roe, cream and fino sherry into a sophisticated chowder, and in smoked turkey stew ($9), with okra, tomatoes and deeply smoky shredded turkey, topped with the crouton-like crunch of fried pig ear. Chicken n’ dumplings ($19) is a similarly hearty and comforting stew of chicken, carrots and peas in white gravy, given heft with dense gnocchi-like dumplings.
Deep smoke flavor elevates an astonishing succotash ($18) of smoked corn, lima beans and faro verde dotted with scallions and wee pattypan squashes, a rich ham broth completing a sublime vegetable entree. The Lowcountry boil ($25) of shrimp, soft-shell crab, smoked sausage, corn and potatoes reads as a spicier Southern echo of New England boiled dinners, while the fish camp plate (market price) attractively and deftly fries a whole fish of the day (redfish on one visit) and flanks it with fat onion rings and excellent slaw. Thin boneless pork chops ($23) don’t benefit from Southern aversion to medium-rare cooking, but are rescued from dryness by terrific pickled peaches and roasted pepper sauce. A side dish of cornbread ($5) dressed with hot pepper/honey butter features whimsical corncob shapes but doesn’t solve the eternal riddle “Will New Englanders ever sample truly savory Southern cornbread?” By contrast, hush puppies ($4) served fresh from the fryer are utterly fantastic: Eat ’em quick and skip the tartar sauce.
Desserts are big, hearty, sweet and satisfying, as in sorghum cake ($9), a chewy, sticky confection dotted with cocoa nibs and pecan brittle, and a lovely angel food cake ($9) complemented by rum-soaked pineapple, sugared cherries and a drizzle of sweet cream, plus a fascinating, airy cookie-like crisp from the same batter.
The bar program might have been hamstrung by its cordials license, but the Frogmore responds cleverly with a slate of complex, not-overly-sweet original cocktails like the Sun City ($10), which gets an almost Tiki-like kick out of honey-sweetened gin, pineapple, lime, madeira and black pepper, and the Take Me Home Again ($10), with the sweet-spiced Czech bitters Becherovka, Amaro Montenegro, lemon and tea combining to intriguing herbal effect. The dozen craft brews on tap ($6-$8) should satisfy JP’s avid beer-nerd contingent, but the inclusion of three rust-belt lawnmower beers (Carling’s Black Label, Schaefer, Genesee Cream Ale) for $3 each seems an apt nod to Lowcountry unpretentiousness. The wine list reflects co-owner Steve Bowman’s devotion to small, obscure American vintners, with by-the-glass offerings like a 2010 Domaine de la Terre Rouge Tête-à-Tête Red Blend ($12), a big, beefy, Rhône-like blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre, and nice-priced bottles like the 2014 Edmunds St. John “Bone-Jolly” ($40), a coppery gamay rosé.
A comfortable patio and spacious, dimly lit bar complement a dining room with the faded-grandeur
charm of an ancient Southern manor, with mismatched servingware and chandeliers, heavy maroon drapes, old oil portraits and pineapples on the colorful wallpaper. The pineapple as a symbol of hospitality certainly echoes the efforts of the waitstaff to make guests feel loved and well cared for, the Frogmore’s clearest connection to the owners’ other restaurant, Brookline’s Fairsted Kitchen, which has earned raves here for its insistently warm service. In the end, that earnest, unforced desire to please might be what sets the Frogmore apart from its reverse-carpetbagging competition: genuine Southern food and hospitality, served without winking or air quotes.
-Pork n’ beans
-Smoked turkey stew
-Fish camp plate
-Angel food cake
Hours: Sun.-Thu., 5-10 pm, Fri.-Sat., 5-11 pm, bar menu till 1 am every night, Sat.-Sun., 10 am-3 pm
Liquor: Beer, wine, cordials
The Frogmore 365 Centre St., Boston (857-203-9462) thefrogmore.com