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Menu Inspiration: The Soul of the South

Southern comfort food leaves a delicious impression — even at the most sophisticated soirées

By Chay D. Baxley

Somewhere, likely lost forever in the vaults of Pinterest, an idea so deliciously unexpected was hatched that it sparked an entirely new generation of wedding planning connoisseurs. The notion? To add a dash of Southern hospitality and panache to reception fare by reinventing traditional menus in surprisingly savory ways.

Imagine — serving food at a wedding that people actually want to eat. It was a breakthrough. And the wedding game, for all intents and purposes, was forever changed.

Once word was out that Southern comfort food was the new caviar — anything (literally, anything) was on the table. Cornbread, fried chicken, alligator tail and gourmet shrimp-and-grit stations were seamlessly incorporated into the finest of place settings. Nationwide, skilled catering professionals began pouring themselves into mastering the art of hors d’oeuvres like fried green tomatoes and gourmet mac-n-cheese bites while pastry chefs and bakers concentrated on the sweeter points of Southern cookery, like the disheveled perfection of a deconstructed multi-tiered cake.

Though imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, according to locals in Northwest Florida there’s simply no substitute for the real thing. And when it comes to Old South cuisine, this region’s offerings are authentic.

“Southern-inspired menus are consistent with the look and feel of (our) venues,” emphasized Andy Reiss, owner of Andrew’s Catering as well as Tallahassee’s two iconic restaurants, Andrew’s Capital Grill & Bar and Andrew’s 228.

“I love running with a theme,” he continued. “If you’re going to get married under a big oak tree with Spanish moss hanging from it, don’t you think that a good fit would be to have a Southern-inspired, plantation-type menu?”

On that point, countless brides couldn’t agree more. As a result, the uptick in requests for Southern-styled menus is undeniable and has coaxed many service providers, including Andrew’s, to embrace this trend with open arms and conveniently customizable menu options.

“We’ve developed an entire Southern-inspired menu,” shared Reiss. “As soon as we hear (a buzz word) or about a venue where these menus work so well, it’s not really a problem finding food that fits the bill.”
Along the Gulf Coast, the same rules apply.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase,” agreed Rachel Forman, event coordinator at Bud & Alley’s Waterfront Restaurants & Catering in Seaside. “People have been adding collard greens to their menus and gumbos. I think it gives guests coming from out of state a taste for our food down here and just a chance to try something new.”

While partygoers are sure to love the flavor, making mama’s favorites fit for a fantastic evening can be a bit of a challenge. Experts say the right amount of modernization mixed with some sassy verbiage on the menu front is crucial to making this cuisine taste and feel current.

“There’s a number of ways people can bring that Southern flair into their menu — especially being down here in the South,” said Sarah Ennis, lead event coordinator with Klassic Katering in Tallahassee.

“Southern weddings are definitely the trend,” she added. “But more than that, we want to incorporate our heritage and our upbringing into the event and to give it that true Southern charm.

“One way to do that is by incorporating some modern ingredients into Southern favorites. Since the farm-to-table concept is really, really popular right now, it allows us to source the freshest local ingredients in order to modernize those Southern favorites that a bride or couple might have had in their childhood. For example, chicken and waffles is something we can do with a great local rosemary-infused honey.”

For styles that vary from the traditional (the plated or buffet), industry professionals are always finding fresh, creative ideas for food service the day of the event. Considering serving an appetizer of tomato soup and petite grilled cheese sandwiches? Have your catering company present them in champagne flutes for an interesting and sexy twist on an old-school favorite.

The options for this trend are endless and, thus far, it appears to be anything but fleeting.

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