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Root & Bone + Wilma Jean

The South (almost) rises again

Paul Wagtouicz

Root & Bone

Paul Wagtouicz

Root & Bone

Paul Wagtouicz

Roots-and-ricotta gnudi at Root & Bone


Peach caprese at Root & Bone

Paul Wagtouicz

Shrimp and grits at Root & Bone

Paul Wagtouicz

Wilma Jean

Paul Wagtouicz

Wilma Jean

Filip Wolak

Chicken dinner at Wilma Jean

Paul Wagtouicz

Cornmeal-crusted oysters at Wilma Jean

Since the fried-pickle frenzy of 2011, the Southernification of New York has become its own punch line, what with its array of banjo-tuned kitsch, bourbon-sloshed mason jars and reclaimed boondocks barnwood. The postrecession focus on all things down-home has bogged down our fair city under the weight of buttered biscuits, ham-hocked collards and enough deep-fried bird to haunt PETA members till their dying days.

A gander at Root & Bone, the weathered-wood East Village newcomer from James Beard finalist Jeff McInnis and fellow Top Chef–testant Janine Booth—both formerly of Miami’s acclaimed, country-twanged Yardbird—initially induces dread that it will be more of the double-dredged same. But when that Dixieland camp is wrangled in, a meal here can be both comfort-food–satisfying and sophisticated.

That is, if you stick to the church-social staples: moist, kernel-studded cornbread ($6), laced with thyme and padded with clotted cream; tangy deviled eggs ($6), pierced with pickled roots; and paper-lined wire baskets full of irresistibly craggy, pressure-fried chicken ($16 for half, $32 for whole), light and summery with a sweet-tea brine, bourbon-Tabasco honey for zip and pickled-and-dehydrated lemon for brightness.

Veering from time-honored fixins will leave you stranded in unstable territory. The peach caprese ($12) is clever in its Southern substitutionsщ۬charred stone fruit, pickled green tomatoes and frizzled pimento cheese, all sticky with molasses vinegar. But a dish of root-and-ricotta gnudi ($18), paired with sweet corn and celery whip, is plagued with a raw-dough gumminess that rivals Pillsbury Grands straight out of the can.

Across the river, empire builders Rob Newton and Kerry Diamond face a similar fate at their Carroll Gardens roost Wilma Jean, the result of a restaurant reshuffle that moved former tenant Nightingale 9 to their old Seersucker space. Their new spot culls unabashedly from the latter, a beloved lardcore ode to below-the–Mason-Dixon eats: Seersucker’s weekly fried-chicken special is a Wilma menu mainstay and for good reason, with thick-battered crunch giving way to stunningly juicy meat ($14). That stellar bird also comes speared on a stick ($5), a gas-station novelty that shares soul with the crisp-edged bologna sandwich ($5), a joyously junky tribute to Newton’s native Arkansas.

Not all plates are rendered joyful: cornmeal-crusted Virginia oysters ($11) are weighed down by batter, and sides (fried pickles, coleslaw) require a little help from the spice rack. But both Root & Bone and Wilma Jean are mighty lucky—New York’s fried-chicken love won’t fly the coop anytime soon.

Root & Bone,200 E 3rd St at Ave B (646-682-7080)

Wilma Jean,345 Smith St at Carroll St, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn (718-422-0444)