Lean times tend to empty restaurants. With Tipsy Parson, it seems that owners Tasha Gibson and Julie Wallach are trying to lure patrons by channeling the experience of dining at home—if home happened to be a charming spot in the country stocked with grandmotherly knickknacks. Their sophomore follow-up to Little Giant is best approached as the nightly dinner party it strives to be. You might kick off an evening with cocktails and canaps in the front parlor, then retreat for dinner into the more serious dining room. If the garden weren’t such a miniscule sliver, it would make a fine destination for warm-weather cordials.
Though neither of them hails from the South, Wallach and Gibson, chef and hostess respectively, have conjured a Dixieland fantasy. The front room, with trompe l’oeil wallpaper bookshelves, cushioned window seats and repurposed church pews, might just as well be the reading room in an antebellum estate. The candlelit dining room feels even more residential, with walls adorned with framed floral fabric and decoupage silhouettes.
The food, as nostalgic as the setting, is grounded firmly below the Mason-Dixon line. The retro bar snacks are the sort a housewife might serve to the Ladies Auxiliary—bacon-wrapped figs pierced with tiny toothpicks, delicious home-pickled shrimp (a Carolina lowcountry classic) in a rustic bourbon reduction.
Wallach isn’t quite breaking out casseroles, but she forgoes effete pretensions for rough-hewn generosity. Her cooking doesn’t always impress, but there’s heart in her food.
While lamb ribs in one copious starter err on the wrong side of chewy, the sweet, tangy brew they’re braised in—molasses, red onions and vinegar—would certainly make them a backyard barbecue hit. The dazzling vegetable fry-up, a sort of Deep South fritto misto, is a great shareable mound of whatever’s in season—mushrooms, squash, cippolini onions and kale—dredged in a light cornmeal batter with lemon aioli and hot-pepper vinegar.
Wallach can’t help but add some big city panache to her comfort menu. Her justly celebrated macaroni and cheese—an import from Little Giant—features a complex medley of bespoke cheeses (Grafton cheddar, gruyre, grana padano), crumbled cornbread and fresh cavatelli that holds up awfully well to a long bake in the oven. Her burger, featuring the usual pedigreed blend of ground beef, comes with batter fried pickles and crispy bacon on a golden parker-house bun, plus a smear of pimento cheese (a relic of so many Southern childhoods).
The entres are as homey as everything else here, with portions that ensure you won’t be pining for seconds. Tender pink duck breast in a crispy layer of sea-salted fat comes with an entire bunch of black seedless grapes. Broiled until just barely blistered, the grapes make a visual splash, but don’t add nearly as much zip as the accompanying Concord-grape sauce—fragrant with cinnamon, ginger, and clove. A pork shank as big as a bouffant is a superficial stunner that falls short on flavor, with too many sour notes—in the prune and plum compote spooned on top and apple sauce spread underneath—surrounding the leathery meat.
Desserts deliver much more on the promise of a Southern escape. The namesake Tipsy Parson—a boozy trifle that’s been served in the region since the 18th century—comes in a stemmed parfait glass. The layered almond cake, brandied fruit, pastry cream and toasted almonds makes an indulgent finale. As does the warm ’smore bread pudding, a coffee cup filled with chocolate-soaked brioche and homemade marshmallow fluff.
The food at Tipsy Parson may not rival your Southern grandmother’s cooking, but with the temperature plunging outside, the place makes for an awfully cozy retreat.
Drink this: The wines by the glass and Southern-inspired cocktails are all reasonably priced. Try the Concord Grape Julep, essentially spiked grape slush, served blended in a tall, frosty glass ($11).
Eat this: Pickled shrimp, lamb ribs, vegetable fry-up, macaroni and cheese, duck with Concord grape sauce, Tipsy Parson
Sit here: Tipsy Parson offers seating options to suit any mood or time of day: breakfast pastries and light lunch in the sun-dappled front parlor, cocktails and evening snacks at the bar, snug supper on the tufted banquettes out back.
Conversation piece: Partners Julie Wallach and Tasha Gibson designed the space, worked on the build-out themselves and provided many of the featured knickknacks.