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  1. Paul Wagtouicz
    Paul Wagtouicz

    Root & Bone

  2. Paul Wagtouicz
    Paul Wagtouicz

    Root & Bone

  3. Paul Wagtouicz
    Paul Wagtouicz

    Roots-and-ricotta gnudi at Root & Bone

  4. Peach caprese at Root & Bone

  5. Paul Wagtouicz
    Paul Wagtouicz

    Shrimp and grits at Root & Bone

  6. Paul Wagtouicz
    Paul Wagtouicz

    Wilma Jean

  7. Paul Wagtouicz
    Paul Wagtouicz

    Wilma Jean

  8. Filip Wolak
    Filip Wolak

    Chicken dinner at Wilma Jean

  9. Paul Wagtouicz
    Paul Wagtouicz

    Cornmeal-crusted oysters at Wilma Jean

Root & Bone + Wilma Jean

The South (almost) rises again

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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 substitutions—
charred 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)
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