South on Main: Southern Charm in Little Rock, Arkansas

Stepping inside South on Main feels like walking into a speakeasy from the Prohibition era. Part restaurant, part performance venue, South on Main is a feast for the senses.

Location: 1304 Main Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

Menu: Think Southern classics with different spins. Starters include fried oysters with remoulade, hot chicken liver salad with radish, bacon, and blue cheese buttermilk dressing or roasted tomato soup with tarragon creme fraiche. Mains like the catfish basket, trout with Arkansas basmati rice, and chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes, greens, and andouille gravy prove that Chef Matthew Bell elevates simple southern cuisine and brings it to another level.

Thoughts: The ambiance is quirky, like a modern version of a historic Southern establishment. The ceiling is tin, the brick is exposed, and Ball jars filled with sweet tea dot the tables where patrons enjoy a leisurely lunch. There is a collection of antique typewriters placed on the tops of half-walls that dissect the dining room into sections. Immediately, I notice the stage with ruby red velvet curtains next to my table. I ask my host what types of music typically play here. He replies, ” Anything and everything. We have nights for jazz, country, rock, indie; you name it.”

The space, as well as the food, exudes Southern charm. The cuisine features creative twists on favorites typically prepared in the south and programming relates to the content of the Oxford American magazine. The menu has all your favorites from boiled peanuts to a catfish basket with hushpuppies and riffs on classics like the Hoppin’ John veggie burger served with fries. It’s cool, fresh, and old-school at the same time.

Musical performances, literary readings, film screenings, and other events provide, “A full culinary, artistic and educational immersion in Southern culture.”

The casual bar where locals eat at the counter belies the sophisticated cocktails prepared behind it. It’s cool, fresh, and old-school at the same time.

South on Main is a fascinating mix of old and new. Not at all what I was expecting when I first decided to eat here. I wanted hot chicken, and that’s what I ordered. I thought about adding a starter – because I happen to love boiled peanuts, but once I saw the lunch portions pass by, I decided to stick with the sandwich.

When it arrived, along with a Ball jar of sweet iced tea, I was not disappointed. The tender, crispy chicken had a kick, but it wasn’t so hot that it hurt. The pickles were sweet, and I chose to add some of the coleslaw that came as a side (plated in a separate dish) as a topper under the bun. The vinegar of the slaw added that zing that made me smile. I was craving this meal, and the chef put out the perfect antidote. The chicken was spicy, the tea was ice cold, and the pace was slow. 

Price Range: South on Main serves lunch, dinner, and brunch. The lunch portion starters range from $4-6 dollars. SOMA classics like the Hot Chicken Sandwich are $8-11 and mains like the catfish basket are around $12.00.

Jeanine Consoli
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