Chef Chat

It's All Good at Southern Goods [UPDATED]

Executive chef and owner of Southern Goods, Lyle Bento is in high spirits as the holidays approach. Coming off a second-place showing at the Big BAO Battle last week and getting good news about his legal battles with former business partner Charles Bishop, Bento has lots to celebrate. Back in October, CultureMap Houston broke the story about Bento’s legal suit against then-partner Bishop over alleged improper use of company funds. The chef told the Houston Press that the matter has since been resolved and it’s back to business as usual at Southern Goods. Clarification 11:45 a.m. December 16, 2016:  A check of Harris County court records shows that despite what Bento told us, the lawsuit between the two men has not been settled and is still in mediation.

On recent visits to the popular Heights hot spot, we found the place that former Houston Press food editor Phaedra Cook described as "a meat lover’s paradise” is still just as “comfortable and fun” today as it was more than a year ago.

There’s an awesome herb garden growing on the rooftop of the shed in the back, as well as potted plants and a healthy bush of lemongrass in the patio area. The restaurant prides itself on being a seasonally rotating kind of joint, using what the Earth is growing abundantly at the moment and changing items on the menu when it makes sense. We were stoked to find some menu favorites are still mainstays.

The smoked 44 Farms beef belly is still a sight to behold. Blackened by smoke, the barbecue sauce caramelized deep into the depths of the meat and the fat glistening with each cut were the perfect way to top off a couple of Southern Goods' non-meat treasures: the greens and the grits. Southern Goods indeed — these greens are crazy dee-lish, and the simple word “cheese” does not do the grits any justice.

A favorite snack at every table seemed to be the cracklins’. Thick chunks of pork skin with fat and meat are deep-fried to a crispy finish, then lovingly dusted with a spice rub. So many pieces come in an order, and the best part is the sweet, tangy cane syrup that comes along for the ride.

The large monitor in the main dining area is devoted to helping beer drinkers choose between the light, medium and heavy weights of brews on the 24 rotating taps. We were excited to see many of the new area craft brewers, like Holler Brewing and Eureka Heights, represented. Don’t get comfortable, though; the unspoken beer motto at Southern Goods is "here today, may be gone by the end of the day." For non-beer drinkers, the menu offers eight crafted house cocktails and an extensive list of reds, whites and rosés. The Bourbon Improved, at $10, is made with bonded bourbon, maraschino, angostura and Peychaud's. It was nicely composed; the bourbon, though strong, was made easier with the presence of the maraschino.

The late-night chef specials at Southern Goods fly under the radar. On the weekends, the regular menu is suspended (at 10 p.m. on Thursdays and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays) and a unique offering from one of the kitchen chefs is made available until close. Innovative dishes, such as barbecue shumai, a take on Chinese dim sum dumplings using barbecue spices with pork and shrimp, or Oaxacan tlayudas, an old-school Mexican-style pizza just like the abuelitas would make, are a couple of past favorites.

On one of our visits, we tried the Frito pie because who passes up Frito pie? Where do I start? If Frito pie worshipped a god, other Frito pies would kneel in front of this cheese-covered cast-iron pan saying in praise, “We’re not worthy!” The addition of pickled dragon peppers (finger chilis), sprinkled generously atop the double layer of cheese and chili, was over-the-top good.

Southern Goods is still very good. The outside patio area is a welcoming space for humans and pets. The only bad thing to report this time around is a lack of more shrimp and stuffing in the stuffed shrimp. The three shrimp on the plate were perfectly cooked, with a great balance of flavors. The thin pieces of green tomato added just the right amount of crunch and freshness to the dish. Stop being stingy with that deliciousness.

Southern Goods is located at 632 West 19th in the Heights. Late-night chef specials are available Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Hours of operation are 5 p.m. to midnight, Mondays through Thursdays, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays.
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Cuc Lam is a freelance food writer for the Houston Press and local pop-up chef. She enjoys teaching cooking classes and hosting dinner parties when she is not writing.