Little inspires more lust in the hearts of barbecue lovers than good “burnt ends,” those outlying fatty parts of brisket that get the most flavor and char from the smoker. Southern Goods in The Heights has found a way to make the experience even better. The restaurant uses beef belly — the more fatty short plate cut. The result is even more decadent. A bite through the dense outer “bark” gives way to luscious meat moistened by pockets of silken, rendered fat. It’s a transcendental experience. Underneath the meat is a bed of braised greens on top of cheesy grits. The grits are a wise addition, as they capture the juices from greens and beef alike and help moderate the richness.
Of course, when the grits are so good, it’s almost required that shrimp and grits be on the menu as well. Once again, Southern Goods takes a classic and turns up the volume. Instead of the usual — shrimp laid on top of a bed of grits — the kitchen forms the cheese grits into a ball around the shrimp, which then gets battered and deep-fried as a croquette. Southern Goods incorporates comeback sauce, a Mississippi invention that includes mayonnaise and chile sauce, into a rémoulade and serves it alongside the croquettes for dipping.
Southern Goods is the product of Charles Bishop, who is a partner in Ladybirds bar, and three hotshot chefs with a deep and enduring love of Southern heritage food. All three have been in charge of their own kitchens in some capacity or another, so it’s great for us that they chose to band together and create this wonderful restaurant instead.
The executive chef and co-owner is Lyle Bento, whose prior work has included being Chris Shepherd’s right-hand man at Underbelly, helping Joshua Martinez with the gourmet fare at food truck The Modular and working as a sous chef at the dearly departed British restaurant Feast. (By the way, you can now find chef Richard Knight of Feast — as well as some of Feast’s beloved dishes — at Hunky Dory.) Bento also worked at Rainbow Lodge, and that is where he first worked with J.D. Woodward, who is now chef de cuisine at Southern Goods.
The duo worked together again at Underbelly, then Woodward left to run the kitchen at Goro & Gun. (In the “it’s a small world” category, Goro & Gun was co-owned by Joshua Martinez, Bento’s friend who owns The Modular.) There, Woodward made many new fans, dishing out cheekily named dishes like “Hustle Sprouts” and “Tupac Wings.” Goro & Gun, sadly, didn’t find a big enough audience, closed and re-emerged as Moving Sidewalk bar. (Dear J.D., please bring back the roasted ham hocks that you used to make at Goro. Thank you in advance.)
The final member of the powerful chef team at Southern Goods is sous chef Patrick Feges. Feges also worked with Bento at Underbelly. He’s a talented pit master, honing his craft at his own company, Feges BBQ, and at Killen’s Barbecue, where he worked under chef and owner Ronnie Killen. Those amazing beef belly burnt ends are his work. The barbecue program has been so successful at Southern Goods, the place already needs a much bigger pit to keep up with demand.
It’s not just the burnt ends maxing out smoker capacity. It’s also the Pig Wings, special cuts of ham shank that are more like big, smoky, pork drumsticks. The huge hunks of pork are served in a little cast-iron pan and get a dose of sweet heat from a jalapeño pepper jelly glaze and an ample sprinkling of black pepper.
As if all that meaty goodness weren’t enough, Southern Goods may have unlocked the secret to the best burger in Houston. It’s a mixture of three ground meats, each with a distinct purpose. Beef chuck adds firmness and structure. Brisket lends moisture and fat, and bacon gives a sultry, smoky touch.
The burger has not one but two of these Patties from Heaven — each covered in melted cheese slices big enough to lop over the edges — on a salt- and pepper-seasoned bun from Kraftsmen Baking. (One of Southern Goods’ operating principles is to support other neighborhood businesses.)
This luxury limo ride of a sandwich is presented open-faced, with the burgers on one side and a load of fresh vegetables on the other: lettuce, tomato slices, raw rings of red onion and a crowning touch of deep green hunks of bread-and-butter pickles. As if anyone needed one more temptation, there’s a very worthy potato salad on the side laced with more of that comeback sauce rémoulade.
Southern Goods sounds like a meat lover’s paradise — and so it is. Southern cuisine has never really been known for great vegetable dishes that aren’t also laced with pork fat. They’re not entirely ignoring vegetarians here, though. There’s a fun take on caprese salad with tart fried green tomatoes layered between pale rounds of in-house mozzarella as well as battered and fried hen of the woods mushrooms. There’s a butternut squash salad, too, with tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and pleasingly soft cornbread croutons. However, the long, orange strips of squash were far too hard and unyielding. Hopefully, that issue will be resolved soon.
The go-to dessert at Southern Goods is old-fashioned bourbon balls, those little, round, powdered sugar-covered delights that are always a hit with grownups around the holidays. No, these booze-infused treats are not for the kids, even if you’d like for them to go to sleep without a fuss when you get home. As if to drive the point home, the balls are served in an old-fashioned cocktail glass.
An all-ages dessert option is the apple cobbler with a big scoop of Fat Cat Creamery vanilla ice cream on top. (Fat Cat is another neighboring business. In fact, it’s almost right across the street.) It’s soupy and messy — stick in a spoon and sauce may go spilling over the side — and yet that might be part of the charm. Slices of Granny Smith apples stand up nicely to the rich, buttery sauce, and a thick layer of crumbly topping caps off a bowl redolent of the sweet flavors of autumn.
Craft beer programs have become so ubiquitous that, these days, diners can almost assume that a new restaurant has one. Southern Goods’ program, though, is especially noteworthy. A big monitor displays the current list, which often includes beers from Brash, Oasis, Breckenridge and Deschutes. The vast majority of house cocktails are only $10, including a few fun plays on Southern themes like the Cajun Lemonade with vodka, Pimm’s liqueur, lemon juice, sugar, Tabasco and Cajun seasoning.
The main dining room is reminiscent of an old-school garage retrofitted with big glass windows. Despite the sparse brick walls, there’s a warm, welcoming vibe. Some spaces just seem to have good karma, and that’s the case here. A perimeter of overhead lights cast a golden glow over all the tables except for those on one unfortunate side that faces the street. (Co-owner Bishop promises that adding more lights is on his to-do list.) In the interim, avoid sitting there after dark — being able to get a good look at the wonderful food is part of the experience. The windows near the bar open to serve patrons seated at the outside counter, a fun and practical feature that also lends some airiness to the space.
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Parking may be a challenge. The lot holds only about 15 cars and there’s no valet. During busy hours, diners may have to park down the street. There’s plenty of seating, though, and the back patio is a good option when the weather is nice. The full menu is also available at the indoor and outdoor bar counters. On the weekends, there are live bands to entertain the crowd outside.
Southern Goods is comfortable and fun. The food is divine and prices are surprisingly economical, with an average entrée at around $15. (The menu is helpfully arranged from small plates to large with sides and desserts at the bottom. It was nice not to have to ask for a separate dessert menu for once.) There is so much about Southern Goods that is smart and good that it’s sure to be a favorite among Houston diners for years to come. Long may it reign in all of its meaty splendor.
632 19th Street, 346-980-8152. Hours: 5 p.m. to midnight Mondays through Thursdays; 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays.
Red beans and rice $7
Butternut squash salad $9
Fried green tomatoes $11
Fried mushrooms $11
Shrimp and grits croquettes $13
Pig Wings $14
SG burger $14
Beef belly burnt ends $19
Bourbon balls $7
Apple cobbler $8