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Southern Grille cooks up down-home cuisine without pretensions.

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The way we eat and what we eat has changed much in the past couple of decades, but many still have a nostalgia for traditional southern fare, which can be superb when cooked with care and good ingredients.



Southern Grille, next door to the Carpenter Center, is serving up a short list of southern favorites in a no-frills, dinerlike atmosphere, with essentially the same menu (with price differences) at lunch and dinner.



What we ate recently at Southern Grille was simple and good, not some gentrified version of this straightforward, unpretentious cuisine.



Two soups serve as the starters. The navy bean and ham ($3.75) is delicious if you like — as I do — this hearty and filling fare. A bowl of vegetable soup ($2.95) is good but seems to be the ever-changing catch-all soup that is usually its role on the menu.



Fried chicken used to be the staple on every Southern table and obviously is still wildly popular. I like the version here, described as "cast iron pan-fried." Tender and moist inside, its batter is thin and crisp ($9.95). Other chicken dishes are barbecued and smothered. Cross-cut short ribs of beef ($9.95) are meaty and tender, obviously slow cooked, and served with a good sauce that's perfect with a side of mashed potatoes. Other entrees ($6.95 - $11.25) range from a plate of four side dishes to a grilled 12-ounce steak. A couple of Low Country specialties — shrimp and grits and Charleston gumbo — reflect owner Jimmy Sneed's Charleston roots. Meatloaf and ham hocks add a bit of humility to the list.



Of course, with any good meals in the South the accompaniments are almost as important as the main thing. Southern Grille offers collards (very good), stewed cabbage, mashed potatoes (not special), mac & cheese (cheesy), cole slaw, red rice, string beans (fresh), mashed Hayman sweet potatoes (almost a delicacy), and yellow grits (fairly rare). We could all name a couple of omissions, but it's a pretty good list of essentials.



Desserts (all $3.50) play a big part in any authentic meal in the South, and the Grille offers several consummately comforting ones — peach cobbler, banana pudding, lemon meringue pie, tapioca pudding and bread pudding.



With its proximity to the Carpenter Center, this new eatery is convenient for pre-concert or theater eating (and they will accept reservations), but beware the restaurant's early closing hour if you are not going next door. Note also that no credit cards are accepted.



For southerners, Southern Grille is on an increasingly short list of places to get traditional food — whether it's a part of your normal diet or a nostalgic trip. It may not be like home, but it's as good as home away from home.



The Southern Grille ($)

550 E. Grace St. (at Sixth Street)

Mon. 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.; Tues. - Fri. 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.; Sat. 4:30 p.m. - 8 p.m. No credit cards.

343-7200



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