Chad Billings is the executive chef at Southerly Restaurant and Patio. It is fitting that Billings was trained at the American Culinary Federation through the Disney Academy.
Southerly Restaurant and Patio
Cuisine: Modern Southern
Representative Dish: Pimiento cheese fritters and 48-hour short rib
Address: 730 Coleman Blvd., Mount Pleasant
Bar: Full-service bar; both indoor and patio bars
Hours: Monday-Friday breakfast 6:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m., lunch until 3 p.m.; dinner 5-11 p.m.; 3-5 p.m. afternoon menu; brunch Saturday 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and Sunday 8 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sunday dinner 5-9 p.m.
Food: 2 1/2
Service: 3 1/2
Atmosphere: 3 1/2
Costs: Appetizers $5-$11; soups and salads $5-$10; small plates $8-$13; sides $6; entrees $14-$24; desserts $7; kids menu $5-$7.
Vegetarian Options: Yes, as well as gluten-free and vegan.
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
Other: On and off-premise catering; outdoor dining; patio bar; private dining room; special events.
It was there he progressed from prep chef to sous chef to chef de cuisine to executive chef. And only at an Epcot Center could Billings cook in so many diverse properties.
The Magic Kingdom prepared him well for the culinary Disney that is Southern Season, a gourmet emporium of specialty foods, cookware, condiments, cheeses, candy, beers and wines as well as a cooking school. It is the love child of Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma.
Billings oversees Southern Season’s restaurant, the Southerly Restaurant and Patio. This complex offers breakfast, lunch, dinner, late afternoon snacks, two full-service bars, a private dining room, special events and off-premise catering. Days at Southerly are long, with weekday breakfast service starting at 6:30 a.m. and dinner service until 11 p.m.
The restaurant interior is stylishly conceived. Its design speaks more with a French accent than a Southern drawl. The dining room is an attractive space, awash in sunlight bouncing off pale lemon walls and illuminated by telescoping chandeliers with drum shades sprawling light over the dining room.
Given the choice of seating, wrap yourself in the expansive snug of a booth. Avoid the tables by the doors to the patio where chilled winds parlay drafts as guests tour the patio with its water wall fountain of repurposed oyster shells.
Tables are “landscaped” with seasonal blooms created by the talented floral staff of Southern Season. They are visual reminders that much of what you experience in the restaurant can be purchased in the store.
The walls are hung with the advertising poster art of 19th-century Belle Epoch. Inspired by Jules Cheret and Toulouse-Lautrec, these homages to legendary brands of Champagne, Cognac and Absinthe contrast starkly to an eatery fashioned with Southern roots and poised on a mission of local and seasonal.
The menu has much in common with Weathervane, the restaurant in the Chapel Hill, N.C., Southern Season. Same butternut squash soup laced with cinnamon creme fraiche; same deviled eggs albeit from a different egg farmer sharing the same crackle of Johnston County country ham; same salads of iceberg wedges, classic Caesar and baby spinach. Sunburst trout commands the catch in N.C.; local fresh catch lures the diners in Mount Pleasant. Ashley Farms supplies the chicken in both locations.
Billings and his staff have had some fun with their menu offering zucchini “chow-chow,” potato “risotto,” cauliflower “tabbuli” and fregola “mac-n-cheese.” Tater tots are fashioned with smoked gouda cheese and more than one vegetable is charred or blistered by choice and not error.
The menu bears witness to the Southern canon with black-eyed pea succotash, spiced pecans, pickled figs, peach-based barbecue sauce and heirloom butter beans.
The kitchen takes a cotton to smoking with a smoked corn tartar sauce, smoked farmer’s cheese, smoked pork chop and smoked Gouda cheese accenting simpler dishes with the parlance of plume.
Pimiento cheese fritters are a recommended starter: well-structured pimiento cheese filling is encased in a prickle of panko bread crumbs. These fireball orbs yield delicious molten cheese napalm and if you swipe them generously through Peggy Rose’s Hot Pepper Jelly, you will double the principle of pleasure and pain. Presented in a mini fryer basket, they marry whimsy with effect.
Equally well-constructed are duck tostados that reminded me of arepas. A confit of shredded duck meat is lacquered in a peach-based barbecue sauce and topped with the fresh notes of pineapple chutney and a shower of fresh cilantro leaves. Sweet, heat and fat hit the flavor trifecta for satisfaction.
The small plates menu is balanced in its offerings and clever in its preparations. A dish of cornmeal crusted oysters plays off the Rockefeller recipe and bathes lightly crusted and fried oysters in a “fondue” of Mexican asadero cheese and spinach with a crackle of cured chorizo.
Fans of modernist cuisine will enjoy the 48-hour short rib poised over smoked Gouda-seasoned fregola, nubby bits of roasted mushrooms and a lashing of pepper sauce. This dish dialed up the umami factor with the inclusion of concentrated mushroom flavors and the smoky accented cheese.
Roasted chicken is served with a pan-roasted breast and an in-house smoked thigh. Shrimp and grits are sauced with a marmalade of tomato and bacon, and fettuccini is nudged with black pepper. The menu is fashioned with creativity and executed with solid techniques.
The conundrum was lackluster seasonings and a misplaced sense of timing.
It finally occurred to me that this was a sanitized version of cooking, one that could easily be transported to other markets with a little fine tuning for regional ingredients and taste preferences.
Desserts lean toward classic flavor profiles such as flourless chocolate cake, creme brulee, pumpkin cheesecake, peach fritters and butterscotch pot de creme. They are rich endings but wonderful mid-afternoon pick-me-ups.
Southerly offers a fine assortment of cocktails and pours a fat glass of wine. Most servers are well-schooled on the menu and, to the credit of their training program, have actually tasted the foods. A friendly staff adds the gracious plenty that is the hallmark of the Southern dining experience.
This is a property being groomed for replication. With that end in mind, there is a sanitizing of the local and the regional that contributes to both its success and its challenge.