Sweet T's Soul Cookin'
1515 Ottawa St., Windsor
Set aside the fact that it has the worst restaurant name in the area, and also any concerns about what frying may do to your arteries, and prepare to enjoy an evening of excess at Sweet T's Soul Cookin', Canadian Ryan Odette's second foray into Southern cooking (or cookin').
Classically trained Odette abandoned the fancy fare he served at MamO Bistro in 2008, when he went to Tennessee and learned how to cook the best barbecue I've ever eaten. His new place, Smoke & Spice, became wonderfully successful and outgrew its original home on Ottawa Street, moving to a much larger location in east Windsor. In May Odette reopened the informal 1515 Ottawa space with a related but different take on Southern food.
Sweet T's is not yet quite a match for Smoke & Spice, but its best dishes are well worth a border crossing.
The main item is fried chicken. It's juicy, almost squirting when you bite through the crust, and that crust is the perfect combination of crisp and tender, nor is it ridiculously thick. Odette achieves this transcendence by butchering his own chickens, brining them to keep them moist, double-dredging the pieces, and then pressure-frying, again to keep the moisture inside the skin.
It really is classic fried chicken done perfectly, yet I longed for the smoky barbecued wings at Smoke & Spice, the best wings I've had anywhere. Ah, well, you're not supposed to criticize an author for writing the wrong book. This restaurant is about fried chicken, not barbecued chicken. And the rest of the menu explores the concept of fried with impressive consistency.
The meaty breasts, wings, drums and thighs come with a "Sweet and Sassy Sauce" based on vinegar that Odette believes is necessary to cut through the fat, but it wasn't to my taste. Prices are good: three pieces and a side for $11, or three times that much, a bucket, for $31.
Sides include fries, light and fluffy mashed sweet potatoes, mixed greens, jalapeño slaw, and potato salad (of an odd peach color) with hard-boiled eggs, always a good idea. My favorites were a very crisp black-eyed pea salad with cucumbers and red peppers, refreshed by cilantro, and baked beans with andouille. The beans are a little sweet with molasses but mostly have a robust, masculine flavor; I thought of cowboys.
Another remarkable side is jalapeño cornbread with honey butter. The jalapeños aren't evident but the squares are perfectly grilled, meaning fried.
What I found fabulous beyond a cavil was Odette's shrimp Creole with andouille over grits. The shrimp themselves are smoky, the tomato sauce tastes of tomatoes with a little bit of fire in the afterglow. The grits are the creamiest — they're shipped in from Anson Mills in South Carolina, a prestige operation that stone-grinds heirloom grains. At $17 the shrimp is a bit pricey compared to the rest of the menu, but worth it.
Also excellent is a smoked beef and bacon meatloaf. The bacon is cured and smoked on the premises, mixed with ground beef and then smoked again for two hours. And of course the loaf is fried once that's done, for a crisp edge. It's a little denser than I think meatloaf should be, but that doesn't matter — it's rich to a fault, over silky mashed potatoes and under a tangle of crisp onions dredged in the same spiced flour used for the chicken.
When I go back, I'll order these two dishes again. Odette was making it easier to go back by offering discounts in July to those who signed up for his e-mail list (sweetsoulcooking.com). As at Smoke & Spice, it's worth it to join the "VIP club" if just for the birthday presents.
You can skip the bland deviled eggs and an ordinary pecan pie — although the latter is offered with house-made Maker's Mark ice cream, so forget what I just said. We enjoyed a luscious ice cream sandwich: house-made vanilla enclosed by two chocolate chocolate-chip cookies.
By the time you read this, milkshakes will also be offered.
Readers, I did not try the beef jerky nor the grits fritters. Just because something can be fried does not mean it should be fried. It was enough to have a large hunk of fried goat cheese topping the excellent mixed greens salad.
The downscale, down-home theme is sustained with chicken chili fries and a BLT that incorporates fried chicken salad. This is the first I've heard of fried chicken salad, much less of slathering it on a BLT. Even the fries are twice-fried. Enough already!
To drink, there's brewed iced tea, sweet or not, local wine, and beer on tap from Toronto's Mill Street brewpub. I found the latter's organic pretty tame, just a notch above Bud — but consider the health benefits. At this place, it will be the only time you do.
Sweet T's is closer to the tunnel than to the bridge, which means American visitors can avoid paying $4.75 per crossing to the troll. It's open Tuesday from 5 to 10 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. No reservations.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.