Inside the cool-toned dining room filled with soft grays and muted blues dwells a restaurant and cuisine much warmer than the design would suggest. An intentional choice, perhaps, to create a modern space for Southern food, a cuisine foundational to this country and its history.
The tug-of-war between the perception of Southern cuisine—more comfort than contemporary—and what it is and is becoming will shine at chef Tiffany Derry’s Roots Southern Table. It opens in Farmers Branch at 13050 Bee Street today, June 18.
Unlike her multiplying fast-casual restaurant, Roots Chicken Shak, which she runs with T2D Concepts cofounder Tom Foley, Roots Southern Table invites guests to sit down and stay a little while. To linger over whole duck-fat fried chicken and ginned-up cocktails. To taste familiar flavors through Derry’s deft technique and skill.
Bucking stereotypes is thrilling, tricky work. “If I’m being really honest,” says Derry, she’s feeling “nervous, excited, a little anxious” about the opening. “And I think people will be so surprised because the idea of Southern, a lot of times people talk about specific dishes like…fried chicken, mac and cheese. But for us, Southern is about the land, about the water, about the people who live in the South and what they contribute to Southern cuisine.”
Between Derry’s Louisiana origins, her bar manager who’s Korean and likewise from Louisiana, and chefs from the Carolinas and Puerto Rico, they all impart what Southern cuisine means to them. “We have room to play,” says Derry. “And I think a lot of times people don’t realize how big the South is and the influence that the South has had on so many different other types of cuisine.”
Derry and her culinary team refuse to be put in a box. “Sometimes people want to pigeonhole it and say, ‘These, this is Southern.’ Here, we’re saying, ‘No, we are Southern.’”
That mission statement is evident through the menu, which is broken down into sections: down home roots, modern roots, family-style, and supper. You’ll find Derry’s mother’s gumbo and shareable shrimp and grits fried into arancini-style balls. Cast iron cornbread, a staple on tables everywhere, here will be made with Waco-based Homestead Gristmill cornmeal and served with smoked butter and strawberry-rhubarb preserves.
“Sometimes people want to pigeonhole it and say, ‘These, this is Southern.’ Here, we’re saying, ‘No, we are Southern.’”
The modern section is where Derry gets to flex her culinary prowess—years honing her skill in French and Italian cuisines—now attuned to the food she remembers eating growing up. She’s fond of her black eyed peas hummus. Yes, she knows it’s a dish that appears on other menus. Hers, though, “it has to have the right texture and it’s gotta be right.” The peas are soaked, cooked down in a smoked veggie stock, and pureed to perfection. The hummus comes with a black eyed pea vinaigrette and, as a naan stand-in, akara, which is an African fritter (also made with, you guessed it, black eyed peas).
Derry marvels at the evolution of this dish: “from that pot of black eyed peas that my grandmother would serve to, now, a black eyed peas hummus.”
Find heartier dishes on the “supper” menu, like Pekin duck breast. “I love duck altogether, obviously, and duck-fat fried chicken,” says Derry, a nod to her famous Roots Chicken Shak signature. For this, there’s crispy duck skin on the breast alongside confit leg and thighs; meanwhile, the duck offal (livers, gizzards, heart) is cooked down into the accompanying dirty rice. “My mom would do dirty rice with chicken, right? Now we have this duck,” she explains, as further mounting evidence for the evolution of the dishes from Derry’s upbringing, made her way. “And so I think my mom would be like really impressed with the dirty rice done with the duck. She’ll be happy.”
The heart and soul of Southern food remains. Derry’s cooking is both art and science, history and modern, feeling and testing. It is multitudes. “I feel like it’s perfect timing to put Southern where it needs to be on the map,” she says. What is so often considered homestyle comfort food has evolved and will continue to break out of the confines in which people have long kept it. It’s time to put respect on Southern cuisine’s name. It’s well overdue.
It’s in the very word, roots, a term that permeates everything from Derry’s restaurant names to cooking philosophy. It evokes a vision of tendrils reaching out in every direction, knowing no bounds, only outward growth.
Roots Southern Table is located at 13050 Bee Street, Suite 160, Farmers Branch. The restaurant will be open initially for dinner from 5pm to 10pm, Tuesday through Sunday, with brunch and lunch service to follow.