Southern Culture's food has a lot going for it, but its service is slow as molasses in January. 

Going South

Since it opened in 1991, Southern Culture has enjoyed the good karma to be located in the building that once housed a bastion of Richmond nightlife, Humphrey's. And like its predecessor, Southern Culture is run by a proprietor who is a character of sorts. With its retro comfy decor and seating, Southern Culture is the kind of place that I really want to love.

Three of us walked in on a Saturday around 6:45 p.m. figuring we'd better get there early or not at all. Owner Jim Dudley greeted us himself with a friendly glad-you-stopped-by kind of smile. Ultimately though, that visit proved to be ill-fated. The service and quality of food were less than satisfactory due to a shortage of help in the kitchen, lots of large groups, etc. So we decided to give the place another try.

Arriving on another Saturday night at around 6:50 p.m., we were told there would be a 25-minute wait for a nonsmoking table upstairs. We put our name on a waiting list and stood by the front window sipping glasses of house merlot. At 7:40 p.m. we were finally seated. Upstairs, there were two groups of 12 and assorted other two- and four-tops.

The menu features an interesting combination of foods, not necessarily Southern as in fritters and gravy, but more from a variety of places south of the Mason-Dixon Line. On the appetizer list alone, there's Creole calamari, Caribbean barbecue quesadilla and bean dip with Texas caviar. Elsewhere, there's Jamaican pork barbecue, a catfish po' boy, Southern fried chicken and chicken Savannah.

[image-1]Photo by Stacy Warner / richmond.comOn my previous visit I'd had a cup of crab and corn chowder ($2.50). It was absolutely delicious — creamy but not too heavy, delicately seasoned and full of corn and crab. I ordered another cup on this visit, but it never arrived — the waitress never apologized but simply crossed it off of our bill. Meanwhile, Bottomless Pitt, who had savored some wonderful, lightly breaded fried oysters served over basil saffron sauce ($7.50) on our prior visit, opted this time for baby Cajun seafood cakes ($6.50). They came piping hot in a little basket with sauce for dipping and were pleasingly spicy and not too greasy.

Our waitress returned to our table about 10 minutes after we ordered to place a bread plate in front of each of us. We figured something would soon be following the plates. It was not until I sneezed loudly about 20 minutes later that B.P. saw our waitress take notice of us with an, "Oh no, I forgot about their food" look, scurry downstairs and return with the seafood cakes.

For the main event, I considered a couple of items on the specials list — Low Country Shad Roe prepared with shiitake mushrooms, bacon and red onion over grits ($15.95), and Pasta Pontchartrain, featuring mahogany clams, oysters, crawfish and crab over angel hair pasta in a garlic herb broth ($15.50). Then the carnivore in me got the best of my appetite and I ordered a filet mignon, peppered and topped with a bourbon and butter sauce ($15.95). B.P. chose a special, Mahi Mahi New Orleans, a blackened 8-ounce fillet with asparagus and a crawfish remoulade ($15.95).

[image-2]Photo by Stacy Warner / richmond.comBoth of our dinners were delicious. My beef was nicely seasoned, tender and cooked a perfect medium-rare. The accompanying dirty mashed potatoes had a sweet flavor, and the sugar snap peas were a welcome reminder that a vegetable garden is a worthy undertaking. B.P.'s fish was moist, and the crawfish remoulade was a nice complement. A basket holding two sweet corn muffins and butter was served with our dinners — the muffins were yummy but would have been even better warm.

Seated in dim candlelight, next to a window and exposed-brick walls, we had plenty of time to ponder, considering the time delays between courses. Our shared slice of key lime pie took so long (20 minutes from time of order), our waitress gave it to us on the house. We considered the fact that the upstairs bar could relieve some of the pressure on the downstairs bar by at least housing some bottles of house wine. As it is now, everything must be brought up a steep flight of stairs.

While what we ate was truly tasty, the service on both of our visits was spotty. If large parties are to be accommodated without small parties losing out, additional staff should be hired. Southern Culture has a great location and a good chef in Lynwood Randolph, and, from the looks of it, a substantial following, but too many slow shows will alienate even loyalists. I'd recommend this Fan eatery to those able to get there on a weeknight and to weekend diners who have no other agenda for the

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