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Review: Southern Spice in Hollywood has down-home fare with sophisticated flair

 

★★★½

I cannot recall the last time I have seen a fried bologna sandwich on a menu in South Florida — perhaps never — and I cannot recall the last time I ate one. So it was intriguing to find an open-face version staring me in the face during a recent visit to Southern Spice in Hollywood. The pink, succulent slices of bologna were obscured by fried green tomatoes, squiggles of green-herb Dijon aioli and a scattering of microgreens. The outer edges of the bread looked burnt, but the sourdough slice from Zak the Baker was actually grilled to perfection. When I took a bite, I did a double take. It was hard to believe that such a humble, throwback staple of home cooking could be elevated to the level of modern restaurant delicacy.

“We fought a little bit over that one,” Southern Spice owner Natosha Gonzales says. She insisted that it go on the menu, a way to pay tribute to her late mother and grandmother, but chef Malcolm Prude initially balked. I have no idea why. In his hands, nearly everything from the pantry of down-home Southern and soul cooking takes flight into something sophisticated and special.

“He’s a star,” Gonzales says.

Southern Spice is a small and unassuming stage, a family-run restaurant with 42 seats in downtown Hollywood that opened in September 2017. The restaurant is one block away from the bustle of Hollywood Boulevard and a world apart from South Florida’s trendier dining destinations, but it gives Prude, 27, his well-earned chance to shine. Every dish was tasty. Every bite was balanced. Every ingredient was well sourced and properly prepared, from the fresh, fried kernels of corn that dotted a wondrous bowl of colossal shrimp and grits ($23) to the firm, stubby grains of Arborio rice steeped in housemade chicken stock for the risotto that accompanied a bone-in pork chop ($24).

I’m not usually a fan of heavy Southern cooking or deep-fried dishes such as chicken and waffles ($25), but in Prude’s hands, the dish came out refined and almost light, with puffy sweet-corn waffles and buttermilk-battered chicken fried only three minutes after he uses a sous-vide cooker to bring the interior meat to moist doneness in a prolonged bath of hot water. I’m not usually a big fan of sweet and savory, either, but I couldn’t resist the side boat of Canadian maple syrup infused with black pepper, a subtle and sultry heat with the sweet that didn’t overwhelm the chicken and gave it an almost bourbonlike smokiness.

The biggest regret about my recent first meal at Southern Spice was that it did not come sooner. Prude’s talent has bloomed after more than a decade in the restaurant business, and his story provides a lesson in humility and hard work. After working his way from server to line cook to assistant manager at Grand Lux Café at Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise, he took a calculated step backward when he went to Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak in Aventura as a busboy.

“It was the only thing they had, but I really wanted to work there, because I knew I could learn a lot,” Prude said in an interview after my meal. He made his way back to the kitchen as a line cook, then worked at Jazziz at Mizner Park in Boca Raton before spending three years at Proof in Miami (which recently shuttered) as sous chef under highly regarded chef-owner Justin Flit. Last year, he went into business with Gonzales, a retired Miami-Dade fire rescue captain, and his father, Dwight Prude, to open Southern Spice.

Gonzales grew up in Brooklyn with her mother, Earla, who loved to cook the Southern dishes of her parents, from Jacksonville and Georgia. After her 2015 retirement from the fire department, Gonzales says she wanted to bring sophisticated soul food to Hollywood.

I had my doubts about Southern Spice when I first walked in, partly because the location has seen a number of eateries come and go over the past decade and partly because it was nearly empty when my group walked in, save a grumpy man asking for his check in a way that indicated he was not happy with his experience. We waited a bit until a bowtie-clad waiter told us to sit anywhere we wanted. The place had a sad and lonely aura. The atmospherics weren’t much: a square room with utilitarian tables and large photo portraits of Gonzales’ mother and grandmother hanging on a wall. The bar featured a dozen craft beers, none on draft, but all good and cold poured into pint glasses by the waiter at the bar. The kitchen is hidden from view behind frosted glass panels. Things turned around once the food started arriving.

Collard greens with cornbread ($9) and smoked turkey had a peppery spike, and although the cornbread was a bit mealy the flavors were fine. Macaroni and cheese with short rib ($12) could have used some burnt crunch on the top layer but was otherwise flawless, the macaroni made to order and still al dente in a bath of rich but not overwhelming five-cheese sauce of aged white cheddar, sharp yellow Vermont cheddar, fontina, smoked Gouda and 24-month aged Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Prude has built up good relationships with quality local purveyors for items that aren’t made in-house. Sausage and bacon comes from Proper Sausages of Miami. Fish comes from Triar Seafood of Hollywood and Snapper Mike’s, a husband-and-wife fishing team. The wild Argentinean head-on U4 prawns for the shrimp and grits comes from Patagonian Sea Products of Aventura. Some diners might find certain items a bit pricey, particularly $25 for the chicken and waffles with three pieces of chicken, but pure Canadian maple syrup isn’t cheap.

In my mind, Southern Spice is good value, because delicious and sophisticated food that is also comforting is a rare commodity. When we asked for desserts, we were told chocolate chip cookies baked to order ($8) were available. We asked if they could be topped with ice cream.

“No, but I can bring you a glass of milk,” our server said. Sold.

mmayo@southflorida.com, 954-356-4508. Follow my food adventures on Instagram: @mikemayoeats. Sign up for my weekly dining newsletter at SouthFlorida.com/EatBeatMail.

Southern Spice

1920 Tyler St., Hollywood

954-674-2919 or SouthernSpiceRestaurant.com

Cuisine: Southern

Cost: Moderate. Appetizers cost $7 to $12, mains $18 to $39, sides $5 to $8, desserts $8

Hours: 11:30 a.m.- 3:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed Mondays

Reservations: Accepted

Credit cards: All major

Bar: Craft beers, small but decent wine list, and wine-based cocktails

Noise level: Mellow and conversational, live music Sunday brunch

Wheelchair access: Ground level

Parking: Metered street

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