815 S. Washington St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
CUISINE Bar/Pub Grub, Cajun/Creole, Southern
PRICE $$ ($13-$20)
HOURS Open for lunch, dinner and late-night dining daily; Sunday brunch.
NVM AWARDS None
NEARBY METRO None
By Warren Rojas
“Right this way. Watch your step,” every Southside employee warns as they show guests into the main dining room.
Mind you, the precipice in question is nary 6 inches high.
But good manners and genuine concern go hand in hand at this folksy neighborhood charmer.
According to co-owner John Kurtz, their passion for Lowcountry cooking reflects senior partner Ben Benson’s North Carolina roots and his lifelong predilection for rich comfort foods.
That’s why the menu showcases down-home favorites like: three types of homemade biscuits (cornbread, buttermilk and sweet potato; all of which pop up in assorted menu items), chicken-fried steak (overdone meat can fringe on rubbery, though pepper-flecked country gravy helps assuage any preparatory gaffes) and specials like grillades and grits.
Familiarity frames every inch of the place, transporting guests to a simpler time via vintage memorabilia (blue-ribbon flour bags, rusted Pepsi placards), a Mark Twain-esque aquatic mural (underwater scene depicts some mischievous scamps paddling overhead in a canoe) and a bank of hideaway booths (perfect for disappearing into the background) carved out along a far wall.
The food, however, is what makes this a sanctuary worth seeking out.
An eponymous appetizer delivers hockey puck-thick sweet potato biscuits (cakey dough does its damnedest to sop up its creamy accompaniment) smothered in clumps of fork-shredded crab and diced Virginia ham, all drenched in a heart-stopping butter and heavy cream sauce (cured pork cuts through the dairy deluge, the succulent crab combats the fatty richness with sweet meat kisses).
Lowcountry shortcake summons a sweet potato-and-skin-on redskin potato mash topped with a fluffy, sweet-corn biscuit square, all swamped in country gravy (dutifully lubricated very bite) outfitted with hunks of white meat chicken (least interesting thing about this dish), mighty oysters (swim up through the gravy to surprise you) and a terrific succotash bolstered by sweet corn and robust lima beans.
Peach pound cake is just as daunting, producing a de facto ice-cream sandwich of mellow cake (peachiness is definitely there, but not in-your-face fruity), slow-melting vanilla ice cream and a cascade of dreamy, warmed butterscotch (well played).
“You ready for another one?” the hostess asked when she spied my half-finished dessert. I actually considered it for a second. But I decided against burdening staff with the embarrassing task of explaining to police that they had, in fact, killed the grinning schlub hunched over his second helping of poundcake with kindness.(April 2008)
By Warren Rojas
During one evening swing through Alexandria, I bemusedly observed a financial planner try to engrain fiscal discipline into a recent college grad—they vigorously debated everything from the merits of direct deposit, Roth IRA’s and monthly budgeting down to projecting the weekly savings of eating in and quitting smoking—all the while sucking down round after round of cut-rate beers.
Another crash course in reality-based savings, courtesy of Southside 815.
The nearly 15-year-old neighborhood haunt appears to be a lot more hospitable than your average banking institution, assuaging its devoted clientele—most nights, crowds run the gamut from young to old, couples to single friends, businessmen to barflies—with ‘80s tunes, all manner of televised sports and plenty of welcoming bar stools.
According to owner John Kurtz, although the siren song of daily food specials (assorted menu items are available on the cheap from 4 to 7 p.m. throughout the workweek) certainly helps bolster attendance, it’s the camaraderie and personal service they provide that turns everyday guests into regulars.
“We’re kind of a seven-night-a-week place,” Kurtz said of his near constant bar traffic.
Case in point: Bartender Nicole Kullman, whose passing resemblance to actress Maggie Gyllenhaal only becomes more pronounced as happy hour stretches on, seems incredulous when one longstanding patron switches up an order (“Thought you were a Miller Lite guy?” she wondered aloud), but otherwise presents most patrons with their beverage of choice before they even sit down. One subset of regulars has been playing chess at the bar for so long, management finally posted a dedicated scoreboard beside the bar to keep track of the friendly matches.
All that strategery certainly can stir up an appetite.
Daily happy hour specials include: half-price burgers, 35-cent wings, $1 trios of mini pulled pork or pulled chicken barbecue sandwiches, $1.50 mini oyster po’boys and $1.50 mini nachos. Additional specials include half-price po’boys (crawfish, oyster, catfish, shrimp and oyster-shrimp combos available) available all day on Monday and a Wednesday raw bar (from 5:30 until 10 p.m.), featuring assorted spiced shrimp, oyster, clams and mussel selections, all for under $7.
The barbecue-style nachos are a welcome change from the ground beef-based fare you get elsewhere, serving up crunchy tortilla chips smothered with vinegary shredded swine, diced tomatoes and melted cheese.
Mini oyster po’boys only look small, as each bite delivers a mouthful of deep-fried oysters swabbed in a zesty Cajun remoulade (grand flavors, great value). Honey-jalapeno pulled chicken sliders are even more enticing, yielding spicy-sweet bird nestled on a toasted, whole-wheat bun.
The Virginia burger is a cooked-to-order pleaser topped with hickory-smoked Virginia ham, melted cheddar and smoky barbecue sauce (hell of a meal, particularly at half price).
Liquid refreshment is available from any of the 18 draft beers or assorted bottles in stock. Happy hour drink specials include: $2.50 Budweiser, Bud Light and Miller Lite drafts, $2.75 Molson Canadian bottles, $3.25 Sam Adams Lager and seasonal drafts, $3.75 Guinness and Bass bottles and $3 rail drinks. Standard drafts include: Stella Artois, Newcastle Brown Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Blue Moon, Yuengling Lager, Dogfish Head, Grolsch and the signature Southside Lager (home brew).