Restaurant Review: South Parked
Red Star dishes hospitality and humor
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., Oct. 10, 2014
Mon., 6pm-sold out; Thu.-Fri., 6pm-sold out, Sat.-Sun., 2pm-sold out
Red Star Southern1700 E. Sixth (at the Grackle), 512/962-3674
Thu.- Mon., 1pm-sold out
Erica Waksmunski's résumé boasts pastry chef jobs at high-profile fine-dining establishments in Chicago, Nashville, the San Francisco Bay area, and Austin. After a few months back, however, the talented daughter of the Old Dominion left fine dining in her rearview mirror and set up shop in a vintage Airstream trailer in the parking lot of a popular Eastside bar.
Instead of innovative dessert plates, Waksmunski is now dishing up her personal renditions of comfort foods from the American Southeast. While Erica preps food and works the fryer, her alter ego, Ol' Shitter Jim, dispenses folk wisdom and life coaching via social media. It's obvious the chef, who announced Red Star Southern's opening in a party hat, blowing a party horn, still has her tongue planted firmly in her cheek. The trailer's menu may be simple – just a few main dishes and a few sides – but the food is expertly prepared, and the hearty flavors are soul-satisfying. Sweet or savory, this gal knows her stuff.
Take the Nashville-style hot fried chicken ($8) – pieces are marinated in buttermilk and seasoned with cayenne, lemon, and thyme before emerging from the fryer with a crisp, golden crust. Paired with white bread, pickles, and Waksmunski's signature coleslaw, the dish is the antidote for any serious fried chicken craving. Pork butt smoked over pecan chips becomes toothsome Carolina pulled pork ($8), accompanied by pickles and slaw on a homemade brioche bun. The house version of the venerable Southern standby, pimento cheese, starts with a base of assertive sharp Cheddar and Duke's mayo and then adds Pepper Jack, a dash of green Tabasco, and some pickled jalapeños for spice. This combo makes a great grilled cheese sandwich ($8) with a side of slaw, or an appetizer ($4) with crackers, although the saltines were beyond stale the day we ordered it that way.
The coleslaw is paired with three different main dishes and the cool, crunchy cabbage and shredded carrots dressed simply in Duke's enhance each in a special way. It provides a cool, creamy balance to the hot, spicy chicken; the natural sweetness of the carrots offers a fine counterpoint to the vinegary tang of the pulled pork; and it contributes a refreshing crunch alongside the molten cheese. Although I've yet to try them, Waksmunski's menu doesn't lack for vegetarian options. In addition to the regular "beet-loaf" with vegan gravy ($6), she's likely to take inspiration from whatever fresh, seasonal vegetables arrive from Johnson's Backyard Garden or Springdale Farm, offering fried okra or braised greens one day and a salad with watermelon and cantaloupe the next.
The sample menu on Facebook mentions deviled eggs, hush puppies, and sweet potato biscuits with gravy – what self-respecting Southern cook wouldn't, after all – but I've yet to hit the trailer on a day when those things were in evidence. However, Waksmunski says plans for brunch are in the works and that those dishes will definitely make an appearance. Until recently, her joys of self-employment have included 16-hour work days with only the volunteer efforts of veteran hospitality personnel for assistance. And while she considers herself incredibly lucky to have good friends who will pitch in to help make her dream a reality, she's thrilled to have a couple of new regular employees at the trailer. Onward to brunch – I'll certainly be there.