Sam Talbot's new restaurant in Brooklyn, NY is about three months old, and already "it's going great," the Top Chef alum enthused in a recent interview with The Feast. "Really good vibes, great cocktail menu, delicious Southern-inspired food," he said of his casual neighborhood eatery, called Pretty Southern.
The cozy spot—with just 22 seats inside, along with outdoor seating—is why Sam decided to return to Top Chef Season 14 for another shot at the title. "I did it this time for the restaurant. I was opening a restaurant, and what a great way to, you know, every time your name is on the screen, to have your restaurant's name put out there for the million people who are watching Top Chef….That's really the reason why I did it," explained Sam, who originally competed on Season 2. "Of course with the mission of obviously wanting to win, but the true reason why is just to have that unbelievable marketing power of television and have your restaurant be highlighted."
Like his new cookbook, 100% Real, the restaurant features healthier alternatives to traditional dishes, such as fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits, both of which are available in gluten-free versions. There are vegan items too, including brownies and ice cream. "It's taking something that we all know and love, like grits," Sam explained. "But most people have had grits cooked with water, which is not bad for you by any means, but there's also people who cook it in heavy cream, that cook it in milk, that cook it in some form of dairy, and it's just not needed, right? Especially when we have beautiful, luscious, amazing flavored coconut milks. We have coconut milk grits at the restaurant, people are just going crazy for it," he said.
The restaurant's name is also a clue to the type of food he's serving. "It's 'pretty' meaning the food is pretty, the room is pretty, but also pretty as in 'kind of.' It's kind of Southern," Sam explained.
Though a Southern-inspired restaurant may seem like a slightly odd choice for Sam, who's been based in New York for years (with a brief stint in Maine), he actually grew up in North Carolina and spent his summers in Charleston, SC. "Being around Southern food growing up I think sort of helped craft the way that I look at food today and the way that I search out my ingredients and the way that I not only prepare food but the way I handle it once it's in my hands," Sam mused. "People in the South, famers in the South, they really love their produce, they really love their artisanal products, and they care for it."
Bringing the comfort food of his childhood to a hipster neighborhood in Brooklyn with a modern spin just seemed to make sense. "I wanted to kind of go back to my roots but in a way that made sense for everybody," he said, adding, "Sometimes Southern food, it can be on the heavier side, it can be a little salty, it can be a little carbohydrate-ridden."
So far, the restaurant seems to be a hit in the 'hood. "It's going great, a lot of really good reviews, people love the food, the vibe, the music. The staff, most importantly," he added slyly.
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