The Southern Restaurant - Chicago

John Manion makes his mark on The Southern

John Manion is excited about his new gig. "Basically, my job is to be here and do the fun stuff," he says of his post as chef-in-residence at The Southern.

"The fun stuff" refers to dishes like smoked goat with peaches and grits, and barbecued suckling pig, both offered as recent specials at the Wicker Park restaurant.

Manion, who amassed fans at Branch 27 and the long-closed Mas, has plans to open a casual restaurant with a Latin bent. At The Southern, he's biding his time while flexing his creative muscles. He's there to help the restaurant's chef, Cary Taylor, manage the load of The Southern Mac & Cheese Truck and its new storefront.

The goat was inspired by the desire of one of The Southern's sous chefs to cook with the animal. Manion taught the kitchen to butcher a Slagel Farm goat, rubbed the meat with curry paste, and sent it to the smoker at nearby Lillie's Q. After a dip in goat stock, the smoked and shredded meat met grits and pickled peaches in the bowl, along with stalks of fried sage that pulled the dish toward fall.

Manion plans to offer a special each week or so. Last week, he was smoking pork belly, toying with deep-fried belly for the brunch menu. This week, he's brining, smoking and braising pork shoulder to serve with root vegetables, parsnip purée, apple mustard and whiskey sauce. Duck is on the horizon, he says, plus some Southern-slanted quail.

The Southern, 1840 North Ave.; 773-342-1840 or