All month long, we're celebrating the people, places, dishes and traditions that make Southern food so special. Come take a seat at our table.
If you're invited for brunch at Ashley Christensen's Raleigh, NC home—located right across the street from her alma mater, NC State—expect to be handed a cocktail the moment you walk in the door.
It's just one of the ways the chef of local restaurants both established (the legendary Poole's Diner) and new (fried chicken spot Beasley's Chicken + Honey, cafe-slash-restaurant Joule) makes her guests feel at home.
"I renovated my home so that the kitchen would really be the focal point," Christensen says. "I love the idea of cooking and having everyone pitch in for the last steps. It's sort of an extension of the meal."
Chef Ashley Christensen
So, we'll go ahead and imagine what that might look like based on the brunch menu she shared with us, which combines some traditional Southern elements with cheffy touches and Christensen's own twists on breakfast staples.
With a brûléed grapefruit Greyhound(ed) cocktail in hand (see the recipe), you might be called on to spread bacon- and bacon-fat spiked cream cheese onto logs of celery (see the recipe), a play on the classic party hors d'oeuvre her parents served at get-togethers along with olives and deviled eggs. (Fun fact: Christensen is a collector of deviled egg plates, and she often brings 'em along, packed in bubble wrap, for dinners and events around the country.)
Christensen may ask you to help spoon out oysters and grits (see the recipe), her take on shrimp and grits. She sautés briny, freshly shucked oysters with aromatics (we subbed in canned oysters in our version of the recipe for convenience), then pairs them with slow-roasted tomatoes and serves it all atop creamy grits.
Or perhaps you'd be drizzling a Caesar-esque dressing on charred broccolini (see the recipe), a variation on a dish she had in South Beach. "It's got that smoky flavor you're looking for at breakfast, like bacon," Christensen says.
And last but not least, you might be asked to carry out individually baked hotcakes (see the recipe), served with just-whipped fresh cream and Southern staples like sorghum syrup and pecans. The dish was initially developed for the brunch menu at Poole's because the restaurant didn't have a griddle with which to make traditional pancakes. But, no matter.
"I'm not a sweets person at brunch," Christensen says. "So, I just kind of slide these in at the end."
The dessert isn't sugary, and has just the right amount of North Carolina tradition mixed with a modern mentality. Much like the host herself.
Get the recipes:
• Stuffed Celery Sticks with Bacon and Scallion Cream Cheese
• Charred Broccolini with White Anchovy Vinaigrette
• Oysters and Grits with Roasted Tomatoes
• Roasted Sweet Potato Buttermilk Hotcakes
• Greyhound(ed) Cocktail
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