Mary Janet Maxwell

The small, rural town of Whiteville, NC is home to a notable French-style bistro, The Southern Kitchen. Few passing tourists know it is there--but they should! Its location at 606 S. Madison Street in the downtown area is just a short detour for beach traffic. The restaurant has an adjoining bar featuring a coffee machine and martinis, as well as a tapas menu. The house-made Country Pate is served with French pickles and a baguette. The large sofas and chairs encourage comfortable conversation. It also features a private dining room for groups of 25 or so. The diner entering the restaurant is greeted by a list of daily specials written in chalk standing near a plant filled fountain. Mustard colored walls are adorned with paintings and prints by local artists. The tables are set simply but elegantly with black and white tablecloths and classic plates and glassware.

A Wilmington magazine article proclaims the talents of Sokun, the French-Cambodian chef. According to the article, as a child in Cambodia during the brutal Kmer Rouge regime, her father’s culinary skills saved his family’s lives. To survive, her father downplayed his level of education and assumed the role of a cook. Sokun, herself, is a classically trained national award-winning chef.

The restaurant has different menus for lunch and dinner. They differ slightly but are similar in the restaurant’s strength--traditional bistro dishes. The lunch menu includes gourmet burgers and a daily crepe special. The dinner menu has choices of steaks with Lyonnaise potatoes, Beef Bourguignon, Pan Seared Chicken with sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, and lemon butter sauce, and Chicken Au Vin. Appetizers include escargots served in a garlic butter sauce and cheese-topped French onion soup. The cheeses and fresh fish are all sourced from local producers. The Warm Goat Cheese and Spinach Salad, available on both menus, is fantastic. It is composed of locally made goat cheese on a French baguette artfully composed on a bed of spinach with caramelized onions, and cranberries finished with goat cheese crumbles and a balsamic vinaigrette. Main courses range from heavy, like the Beef Bourguignon and chicken to the lighter fare such as Chilean Sea Bass along with meal-sized salads including a very traditional Lyonnais, with bacon lardons, frisee and poached egg. As elaborate as some of the dishes sound, the setting is casual and comfortable.

The desserts are another strength. The Lemon Mist Cake, a chiffon cake layered with lemon curd and topped with whipped cream, is memorable. The chocolate mousse, creme brulee, and Bananas Foster are all yummy.
This review would not be complete without mentioning the hospitality of Guillame, the owner, and Chelsea, a server with no equal. The Southern Kitchen consistently delivers very good food and service with Parisian flair in the least likely of places. ~on, June 19, 2012