Succotash: Frickles, DIY Cocktails, Brunch With a Southern Accent

This Jewelry District outpost cooks up Southern dishes as they were meant to be; decadent, delicious and over the top.

Photographed by Angel Tucker

Succotash half star

373 Richmond St., Providence, 228-7222, Open daily for morning meals, Mon.–Sat. for dinner. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Street parking. Cuisine Backyard Southern picnic. Capacity Seventy-five. Vibe As if Southern Living had redecorated a garage. Prices Breakfast $4–$14; appetizers $4–$8; entrees $9–$21; dessert $7. Karen’s picks Breakfast food, frickles, bbq shrimp, chicken and waffles, sweet tea ribs and a slice of pie.

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Say what you will about Southern society — slow drawls, oppressive heat, poor decisions in the nineteenth century; you can’t argue with their ability to throw a party. Sure, some of it might be rooted in a Louisianan’s ability to keep a sloe gin fizz in hand at all times. But even Tennessee Williams would tell you that alcohol isn’t as essential to a Southern soiree as communal spirit and Succotash is determined to prove it.

While the locale — Providence’s Jewelry District — might come across as pan-urban, the restaurant’s rustic wooden exterior suggests a whole lot of hometown revelry. Brunch is the main meal at Succotash, a hybrid in which everything is big, most things are coated in hot sauce and anything goes well with liquor. The menu may be pages long but nothing is more intriguing than the DIY cocktail list. After five days’ worth of work, the project of building a beverage by rimming a mimosa with caramel sauce, sugar or salt is about as rewarding as weekend work gets. More dedicated carpenters can construct what might be the best modern bloody mary this side of the Mississippi. It’s not so much the choice of vodka (a given), the level of heat (mildly personalized), or even holy trinity of garnishes (celery + pickle juice + jalapeño=dead on) but rather the extras that turn drinking into a full-fledged form of entertainment. Don’t even pretend you know beef jerky until it’s marinated itself in a bath of alcohol and acid and called itself a breakfast treat.

Morning meals at Succotash all breed this kind of hyperbolic enthusiasm and yet all are disguised in informality. Nothing particularly noteworthy about eggs — until they’re stuffed with barbecued brisket and jalapeños; and not much you can say about pancakes — until they’re slathered in Nutella and smothered in toasted marshmallows ($9). In fact, the strategy seems to be a determined effort to update Elvis’s diet for the college crowd and anyone else looking to add a deep-fryer to their daily repertoire. Fried pickles — “frickles” here ($6) — certainly sound like a novelty but, as with a lot of casual American fare, it’s the very reason food is so often rebuked and so enthusiastically consumed.

The servers, clad in flannel and fervor, take as much joy in seeing people eat twice their weight in food, offering a slight nod of the head that says, “Yeah, I’ve been there.” And though the small restaurant is lined with leather booths, it’s the shared eight-top tables that best evoke the Succotash soul. Even a seat at the bar only looks solitary. It takes barely more than an outcry over the last large-screen passing play (“That leg is broke! The receiver is done!”) and the entire crowd shifts into a cluster with sympathies and glee. Five minutes later the bartender yells out, “Who’s up for shots? Let’s do it!” and the newly formed friendships are cemented. At least for an afternoon.

Such camaraderie could have something to do with the design. Illuminated candles in mason jars and a behemoth chalkboard pig parceled out into its tastiest parts all celebrate hospitable redneck jubilance. And though the restaurant is decidedly less crowded in the evenings, a steady stream of Neil Young and Bob Dylan keeps the mood appropriately mellow, even if the staff’s focus all falls on one table.

Dinner, which comes less naturally to a place that thrives on simplicity, has made strides in the past few months. Pork ribs are lacquered in Southern nectar — aka sweet tea — but fully spiced with pepper, rounding out a plate of regional pride. Fried chicken and waffles ($19) as well as barbecue shrimp with Brussels sprouts and tasso ham ($8) hit that same flavor profile: sweet and spicy with a healthy dose of salt. But lighter dishes hold their own in salads and seafood with little more than a healthy dose of citrus and greenery.

Again, it’s tough for diners of any age to overlook the alcohol. Even weeknight responsibilities fall prey to peach bourbon that’s been infusing for five months, particularly when it’s spiked with a cheeky maraschino cherry. But that’s the thing about Southern food: it’s the only culinary dialect that’s adored as much for its cliche as it is for its sincerity. The more things we can barbecue, douse in cheese, deep-fry or ferment, the better. It never gets old; it just gets better. With enough resolve (or lack thereof), you can even add the fifth tenant — “smother in ice cream” — and you’ve just introduced yourself to dessert.

Waffles and crepes show up at the end of dinner as well as brunch but it’s the traditional plates that deserve attention. Neither bread pudding nor some slices of rustic-looking pie ($7) will earn points for beauty but, darn it, there’s something so appealing about a rough face that unexpectedly sings with grace. It’s certainly true of the pecan pie but more so of the apple pie. The plaid-clad server placed it down with a smile and, in barely a whisper, said, “I thought I’d leave this as a surprise.” Turns out the bright fruit layer sits on top of a swath of salted caramel and delicate dough — a club sandwich made from sugar. Sigh. Such minimalism could make anyone wary of highly engineered foods.

It’s worth noting that the restaurant’s namesake refers to a medley of mixed vegetables but, in this case, it’s not variety but self-assured uniformity that’s gratifying. You won’t get the whole of Southern culture by spending a Sunday morning at Succotash, nor will you walk away with a complete understanding of its gastronomic history. But you will catch a glimpse of it in a breakfast that’s likely too large, a drink that’s regenerated three times, or a corn-crusted pickle in ranch dressing. It all comes with a smile and the knowledge that some food wasn’t meant to be fancy or eaten in anything nicer than a comfortable flannel. It’s not the only American way, but it’s a good one.

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