Simply deep-fried. Simply belly-busting. Simply delicious. Simply Southern. That should be their tagline. New Jersey is such a wonderful mix of people, cultures, and cuisine, yet there is one genre of food which seems to elude us: down home, southern cooking. In fact, in all of my travels even outside of the Garden State, I still haven’t really found it. I haven’t been to the deep-south much, with the exception of Virginia twice (and I don’t really count Texas). In fact, the best of such food I’d ever had comparable to Simply Southern was actually Black-Eyed Sally’s in Hartford, Connecticut. Yeah, of all places, right? To find such a spot in Belmar was no different. When you walk in, sounds of jazz and blues from the 1950’s plays softly on the speakers. It was just enough to set you in the mood.
With a menu loaded with all the classics, I had a tough decision to make. I was never really a fish guy but had been eating more of it of late. I went with the fried catfish filet. This came with two sides; I chose the collared greens and cheesy grits. This was the first time I ever had catfish, and I figured if I was going to eat it anywhere outside of the actual deep-south, this would be the place to try it. There was no fishy taste, it was fried to perfection. The breading was thin, slightly bearing resemblance to a panko crust. There was no grease whatsoever. The greens were salty as anything, but complimented the fish very well. Then came the grits, covered in cheese and having a slight hint of jalapeno. If that wasn’t enough, we also ordered a side of macaroni and cheese, which was a nice serving and very well done. Seasoning was the word of the day. It was everywhere. Well, everywhere except my fish. But this worked to my advantage, as there was no overpowering flavor. You could taste the mild catfish, and get a sturdy crunch with each bite.
Our appetizer was the ubiquitous fried green tomatoes. Four thick slices in what appeared to be the same breading as the catfish. Tender on the inside, and that same crunch on the outside. The fried chicken which I took a bite (or two or three) of was possibly the best I had ever had. The skin peeled right off, thin and crunchy, with the consistency of a potato chip. The meat was juicy. You could tell that all of this was made to order and hit our table within seconds of being finished. All food was piping hot.
If I had to critique anything, I would say the wait time was a little much. A half hour to get the appetizer, and probably another 20 minutes or so for the meal after that. There were five or six tables taken on this Sunday afternoon and only one waitress. She did a marvelous job, handling the service (as well as answering the phone for a takeout order) with grace and pleasantness. I was also surprised to find that the fried brownie dessert (yes, deep-fried too) was $10. While not tiny by any means, I never thought that a single brownie with two scoops of ice cream would be almost as expensive as an entrée. That and unsweetened iced tea was $3.50. Both really caught me off-guard and kind of dampened the experience. But not too much.
There’s a lot of good going on at Simply Southern. The chef/owner even came out at one point to greet each table, which was a nice touch. You can just tell that this is a labor of love for whoever is running the restaurant. Perhaps the pace is a bit slow, but you can feel the care and love in each detail. Entrée prices are more than reasonable. This is a fun place to pig out. I heard the waitress say at each table upon taking peoples’ plates, “Are you getting full?” The menu says something to the effect that you will not leave hungry. It’s spot on. You’ll leave stuffed, and feeling eager to return for more. 4 out of 5 stars.
Simply Southern is located at 817 Belmar Plaza in Belmar, New Jersey.