Seersucker Rises Again
345 Smith Street, Carroll Gardens
As you walk into Wilma Jean, the latest venture from the folks behind Seersucker and Nightingale 9, it feels like something between a chicken shack way down South and a cool Brooklyn restaurant. There’s something very down-home about the whole production, with mounds of crispy chicken piled onto trays emerging from the kitchen. But the framed chalkboard menus on the wall, impressive craft beer selection, and stylish children slouched against the bar bring you right back to Carroll Gardens again. Kerry Diamond and Rob Newton designed this casual Southern spot as an offshoot of Seersucker, their now-shuttered, more upscale Southern restaurant. The fried chicken and cheddar cheese grits live on from the Seersucker menu, only now they’re served in paper trays. And that’s not such a bad thing at all.
The menu is broken down into five sections: snacks, salad bowls, fried chicken, sandwiches, and sides. It goes without saying that you should order the fried chicken here—it’s perfectly cooked with a thick layer of crunchy skin. But Diamond and Newton do an interesting thing on the menu. You can get a chicken dinner with one side and coleslaw for $14, but you can also get chicken on a stick ($5), a single breast ($6), thigh ($4), or drumstick ($3). My dining companion and I decided to order just a few pieces of chicken and many, many sides. The meal—instead of a big pile of fried chicken with a modest side dish—became a modest amount of chicken and a taste of just about everything else. Tater tots, grits, fried okra, cornbread, cornmeal-crusted oysters, and a summer-fresh salad, all crammed onto two trays: It was a Southern meal as it should be.
Those oysters, also fried with a pleasingly thick and crispy skin, were served with “Mississippi Comeback Sauce,” an orangish mayo sauce with a little bite. The cheddar cheese grits were reliably good, as grits often are, and the fried okra disappeared from its paper container quickly. The fried bologna sandwich comes on a potato roll, with layers of bologna crisped up and nearly burnt (in a good way) and topped with a healthy slather of mustard. The cornbread was heavy and peppery, not at all sweet. It was served with a salted molasses butter with a flavor profile I pathetically described as “deep” in my notes—a better adjective never struck. With all that is heavy and fried, the summer vegetable salad felt necessary, although you do have the option of adding fried chicken to your greens. The salad, comprised of green beans, heirloom tomatoes, onions, radishes, and squash coated in a light lemon vinaigrette, is something you’ll crave more and more as the fried food starts to weigh down your belly. It was, alongside the fried chicken, one of the highlights of the meal.
To end, nothing too fancy, just a blackberry cobbler served in a tiny tin with a side of Blue Marble vanilla ice cream. The meal felt like it cost $100. Because the sides are priced between $2 and $5, it was $40 less. Now that’s Southern food I can stand behind: good, plentiful, and cheap.