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Southern Comfort in South Norwalk

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I am in love…with a watermelon margarita.  Refreshing and slightly sweet, with just a hint of mint. Sound good?  You bet your grits it is! It’s one of the luscious libations on the cocktail menu at SoNo’s newest belleMama’s Boy Southern Table & Refuge that opened on North Water Street earlier this month.

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Mama’s Boy is not what you would expect when you think “Southern Food” – there are no overly saucy ribs that require a post-meal bath via wet-naps.  Instead, you’ll be treated to an entirely new experience; an inspired menu featuring southern comfort food with a modern twist.  Classics like shrimp and grits are interpreted in a bright, fresh new way – southern white shrimp is plated with Falls Mill grits, house smoked Tasso (a spicy, peppery pork), spring onion and creamy pimento gravy.  Get the idea?  This is low-country food done with high-style.

Similarly, the decor is sophisticated country.  Paneled in reclaimed wood sourced from a deconstructed Florence, South Carolina water-tower, and lit with modern industrial-style pendant lamps, the space is bright and airy.  Outdoor seating is punctuated with wooden boxes overflowing with bright, colorful flowers.  The bar features a marble top and a row of ruby covered metal bar-stools.  The environment feels like a warm embrace…a refuge from hectic everyday life.

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Mama’s Boy is Greer Fredericks baby.  A Stamford native, Fredericks has southern blood flowing through her veins – her family has deep roots in the South (she was named after the city of Greer, South Carolina – home of the famous Greer peach).  “I’ve always had a fondness for the South,” she explains, “I have a passion for the blues and have always been drawn to it – the Outer Banks, the Delta, Charleston, I’ve always felt a real connection with the area,” said Fredericks.

Although she’s spent her formative years in Connecticut, Fredericks seems to have inherited the gene for southern hospitality.  Her warm, welcoming personality is perfectly suited for her career in the restaurant industry – she’s worked in a number of local restaurants including Grand in Stamford and North Star in Pound Ridge.  Fredericks toyed with the idea of opening a southern-style “juke joint” somewhere in the area, but the timing and location just never seemed right.  Eighteen months ago, she had just accepted a position with the Hard Rock Hotel in Panama City, Panama.  After loading all her worldly possessions onto a barge in preparation for her move down “south” Fredericks discovered that she was pregnant and had pneumonia – and that was the end of her move.  She decided to take a time-out to decide what she really wanted to do.

Her soul-searching paid off – the restaurant space on North Water Street, right across from the Maritime Aquarium became available, “Everything happened very organically, there was a real synchronicity to it,” explains Fredericks.  Although it’s not the tiny juke-joint, she had been dreaming of, she seems to have a hit on her hands – on the three (yes, three! I told you I was in love with those watermelon margaritas!) occasions that I’ve been there, the restaurant has been buzzing and the food has been consistently delicious.

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The chef, Scott Ostrander, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, worked his way from his hometown in Albany, to major cities below the Mason-Dixon line: Alexandria, Charlotte, Savannah, and finally Jacksonville, before Fredericks enticed him to head North, “I lured him with the promise of Connecticut winters. I told him, ‘Picture yourself drinking hot-buttered rum by the fire’,” Fredericks jokes.  He’s from Albany, so I suppose our winters are mild compared to what he’s used to!

Ostrander, describes himself as a “born-again redneck” , but clearly, he has a sophisticated approach to southern food, “For the longest time, Southern chefs cooked anything but Southern food.  Now they’re embracing the south and using southern ingredients,” Ostrander explains.  He’s embraced the farm-to-table movement, exploring local farms and farmer’s markets and getting to know the farmers.  He says that about 70% of the ingredients that he uses in his kitchen are locally sourced.  The menu has options for vegetarians and 50% of the items are gluten-free or can be made gluten-free.

Remember that Frederick’s original inspiration was a juke-joint? Well, you don’t think a good ole’ southern girl would let her dream completely die?  Not at all – great music is part of what makes this place special.  On May 30, guitar great Andy Aledort and his band the Groove Kings will be playing their version of southern rock, jump blues, and funk.  And she’s just getting started, expect more great music this summer.

In creating Mama’s Boy Southern Table & Refuge, Fredericks said she wanted to create, “A safe-haven, a hideout, a place with a welcome-home mentality, it’s a state of mind.”  This is exactly the kind of southern comfort that Fairfield County needed.

Mama’s Boy Southern Table & Refuge – 19 North Water Street, South Norwalk  -203-956-7171