A few weeks ago, Ashley and I made our way over to Lincoln Square to check out Chicago's newest hotspot for Southern cuisine, Luella's Southern Kitchen. Seeing as Lincoln Square is one my of favorite neighborhoods in Chicago (I've had my eye on it as a potential spot to move to for years now!), I was excited to not only sample some Southern comfort favorites, but also to introduce Ashley (aka a Lincoln Square virgin) to the quirky/charming neighborhood. Unfortunately, the Arctic winds decided to swoop their way into the city, cutting our walking tour a bit short (as we were both woefully under dressed), but the chilly winds created the perfect backdrop to the warm and welcoming Luella's.
Located just off of the main square, owner/Chef Darnell Reed's casual, counter service restaurant is a labor of love that was years in the making. The native South Sider learned to cook at the elbow of his Mississippi-born/Midwestern transplant great-grandmother Luella; after spending eighteen years in the Chicago hospitality scene (most notably as the executive chef at the Conrad Hotel), Chef Reed finally achieved his dream of opening his own restaurant. Of course, he dedicated it to the woman who taught him to love food. Armed with his great-grandmother's recipes, Chef Reed also draws his inspiration from his numerous international travels, as well as his explorations of the South; his contemporary twist on Southern cuisine showcases a combination of professional technique meets homey family dinner.
As soon as we walked into the restaurant, Ashley and I were both immediately drawn the vibrant blue ceiling - such a fun pop of color!
We started out our lunch feast with a bowl of the She Crab Soup, topped with black & red tobiko and brioche toast. This soup was super smooth and silky with a perfect punch of saltiness. Ashley and I were both surprised by the addition of the tobiko - we thought it might complete with the flavors of the soup, but the smokey saltiness actually worked to draw out the bold brininess of the crab.
We paired our soup with an order of the Lemon Cajun Seasoned Fries. OMG. I cannot express the depths of my love for these spicy, zesty fries... let's just say that Ashley's lucky she was able to wrangle a few away from me. ;-) These highly addictive fries were beautifully seasoned and would make the perfect accompaniment to just about anything on the menu.
For her entrée, Ashely chose the Shrimp and Grits. Being raised by a Southerner, she is a shrimp and grits aficionado and can never resist ordering the dish (and judging a restaurant by it!). Right away, we could both tell we were in for something special when we spotted the size and quantity of the shrimp perched upon the cream cheese grits. We both highly enjoyed the combination of the seasoned shrimp, creamy grits, and Cajun sauce (it's one of those sauces that brings a nice burn); Ashley even proclaimed Chef Reed's version to be one a true Southerner would love, which should definitely tell you something about this delicious dish.
Finally, I ordered the Crispy Catfish Tacos, topped with cayenne remoulade and, as I mentioned on Instagram, some of the tastiest vinegar slaw I've ever had! As much as I loved (loved!) the zesty fries, these tacos were the clear winners of the afternoon in my eyes. The cornmeal coated catfish was crispy and without the greasiness that often plagues fried fish, but still moist and flakey in the middle. Paired with the creamy remoulade and sharp vinegar, these catfish tacos stood out from every other version I've had in the past. Not only are these tacos officially my new favorite use of catfish, but also, I truly think they are some of the best fish tacos in the entire city!
You can try all of this deliciousness and more at Luella's Southern Kitchen: 4609 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL Alcohol is BYOB, with no corkage fee.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.