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Thursday, September 1,2011

A taste of the South

By Clay Fong
photo by Nico Toutenhoofd

 

As a longtime High Country denizen, I must admit a vague understanding of what constitutes the Low Country, although Pat Conroy seems to have something to do with it. However, a handy glossary on the back of Boulder’s new Shug’s Low Country Cuisine menu and a spot of research sheds light on the subject. The Low Country constitutes coastal areas of South Carolina and Georgia, a region where culinary influences similar to those of New Orleans converge. In both locales, cuisine is primarily informed by the confluence of European, African and Caribbean traditions.

The Shug’s lunch menu reflects these diverse influences, as well as the pervasiveness of such Southern staples as greens and macaroni and cheese. There’s also a nod to the Low Country’s easy access to seafood in the shellfish Po’ Boy sandwiches and shrimp gumbo. Selections for the carnivore include an $8 pork shoulder sandwich and $12 half slab of ribs. The ambience is more upscale than the prices would indicate, and one suspects the traditional white tablecloths and hardwood floors make for an attractive spot for business lunches.

Po’ Boy sandwiches cost $10 here, and come with a choice of oyster, shrimp or crawfish filling. Friend Jeff was tempted by the Snapper Po’ Boy special, which was anchored by a substantial hunk of white fish. The garnishes were relatively simple, consisting of a tangy remoulade, Creole mustard, lettuce, and a not-too-terribly-exciting tomato slice. It also came with a bag of potato chips — the presentation would have been much better with the unbagged chips placed on the plate — and a side of crisp slaw.

There was no arguing that the sandwich itself was amply sized, and that the fish was fresh, with flaky, moist texture. The quibble was that this snapper should have been more snappy, as it was weighed down by bland flavor. Ordering one of the shellfish sandwiches, such as the oyster, would likely result in a more satisfactory experience.

On the other hand, there was no lack of flavor in the $12 seafood gumbo, which came freighted with plenty of okra and meaty shrimp. The gumbo connoisseur will have much to praise vis-á-vis this stew, which was thickened with both correctly prepared (not too mushy) okra and file. Noteworthy gumbos have a smooth flavor that doesn’t overshadow the proteins, and this certainly possessed that quality with the correct measure of delicate, earthy flavor. A few drops of Tabasco helped make the flavor pop, and the dish reminded me of something prepared by an attentive friend from the South.

For a side, I went with a $5 plate of collard greens, which came with a condiment of chow chow, a Southern pickle.

Shug’s version distinguished itself with the addition of pickled banana peppers, which contributed the desirable quality of vinegary tang and a hit of heat.

A $6 slice of pecan pie ended the meal. Ideal versions of this Southern favorite balance sweetness with understated pecan taste, while also maintaining the correct ratio of filling to nuts. This pie succeeded on both counts, avoiding the overwhelming sugariness of lesser versions, while still retaining a pleasingly sticky consistency. This dessert sums up Shug’s basic strength: this new eatery offers well-executed regional American classics, and it’s a welcome refuge for those desiring well-prepared alternatives to the trendy.

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Shug’s Low Country Cuisine 2017 13th St., Boulder 720-398-9036

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