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Get Your Southern Fix at Sweet T’s

Sweet T Fried Chicken

Anyone who has eaten at the Southern-style Elegant Farmer in Memphis will recognize some of the dishes at Sweet T’s Restaurant in Sonoma County. That’s because the consulting chef is Elegant Farmer owner Mac Edwards, and when he created the menu for the Santa Rosa eatery in late 2011, he borrowed some of his own favorite dishes.

Lucky us, since waiting at the Fountaingrove Village are fun, relaxed dishes like a shallow, savory bowl of shrimp ‘n grits low country style with Tasso ham, sweet peppers, corn and okra over stone ground cheese grits ($18), or roasted salmon patties moistened in Creole remoulade ($9). It’s a bit of the real deal, right here in Sonoma County.

As for several other dishes that really don't belong on a down-South menu – smoked chicken Cobb salad in jalapeno buttermilk dressing ($12), nachos drenched in barbecue sauce and jalapenos ($11), and chicken tostada drizzled in chile-lime crème fraiche ($10) - these are likely here to keep all types of diners happy. But no worries, they’re good eats, too, and fitting for the low-statement bistro decorated with corrugated metal accents and TVs above the bar.

It’s as if we can hear Edwards saying in his slow country drawl, “whatever y’all like, I’m happy to cook it.”

For my money, the winners are in the Southern category. Specifically, the crisp-skinned, moist and meaty fried chicken has won my heart. The birds are cooked to order, so give the kitchen about 20 minutes, then be ready to polish off the big plate of three plump pieces alongside a mound of garlic mashed potatoes and fresh veggies ($16).

While you’re waiting, start with an appetizer of fried okra, the cornmeal coating shatteringly-crisp, and the somewhat bland root vegetable jazzed up with a dunk in jalapeno buttermilk dressing ($8). Free-range deviled eggs ($7) shouldn’t be missed either, prepared in a different style each day, such as blended with smoked tomato and basil.

I’m not sure what a Thai curry sweet potato soup ($6) is doing next to another starter of deep fried chicken livers slathered in Mississippi Getback sauce ($8), but there’s no denying it's tasty stuff, well spiced and layered with flavor.

Some of the best dishes are the most uncomplicated, like the slow-smoked barbecue, made in on-site smoker that keeps the woody flavor in nice restraint, so the rich quality of the meat shines through – be it juicy beef brisket ($19 plate/$13 lunch sandwich), pulled pork butt ($18/$12) rimmed with melty fat, or baby back ribs ($18 half rack/$32 full). You add the sauce to your liking, spiked with mustard or sweet, and be sure to let a little extra splash into the chunky potato salad and crunchy coleslaw.

I’m also a fan of the wood-oven rib eye with garlic smashed potatoes ($32). Served as a full pound with roasted Portobello mushrooms and vegetables, it’s worth sharing if you don’t want to leave rolled out in a wheel barrow.

Spicy appetites will enjoy the authentic blackened catfish, as well – there’s gumption and plenty of goodness in the fiery fish partnered with gooey mac ‘n’ cheese and braised greens sopped in tomato broth ($16).

Still, my cheerful server, bringing me my Georgia Peach martini (peach puree, orange juice, simple syrup and sparkling white wine, served up, $10), tells me that one of the most popular orders is the hamburger ($12).

Ok, I’ll bite, and it is indeed fine, bringing a half-pound of flat grilled meat topped in Jack cheese with lettuce, tomato, jalapenos and onions. Though really, I’d really rather get another one of those mouthwatering Southern barbecue sandwiches.

Desserts are worth saving room for. The line-up is lengthy ($6), but some favorites include red velvet cake, sweet potato bread pudding topped in vanilla ice cream, or sticky-satisfying pecan pie.

It’s sure fine eating, this Sweet T’s fare. And stopping here is sure a lot more convenient than hopping a flight to Tennessee.

Details: Sweet T’s Restaurant + Bar, 2009 Stagecoach Rd., Santa Rosa, 707-595-3935

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