Pulled pork sandwich and house made chips at Raleigh's Driftwood Southern Kitchen.

Finding terra firma at Raleigh’s Driftwood Southern Kitchen

My husband and I enter Raleigh’s Driftwood Southern Kitchen restaurant by happenstance. Our original plans to find comfort food in North Raleigh fell through, and so we land at the Southern-inspired eatery on a Friday night happy to find that they still have tables available to those strolling in without reservations.

Driftwood is a modern, Southern neighborhood restaurant bound by the farm-to-table ethos and it does its best to convey this as soon as you walk through the door. The open, expansive space is characterized by the typical “rustic” Southern farmhouse iconography –mason jars, burlap sacks, chalkboard signs, pictures of swine, reclaimed wood—updated with a contemporary twist that seems almost trite at this point with colorful its metal bucket chairs and the hanging curtain of glass terrariums. Perhaps, it’s Driftwood’s location, set inside Lafayette Village, juxtaposed against the North Raleigh-Disney-fied pastiche version of a European village that undermines its Southern authenticity.

Nevertheless, the service is exceedingly chipper and charming in that Southern way that one would expect. We are given an amuse-bouche, a white paper sack of crispy pork rinds, as we glance over the food and drink menu.

The drink menu is a veritable list of local craft beers and Southern-inspired cocktails. The cocktails veer into the expensive side, with most in the $10 range. And yes, there is a cocktail list using fruit-infused moonshine. The food menu is full of traditional items that you’d might expect—and crave—at a Southern restaurant; heavy proteins like meatloaf, fried chicken, barbecue pork and stick-to-your-rib Southern staples like shrimp and grits and fried catfish are prominently featured, alongside a raw bar menu . The side dishes, like macaroni and cheese and collard greens, at Driftwood will set you back $5.95 each, a price tag which will certainly give you more than a pause to tack it on additionally willy-nilly to any entrée.

Southern chicken and dumplings at Raleigh's Driftwood Southern Kitchen.
Southern chicken and dumplings at Raleigh’s Driftwood Southern Kitchen.

If the bottom half of the menu weighs you down, you might look towards the top where there’s a list of salads under the “something greener” category and soups. The beets-goat cheese-arugula salad is a lighter, springy antecedent to the rich main dish selections that might follow. Unfortunately, the sausage and black bean soup is largely forgettable, as it’s an insipid lukewarm black bean soup peppered with sausage that lacks any discernable herbaceous and robust flavor that you’d might expect.

Pulled pork sandwich and house made chips at Raleigh's Driftwood Southern Kitchen.
Pulled pork sandwich and house made chips at Raleigh’s Driftwood Southern Kitchen.

The large bowl of Southern-style chicken and dumplings ($13.95) is a dish any would Grandma make, which is a high compliment in any Southern household. The broth, mixed in with chopped carrots and bouncy peas, is buttery and rich with large, tender chunks of white and dark meat chicken and glutinous nubs of soft dumplings. It’s more than an ample portion for dinner.

The pulled pork sandwich ($12.95) is perhaps slightly less successful. Though the burger bun is soft, and the portion of pulled pork is generous and moist, the pig in the sandwich eschews any natural smoky flavor, or crunchy texture, that might be imbued from a low-and-slow smoking method of cooking. The disappointment is compounded by the fact that the sandwich is served over a wooden plank with a sack of house made chips, and while pleasing aesthetically, makes consuming an unwieldy, messy comestible a tough balancing act.

Dinner with a few libations can get costly at Driftwood on any night. The quality of the food might barely be worth the price tag; you’ll certainly exit with gluttonous satisfaction, albeit not a deep yearning to return too soon.

DRIFTWOOD SOUTHERN KITCHEN | 8460 Honeycutt Road, Ste. 112  Raleigh NC 27615 | 919.670.5089

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