Plenty of people from parts north of the Mason-Dixon line think Southern cooking consists solely of things like fried chicken and gravy. In fact, real Southern cooks know well the importance of fresh ingredients like sun-soaked okra and right-off-the-vine green tomatoes. Thankfully, Screen Door gets both parts of the equation right, combining our city’s local farmers market ethos with the tenets of true comfort cuisine. Full of vinyl booths and glass pickle jars, the dining room looks like a joint you might wander into off a back road in the Texas hill country. Diners feast on English peas sautéed in butter, tarragon, and lemon; plates of pecan-crusted Idaho trout with lemon butter and tender asparagus; or sweet Gulf Coast shrimp and creamy grits. Everything from the fried green tomatoes to the pimento cheese is made with ingredients bought at peak freshness, making the food every bit as authentic as the surroundings.
Gelato’s fine and all. There’s certainly no shortage of places to find it in this town, but on hot days, we crave simple old-fashioned ice cream, just like when we were kids. So pardon us for getting a little too excited when Cool Moon Ice Cream started churning out creamy homemade goodness across from Jamison Square last year. The selection is far-reaching (there are 27 flavors), and each is expertly refined. The banana tastes like, well, real banana. The coconut is mild and nutty, and the inclusion of coconut shavings gives it body and texture. And don’t pass up the ginger chai, which is spicy-sweet but not overly assertive on the tongue. It’s a flavor we probably would’ve thumbed our noses at as children. But we’re older now. A little more refined. Though we’d still chase down an ice cream truck to get it.
Ordering a chai at this little food cart takes time. But according to owner Andrea Spella, there’s no other way. And if you’ve been put off by bad chain-store coffee-shop versions, rest assured—Spella has given new life to this ancient hot (or cold) drink. Here’s how he does it: First, he combines turbinado sugar or honey with three heaping teaspoons of dry, pan-roasted spices like cardamom, cloves, star anise, black pepper, and loose-leaf Assam tea (from local company Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants) in equal parts water and milk. Next, he uses an old piston-style espresso machine to steam the brew. Then it sits—for three whole minutes. Only then will Spella pour the beverage through a sifter and into your lucky cup, using a “pour, swirl, pour, swirl” motion. At which point you’ll knock back this utterly perfect drink in no time flat.