When Rusty Holman, the chef at Bayou in Foggy Bottom, expressed a desire to open a place of his own in his native North Carolina, his employer, Bo Blair, made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: a new restaurant in a hot neighborhood in the District.
Due South — “near the stadium, near the Hill, on the water,” says Blair — delivers a 100-seat dining room and multiple Southern comforts to Navy Yard, starting with an airy, light-filled interior patterned after several of the restaurateur’s favorite eateries in Charleston, S.C., where Blair has a home. Old barn wood, touches of blue, booths that allow for lots of elbow room and chandeliers fashioned from rope and Edison bulbs all prove easy on the eyes. Another 85 seats grace a patio with a fountain view.
The pride of the kitchen is a hickory-fueled, custom-made $35,000 smoker from Texas, the source of some bodacious chicken wings dropped off with Alabama sauce. The sight of a kale salad reminds me how similar menus have become in recent years. (Is there an American restaurant anywhere that doesn’t toss one?) Due South manages to make the sturdy greens taste like something fresh with the addition of fluffy farro and creamy avocado. Brunswick stew benefits from what comes out of Holman’s new toy — leftover pulled pork and brisket — but also okra, corn and an herby tomato broth.
The chef takes liberties with some classics. His hush puppies, for instance, are shaped from shredded yellow summer squash and arrive with a dip that gets its kick from roasted jalapeño; one golden orb leads to another. Shrimp and grits is pleasant if a little busy, with tomatoes, kale and a thatch of fried leeks.
Due South’s opening menu was intentionally brief. “These are dishes we know we do well,” an affable waiter said of a script that’s expected to grow longer this month. An exception to his claim is a sandwich that fails to deliver on its promise. Due South’s “Nashville hot” fried chicken thigh, served between slices of white bread with pickle chips, packs about as much heat as a matchstick. Prince’s this isn’t, in other words.
Bottom line: Just do Due.
301 Water St. SE. 202-479-4616. duesouthdc.com. Sandwiches and entrees, $11 to $25.