Remarkable southern diner puts out food that will make you swoon

In 2016, I named popular purveyor of southern sustenance Hot Suppa my restaurant of the year. Earlier this year, I wrote about the Congress St. restaurant’s brunch and I just couldn’t resist going back to try more of their dinner and writing a full review of it. We got there and were lucky to get a table immediately. The restaurant is small and there is often a wait, but we commandeered the last available spot at that moment.

Mrs. Portlandeater and I were craving a cocktail and they had more than a few that looked promising. We both quickly decided on the one at the top of the menu – Congo Square Zombie ($10) – anejo rum, light and dark rum, pineapple, passion fruit and lime juices, angostura bitters. It sounded like something straight out of a Caribbean vacation, and that seemed perfect for the moment.

The drinks came and we tried them, still deciding what we wanted to eat. They were as I imagined – sweet, but not too much so, with a nice citrus. The flavor combination would have felt right by the beach, at a formal dinner, or even at a casual southern eatery. We both thought it was perfect and I had to force myself not to suck it all down like it was a cup of water while running an uphill marathon in 90 degree heat.

When we were finally ready to order food, I felt the need to both try something new and go with an old favorite. I started with my beloved fried bird, going with a single piece/app portion of Nashville Hot Chicken with white bread and pickles ($8). Then I went with an item I’d been wanting to try for a while, the Spicy Korean BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich – nappa cabbage kimchi, mayo, Korean barbecue sauce, scallions, black sesame, Kaiser ($13). She ordered Crispy Catfish Tacos – Chipotle slaw, remoulade, soft corn tortillas ($9) – and Hand Cut Fries ($5).

While we were waiting for our food, we agreed there would be room for dessert when we were done. We gathered intelligence about what was available from the specials board which also listed beers on tap and a few dinner options. Mid-discussion, my single piece of fried chicken came over to the table. Sitting on a slice of white bread and stabbed by a toothpick also holding a couple pickles, it had my mouth watering.

My fried fowl was local and sweet tea-brined and the flavor that shined through it was brilliant. The sweetness was prominent enough not to be killed by the heat, but that heat was still pretty intense. I picked at the poultry, taking in some bread with every couple of bites in an attempt to reduce the burning in my mouth, but it was to no avail as I finished the chicken super happy, but with the fire of hell in my oral cavity.

As I sat trying to recover while chewing on an ice cube, I spied the rest of our food making its way toward us. I was sure my sandwich, though “spicy” was in its name, wouldn’t have as much firepower as my bird. Still, I waited a minute or two before digging in as a precautionary measure since my mouth was still smouldering. Once I was ready, I placed the top of the roll on the sandwich, covering the kimchi and sesame on its summit.

One bite of pulled pork revealed a cracker of a meal. The sweet and spicy combo – more sweet and less spicy than the chicken – was delicious with the crunch from the kimchi and the great strength of the sauce. It was a fine example of Korean BBQ and the sandwich itself was stuffed with meat. It left nothing to be desired as the Kaiser held it all together very well in a single well-thought-out package of graceful goodness.

She commented that her tacos were very good. The fries were basic, but sufficient to be sure. We remained mostly quiet as we focused on our food, making sure it was all eaten. As we finished, we got back to thinking about that dessert we knew we would eventually request. That very important conversation led to us ordering the Buttermilk Pie with spiced peach sauce ($6).

I had never had buttermilk pie, but the southern classic was delicious and the peach sauce and whipped cream topping made it doubly good, adding layers of flavor to the pastry of which we couldn’t get enough. We tried to savor every bite, but it was a short-lived treat and we quickly made every, last morsel vanish. Then, much to my dismay, it was time to settle up and go.

Our final tab with tip came to $73. Hot Suppa blew me away once again with a meal that was unforgettable. Every step of the experience felt like a prize-winning endeavor. Their food and drink isn’t fancy, but it tastes like magic with flavors that take you on a journey through the south and back, stopping at all the very best locations. I only have two recommendations. First, eat at Hot Suppa often. Second, eat the Nashville chicken, but order some mac and cheese to go with it. That’ll keep your meal a little more chill than mine was.

Stay hungry.

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Peter Blanchette

About Peter Blanchette

Peter Peter Portland Eater grew up in Lewiston, Maine and graduated from the University of Maine in Orono with a degree in English. After college, he left the state to work in Massachusetts, but the allure of a more comfortable life in his home state brought him back after eight years. Upon his return and after meeting his now wife – Mrs. Portlandeater, he slowly integrated himself into the Portland food scene by trying as many restaurants as he could afford. That and a desire to write for others again led him to start where he reviews restaurants and blogs about whatever Portland/Maine food topics he finds interesting.