A close cousin of barbecue is Southern cuisine, and two much-talked-about proponents have sprung up in Cambridge within the last year and a half. First came Hungry Mother near Kendall Square; this year's rookie is Tupelo near Inman Square. Based on only one visit apiece, I'd say Hungry Mother is a bit more refined, but that's just a stylistic choice—both are well worth a visit.
A Friday night first visit to Tupelo started with a small basket of biscuits and cornbread. The former were pretty standard; the latter were what has unfortunately become standard: a fluffy, Twinkie-like confection. Fortunately, this small lapse in authenticity didn't forbear the brilliance that was about to come.
Golf ball sized fried oysters ($8) bore a medium-thick batter that packed some crunch and light seasoning. Inside, the extra heft of the oysters allowed perfect tenderness, ensured there'd be plenty of sweet juices and provided a high oyster-to-batter ratio. I also enjoyed the chopped pickled green tomatoes, whose tartness cut some of the richness of the batter.
For my entree I chose the Daube of Beef ($15), a generous plank of what I believed to be brisket, cooked into wilting submission by hours in a red wine braising liquid. Unlike my dinner at Roadhouse a few nights earlier, this dish proved that you can cook without smoke and still achieve both flavor and tenderness. The exterior was liberally seasoned and well-crusted, giving way to fork-tender (though ever so slightly dry) inner meat. A dark sauce beneath the beef, presumably made from thickened braising stock, provided ample dipping opportunity. Above, a drizzle of horsradish cream added a spicy element; hominy mashed potatos and tart, cooked-just-past-wilting greens rounded out the dish. Fried catfish ($14.50), accompanied by more of thosr tart green tomatoes, was equally well-seasoned and cooked even better.
Prices weren't just reasonable—they're an outright steal for the portion and overal quality.
I really liked that our waiter Fred—who was also very personable—is a former chef who truly understood the menu. I observed him as he worked the room, and he achieved the perfect balance between hospitality and efficiency. After the meal I asked him about the possibility of adding a smoker, and while he made no promises, he confided that it's something they're seriously thinking about for down the road. Either way, I'll be back.
Devra First's Boston Globe review of Tupelo
Yelp reviews of Tupelo
Urban Spoon reviews of Tupelo