First Look: Julia Pearl Southern Cuisine in Plano

Your new spot for gumbo, fried chicken and killer grits
January 25, 2016
by Steven Lindsey

The gist: Sometimes you have to head north to go south. Or more specifically, drive to Plano for some spot-on, down-home comfort favorites like shrimp and grits, fried catfish and collard greens. While other restaurants are taking Southern dishes in new, modern directions, the team behind Julia Pearl Southern Cuisine is instead making classics with traditional techniques. Every dish is elevated thanks to high-quality ingredients and an impeccable attention to detail.

Photo by Bret Redman

The space: The 6,000-sq.-ft. space is casually elegant with exposed bricks, wood and leather. The dining room and bar are connected by a two-sided fireplace. A private dining room is also available.

Photo by Bret Redman

With TVs for watching sports and a wraparound bar, the spacious bar room connects to a patio, which will debut this spring. Plus, the patio is situated on the back of the restaurant, so the view won't be of traffic on Central Expressway.

Photo courtesy Julia Pearl Southern Cuisine

The team: The culinary director of Julia Pearl Southern Cuisine is local favorite and Top Chef contestant Tre Wilcox (pictured above). He helped with menu and recipe development and many of the behind-the-scenes operational tasks required to make the restaurant run efficiently. Wilcox is the name everyone knows, but he'll be more behind-the-scenes so that Jermaine Brown can shine in the starring role of executive chef. Brown worked alongside Wilcox at Kent Rathbun's award-winning Abacus, as well as Marquee Grill in Highland Park Village, so this is a reunion of sorts for the duo. Brown got his start at Brennan's of Houston (sister restaurant to the New Orleans icon), so he knows his way around a Southern cooking kitchen.

Photo by Bret Redman

The food: The menu is tight and focused without a single dish that seems out of character. Shareable starters include deviled eggs topped with crispy chicken skin, lump crab spinach artichoke dip and black-eyed pea hummus (pictured above) with toasted baguette slices.

Photo by Bret Redman

Individual appetizers (or as the menu calls them, "Keep Your Hands Off My Starter" starters) include balsamic honey-glazed pork belly (pictured above), fried green tomatoes and a jumbo lump crab cake with lemon mustard sauce.

Photo by Bret Redman

Julia's Gumbo (pictured above) is more brothy than some, but it's nice to have a gumbo not overpowered by the roux it starts with. Studded with shrimp, sausage and lump crabmeat, it's served over white rice and garnished with crispy fried okra. Other entrees are plentifully portioned and include Southern staples like roasted redfish, smothered chicken thighs and cornmeal-crusted catfish. But the two absolute must-try dishes are the fried chicken (pictured at top ) and the marinated jumbo shrimp and spicy cheese grits. The fried chicken comes in half-bird and whole-bird orders and is accompanied by some truly wonderful biscuits. The pop of color in the classic shrimp dish is rare, but welcome, thanks to broccoli florets and the spicy cheese grits themselves being studded with broccoli for a taste reminiscent of the very best broccoli rice casseroles.

Photo by Bret Redman

The drinks: In addition to a small-but-approachable wine list and selections of popular craft beers (including several local), the cocktail program focuses on Southern inspirations. The three signature cocktails (above, left to right) are the Jazzy Belle (strawberry, pineapple and Tito's Vodka), Pearl's Old Fashioned (Jacob's Ghost White Bourbon, bitters and an orange peel), and Julia's Mint Julep (Old Smoky Moonshine, blackberry purée and fresh mint). Look closely and you'll notice that the Old Fashioned is clear thanks to the Jacob's Ghost White Bourbon from Jim Beam. In season, it'll take on an even bigger Southern accent with a slice of peach replacing the citrus.

The details: Julia Pearl Southern Cuisine opens tonight for dinner from 5–10 PM. Lunch and brunch service will be added soon. There's plenty of free parking. 

2301 N. Central Expy., Plano; 972-422-1519

fried chicken
pork belly
southern food
shrimp and grits
southern comfort
southern cuisine