Southern Cooking Steps Up
With a new concept opening in Wake Forest and a revamp of Driftwood Southern Kitchen’s menu in North Raleigh, Chef Nunzio Scordo is constantly refining his cuisine.
By Alex Dixon
Photo by Kate Lewis
When Chef Nunzio Scordo first came to Raleigh nearly a decade ago, there wasn’t a plethora of Southern restaurants. Since his resume included stints at some of the most acclaimed restaurants in Alabama and the country, Scordo saw an opportunity in North Raleigh’s Lafayette Village. Scordo opened Driftwood Southern Kitchen there in 2014, putting his spin on classic regional dishes from boiled peanuts to “country caprese”—fried green tomatoes with goat cheese and basil.
But since Driftwood opened, the landscape has changed. “There’s been an explosion of Southern food across the country, and I don’t want to risk the chance of it getting too old,” Scordo says. “You can only do so much with certain ingredients that people are using all the time and you’re seeing pop up on every menu.”
As the restaurant enters its fifth year, Scordo thinks it’s important for the menu to keep evolving and reinventing itself. He says the restaurant has grown from being “strictly Southern” to encompassing a variety of American cuisine. A newly unveiled menu highlights the broadened scope of the restaurant, from a crispy braised pork shank, with cauliflower-potato purée and an apple and honey chutney, to edamame hummus and Maine lobster rolls.
Scordo trained with California chefs who were taking the farm-to-table approach before it became ubiquitous. He says his cooking has always revolved around access to fresh food due to his father’s Italian influences. He honed this technique with a focus on Southern cuisine at two famed restaurants in Birmingham, Alabama: Highlands Bar & Grill and the Hot and Hot Fish Club. The former, led by Chef Frank Stitt, won the prestigious James Beard Award for America’s most outstanding restaurant in 2018 after 10 nominations.
At Driftwood, Scordo recently hired Doug Seeley, a chef from Napa Valley, who he says has the same culinary mindset. “For me, the menu is the easiest part of my job and always has been. With this menu, [Seeley] and I sat down at a table just rattling off ideas to each other, and it was over,” Scordo says. “That’s what’s awesome about having someone who thinks like you do. Not only can you bounce ideas back and forth, but you’ve got the same style of cooking. I don’t have to worry about trying to keep the food simple and then someone wants to run all the way to left field with it. We’re both already on the same page.”
Seeley’s new position at Driftwood comes as Scordo is devoting time to debuting a new concept in Wake Forest, a tapas and wine bar called Bodega. Scordo says Bodega has an international approach to its food, taking inspiration from the cooking in wine regions across the world but with a primary focus on California, Spain, Italy, and France.
One of the main tenets of Bodega is making high-end wines accessible and affordable. “I want people to be able to come in there three times a week and eat as much or as little as they want,” Scordo says. “We’re going to be able to offer high-end, $100 bottles of wines for three-ounce tastings. People are going to be able to get a small glass of something and not have to spend a ton of money.”
Scordo’s approach to Bodega may even make its way back to Driftwood, including adapting a bigger proportion of Driftwood’s menu to tapas-style cuisine. “I’ve been trying to go in that direction; I just haven’t pulled the trigger on it yet,” Scordo says. “But once I start getting going with [Bodega], I think that will push me to do it.”
At press time, Bodega was expected to open by the beginning of 2019.
Driftwood Southern Kitchen’s Shrimp and Grits
2 dozen medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cups water
4 cups milk
1 cup cream
¼ Tbsp thyme, chopped
¼ Tbsp granulated garlic
2 cups dry grits, preferably local stone-ground
½ Tbsp salt
¼ Tbsp pepper
1 cup cheddar, shredded
¼ lb unsalted butter
Tomato-Andouille Beurre Blanc
3/8 cup cream
½ lb butter
½ cup white wine
¼ cup shallot
¾ Tbsp thyme
¼ cup Roma tomato, diced
¼ cup Andouille sausage, diced
Juice of 2 lemon slices
1. Bring water, cream, and milk to a boil.
2. Add thyme, garlic, salt, and pepper.
3. Turn heat to low. Whisk in grits and cook for about 30 minutes, mixing constantly.
4. Turn off heat and stir in the cheese.
For beurre blanc:
1. In a sauté pan, add wine, shallot, and thyme until reduced.
2. Add heavy cream and allow to reduce again.
3. Add butter, and stir until melted.
4. Turn off heat and add remaining in-gredients. Add salt and pepper to taste.
For beurre blanc:
1. Season the shrimp on each side with salt and pepper.
2. Add to a skillet with heated olive oil.
3. Cook 2 minutes per side and finish with the beurre blanc butter sauce.
4. Pour over the grits and serve.
Driftwood Southern Kitchen
8460 Honeycutt Rd #112, Raleigh, NC 27615