BRADENTON – The most highly anticipated Sarasota-Manatee restaurant opening to be planned since the start of the pandemic should take place a bit earlier than expected.
Chef/owner David Shiplett aims to unveil Cottonmouth Southern Soul Kitchen to the public Wednesday – the last day of September – after announcing earlier this summer he would open in October. The restaurant occupies a historic cottage on the main road through Bradenton’s Village of the Arts, near Shiplett’s other eatery Birdrock Taco Shack.
A casual dining destination, Cottonmouth has indoor seating adorned with local artwork as well as al fresco options including a spacious, fenced backyard area with sprawling trees providing shade and dangling Edison lights. There will also be a covered stage in the back, too, where musicians will begin performing when Sunday brunch launches with the Brown Bag Brass Band on Nov. 8, followed by nationally acclaimed Bradenton-based blues artist Doug Deming on Nov. 15.
Cottonmouth’s tightly constructed menu focuses on Dixieland dishes such as fried green tomatoes, collard greens, and shrimp and cheese grits. “Those are the three things I knew I needed to have on the menu when I started thinking about the concept,” Shiplett said earlier this week. “And fried chicken. I also knew I had to have fried chicken.”
Before attending California Culinary Academy, before working at fine-dining establishments such as Michael’s On East in Sarasota and the old Poseidon on Longboat Key, before opening Bradenton restaurants Ezra and Soma, and before opening Birdrock Taco Shack five years ago, Shiplett began his culinary career at a Kentucky Fried Chicken just a few miles from his birthplace – Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton.
“KFC was the first restaurant I worked at, at age 15, making two dollar hours, and I was lucky, I had friends working at other restaurants making $1.60 an hour in the early ’70s,” Shiplett said with a laugh. “I got to meet the (Colonel Harland Sanders) twice and I was awestruck. And I always wanted to do fried chicken, but, I wanted it to be worthy of the Colonel, you know?”
Gazing at the new Cottonmouth menu, one’s eyes are immediately are pulled to the Big Plates section and the Cast Iron Southern Fried Chicken Breast dish that comes with collard greens and mac and cheese.
“Uncle Jim, before he passed away, gave me a whole collection of cast iron, a lot that he used over an open flame,” Shiplett said. “And ever since he gave it to me I knew it was the perfect vehicle to cook chicken in; at a nice low temperature, after doing a buttermilk brine overnight so that it’s tender and juicy.”
Other Big Plates include the Bradentucky Meatloafburger with melted cheddar and tomato on Texas toast served with a side of tater tots. While Shiplett originally planned to offer a burger, he went with this option instead, a traditionally seasoned Southern meatloaf that will be sliced and then seared in the cast iron skillet.
“The beauty of the savory-ness of the meatloaf is that it comes out that way and will be perfect every time,” Shiplett said.
There’s also his back-to-basics jumbo lump blue crab cake that patrons have adored for decades at Shiplett’s previous restaurants, the sauteed shrimp and cheese grits, a “vegan pasta nod” made with spaghetti squash and vegetable falafel ragout, and the Grilled Kurobuta Berkshire Pork Chop Porterhouse with black eyed pea hoppin’ john risotto, pork belly sizzling spinach and pineapple bang-bang.
“The meat is the most prized for tenderness and flavor,” Shiplett said of the pork chop. “And my sister gave me smoker a while ago and so I’ll use that to smoke the pork belly, and put that different places, too, like with the collard greens.”
The collard greens, described on the menu as coming with “boiled peanuts, hominy, pork belly and love,” are on the Small Plates section along with the pan fried green tomatoes and fresh biscuits Shiplett said will be “epic.”
There’s also a blue crab bisque, pan seared local squash with white truffle tabbouleh, and Southern pickled vegetables and red pepper hummus. For his mac and cheese, Shiplett with be baking the pasta with a cube of sheep and goat milk feta cheese that has been marinated in garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil. The dishes will then be finished with duck bacon.
“We wanted to do something different, mac and cheese is everywhere, but that one ain’t gonna be like anyone else’s,” Shiplett said.
There’s also a wok-fried Thai calamari appetizer and crispy calamari salad with wasabi vinaigrette. While not exactly Southern, at least not in the traditional sense, they’re both items Shiplett perfected at his previous restaurants and longtime customers have practically demanded they be included at Cottonmouth. “They’re bigger than me,” Shiplett said with a laugh.
Also for salad options, guests should consider the Kohlrabi & romaine Cezar with aged parmesan, fried sourdough, toasted pumpkin seeds and hearts of palm. Kohlrabi, a popular vegetable in German-speaking countries, has been compared favorably to cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
“Kohlrabi is grown all around here but it’s strange that I don’t see it on anyone else’s menu,” Shiplett said. “I’m going to shave it real thin and toss it in the salad to give it a crunch.”
For dessert, diners will be able to choose from a rotating selection of key lime pie, white chocolate bread pudding and Shiplett’s latest creation, a poached peach creme brulee with ginger and chili. For beverages, there will be freshly brewed sweet tea, lemonade and local and national craft beers with “a Southern slant,” Shiplett said.
In keeping with the Southern theme, Cottonmouth features folk art for sale curated by Carrie Price, a Village of the Arts resident and business owner who graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design. “It’s going to be a great gallery inside the restaurant,” Shiplett said. “Carrie is going to switch shows out every three months and 100 percent of the profits will go right to the artists. People are going to just want to walk through and see it all.”
Cottonmouth Southern Soul Kitchen is at 1114 12th. St. W. in Bradenton’s Village of the Arts and opens to the public Sept. 30. Hours of operation are 5-9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 12-9 p.m. Saturday. Cottonmouth will open for Sunday brunch, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., starting Nov. 8. For more information, call 941-243-3735 or visit the Facebook page.
Wade Tatangelo is the Herald-Tribune’s entertainment editor overseeing the weekly Ticket publication. Email him at [email protected]
More: Restaurant News: Southern food spot Cottonmouth opening in Bradenton
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