Best New Restaurants 2022: Modern Southern Table
At Modern Southern Table, chef/owner Sadaya “Daisy” Lewis takes Budd Dairy visitors on a culinary tour of the South, from gumbo to Geechee red rice to Alabama fried chicken.
Asked to describe the comforting yet vibrant food served at Modern Southern Table, chef/owner Sadaya “Daisy” Lewis replies, “From Sea Island Gullah [a distinct African American community, culture and cuisine that developed off the coasts of Georgia, the Carolinas and Florida] to Alabama soul food to Louisiana Cajun, we give you a tour of the South.”
Lewis’ personal culinary tour got off to a quick start. After her mother was diagnosed with cancer, 9-year-old Daisy was “shipped off” from Cleveland to Alabama, so her Southern grandmothers (she has three) could teach her how to cook for her family back in Ohio.
“I was forced into it, but I quickly fell in love with cooking,” Lewis recalls. Owing to her grandmotherly baptism by stove fire, food has inextricably become linked with family for Lewis.
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Fast forward through an MBA at Capital University, a catering business, a food stall in a Zanesville mall and a resume-glowing win on Food Network’s Food Court Wars. This brings us to Modern Southern Table landing a cherished spot in Cameron Mitchell’s 2021-launched Budd Dairy Food Hall.
The uniformly delicious dishes she serves there are based on recipes Lewis transcribed while watching her grandmothers cook without recipes—and that Lewis later “modernized” to make the food “less bland.”
Among her eatery’s entrées are: crackly, superior, cornmeal-crusted fried catfish with a whisper of chile; addictive Alabama fried chicken with juicy meat beneath a flaky, golden-brown, extra-crispy crust; and soulful chicken-and-sausage gumbo with a slurpable stock.
Sides shine brightly, too. They include tender, zippy and brothy collard greens; soothing candied yams; Geechee red rice; crowd-pleasing mac ’n’ cheese; and a standout black-eyed pea salad brightened by tomatoes, cucumber, vinegar and peppers.
Next stop: In a December interview, Lewis disclosed plans to add Texas-style barbecue to the culinary tour.
Crimson Fried: “Alabama” precedes the menu listing for Lewis’ terrific fried chicken because she learned to cook it in that football-obsessed state, and because the meat is treated to a secret seasoning blend purchased from an Alabama supplier. Another Lewis secret: She avoids the common trick of buttermilk-brining the chicken, saying it leads to “soggier meat.”
Well Red: The Geechee red rice is as rife with flavor as cultural interest. Perked up with peppers, paprika, tomato, bacon and zesty smoked sausage, Lewis’ highlight from the low country (“Geechee” is nearly interchangeable with Gullah) is likely related to African jollof rice and Cajun jambalaya, which is likely related to paella.
Modern Southern Table
1086 N. Fourth St. (inside Budd Dairy Food Hall), Italian Village
This story is from the February 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.