Blackened gulf finfish

Blackened gulf finfish with blue crab gratin, pickled red cabbage, andouille-scallion hash and glazed carrots.

Alyx Shea, Special to Tucson Local Media

When lyricists write about the south, you can most assuredly expect at least one food and beverage reference.

From Alabama’s Song of the South (“Song, song of the south, sweet potato pie and I shut my mouth”) to Zach Brown’s Chicken Fried (“I was raised up beneath the shade of a Georgia Pine, and that’s home you know, sweet tea, pecan pie and homemade wine, where the peaches grow”), the southern region of the United States has always inspired some rather tasty tales.

The soul of the south is definitely found in the region’s cuisine, and one southern encounter that I eagerly anticipate every year is the one hosted by Jim Murphy, Jeff Azersky and Fred Harris of Kingfisher, 2564 E. Grant Road. It’s called Down South, and it’s one of my top stops on the restaurant’s annual Summer Road Trip.

Each summer for the past 20 years, Kingfisher has rolled out special menus representing various regions of the country, refreshing the region and corresponding menu about every two weeks. This year’s Down South menu was unveiled last week, and you have until July 31 to get a slice of the south for your own self.

“The Down South menu has always been one of my personal favorites,” said Murphy, the iconic Tucson chef who cut his culinary teeth with Cajun cuisine in the early 1980s. “With so many regions in the southern United States, it’s such a versatile style of cooking.”

As an example, Murphy tells me that a jambalaya made in East Texas might not even resemble one from North Louisiana, and that’s what allows him to keep this menu fresh and different each year without sacrificing the mandatory musts for an authentic southern menu.

Starters on this year’s southern slate include creole barbeque shrimp and grits with a Voodoo lager, grilled quail, from South Carolina-based Manchester Farms, with peach glaze and potato cake and a chicken and andouille gumbo.

On the entrée side, selections include fried catfish with a remoulade sauce, blackened finfish with a blue crab gratin and andouille scallion hash, a fried green tomato sandwich with belly bacon and Tabasco aioli and shrimp jambalaya with tasso ham.

The cocktails on the Down South menu are also regionally inspired, including Kingfisher’s southern take on the Manhattan, with peach-infused moonshine and peach bitters, a cachaca-based libation with house-made pecan bitters and a double rye beauty with absinthe, egg white and orange bitters.

If there’s room for dessert – and there’s always room for dessert in the south, just sayin’ – dishes include a coconut buttermilk pie and a Cubano bread pudding brulee.

“This menu is built around the full flavors of the south,” said Murphy, who was quick to point out that they need not represent the extreme heat which many mistakenly associate with southern dishes.

“Southern food doesn’t have to be wicked hot,” he said. “Sure, a bit of spice is nice, but we try to concentrate on the unique tastes of the region, bringing out the flavors from ingredients that you just can’t find in other parts of the country.”

Once Down South wraps up on July 31, Kingfisher will launch its Back East menu, which runs from August 1-14, followed by Southwest, running from August 15-31. The restaurant’s standard menu will also be available for guests who opt to stay closer to home, so to speak.

Go ahead, put a little south in yo mouth at Kingfisher this week. I reckon you got a hankerin’ by now, darn tootin.

(Editor's Note: Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at Russell is also the host of “On the Menu Live” that airs 4-5 p.m. Saturdays on KNST 790-AM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030-AM.)

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