| by Jami English
American cuisine has come a long way from its basic meat and potato roots, and as the national culinary scene has grown, so has the general interest in American culinary traditions. At The Stanton Social in New York City and Two Urban Licks in Atlanta, Chefs Chris Santos and Scott Serpas are serving whimsical creations grounded in American food – which extends beyond the American classics of Crocker and Child and into the fish shacks of New England and the taco trucks of Southern California. The food is representative of American cuisine in one of its most contemporary manifestations: an amalgamation of ethnic flavors and ethnic dishes that have become familiar parts of the American repertoire.
At Two Urban Licks, Scott Serpas serves dishes that draw on the flavor profiles of regional American cuisine with a few subtle ethnic twists thrown in. His philosophy of home-style classics, reinvented, is embodied in an unorthodox but, upon first bite, logical marriage of Southern hushpuppy and eggplant parmesan.
Inspired by his New Orleans upbringing, Serpas says he tries to add some sort of spice and heat to every dish he makes – nothing is too overpowering, but nearly everything on his menu has a discernable bite to it. He gives Flash Fried Oysters a little Cajun kick with Creole Tarter Sauce and pairs Lamb Lollipops with a chipotle chili powder-spiked grape jelly.
While Serpas plays with dishes of Southern and suburban American origins, Chris Santos finds culinary inspiration in New York City’s America – a melting pot of cultures and cuisines from around the world which the urban community has come to embrace as its own. The Stanton Social is located in the heart of the Lower East Side, and Santos’ cuisine reflects the neighborhood’s deep Latin and Eastern European roots. Polish Potato and Onion Pierogies take a sophisticated turn with the addition goat cheese and Truffled Crème Frâiche, while a country fair standard meets an East Coast classic in his Crab Cake Corn Dogs. The dish is a seamless fusion of Americana – literally, crab cakes in a buttermilk-cornmeal breading, on a stick. Even the most notable bbq benchmark, the hamburger, becomes decidedly fancier in Santos’ kitchen as foie gras and fig jam stand in for the requisite ground beef patty and ketchup.
Aside from their many references America’s diverse foodways, Serpas’ and Santos’ cuisines exemplify one of the biggest culinary trends today: intelligent, playful, shareable food in a hip casual-upscale setting. It’s as American as apple churros with tiramisu gelato.
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