Laura had been whispering in my ear for a few months now, bragging about a restaurant in Safety Harbor I hadn’t been to yet (owned by a Safety Harbor native, no less.) She said it had incredible fried chicken that everyone raved about and that when she’d gone with friends last year they’d all loved it. The name? Southern Fresh.
Eventually, I couldn’t stand it any longer and bumped it to the front of the list of places we had to visit. It was great timing, too, as that was the day the temperature took an ever so slight dip, making the stroll around Safety Harbor especially pleasant. When we arrived, the restaurant stood out to me as a place I would definitely like to frequent on a mild day, with an expansive wooden deck flush with benches, tables, chairs, and even a free standing fire pit for those cooler months. Country music drifted quietly over the air, people sat with their dogs by their sides, and a breeze ruffled the leaves of nearby trees every once in a while. The inside was quite nice, too, with its Safety Harbor spin on southern charm, but the day was just so perfect we had to enjoy it with our meal.
Was the food good? Could it live up to the hype? In a southern word: yup. Southern Fresh uses southern flavors, but they put their own spin on things. Each piece of chicken is lovingly made to order, so you do have to wait for it to be cooked, but it’s really not as long as you might expect, roughly 15-20 minutes only, and it comes out so fresh! If you’ve ever had fried chicken from the deep south, you’ll know the flavor profile, the batter being full of herbs and spices (each southern cook keeps their own hidden ratios.) And while a lot of southern chefs deep fry their chicken, these guys are among those that pan fry it instead, so it gives it a different texture and reduces the inherent greasiness, though keeping the juiciness. The skin is golden and crispy, with the fat underneath rendered into a luscious serum that tantalizes the tongue with each bite. Out of all the fried chicken I’ve had in my travels across the U.S., this has to rank in the top three, with a good argument for it being numero uno! The vegetables on my plate, all locally sourced, were nicely cooked, the squash, peppers, onions, brussel sprouts, zucchini, and carrots in that perfect mid range of doneness with a faint char to some of the edges. The green beans on Laura’s plate had bacon in them. The mashed potatoes were delicious, being liberally speckled with black pepper and having a creaminess that bespoke of being hand whipped, not of premade or boxed taters. A southern brown gravy, with that hint of dark flavor stemming from liver, can be ordered on the side so you can add as you like to the mash (I wound up leaving mine naked, so to speak, as the potatoes were just perfect in their own right.)
I would recommend this restaurant to anyone in a heartbeat that enjoys southern fare. Southern Fresh has their act together, with friendly service, dynamic food, and an utterly relaxing atmosphere. But don’t take my word for it, try it out yourself. You’ll join their cult following. Oh, yes, you will….
122 3rd Avenue North
Safety Harbor, FL 34695