Restaurant Review

Sweet Tea & Chickadee will give you a delightful taste of the American South

From shrimp and grits to peach cobbler, all manner of Southern classics are on the menu at this unique bakery and cafe in Joburg

04 October 2020 - 00:01
You'll find all sorts of Southern American classics like shrimp and grits on the menu at Sweet Tea & Chickadee in Joburg.
You'll find all sorts of Southern American classics like shrimp and grits on the menu at Sweet Tea & Chickadee in Joburg.
Image: Supplied

Nothing to do with shoes, the American peach cobbler, a baked pudding of layers of fresh yellow peach slices placed in a deep dish and covered with a batter or "biscuit", enjoys, I suspect, the same reverence as the malva pud does among us.

I recently stumbled upon the cobbler on a menu in a tea shop/diner in my hood with a quirky and unforgettable name. Its speciality? Southern American cooking and baking.

It is not a fancy eatery, rather pleasantly homely. The tables are spaced far apart and the ceilings are high, making it light and airy, with large glass window fronts from which to watch the world go by.

The airy interiors of Sweet Tea & Chickadee in Emmarentia.
The airy interiors of Sweet Tea & Chickadee in Emmarentia.
Image: Supplied

The name, Sweet Tea & Chickadee, said Natasha Robson-Lovato — the half-South African, half-American owner who, hankering after home, returned to SA with her husband Jason Lovato recently — is a reference to the sweet tea "drunk by the gallon" in the South. Chickadee is the name and call of a bird that is prevalent in the region.

Said Robson-Lovato: "I never lived in the South, but Jason's mother is from there and has a rich background of Southern food."

The menu takes a little time to get one's
head around. It is summed up by two things — biscuits and bakes.

The biscuits are what we'd call scones, though they are much bigger, and rather than cream and jam, come filled with savoury fillings from bacon and eggs to pulled pork, prosciutto and fried chicken.

The difference between a biscuit and scone, said Robson-Lovato, who is a baker of note, comes down to ingredients. Biscuits are made with butter and buttermilk, which give them a soft texture and crust, whereas scones are made with cream and eggs, so have a crunchier crust and denser texture.

The biscuit we chose to share came with layers of prosciutto, goat cheese, rocket and red pepper jelly. It is called the "The Isle of Palms" (R90).

'The Charleston': a biscuit with a fried chicken served with pickles and jalapeno honey
'The Charleston': a biscuit with a fried chicken served with pickles and jalapeno honey
Image: Supplied

However, a friend and I did suffer from order envy when "The Charleston" - a real Southern dish of fried chicken with pickles and jalapeno honey (R85) - arrived at the table next to ours.

As the gluttons we are, it was tempting, but we had just gobbled a vast plateful of shrimp and grits (R129) - a heap of the creamiest corn porridge, polenta, which is similar to grits, the American cornmeal porridge, which Robson-Lovato said is difficult to source in SA. The dish came topped with a mound of sweet, lightly charred shrimps in the spicy red pepper jelly. Filling and delicious. A winner.

No licence means no wine to wash the biscuits down. Instead, there is something that could lead you down the garden path. Called a shrub, it's a homemade non-alcoholic acidulated drink made with fresh fruit syrups to which vinegar is added as a preservative, and comes in a tall glass jar finished off with ice and sparkling water.

It was surprisingly good. We had the pineapple with a hint of lemon grass and the fresh apple one. The vinegar adds a sharp note, not unpleasant — and it cuts through the richness of the food.

Find Sweet Tea and Chickadee at 3 Levubu Road Emmarentia, Johannesburg. Open Wednesday to Sunday 8am –5pm. Call 083-712-4805 or visit Sweeteachickadee.co.za