Dining Out: Tastes of the Deep South at Muddy Waters

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Why: Looking for a different kind of cuisine? Muddy Waters may be your answer. Chef and owner Sebastian Carosi has put together a southern bar and from-scratch-kitchen that promises the largest pre-prohibition selection fashioned entirely from local spirits, and menu items prepared with products from more than 25 local farmers.

Carosi also forages for ingredients such as stinging nettles, dandelion greens, field mustard, wood sorrel, wild celery, salmon berries and much more to provide additional local flavor. All the unusual ingredients and innovative recipes are brought together to create a menu of whimsical character and cuisine not too often found this far west of the Deep South.

In addition to the local culinary scene, Carosi draws his southern inspiration from years working in Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, where he was taught the standards found on dinner tables in the South.

Atmosphere: Formerly the home of Crave Grille, Muddy Waters feels like a bar, first and foremost, with the entry space occupied primarily by the bar. To the left, a long hallway takes diners to the back that opens up to two dining rooms that exude simple elegance with tables neatly dressed with table clothes topped with paper-bag-brown butcher's paper above handsome wood flooring. Beyond the dining rooms, one of which is set up banquet style, there is an outdoor deck with additional seating.

What I tried: To start, I ordered the dirty fat-back fries made from Oregon grown potatoes, crispy pork belly bits, fried herbs, pickled peppers, rosemary crushed garlic, and cheese. Alongside, a small tub of truffle catsup is included for dipping. I tried the turtle soup, made with wild nettles and heirloom plantation rice, and the seductive crawfish mac-n-cheese. My dining companion had the Napoleon avenue barbecued gulf shrimp that came with a portion of crusty peasant bread.

The fatback fries possessed the essence of homemade fries with the added benefit of sweet, spicy, and savory for a delicious start to our meal. There weren't as many pork belly bits as I had expected and I thought more would have made the fries better still.

The turtle soup had an overall salty impression. The turtle meat tasted similar to slow-roasted beef, it was very tender, and the fiber of the meat was thinner than that of beef. The soup had a wide range of colorful ingredients in the thin, murky base. I thought all of them soup-worthy save one, the small pieces of wild fennel stalk. These were tough and reminded me of chewed sunflower seeds. I was glad to have tried the turtle soup, but it weighed in with more cons than pros and, therefore, I wouldn't order it again.

The crawfish mac-n-cheese was a rich, cheesy mixture of ditalini pasta topped with fine bread crumbs with just a few delicious crawfish incorporated.

The Napoleon Avenue barbecued gulf shrimp were cooked to perfection and served in a southern barbecue flavor soupy sauce. The peasant bread was an excellent accompaniment to the shrimp and served to sop up the tasty sauce as well.

Menu highlights beyond what I tried: From the dinner menu, the fried green tomatoes with homemade pimento cheese and smoky blistered pepper juice sounded intriguing, as did the heritage breed pork rillettes in a mason jar with pickled stonefruit and toast.

Sunday brunch includes such items as scrambled duck eggs with truffles and shrimp with Speckled Heart grits.

For those interested in the hard to find absinthe, Muddy Waters serves a locally made absinthe from Pacific Distillery in Woodinville.

Other observations: The scope of the space is very surprising with most of the dining area to the rear of the restaurant. Service was attentive, polite, and friendly.

Carosi brings a bold new idea to the Clark County dining scene. If the crowd present on my dinner visit is any indicator, his idea appears to be a favorable one.

Cost: Most dinner menu items are less than $10, a few cost $10 to $20. Lunch menu items and Sunday brunch selections (al la carte) are less than $16. Cocktails are $8 and $9.

Hours: Lunch is served 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Dinner is served 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. depending on the crowd, Tuesday through Saturday. The bar is open 5 p.m. until close (usually midnight), Tuesday through Sunday. Sunday Brunch is served 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Telephone: 360-816-0054.

Where: 609 W. 11th St., Vancouver.

Web:www.muddywatersvancouver.com

Health score: Muddy Waters received a pre-opening inspection and is scheduled for a routine inspection in the near future. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants with a score of 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.