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The façade of 85 South is not one you can miss, with its neon signage sitting atop a wooden plank wall that screams rustic nonchalance. Upon entry into the quaint little neighbourhood joint nestled into a corner where Central meets Sheung Wan, we are greeted with picnic tables to the right and back of the restaurant and a semi-open kitchen to the left. The restaurant is bustling and packed to the brim, with people spilling out onto the street to sip their sweet tea and nibble on their pulled pork and ribs. Graffiti covers the entirety of one wall, and the concrete flooring provides an aesthetic that’s cool and casual. For such a small restaurant, the picnic benches are comfortably spaced and the decibel level is surprising not unbearable. It’s definitely the perfect joint for a quick weeknight dinner or weekend feast with friends.
At 85 South you can find traditional and authentic North Carolina barbecue. With an electric smoker out back and secret recipes from generations before, the pulled pork, pork ribs, macaroni and cheese, hot fries and red slaw all offer an genuine taste of American food from down south. We decided upon the ‘big boi’ plate to get a real taste of everything 85 South had to offer, as well as a generous cup of traditional sweet tea. As the name suggests, the drink is loaded with sugar, and while definitely reminiscent of the real thing, was too just sweet for our non-Southern tastebuds. Perhaps we would have been better off with one of the restaurant’s Arnold Palmers, a combination of iced tea and lemonade. Meanwhile, the ‘big boi’ plate is piled high with one third of a pound of pulled pork, two ribs, macaroni and cheese, as well as the restaurant’s famed red slaw. Each element was absolutely delicious and, having been to North Carolina many times, we thought the flavours were truly authentic. The pulled pork was extremely moist and tender with a distinctive melt-in-your-mouth quality, while the ribs were seasoned well and crisp on the outside; although they didn’t fall off the bone, the taste alone was enough to let this slide. The macaroni and cheese was also a delight and was creamy with a baked crust of cheese atop the al dente elbow pasta. Lastly, the red slaw was a definite favourite. Unlike anything we’ve tasted before, the slaw was tangy and flavoursome, thanks to the addition of a tomato sauce; one could tell a lot of thought had gone into the process of jazzing up a usually forgotten side dish. Overall, the food is worth returning for and cured any longing for some comforting and hearty Southern grub.
The restaurant doesn’t focus on its tipples, but has some extremely well priced beers on offer, in both pint and pitcher sizes, to pair with the hearty food on hand. Another interesting note about the drink menu is that the restaurant also serves up some alcoholic Southern classics, including vodka-spiked sweet tea, a John Daly (an alcoholic Arnold Palmer) and Cheerwino (a mix of cherry coke and Jim Beam), as well as vodka-spiked lemonade. The names are creative and the cocktails are a lot of fun to try out, but one wouldn’t recall the drinks list to be sophisticated and packed full of options.
Service at the restaurant is unwaveringly friendly, with a greeting upon both entry and exit. Servers are easy to get a hold of if you need them and are never intrusive, and everyone working at 85 South seems genuinely happy to be there and willing to help out with any questions you may have. When asking for recommendations of what to try, there’s no hesitation in letting you know that the macaroni and cheese is “awesome” and the pulled pork is “ridiculously succulent”. Overall, service was great and just what you’d expect from a down home Southern kitchen.
A meal for two including some sweet tea and beer comes to around HK$500. 85 South is worth returning to for its succulent meats, tangy red slaw and service with a smile.