Classic Southern Cooking: Buffet brings the best of the South and more to Vineland
Although Sam Fowler, 35, the chef/owner of The Best of Southern Cooking buffet has spent his life in Bridgeton, his grandmother’s family was from Augusta, Ga. That’s where his love of Southern cooking was born.
“I know it’s a gift,” Fowler says.
As a young man, Fowler spent his time hanging around the kitchen with his mom and grandmother.
“They didn’t really teach me how to cook, but I watched them,” Fowler says.
Around 12 years ago, the one-time barber decided to run his own business.
“I started from the side of the road,” says Fowler about his first business, a barbecue stand on Route 47 in Millville.
His original smoker stands out back in the parking lot of his newest endeavor, a buffet restaurant on Landis Avenue in Vineland.
“That’s my girl,” Fowler says. “Without her, I wouldn’t have this.”
While the two main ingredients in Fowler’s food are love and passion, his secret ingredient may be the pride that is evident in the food on display. Quick to smile, Fowler knows it all came from his family roots.
“With Southern food, with soul food, you cook with love,” Fowler says.
While Fowler never cooked in a restaurant until he opened his own business, he learned almost everything he needed to know from the women in his family. The business parts of the restaurant, he learned along the way. Although Fowler downplays the fact that he never went to a culinary school, his education at the hands of his mother and grandmother taught him how to take those underutilized parts of the animal and turn them into something tasty that his customers come back for again and again. “Some people just don’t want to try something different. But then, the people that do love it,” Fowler says.
Fowler’s menu offers many recognizable dishes, including chicken wings, meatloaf, ribs and BBQ chicken. But the soul of his menu is the lesser-known Southern specialties.
Chitterlings, the intestines of the pig, are what Fowler calls a delicacy. He cleans them three times then steams them down for four or five hours with his own seasonings – mainly garlic and onion. Crushed peppers are optional.
Pig’s feet are boiled first to make them tender, then glazed and baked in the oven – another of Fowler’s delicacies. Butter steaks are cut from the shoulder of beef, then slow cooked for three hours with plenty of bell peppers and onions for flavor. Whiting fish is sometimes breaded, sometimes baked, depending on the chef’s whim on a particular day. Smothered pork chops can be breaded or not, baked or fried, then sauced and finished in the oven. The long cooking process makes them fall-apart tender…