Jody Morphis, also known as the Seersucker Chef, first made his name in Greensboro by bringing the distinctive Cajun flavors of the Mississippi Delta (his birthplace was Meridian) and Louisiana to life in Fincastles – a legendary lunchtime burger and shake joint that also pays tribute to the classic North Carolina food traditions one would expect in a Southern diner with an open grill and lunch counter. In this humble eating house, Jody would wow visitors with his take on occasional specials like tamales, gumbo and fried crawfish tails. A favorite of this writer is the Duck Confit with a Cheerwine gastrique that reminds you that Southern and sophisticated can exist in the kitchen at the same time. Someone who entered looking for a burger would leave changed, having tried one of these limited-time offerings instead.
In the spring of 2014, Jody left the institution he’d helped make a downtown destination and went to work for the Battleground Restaurant Group. Long-time patrons were saddened at his departure and many wondered what his next move would be.
The answer would come nearly 18 months later. With the fall of 2015 waning, downtown Greensboro learned of the impending return of one of its most celebrated restauranteurs. When word surfaced that his new concept, Blue Denim would set up shop right next door to his previous establishment, old fans and patrons knew they would be in for a special treat. Jody’s extraordinary ability to marry the most unconventional ingredients to create remarkable dishes had already cemented his reputation as a culinary mastermind.
(Opening soon photo)
Renovations, which included family and friends pitching in to get the space ready for opening day, took place in the weeks following the announcement. An occasional peek inside would show the steady progress from the installation of a bench reminiscent of a church pew along the exposed brick wall to the painting in Carolina Blue of the opposite one. Eventually, dark mahogany tables and chairs, some of which are family heirlooms, filled the seating area. A large, red bookcase that once belonged to his wife, Anne Morphis’ uncle now houses the linens and glassware. Beaded alligator artwork made by Anne from upcycled Mardi Gras beads adorns the wall along with a 1948 print taken at Revolution Mill (a nod to Jeansboro and our textile history) and acrylic paintings by local artist Denise Landi.
Blue Denim opened opened its doors on November 14th, 2015. After a welcome by a convivial staff and being seated upfront with a view of Saturday afternoon Elm Street passersby, the single-paged menu drew my attention.
Morphis’ dedication to the Cajun and Creole cuisines that been so much a part of his culinary repertoire is evident in a menu that brings both to life in every dish.
The crawfish beignets, filled with tail meat surrounded by an fluff and crispy outer shell make the point that beignets don’t always have to be sweet and dusted with powdered sugar to bring you back for more. Served with the signature Comeback sauce, they are the perfect way to begin a meal. Hint for parties of two or more: Get six.
For those seeking a meatier precursor to their meal, the Chinese ribs serve as an equally adventurous alternative. Prepared in the Cantonese style of char siu, they practically slide off the bone with hints of honey and five-spice in each bite. The garnish of peanuts and cilantro further serve to bring this dish to life. The portion is perfect for sharing but also makes for a hearty entree when paired with the Grilled Vegetable Salad, my favorite leaf-based dish on the menu. All the other salads can be prepared with fried oysters, grilled shrimp or pulled pork (You’re in the South!).
This writer despised tomatoes from childhood. It’s no mystery that many of those we consume today are produced for appearance rather than quality. Blue Denim’s commitment to local sourcing and ability to create new takes on old favorites made me curious about their Tomatoes Tolouse appetizer and it was well worth the risk. Childhood aversion quickly forgotten, I found a new love for the fruit when it was served fried and topped with jumbo lump crab meat and velvety bernaise.
Entress for All
The Seafood Gumbo, served chock-full of oysters, shrimp and crab is one of Jody’s most well-known dishes. For many of his dedicated fans, this single dish is worth the trip itself. The savory okra-based gumbo can lead you to believe you are actually in New Orleans, dining in one of the Big Easy’s local eateries.
Pork lovers will find comfort in the delectable Delta Style Tamales, a dish that easily rivals any that you might find in the Mississippi Delta for which they are named. Carefully swaddled in corn husks, they arrive like much-anticipated Christmas gifts waiting to be unwrapped. The shredded pork and cornmeal blend impeccably only to be further enhanced by the boiled peanut mole they are served with. Jicama slaw brings balance to the dish a unique take on coleslaw, the classic Southern favorite.
Looking for a po’boy? The menu features four solid offerings, each served with your choice of hand-cut fries, side salad or jicama slaw. The Oyster Po’boy comes with a generous serving of the Chesapeake Bay’s finest, flash-fried and nestled inside a French roll from the historic Leidenheimer Baking Co. in New Orleans. Once you add the lettuce, tomato, pickles and house-made remoulade, it can be quite intimidating. Neat eaters or those trying to impress a date might opt for the fork and knife approach while the ravenous among us can make do with two hands and a wide mouth.
Save room for dessert because the Seersucker Banana Pudding will take you back to Sunday’s at grandma’s. A smooth vanilla custard with bananas and vanilla wafers brings an appropriate end to a wonderful meal. The Bananas Foster Bread Pudding is just as pleasing with its whiskey creme anglaise.
When news of Blue Denim first broke, a simple message appeared on their Facebook page. The first line read, “Blue Denim will celebrate the foodways and culture of the New South…We will create a space at the table fo all, serving our guests and our community.”
With just a few, wintry months under their belt Jody and the team has indeed begun the celebration. Go and take your place at the table.
*Mardi Gras mention maybe?