Southern Charm

by Sep 5, 2023Restaurants, Southport Oak Island

Chef Ashley Davis realizes a lifelong dream with the opening of Southern, A Gathering Place Kitchen & Bar in Southport.

Ashley Davis grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina. During high school, her family moved to Oak Island, and that’s when she knew she had found her place. “Living here makes me feel at peace,” she says. “It just feels like home.”

After life and love took her on an unexpected journey, Davis ultimately landed in Southport. While she had found her home, it took a bit longer to find her purpose.

Inspired by cooking with her mother and grandmother in the kitchen growing up, Davis always had cooking in the back of her mind. “My mom was one of those people who made everything from scratch,” she says. “I used to make my brother food when I was old enough to stand on a stool at the stove.”

One day, a friend called and asked her to help her out by waiting tables at her pizza shop in Southport. Davis helped her friend that day and decided to stay, eventually working in the kitchen for 15 years. “My boys grew up in that kitchen, they were with me a lot and even washed dishes,” she remembers.

Southport NC Southern Restaurant

Davis had always dreamt about owning her own restaurant. “I literally started writing the menu for this place 18 years ago,” she says. “My notebook with my ideas and recipes is in the kitchen here at the restaurant; we call it the Southern Bible.”

Now the dream has become a reality. Davis and her husband, Jim, recently opened Southern, A Gathering Place Kitchen and Bar on Brown Street in Southport. It’s a small building with a big porch and lots of Southern charm.

Davis had her eye on this location for a long time. “I’m a porch person,” she says. “I used to sit on the porch with my Nana and swing. It just isn’t a house without a porch to sit on. That’s how I knew this was the right place.”

Don’t let the name fool you — Southern food doesn’t necessarily mean comfort food. To Davis, Southern is more of a feeling and a concept.

“I want customers to feel like they are coming to my house for dinner,” Davis explains. “I want them to know where their food comes from, that it is local and always fresh.”

Southern Restaurant Southport NC

The menu at Southern, A Gathering Place changes daily. While the dinner menu features some staple items including salads, filet mignon, bone-in pork chops, fresh local catch and specialty burgers, there are a number of sauces, cheeses and butters that transform your selection into something new each time. Patrons can order a filet with bourbon and caramelized onion compound butter or get their filet blackened with goat cheese and blackberry-peach BBQ sauce. Davis’s homemade fruit sauces and syrups can likewise be found in specialty cocktails from the bar.

There is also a daily specials menu that showcases fresh seafood and main dishes depending on what is in season.

“I want people to be able to come here six days of the week and never get the same thing,” Davis says.

On the weekends Davis and her team offer a brunch menu between 10 am and 3 pm. It was a conscious decision to be closed for dinner service.

“My family works with me, so it was important for us to be closed to spend time with each other away from work on Saturdays and Sundays,” Davis says.

The brunch menu features breakfast and lunch offerings, including homemade quiche of the day, shrimp and grits, sausage gravy and biscuits, fried chicken and waffles, a fried green tomato BLT and more.

One of the most popular brunch dishes is the Not Really a Benedict, which is two local over-easy eggs and house-made Jarlsberg cheese sauce on an open-faced English muffin. Additions like avocado, crab cakes, fried chicken, bacon, fried green tomatoes or dry-cured country ham can be added. “I knew people would tell me, this is not really a Benedict, so that’s what I called it,” Davis says.

Southern Dish Southport NC

Every menu at Southern is peppered with partnerships that Davis has built locally with food vendors, farmers and bakeries. She gets fresh produce for salads and Katie’s Ice Cream to pair with desserts from Heritage Fresh Market in Supply. The croissants that are ground up and used to make the crust of her fresh quiche are from Kirley’s Breads and Pastries in Southport. The honey served on her Fig Flatbread is from Hubert Lowe’s Apiary. At least a dozen local collaborations are featured on daily menus and on a sign that proudly hangs in the dining room.

“We chose companies that do it the right way,” Davis says. “They care about the product that they put out. I think about food differently than most. I wanted to cook the way I like to cook at home. I want to celebrate the vegetables and the farmers. Everything should be fresh and local.”

Her vision and commitment to the food make her meals extraordinary, and her team makes the experience memorable. Jim can be found taking reservations, seating guests and even helping in the kitchen. Their two sons, Cameron and Landon, work alongside their mother in the kitchen. “My sons are really the light of my life, and we are very close,” Davis says. “It is really nice to be around them all day cooking.”

When asked about her mission at the restaurant, Davis does not hesitate. “I strive for perfection in all areas, and we want you to come back.”

Southern, A Gathering Place Kitchen & Bar
105 E. Brown Street, Southport
(910) 931-0786
Facebook: southernagatheringplace
Reservations can be made online

Photography by Cameron Smith