Celebrity chef Ben Vaughn is planning to open a Southern-style restaurant called Southern Kitchen next to Atomic Liquors. The host of Health Inspectors says that while participating in the World Food Championships the last three years, he realized Las Vegas was surprisingly lacking in Southern cuisine.
“I noticed it the first year, when we were over on the Strip,” he recalls of his 2012 appearance. “There were a couple of places that made attempts at a hush puppy, and it was more like a weapon than a snack. Then along came a few other options, but it felt like the Epcot version of what Southern food might be.”
The real spark for the new endeavor came at last year’s World Food Championships, when Vaughn was hosting a dinner at Atomic. There he met the bar’s owners, Kent and Lance Johns. “It was kind of just an organic fit,” Vaughn says. “We all got along, and the next thing you know they said, ‘We have this property, and it’s available. We know something needs to happen. And you’d have a built-in clientele at Atomic that are always hungry. What do you think?’”
The 3,000-square-foot building will share the Atomic’s patio area. In the Southern “meat-and-three” tradition, meals will consists of a main course and three sides. But Vaughn says the rotating menu might not reflect what many consider Southern cooking.
“There can be cliché Southern food,” he says. “Fortunately, that’s not my style. So it’s not gonna be collard greens and fried chicken all over my menu with banana pudding to finish it all off. What [my style] is about is more of an attitude and geared toward seasons and ingredients. Southern cooking is rooted in what’s available, with certain techniques to cook it.”
Vaughn expects the restaurant could take five to eight months to build. In the meantime, he’s hoping to open a food truck on the Atomic patio, where he’ll test out recipes and train staff, possibly as soon as late February.