Never say “never” is the moral of Sarah McClure’s story. After growing up in tiny Landrum, South Carolina, McClure swore she’d never come back to live in her hometown. “I was going to get out and be a big-city girl,” declares Sarah, who was named one of four South Carolina Chef Ambassadors for 2018. Yet, years later, she’s back in Landrum, as executive chef at her family’s restaurant, Southside Smokehouse.
Art history was her aim when she graduated from Wofford College and set off for Athens, Georgia, to get her master’s degree. Somewhere along the way, she realized her heart wasn’t in art history. The daughter of restaurateurs, Sarah had waited tables and bartended at the Smokehouse during summers, and figured it was time to try working in the kitchen.
She started cooking at a barbecue place called Harry’s Pig Shop in Athens, and found she enjoyed “the immediacy and simplicity of cooking.” After a year, she wanted to challenge herself, so she applied to The National, her favorite fine-dining restaurant in Athens. There she rose quickly through the kitchen ranks.
Finding housing prices above their reach in Athens, Sarah and her husband-to-be eventually decided to move back to Landrum. She asked her father if she could come run the kitchen at Southside Smokehouse. “He was flabbergasted,” she remembers, “since he’d suggested that several times over the years, but I’d always said ‘no.’”
To Southside’s menu, which lists barbecue that Sarah’s father learned to cook from pros in Lexington, North Carolina, Cajun and Creole recipes he brought back from food festivals in New Orleans, and American standards, Sarah has added her own Chef’s Specials. Some, like her pork tacos, shrimp and grits, and fried green tomato and pimiento cheese burger, have become so popular that she has integrated them into the regular menu.
Classic Southern dishes reveal the chef’s unique twist: her tomato pie tart’s cream base originated with a mushroom and Gruyère tart that Sarah made for a Christmas party. Although she gives her version a modern bent with sour cream and Gruyère and ricotta cheeses, the chef also uses traditional ingredients. As she says, “You can’t have a tomato pie without Duke’s mayonnaise!”
In her role as a chef ambassador, McClure represents South Carolina at food festivals and other events. “I enjoy being able to show off Landrum,” admits the young chef. “I’ve discovered that I’m much more of a small-town girl than I thought I was.”
Southside Smokehouse, 726 S Howard Ave, Landrum, SC. (864) 457-4581, southsidesmokehouse.com
Sarah McClure’s Tomato Pie Tart
½ cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 large egg yolk
2 Tbs. Duke’s mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
1 ½ pounds assorted fresh tomatoes
½ cup fresh basil, torn
1 tablespoon butter
1 sweet yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half of a 17.3-ounce package), thawed
1 large egg yolk, beaten to blend with 1 teaspoon water (for glaze)
6 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese (any sharp, dry cheese, like parmesan, pecorino, or sharp cheddar, will work)
This recipe is idea for tomatoes in peak season, but if yours are not, roast them to reduce the water and amp up the flavor. Pick your favorites and play around with different varieties. This tart looks great with a variety of colors, and it’s best to choose similar sizes and shapes so they layer nicely.
Slice tomatoes, sprinkle with salt, and set in a colander to drain. The goal here is to remove some of the juice so the final product isn’t too soupy.
Purée ricotta in processor until smooth, about 1 minute. Add 1 yolk and 2 teaspoons mayonnaise and blend. Transfer ricotta mixture to bowl; fold in sour cream.
Slowly sauté onions with butter in a heavy cast-iron pan until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.
Lightly press the tomatoes to get a bit more juice out and transfer to a bowl with the cooled onions, a bit more salt, and torn basil. You can also add a few grinds of fresh black pepper and additional herbs.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Roll out puff pastry on lightly floured surface to a 13×9-inch rectangle. Using a sharp knife and starting ¼-inch in from edge, score the entire perimeter of the dough, cutting halfway through. Brush ¼-inch border with the egg glaze. Transfer dough to an ungreased baking sheet lined with parchment paper for an extra crispy crust and easy clean up.
Spread ricotta mixture over the dough, inside the border. Top with tomato and onion mixture, half of the Gruyère, then remaining tomatoes, onions and Gruyère. Bake tart until crust is golden and cheese melts, about 25 minutes.