Smoked brisket empanada served over succotash. Photo courtesy of Succotash Southern & Creole Kitchen.

Succotash | 3219 Old Chapel Hill Rd #200, Durham

With the launch of its new brick-and-mortar spot, Succotash—a Durham-based food business that functioned as a food truck from May 2018 to August 2022—is no longer an itinerant operation. But its flavors, which celebrate time-honored culinary traditions from all over the American South, are as transportive as ever.

The restaurant opened last month on Old Chapel Hill Road. Now known as Succotash Southern & Creole Kitchen, the business offers an expanded version of its former food truck menu, with platters, sandwiches, and sides that represent a wide geographic slice of the southern United States: there’s Lowcountry fare, like fried green tomatoes and catfish; Louisiana Cajun and Creole specialties, including jambalaya, gumbo, and red beans and rice; Texas barbecue classics, like smoked brisket sandwiches; and, derived from the cuisine of 17th-century Indigenous peoples, there’s succotash, a vibrant jumble of corn, vegetables, and butter beans.

The first iteration of succotash was invented by the Narragansett people, who introduced it to struggling colonists in the area that is now known as Rhode Island. Over the next few centuries, the corn-and-lima bean concoction made its way down South, picking up peppers, onions, tomatoes, and spices along the way. 

“The dish itself is a fusion of a lot of different things,” says Juan DiGiulio, chef and owner at Succotash. “If it was a piece of luggage, it would have a different stamp or a different sticker for every place it’s been, because it really has been all over.”

This is why the dish makes for a good namesake, DiGiulio says: As a synthesis of Southern flavors across space and time, succotash perfectly embodies the ethos of his restaurant’s cuisine. 

DiGiulio grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As a teen, he worked as a dishwasher at his family’s Italian cafe, which sparked his love for the industry, though ultimately, he was most drawn to the Cajun and Creole flavors he encountered at crawfish boils and around town. He went on to cook in the kitchens of Lebanese, Mexican, and French Creole restaurants before landing in Durham in 2007.

In Durham, DiGiulio worked stints at acclaimed restaurants Nana’s and Vin Rouge, strengthening his culinary skills under chefs Scott Howell and Matt Kelly, and when his father passed away in 2014—leaving him a surprising sum of life insurance money—DiGiulio realized he had both the capital and the expertise to launch his own venture.

Four years later, DiGiulio got the food truck rolling, but just two years after that, his business was hit hard by the pandemic. He held out hope for a while, but as employee-driven lunch traffic dwindled, and as breweries started opening their own kitchens—leaving the Succotash truck with fewer places to sell food—he decided that a neighborhood brick-and-mortar spot was the way to go.

When the ramen shop next to Eastcut Sandwich Bar closed its doors, DiGiulio jumped on the space, making renovations that suited Succotash’s “rustic, funky, New Orleans carnival type of vibe.”

The restaurant has a large outdoor deck and a spacious interior, and its decor, which includes a gaudy pastel chandelier and a cartoonish mural of an alligator, is decisively more casual than its cuisine; the dishes at Succotash, most of which go for around $15, are elegant and thoughtful, retaining the integrity of their origins while shining in their elevated form.

In the future, DiGiulio hopes to liven the space up by hosting trivia nights and live music.

“Louisiana has that joie de vivre,” DiGiulio says. “It’s hard to put your finger on what it is, but it’s just the joy of life. That’s what I wanted to bring to Durham.”

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