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Photography by Chad Spencer

Despite its geographic location, Southwest Florida is really not the South, but in Darrell’s Southern Style Restaurant, Venice has a great place to enjoy authentic Southern home cooking. When chef/owner Darrell Hornberger is not in the kitchen cooking, he’s on the floor checking in with diners and chatting up regulars. He is such a good steward of his kitchen and dining room that he makes you want to come back for more of his excellent food.

Much of his skill with food and people is probably a matter of pedigree. His mother was a server for 40 years, and Hornberger himself was a server before opening his own place in Venice in 2013. Hornberger started coming to Venice to visit his grandmother and fell in love with the city, so when it was time to choose a place to start his restaurant career, he chose this one.

Darrell’s Southern Style Restaurant, no more than a storefront in the Brickyard, seats 60 in a dining room of black and bright yellow booths and tables, in the bar and outside under a canopy overlooking a Spanish-style courtyard. Beer and wine are available along with beverages such as iced tea and lemonade served in huge Ball jars.

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The menu showcases what constitutes premier eating in the South. Brisket, pulled pork and ribs are the big  favorites. On a good day during tourist season, Hornberger sends about 50 pounds of ribs out from his kitchen. St. Louis-style ribs (hand trimmed by Hornberger and rubbed with his own spice blend before smoking for 10 hours) come with three house-made sauces: sweet-mild, North Carolina style and hot-spicy. A full rack is $19. The meat is tender and succulent, just the way it should be, not fall-off-the-bone but an easy gentle tug with the right texture and chew.

The fried chicken isn’t far behind the ribs. Order just dark or white meat or a combination of four mixed pieces ($16). The chicken is cooked to order, so have an appetizer during the 15-minute wait. The batter is light and fairly crisp and the chicken isn’t one second overcooked. Nor is the batter overly seasoned. What comes through is the taste of chicken with a bit of crunch.

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Have your ribs, fish or meat with two sides for a full meal. Hornberger brags on his mac and cheese (I find it a bit bland but if you load a rib with enough hot sauce you might want a mouthful afterward to calm the palate). The gumbo with andouille sausage and chicken chunks has substantial kick and is full of okra. It’s $4 for a cup and $7 for a big bowl. I’m hooked on the fried green tomatoes, both as an appetizer and a side dish.

Desserts are banana pudding, pecan pie and seasonal fruit cobblers. A jar of dirt ($5) is chocolate pudding layered with crushed Oreo cookies and gummy worms topped with whipped cream. This particular dessert was inspired by the Hornbergers’ 8-year-old daughter, Madison, who wants to learn the biz along with 10-year-old Gavin.

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Sometime within the next few months (maybe just weeks) the operation will shift from the Brickyard to 215 Tamiami Trail on the Island of Venice, a location that will attract more walk-in business. Watch his website, darrellsrestaurant.net, for news of the move. You’ll also find there plenty of testimonials from people who’ve eaten at Darrell’s and are eager to follow this man to his next location.

Darrell’s Southern Style Restaurant

Brickyard Plaza, 530 U.S. 41 Bypass, Venice 941) 485-9900

Lunch and dinner daily. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Cards: All major

Handicapped accessible; parking in plaza lot

This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of Venice Magazine. Click here to subscribe. >>