- Alex Springer
While Floridian swamp-funk guitarist and exhibitionist gumbo chef Bill "Sauce Boss" Wharton may be the original, chef Julius Thompson, who opened his Southern-inspired kitchen of the same name in Draper, will forever be the boss of my sauces. Thompson, who operated an Italian food truck for three years before opening Sauce Boss (877 E. 12300 South, 385-434-2433, saucebosssouthernkitchen.com) in 2019, decided to shift gears to the deep fried, butter saturated techniques of the South. He credits this change to the closely guarded secrets he learned while cooking with his grandmother and aunts who hailed from the home of fried catfish, collard greens and cheesy golden grits.
It's fortuitous that our paths should cross since I've been a Southern food scavenger for as long as I can remember—I tend to get along famously with food that is battered, deep fried or sautéed in bacon grease and snatch up any dish that is remotely similar. We've had plenty of restaurants feature Southern staples like chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits or fried okra as part of their supporting cast, but Utah is pretty light on exclusively Southern restaurants. When I first heard about Sauce Boss opening its doors, I had to take a deep dive.
If you're on your way to Sauce Boss for the first time, you might be surprised to see it located in an office park right next to a family medical practice. If so, don't fret—you're in the right place. Once you step inside, the office park melts away to a welcoming environment of "hons" and "y'alls" that combines the amicability of an old-fashioned diner with a modernized aesthetic. If you don't feel welcomed by the warm front section, then you will by the time your basket of complementary pork rinds hits the table. The food that restaurants choose to serve just for coming in is very telling, and these housemade snacks speak volumes. They're served with a shot of Chef Thompson's signature "soul sauce," which is a clever way to introduce diners to his sauce chops—soul sauce is somewhere on the spectrum between barbecue and fry sauces, and it's fantastic.
Once your appetite is sufficiently piqued, choosing an entrée can be a difficult venture. All the mainstays of a proper Southern menu are present, from fried chicken ($12.95) to pork neck bones ($12.55). With a menu this stacked, you'd be tempted to try your luck with more than one choice, but that's a bad bet. Southern food is about wrapping the diner up in a big, soul-swelling hug, and your portions are big enough to do just that. My suggestion for a first-time trip would be the fried chicken. I'd wager that any first-time visitor has had fried chicken before, and the birds they're serving up at Sauce Boss are treated with enough love to make you seriously reassess every piece of fried chicken you've had prior to this experience. The breaded exterior is thick and expertly seasoned, but it's also delicate and yielding once you bite into it. It's served with a maple hot sauce that brings a gorgeous combination of sweet heat to the dish.
As tasty as the fried chicken at Sauce Boss is, lately I'm leaning toward the chicken fried chicken ($12.95) as most valuable poultry. I could see this preference shifting back and forth depending on the phases of the moon, but right now I'm all about that tender, juicy chicken breast battered and fried in its own fat. A big plate of this with a side of mashed potatoes and collard greens can chase away the most persistent of blues.
Those looking for the grand masters of Sauce Boss' menu need look no further than the shrimp and grits ($13.25) and the fried catfish ($14.75). Although the shrimp and grits maintain the same structure as other representations of the dish, the blackened butter and thick cubes of bacon ramp up the flavors of grilled shrimp and cheddar cheese grits. These are stick-to-your-bones grade eats, and they're the perfect antidote for those winter days that cut straight to the bone. Also a decent ally to have in the fight against cold weather, the fried catfish is battered in a cornbread-style mix before it hits the fryer, and comes served with the house soul sauce. The filet appears to have been cut from some prehistorically huge breed of catfish, and it's got a nice, mild flavor that plays well with the exterior breading.
Although fans of deep-fried cuisine and copious amounts of butter will be hard-pressed to find fault with the techniques on display, the real fun of eating at Sauce Boss is the atmosphere. Chef Thompson often comes out to converse with the guests and loves to ask people if they got enough to eat during their visit—the answer is always yes, by the way. Southern food might have developed its own cachet over the years, but those who do it right know that it's not right until you can feel the love in the room. Chef Thompson is doing it right.
AT A GLANCE