Published on November 29th, 2019

The internet recently wondered why Paula Deen was still – after numerous racial gaffes – associated with Southern cuisine. A fair question, and a reminder of how narrow and exclusionary the conception of what’s authentically “South” can get, since overly romanticized views of regional culture and food can hinder good fare from taking off in places with legitimate claims to the tradition.

The people behind Sassafras haven’t forgotten that Florida is southern, too. “The entire menu is an expression of the food that I love,” chef John Thomas tells PureHoney. It’s a simple explanation by the culinary creative behind the downtown West Palm Beach restaurant, but one that carries the entire gravitas of Southern cuisine: Honest food that satisfies the palate and soul like momma’s cooking. Real Southern cuisine if you will.

Thomas, formerly of 32 East, made do with his time after that iconic restaurant closed in the spring of 2018 – traveling and taking in all the flavors the world has to offer – and most importantly, listening to consumer trends. He staged in numerous restaurants since the closing of an establishment where he spent the better part of 15 years.


“Life after 32 was interesting,” he says. “I felt a great sense of relief. A huge weight had been taken off my shoulders, but at the same time I felt like something was missing.”

Much of that time was spent fine-tuning his fried chicken recipe, cobbled from research into antique Southern recipes and modern takes on the staple dish by contemporary chefs. More impressive, and in tune with trending consumerism, is the incorporation of vegetarian options — over ten thus far — into his menu.

Highlighting the best of Florida’s bounty, Sassafras will feature local fish and comforts like shrimp and grits, cheddar buttermilk biscuits, skillet cornbread and gumbo. There will be an assortment of raw delicacies as well as the namesake’s aromatic flavor appearing throughout dishes and beverages.

Chef Thomas is excited about the restaurant’s potential and the team he’s got in place to make it happen. He credits proprietor Rodney Mayo with the inspiration. “Rodney’s vision for a nostalgic 1950’s Palm Beach with Southern appeal is reflected in the menu he’s trusted me to create.”

Sassafras is located at 105 S. Narcissus Ave in West Palm Beach. ~ Abel Folgar