"I'm not Jewish or Brooklynese or anything like that, but I figured we could figure out how to make pastrami," he says. "I had smoked meat before — whole pigs — so pastrami wasn't a huge stretch."
At Neal's Deli they serve that pastrami on Southern buttermilk biscuits, and offer a roster of groovy hotdogs like the Chilean "completo," served in the style of Chile with mayonnaise, sauerkraut, avocado and housemade hot sauce. The pimento cheese is made not just with cheddar, as per tradition, but with Swiss and provolone as well.
These chefs are successful, observers say, because their audience also has been traveling the world.
"What is happening in the South is that we are more open to discovery," says Southern cookbook author Jean Anderson. "There's always a core of Southern recipes that will be there forever. But I do think, and it's because many Southerners are much better traveled and much better educated, they're open to experimenting."
An influx of new immigrants over the last couple of decades also has inspired a more adventurous spirit in chefs and home cooks alike, say Paul and Angela Knipple, authors of "The World in a Skillet: A Food Lover's Tour of the New American South." Vietnamese immigrants, Kurdish refugees, and in the last 10 years many Hispanic farm workers have all brought their culinary cultures.
"The cuisine our grandchildren will eat will look a lot like it does now, but the flavors will be different," she says. "Southern cuisine is made of immigrant cuisines. And it will slowly embrace the cuisines that come in, as it always has."