The Southerner brings Southern comfort across state lines

The Southerner burger
The Southerner burger
Photos: The Southerner

By Kelsey Smith

When walking into The Southerner, it’s hard to imagine being anywhere but home. And that was Matt Millar’s goal for his Saugatuck restaurant.

As chef and co-owner, Millar pays tribute to his Appalachian heritage with from-scratch Southern cooking passed down from generations.

The Southerner fried chicken
Fried chicken

“When I would taste Southern cooking for the first time, when I would taste something that was outrageously good, it just got lodged in my memory,” Millar said. “That’s what I wanted to create — that sensation. You can go to a thousand places and get fried chicken, but I didn’t just want to put a piece of fried chicken on a plate, I wanted to re-create that moment when I tasted my aunt’s fried chicken and biscuits for the first time.”

Tucked away on the Kalamazoo River, The Southerner shares sparkling water views while serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a dose of hospitality.

“We chose this location because it felt genuine,” Millar said. “That’s the reason we have the mismatched dishware, tables and chairs. We wanted to feel a little bit less like a restaurant, and a little bit more like you’re sitting at granny’s table.”

The menu is packed with traditional Southern comfort food, but with a Northern twist.

The Southerner fish and game dinner
Chef and co-owner Matt Millar

“The Southerner is a South-meets-North story,” Millar said. “In the mid-1950s and ’40s, a lot of people from East Tennessee started coming up this way. Jobs were scarce in the South as industries started moving out — that was how my family came here. The name ‘The Southerner’ is taken from the name of the first train that connected the North to the South.”

Hot sellers like the fried chicken, grits and greens, biscuits, and chilaquiles verde have guests coming back for more. Part of the repeat business is because Millar carefully sources local ingredients.

Quickly becoming a popular spot, The Southerner celebrated its second anniversary in June.

“I looked into our dining room on  Mother’s Day, and it was full of mothers enjoying my mother’s cooking — it just felt right,” Millar said. “It felt like we were doing what we were supposed to be doing.” n

The Southerner
880 Holland St.

The Southerner waterside view
The Southerner waterside view