Dining on shrimp 'n' grits at Hugo restaurant and experiencing Chef Sean Daly's passion for Southern cuisine, one might feel transported south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

But Hugo is right here in Oakley. And there's no trace of Southern drawl when Daly, a Cincinnati native, describes his refined, low-country cuisine. While
studying at Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, S.C., and working in local restaurants, Daly became so enamored of southern cooking that he knew he had to bring it home to the Tristate.

His restaurant is named after Hurricane Hugo, the storm that ravaged South Carolina in 1989. "I had the name in my head for a long time," Daly says. "After [the hurricane], they got a lot of chefs coming down from the north, so kind of bigger city flair meeting up with the low-country slow food, so it kind of created this sophisticated Southern style of food that you find down in Charleston."

Daly worked in Cincinnati, at Daveed's and the recently-closed Tink's, before indulging his entrepreneurial bent by opening Hugo in May 2007. At first, he wasn't sure how the Northern clientele would react to his sophisticated Charleston-bred cooking.

It turns out that Daly's braised short ribs, fried green tomatoes, and even more adventurous selections like rabbit and sweet breads draw Cincinnatians like bees to sweet tea. Guests also flock to Hug'™s patio for summer boils of crawfish, shrimp and lobster and to enjoy the Southern hospitality.

"Once they came to try it and see that it's Southern-influenced but it's familiar cuisine, a French base, and you're just seeing some of the ingredients and the nuances of Charleston in the food," he says, "it's not too crazy to work."

Hugo, 3235 Madison Ave., Oakley; (513) 321-HUGO or www.hugo-restaurant.com.