Aside from his silver screen notoriety on popular food shows and the amazing experiences had by the masses at Table Fifty-Two in Chicago, Art and Soul in Washington, D.C., LYFE Kitchen in California's Palo Alto and now Southern Art & Bourbon Bar in Atlanta, the thing that amuses me the most about the mere mention of chef Art Smith is the common recollection of, "Oh yeah, Oprah's chef."
Here in Atlanta, a city with a culinary scene that often seeks to escape it's southern presence, Smith recently (about a year and a half ago) partnered with InterContinental Hotel in Buckhead, and opened Southern Art.
The InterContinental Hotel in Buckhead is one of the most casually elegant, least pretentious hotels in the city of Atlanta. The atmosphere throughout is best described as mellow, plush and modern in terms of the decor, the music and the attitude. For years, it's been an Atlanta favorite for live jazz on weekend evenings.
More than a handful of years ago when the hotel opened as a new build, the one and only restaurant was Au Pied du Cushon--a French themed quasi pork/seafood restaurant--maybe. Bottom-line, the southerners weren't really feeling it. Therefor it faded. Now with a new chef at the helm, a warm, cozy decor doused with modern southern charm, nearly every seat was full on a Friday night visit.
A typical visit could go, say, like this...
The Sparkling Sapphire a $14 fusion of Soho Lychee liqueur with cucumber, lemon, ginger syrup and champagne served martini style was crisp and refreshing with a touch of sweetness balanced out by the ginger and lemon. YUM!
Southern Art features a Ham Bar for an interesting take on charcuterie. And yes, a Ham Bar! Of the near 10 selections, all but one was from the south.
Of the two hams smpled---Father of Breman, KY. at $6 per serving, was a lean sugar cured ham aged 8-12months, and Finchville Farms of Finchville, KY., a $6 per serving, was a sugar, salt, red and black pepper, nitrate free cured ham aged 12 months and quite marbled. Both melted were melt in your mouth delicious, served on a cutting board of house made crackers, a dijon mustard that you'll probably want a jar of to take home, some grainy and a sweet butter that could have very well been eaten alone on crackers.
Soups and Salads
Although the hydroponic salad sounded quite interesting, Addie Mae's $8 a bowl chicken and dumpling soup in a restuarant labeled southern could not be missed. Using his mother's recipe, it is of a rich, buttery, velvety smooth, herb laden broth with strips what seems like pasta in place of dumplings with cubes of chicken all of which I could take or leave for the broth alone. Momma laid this one out!
With several interesting selections to include Smith's version of fried green tomatoes, which he stuffs with goat cheese, the $13 Southern Flatbread won. With creamed corn, his crunchy fried green tomatoes stuffed w/goat cheese and pulled bbq pork, in a word, DAMN! The crispy fried green tomatoes, savory pulled bbq pork and the sweetness of the corn all made for an amazing merger of textures and flavors worthy of applause!
The $25 Bourbon Glazed Pork Shank is served on braised collards. Prior to serving, the shank is flash fried to create a crisp exterior texture. In the process, mine arrived a little dry inside and, well not as flavorful on the inside as hoped. However, the greens were euphoric.
The $26 Braised Neiman Ranch Pork Cheeks stole the show! Tender enough to break apart with a fork, they were served atop white chedder Johnny cakes on a base of savory mustard creamed leeks, all topped with crispy parsnips. For this recipe, Art should wear a crown!
Last but not least was the $19 Buttermilk Fried Chicken, with whipped potatoes and garlic green beens--which were omitted from my entree trilogy served on one plate. Let's just say dude can fry some chicken...crispy, moist and flavorful!
In the restaurants foyer is a farm table of desserts, prominently displayed and never forgotten. Starring on it---a coconut cake, a pecan pie, a jar of flavored marshmallows and a tray of bourbon laced chocolate covered pops. Omitted from the table was the pretzel pie, something that may be less familiar to the ears of westerners or northerner. But with it's salty, crunchy pretzel crust, a layer of chocolate, with a luscious caramel-like mousse, it combined to make the perfect combination of salt and sweet. The flaky crusted pecan pie would make any southerner proud. The third item on my plate was a mile high red velvet. Because the cake was served chilled, the flavors seemed to be in hybernation. But try wrapping it to go and revsiting an hour or two later over a late night movie at home for a 360-degree change of heart! The chocolatey flavors will then come alive, bursting with flavor, accented by cream cheese frosting that's perfectly (not overly) sweetened.
All in all, in a region of the country that's often seen and heard kicking and screaming to "go back," Art Smith has done a heck of a job moving forward with the best of the south in heart and on plate!
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3315 Peachtree Road, NE