October 11, 2011
First Look: Southern Art (Open Now)
Biscuits, Bourbon and Fried Birds in Buckhead
By Nancy Staab
Loosen Your Belts: Oprah’s former chef Art Smith brings his Southern comfort food to the InterContinental Hotel Buckhead!
Gone are the frescoed ceiling murals, but other than that, the dining room of Southern Art at the InterContinental Hotel Buckhead projects the same colorful, opulent overload as it did in its Au Pied du Cochon days. Mammoth paintings of Atlanta scenes in primary colors by local artists hang, collage-like from the ceiling amid the colored glass chandeliers (a design trick chef Art Smith confesses that he copped form Philippe Starck’s Lan Club in Bejiing). Seating is comfy and the color palette includes rich shades of purple, orange and red. The first thing to catch your eye upon entry to the restaurant (opposite the bourbon bar that goes until 2 AM) is the old-fashioned cake and pie stand. Homemade lusciousness is displayed on cake stands and beneath glass cloches: pies, iced cakes, cake pops and Smith’s grandmother Mable’s peanut brittle. Scoot past the artisanal ham bar stocking various prosciuttos and salami and head into the restaurant proper for Southern-fried, homey fare that is simple but satisfying.
Art is famous for his fried chicken. Ever since Oprah commissioned it for her big 50th birthday it’s been his chef calling card and he has since imported the recipe to Russia, China, Africa, and even served it at the White House. The Springer Mountain birds are decidedly moist but not greasy with crispy skin. We particularly liked the butter ball potatoes (as decadent as they sound) that were served with the bird. However, the name belies their makeup as they are mostly enriched by healthful chicken stock with only a touch of cream as restaurant’ executive chef Anthony Gray explained. But before the famous chicken, there were loads of other tasty bites that we sampled. Wooden serving boards fashioned out of old barn slats were loaded up with Angel Biscuits served with butter lightly flavored with Steen’s cane syrup. The secret to those buiscuit?
Art swears by Martha White flour, “I have dragged lily white Martha White Flour all over the world—biscuit-making is not the same without it!”
Cute, re-sealable pickling jars held crunchy vegetables to munch on, as well as that Southern stand-by refrigerator pickles. Deviled eggs also made the grade and Art advised loading up the cheddar/rosemary flavored angel biscuits with rosy silvers of the artisanal Southern ham and prosciutto board sent to the table.
Jasper, Florida, native Art Smith, who grew up on his 100-year-old family farm just 50 minutes outside of Valdosta, Georgia, knows his Southern foodways. Much of the food on the menu hails from Southern sources-- whether Anson Mill heritage Black Carolina rice for the mushroom , fennel and asiago-flecked risotto, or the cheeses from Flat Creek Lodge or Niman Ranch deviled eggs. Smith, was a schoolmate of former Watershed chef Scott Peacock at Florida State University and admires the way Peacock, his mentor Edna Lewis and newer chefs like Miller Union’s Steve Satterfield are maintaining Southern regional culinary traditions. Though he says he “felt like Atlanta needed an elegant Southern restaurant,” he eschews chefs who try to fancy up the regional fare too much. Instead, one of his most prize recipes, and a true winner of all the food we sampled, Addie Mae’s Chicken and Dumpling Soup, was derived from his Southern mamma Addie Mae. It’s on the menu in all four of his Atlanta, D.C. and Chicago restaurants. And Addie Mae still has her eyes on her son Art’s cooking, advising him not to “crowd the pot too much or it will take all the juices out.” The brothy soup with silken dumplings, carrots, Springer Mountain chicken and delicate flakes of Tarragon was as fortifying as it was delicious, with special presentation in individual red creuset pots with matching lids. The restaurant should make vats of this stuff and sell it to go. For now the soup is not available for carryout (though it’s on both the lunch and dinner menu) but you can take out any of the many seasonally-rotating cakes, pies and sweets.
Pastry chef Meredith Miller is keeping busy in the kitchen whipping up traditional desserts, serve in hefty slices, like Southern Mockingbird cake, peanut butter pie with meringue topping, a giant chocolate buttermilk cake with big chocolate curls, 12-layer red velvet cake, or banana pudding pie with white chocolate Chantilly on top. A whimsical bowl of peach, mint julep and Coca-Cola flavored marshmallows completed the unpretentious and satisfying meal that personified Southern art.
UPDATE: Just returned from lunch at Southern Art Friday Oct. 14, where Chef Art Smith was presiding over a bustling lunch crowd with lots of name faces. The daily "meat and three" of tender grilled bass was divine as was the seasonal, slightly spice-inflected squash soup with pumpkin seeds. Smith hinted that Lady O herself would be paying her respects to the establishment this weekend so kep your eyes peeled for a sighting. He also mentioned he is about to open a Lyfe Kitchen restaurant in Palo Alto, CA focusing solely on healthy, delicious, low calorie dishes. Each dish would be no more than 600 calories and butter and cream are banned from the kitchen. Should all go well, Smith said he wants to then take this concept to other cities like Atlanta, so stay tuned...
Southern Art is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, with the bourbon bar open until 2 AM at InterContinental Hotel Buckhead, 3315 Peachtree Rd. NE, 404.946.9070 or www.southernart.com
Baked oysters with Benton’s bacon, spinach, charred lemon
Garden Greens and Apple Salad with candied Georgia pecans, roasted beets, Asher blue cheese buttermilk dressing
Addie Mae’s Chicken and Dumpling Soup
Coca-Cola ham sandwich with host mustard, pimento cheese, butter lettuce, tomato
Chef Art’s buttermilk fried chicken
North Carolina catfish with Anson Mills cheddar grits, grilled green tomato-apple relish, bacon crumble
Grilled heritage pork chop with bourbon mustard glaze