Southern Art: Art Smith's Masterpiece
I’ve never been much of a fan of hotel food. Whether in town for business or pleasure, I usually think of room service or the lobby restaurant as a backup plan — for when a reservation at the city’s hottest restaurant falls through or when I simply don’t feel like changing out of my pajamas.
That all changed when I visited the InterContinental Hotel Buckhead recently and had the pleasure of eating at their signature restaurant, Southern Art.
The restaurant, which is one of four of renowned chef Art Smith’s culinary endeavors, presents traditional Southern food with an urban twist. Just off the InterContinental’s elegant lobby, the restaurant has both modern and elegant charm, combining décor from the previous restaurant, which was a French brasserie, with some of Smith’s contemporary taste. The result is stylish pale gray walls accented by grand chandeliers, ceiling murals, and tones of purple, red, and yellow. Once the décor sets in, you notice the atmosphere of the restaurant. Lunchtime on a Wednesday is no small feat for any restaurant, hotel or not, but Southern Art was bustling on the sunny afternoon that I visited, giving the impression that the meal I was about to enjoy was certainly not a backup plan for the lively and hip Atlanta crowd.
The menu was exactly as I assumed it would be, offering traditional Southern dishes like fried green tomatoes, a pulled pork sandwich, and a classic shrimp and grits. What I soon learned, though, was that while obvious at first sight, the dishes, whether traditionally Southern by nature or an original creation, were injected with an original twist that could have only been done under the creative and innovative eye of Smith. The butcher’s board presented freshly sliced ham from Southern Art’s very own ham bar — one of the largest in the country — and was accompanied by homemade mustards and relishes. Before they were given their cornmeal treatment, the green tomatoes were pickled in the house pickling juice, and then were served alongside a jalapeño jelly created with the executive chef’s homemade hot sauce, and a unique goat cheese pimento cheese.
The shrimp and grits were not overwhelming like most versions can be, with the perfect ratio of shrimp to everything else, with a light shrimp scallion broth that cut through the creamy grits. And then there were the desserts, which proved that a meal can truly be rich and delicious from start to finish. The signature chocolate pretzel cake proved to be the perfect combination of sweet and salty, and the crust of the pecan pie was bigger than any pie crust I’ve ever seen. My favorite out of all of them, though, was the red velvet cake, with layers so thin that I had to nag the staff to tell me how they did it. Silpats, inevitably, was the answer.
What I loved about the soup was that it was thin enough so that you could enjoy the whole thing, but thick enough to be comforting. A proportionate amount of chicken and vegetables made room for the star of the show, in my mind, the dumplings. When the soup arrived at my table, I expected to see large balls of dough floating in the bowl, but instead found thick, tender strips of dumplings that resembled pappardelle. The soup was simple enough, but has left an everlasting impression in my mind, the true art of Southern cooking, some would say. I am still trying to replicate this soup, and believe that I’m getting close, and while you may not have the chance to try it first-hand in the near future, I challenge you to do the same.
"Few recipes are more Southern or downright delicious than chicken and dumplings. Most folks won't get any more fancy with seasonings than parsley. The truth is that other fresh herbs, like chives, tarragon, or savory, are also good."
— Chef Art Smith
Anne Dolce is the Cook Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce