Saturday, May 14, 2016

Southern Art and Bourbon Bar - Atlanta (Buckhead), Georgia

You know what I love about eating in the South?  I love the absolutely non-apologetic way that Southerners approach food.  In the South, you can totally appreciate food for all its deliciousness ... without guilt over calories or cholesterol and such.  You can dine alone, order four dishes at once and do so without fear of judgment.   In a world with a multitude of diets and health crazes, I find that my affinity for food should be tempered and tamed.  But not quite so in the South.  In the South, indulgence can occasionally be a good thing and during my last one-night only business trip to Atlanta indulge I did ... thanks to Southern Art and Bourbon Bar.

Southern Art and Bourbon Bar is one of several restaurants opened by James Beard Award winning cookbook author and celebrity chef Art Smith.  Best known as the personal chef for media-mogul, Oprah Winfrey, Chef Smith brings all food things Southern together at his Buckhead restaurant.  Just a short walk from the popular shopping centers of Lenox Square and Phipps Mall, those partaking of the Buckhead shopping scene can easily make their way down Peachtree Street to the Intercontinental Hotel, where Southern Art makes its home.

A look at the menu quickly reveals Chef Smith's Southern food heritage.   With items like cheddar biscuits and gravy, fried green tomatoes, buttermilk fried chicken, shrimp 'n grits and braised oxtails, it's not surprising to find that Chef Smith has Southern roots.  Chef Smith was born in Jasper, Florida, just south of the Georgia border, to a farming family dealing in cattle, pecans and heirloom tomatoes.  While attending Florida State University (a fact this Gator grad will have to ignore), he had the distinct honor of completing a culinary internship at the famed Greenbriar in South Carolina.  After years of bringing and cultivating Southern cuisine to urbanites in Washington D.C., Chicago and California, Chef Smith ventured homeward in 2011 to open Southern Art, his first Southeastern location.  And how very lucky for me that he did.

Now, if there is one Southern staple that I must say I love most, its got to be the biscuit.  Buttery flaky goodness that can be paired with almost any kind of spread, sweet or savory.  I personally enjoy a good biscuit, generously drizzled with raw honey or mounded with orange marmalade.  But its just as good with a nice helping of whipped butter.  So, how perfect for me that Southern Art's bread service is none other than butter and biscuits with gently pickled veg.  These aren't your "hard as a brick variety".  Light and airy, it's enough to help you bide your time waiting for the entrees without filling you up.   And with four dishes to come, I needed to save some room!  Even though I kept my promise of confining my choices to "small plates", I knew that in the South there are no such thing as small plates.

When in the South, eat like the Southerners and that I did.  First up were smoked pork rinds, one of my guilty pleasures.  I admit that when I drive across Alligator Alley, my first purchase at the Miccosukee rest stop is a bag of cicharones.   But unlike their convenience store cousins, the Southern Art version is  light, not greasy, and elevated by the accompaniment of a roasted garlic spinach dip.  Makes 'em feel a heck of lot less guilty.

But just for good measure, I also ordered myself a helping of nice "healthy" tomatoes ... fried green tomatoes that is.  I personally can never get my version right; they give off too much water when I fry 'em.  But these were nice and crisp, both inside and out.  And made extra yum with the optional addition of a sweet red pepper chutney.

Up next for my culinary delight, good old Southern Art mac 'n cheese.  Plated in a single serve cast iron dish and sprinkled with toasted bread crumbs, this dish reminds me of the wonderful Southern cook from my sorority house days.  So decadent, I think they should just call this one cheese 'n mac.  By far the best mac 'n cheese I've ever let past these lips.  So darn cheesy!  Every single piece of pasta is generously coated in creamy cheesy goodness from the top of the dish to the bottom.   It's just sinful and typically Southern!

But the piece de resistance of my one-night only stay in the ATL is Southern Art's braised oxtails, over butternut squash risotto, minced "trinity" of celery, onion and carrot and curiously shaved pieces of fried okra.  Oxtail may not be for everyone but, as a Filipino, its been a favorite from my youth.  Fork tender and meaty with occasional glutinous hints, this dish is comfort food at its best.  Interestingly enough, Southern Art serves this as a starter.  But don't let this fool you.  This plate is generous enough to stand as an entree.  This just makes me wonder, just how generous would a Southern Art entree be?  Guess I'll have to get the answer to that question for another trip.

If you are considering a trip to the Big Peach, think about taking a jaunt over to Buckhead for a visit to Southern Art and Bourbon Bar.  Casual diners can partake of their fare on the patio and watch the traffic on Peachtree roll by.   Want an upscale or intimate setting?   Simply find your way inside.  This is $$ to $$$ on the dining cheque scale, depending upon what you order.  All the dinner entrees are at least $25 each, but those with slimmer wallets can follow my lead and sate themselves on the more generous starters.   This was a 4 spoon experience, one I definitely recommend.

Southern Art and Bourbon Bar - Intercontinental Atlanta Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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