Now Playing

Steamed clams with ham

Put Art Into It

by Stephanie Davis Smith | Jezebel magazine | August 31, 2011

Art Smith is a celebrichef. He hobnobs with Dr. Oz, guest-stars as a judge on Top Chef and, because of Oprah’s undying devotion to his fried chicken, he has Hollywood hankering for his below-the-Mason-Dixon-Line delights. But despite all the glitterati, at his heart, he’s just a down-home boy. At the end of this month, he’ll bring his nouveau brand of country cuisine to Atlanta when his newest restaurant, Southern Art and Bourbon Bar, opens at the InterContinental Buckhead in the former Au Pied de Cochon space.

Smith has wowed diners at the acclaimed Table Twenty-Two in Chicago, Art and Soul in Washington, D.C. (“We brought a little soul to ‘The Hill,’ because they didn’t have one!” he says), and LYFE Kitchen in Palo Alto, Calif. And while that sounds like a true Yankee’s résumé, Smith is no carpetbagger. His roots are firmly planted in the South, as he was born and raised in a shotgun house in Jasper, Fla., an area that bears much resemblance to South Georgia. Same accent, same culture and above all, same food.

“The native son has returned!” exclaims Smith, with his thick and boisterous accent. With a mother in her 70s living only a few hours away, Smith wanted to open a resto that would be closer to home, but still be in the heart of a culinary scene that would appreciate his signature inventiveness. “I was reared on Southern food and I have this constant, aching need to preserve it,” he says. “And Atlanta is such an exciting food city.”

Smith comes from a family of farmers. That earthy influence will be apparent in his farm-to-table menu at Southern Art. His great-grandfather worked a pecan orchard and his family still owns a 100-year-old cattle ranch in Hamilton County, where he will be sourcing his custom-aged steaks for the restaurant. No surprise to those who know his work, Smith is big on bacon. This devotion to pork will be realized in an artisan ham-bar carving station with charcuterie-esque selections of meat. “Guests can have some prosciutto or country ham laid across a roll or open-face style like a French tartine.” If you go the roll route, you will be tasting his grandmother Mabel’s yeast roll recipe with, yes, some bacon worked into the batter. If this all sounds too carb-copious for you, no worries. Southern Art promises to have gluten-free options on the menu, too. “I’ve had my own challenges with diabetes,” says Smith, who lost more than 100 pounds in recent years. “My menu is considerate of food allergies, and I’ll have healthy choices as well.”

For those who grew up on regional fare, you’ll delight in familiar dishes with creative twists like the braised Berkshire hog pork shoulder with green tomato chow-chow, fried chicken with sour cream waffles or the mockingbird cake with crushed peaches and Georgia pecans—all hush-hush recipes he’s reworked from his ancestors’ repertoires. But there are some secrets we can get out of him. Like a true Southern gossip, Smith spills the beans that a few years ago he was originally supposed to open a concept in the now-defunct The Streets of Buckhead development on Peachtree. “But that never happened,” he says with a knowing smirk. Jon Bortz, chairman, chief executive officer and president at Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, who ended up purchasing the InterContinental Buckhead last year, is a personal friend of Smith’s. “He asked if I’d open a place in the hotel and it was like my dream was reborn. I’ve always wanted to have a restaurant here.”

What to expect? A new patio (“the old one wasn’t sexy enough”) is going in on Peachtree, along with new awnings. Bourbon Bar across the way will have small-batch bourbons by the tap and hand-rolled cigars if you’re partial to dipping the tip of your stogie before lighting. A few stellar celeb sightings will no doubt occur, as Oprah and the Obamas have been frequent diners at most of his restaurants. The space will be transformed from its French bistro past to more of a “charming library,” designed to be warm and welcoming. And like the shotgun house this Southern boy was raised in, it matches the comfort food that’s housed inside. 3315 Peachtree Road NE, 404.946.9070, intercontinental.com