|The half red velvet cake that came home
The first thing to know about Southern Art is that the chef, Art Smith, was Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef — not during her skinny phase. (That for the record was Rosie Daley, who seems to have disappeared.) The second is that Smith was a gay male Paula Deen on Bravo TV’s Top Chef Masters — all the butter but none of the antebellum baggage that killed her career. The third is that Smith was diagnosed with diabetes before his 50th birthday, lost 100 pounds, now eats six meals a day and runs marathons.
Which brings us back to Southern Art in Atlanta’s Intercontinental Hotel in Buckhead. Can he possibly eat at his own restaurant when visiting?
The Restaurant Dieter says yes — with reservations. It takes a lot of willpower and a willingness to plan accordingly.
The willpower is required the minute the server brings to table a plate of homey drop biscuits with maple butter and a small pot of pickles. The pickles — cuke, carrot and okra — are salty, vinegary and sweet. I ate the first pot pretty much myself. The biscuits and butter were left for dining companions.
Some willpower also came in handy when dining companions ordered a chef’s assortment from the ham bar. You read that right. Southern Art stocks artisanal pork products from all over the United States and assembles them into mouth-watering charcuterie plates. A dieter who is susceptible to overeating after something salty has to avoid this. There’s no middle ground.
The menu overall is gloriously southern in the way that Decatur’s Watershed was before it moved uptown to Buckhead in Atlanta. The fried chicken, for example, is brined, moist and juicy on the inside, cracking crisp on the outside and it’s on the menu every night. I know because on a non-diet night, I’ve had it. Needless to say, that evening never made The Restaurant Dieter.
This one was different. I had 29 of my daily 38 Weight Watcher points yet to use by the time we sat down, and I spent them accordingly to save up for the encore.
And all of this was possible because the serving staff seemed to understand — from the chef himself perhaps? — that dieters need to ask for and get compromises without a fuss. Bravo.
A salad of crisp romaine, clementine, avocado and feta and Green Goddess dressing came as requested — feta and dressing on the side. A companion who wanted the fried chicken, but the green tomato chow chow from the catfish entree got a “no problem” from the server. My filet (I ate only half) came with the blue cheese butter on the side and went unused; it had flavor enough. Ditto for a companion who ordered the sirloin and wanted no brown butter shallot vinaigrette.
And when you’ve been that good, why not take a forkful of your spouse’s sinfully good dish: braised pork cheeks atop a white cheddar johnnycake with mustard creamed leeks and fried parsnips. This entree is typical of the fare; fattening southern in all its glory.
By the end of my entree, I’d only consumed 18 of the 29 Weight Watcher points. Time for the encore mentioned earlier.
There’s no point in going to Southern Art if you’re not going to order cake. Not cake in the sense of modern restaurants — where there’s a maybe a chocolate gush something or a funny shaped medallion one might otherwise mistake for — oh, maybe a modern automobile key.
No, I’m talking cake. Real cake. Big, high, rich frosted slices of the kind that might have been carved off a footed platter at a Southern Baptist church supper. This is the cake no modern, high-end restaurant seems to serve. Pastry chefs have become artistes.
Without a doubt, Southern Art offers the best red velvet cake one is likely to find anywhere. The 12 layer tower alternates thin layers of moist-crumb cake with incredibly rich, but not over sweet, cream cheese frosting. Somewhere there is a church lady put to shame by Art Smith.
I assessed myself 8 Weight Watcher points for half of that cake and entered Southern food heaven. Come on down and join me sometime, y’all.