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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: South City Kitchen

Vegetable Plate at South City Kitchen

Vegetable Plate at South City Kitchen

True admission time. I’ve only been to South City Kitchen a few times since I’ve lived in Atlanta. On one of those visits I was dining with celebrity chef Todd English when he was in town. He pulled a picture of his then-wife, a bodybuilder, out of his wallet to show to me. I missed the handoff and dropped it in a plate of bread pudding with custard sauce. Awkward!

Aside from that memory, I have two reasons why I’m never keen on going back.

One, that restaurant is so frenetic and noisy that I always feel like I have to meditate in a quiet room after dining there.

Two, it has always struck me as fine; not horrible, not memorable, but decent. There are much better places to sample modern Southern fare in this town, such as Empire State South and Miller Union. Right?

Yet SCK remains perpetually packed and ever in the news. Visiting celebrities never tire of this restaurant, as my colleague Jennifer Brett will tell you. When I try to secure same-day reservations on a weekday, I get the dreaded 5:30 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. choice.

I figure we can just walk in at lunch if we go early. How wrong I am.

But as my friend and I sat at the bar and watched the chef garnish plates in the cramped space behind it, I could see just how smoothly this place runs.

IMG_7767The hostess came and got us after precisely the 20 minutes she had promised and took us to a table in the small front room. The waiter appeared in a flash to take drink orders. It is a rare pleasure for diners when servers hustle without breaking a sweat. You’re a part of this complicated machinery, somehow vested.

We liked the bread basket filled with warm biscuits and cornbread — not the best, not the worst. We heartily enjoyed this kitchen’s Platonic ideal of a BLT, made with smoky bacon, heirloom tomatoes and basil mayo on toasted bread that had the softly yielding consistency of brioche.

The vegetable plate (above) had a little more going on than the typical assemblage of side dishes. The vinegary cool of shredded kale salad complemented the buttery tasting fingerling potatoes and those lovely charred sugar snap peas. (Sidebar: Why exactly did sugar snaps go out of style?) Those same potatoes supported an uptown crab hash — a comfort-food extravaganza with a crab cake, egg, hollandaise and an all-important dollop of sweetly reduced tomatoes.

IMG_7766

We kind of hated this “Southern-style banh mi” — a tortured rendition of the Vietnamese sandwich made with sweet-sauce barbecued pulled chicken.

IMG_7762I’m also going to ding housekeeping for serving us this lime with our sparkling water, a third bottle of which came unbidden.

But we loved the click, the energy, that high-wattage urban mixture of anonymity and attention at this restaurant. I can see why the celebrities come here.

- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog

9 comments Add your comment

Buddy

August 19th, 2013
9:48 pm

Couldn’t agree more. I’ve been several times and have no idea why. I’ve never had a great meal there…and never had a bad one. I’d actually equate the tastiness of the food to Po Folks.

GaPeachy

August 20th, 2013
9:30 am

This place is soooo overated! I have never been blown away by any dish, but for some reason I’m always reading about celebrities making their way there. I just don’t get it. I’ve had the gouda fritters, which sound really good but not as good as the goat cheese fritters that were at Nava. Their shrimp grits was a bit of a disappointment as well, not very flavorful, and there are plenty of places in Atlanta with better fried chicken.

Jadzia

August 20th, 2013
10:13 am

There is no doubt that Fifth Group restaurants are well managed and can hum even with a very business lunch or dinner service. I do find them a bit challenged with the food at this location at times. The SCK in Vinings has been consistent and excellent for the last 5 yrs. Even on “the main chef isn’t there” nights like Sunday night. Perhaps the Midtown location is challenged because they are spreading their resources thin to open multiple locations at Hartsfield?

Cancer Breath

August 20th, 2013
1:14 pm

I’m not in love with Southern food, but I don’t remember ever having a bad meal there.
And I agree the service is very good.
I recently attended a graduation party with a big group of difficult people who don’t enjoy each others’ company for very long at SCK, and it went especially well.
I take people who are in town and want “Southern” food there, and the typical results are satisfaction.
They need to be on top of their game now that Lure is next door and serving brunch.

Art

August 20th, 2013
1:44 pm

Just because a person is a talented entertainer or sports figure doesn’t mean that they have a great palate or a great appreciation for good food. Tiger Woods is reported to be a huge fan of McDonald’s chicken nuggets. SCK does well because of its above average service and its location.

Tom

August 22nd, 2013
9:59 pm

I agree with Jadzia about Vinings. Maybe you’ve never been there, John, but make that your next SCK visit. Atmosphere is much better, service is great (after one visit, I received a personalized thank you in the mail from my server), and the food is consistently better.

[...] 30 Restaurants in 30 Days: South City Kitchen [...]

sonicfruits

August 23rd, 2013
8:43 am

I concur, was very disappointed on both visits, one for dinner in Midtown and one for breakfast/lunch in Vinings. Find it very over priced and the food is mediocre. The only thing that I remembered was the cauliflower in the mac n cheese

Melissa

August 23rd, 2013
3:53 pm

I brought a friend here on her first visit to ATL and it was a first visit for me too.

I’ll never forgive them for the overwrought mediocrity they serve. It was pretty awful and very expensive.