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