First Look: The Southern Gentleman
In a town already brimming with contemporary Southern restaurants, it's hard for a newcomer to stand outWednesday January 28, 2015 04:00 am EST
In a town already brimming with contemporary Southern restaurants, it's hard for a newcomer to stand out. The Southern Gentleman, in the ritzy new Buckhead Atlanta development, attempts to do so by hopping around in the footsteps of its older peers. Like Atlanta's original Southern gastropub, Holeman and Finch, the 8-week-old Southern Gentleman is heavy on cocktails and pig parts. There are traces of Watershed — Buckhead's reigning ritzy Southern restaurant — in its Louisiana-accented casual elegance, and a sprinkling of Local Three in its cheeky playfulness. The thing is, those traits seem to work better on their own rather than smushed into one new creation.
The Southern Gentleman shares its high-rent real estate with sister restaurant Gypsy Kitchen next door. Both are owned by Southern Proper Hospitality (Big Ketch, Smokebelly BBQ, Milton's), and both share a general manager, bar manager, and a kitchen prep area. You can even order off the other restaurant's wine list if you ask politely.
The menu is packed with indulgent starters, "before supper" small plates, and full-size supper entrées. Your server is likely to suggest one of the Southern-with-a-twist snacks on offer ($5-$8), such as (natch) deviled eggs and pimento cheese. Here's where the irreverent playfulness comes in: The eggs arrive as small cubes of cold, firm egg white topped with warm, crunchy, fried marbles of yolk. These are deviled eggs the likes of which your Southern grandma has never seen. Nor would grandma be the source for the Southern Gentleman's pimento cheese recipe, a glass jar of warm fondue with the orange hue and thick, pasty texture of Kraft Old English jarred cheese spread. No celery or toast points here, instead you get extra-crunchy pork cracklings, addictively salty but dangerous to delicate teeth.
The kid in you may prefer the mini corn dogs on sticks, here bearing a sweet cornmeal shell and an interior of tender shrimp and andouille sausage, served with a zingy rémoulade. Or go for an order of the fried balls of hoppin' John and boudin atop a layer of sweet and fiery pepper jelly. Either snack equates to hot, fried, Southern/Louisiana love. And they, along with the rest of the dishes, delightfully come on mismatched vintage plates.
The cheeky takes on classics continue with the small plates ($8-$12), such as the dish dubbed chicken and waffles. It's actually a jar of thick but smooth chicken liver mousse, served with hard rounds of waffle-like crackers. Or maybe they're cracker-like mini-waffles. For something a bit more straightforward, try the bittersweet warm mustard greens salad with runny egg yolk and sorghum-mustard seed vinaigrette (though look out again for extra-crunchy pig parts in the form of rigid strips of fried pig's ear).
Entrées ($16-$28) range from cast-iron seared steak to duck confit with dumplings to North Carolina redfish. While shrimp and grits are billed as "head on," they arrived heads-chopped-off, coated in a sticky sweet New Orleans barbecue sauce atop mushy white grits. Carrot risotto made with Carolina Gold rice was equally mushy. On the opposite end of the texture spectrum, a perfectly-cooked pile of roasted pork shoulder comes topped with pork belly that is so tough it is practically inedible.
The Southern Gentleman's most appealing trait is its bar. Loaded down with bourbon and rye, the U-shaped bar fills out the center of the airy high-ceilinged restaurant, topped with white marble, decked out with crystal decanters and copper mule mugs, surrounded by soft tan leather stools. Bar manager Michael Searles, ex-Holeman and Finch and a distinguished gentleman of the Atlanta bartender community, runs a cocktail program anchored in classics with subtle personal touches. Inquire what barrel-aged concoction is on offer and you may be rewarded with a delightfully smooth spin on a Martinez, here made with gin and a bit of dry curaçao in place of the typical maraschino liqueur. There are a handful of craft beers on tap, and a dozen or so wines by the glass, but the cocktails and whiskey are what this Southern gent does best.
Come dessert time, there's no printed menu as of yet. Our server, ever attentive, lists off a choice of bread pudding or chocolate bread pudding. We unanimously opt for chocolate, and don't regret it — especially alongside a small pour of Elmer T. Lee ($5). The bourbon is a nice way to end, and to begin, a date with the Southern Gentleman. In between, you might just find that he needs a stint in finishing school to fully live up to his name.