Feelin Right At Home At Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’

Sondra at Art Smith's Home Cookn

Sondra discovered that down-home southern cooking doesn’t get any better than Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ at Disney Springs. (photos by Sondra Shapiro and David Budnik)

By Sondra L. Shapiro

Down-home southern cooking doesn’t get any better than Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ at Disney Springs.

That’s high praise coming from the daughter of a southern belle, who decided to begin her 65th birthday visit to the Mouse with a helping of southern-fried chicken and a side of fried-green tomatoes. Well, that was my first inclination until I saw other southern favorites on the menu that were going to be difficult to resist.

Smith, a two-time James Beard Foundation award winner and 6th generation Floridian (his family has farmed in Jasper for many generations) was Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef for 10 years and cooked for two Florida governors in Tallahassee. I began following him after his stint on Top Chef Masters.

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Smith, who has a home in Jasper, pays tribute to his native state through his newest endeavor, which opened in July 2016, offering regional specialties utilizing mostly locally sourced ingredients, including distilled spirits and brews. I was told that on average, 50 to 80 percent of the ingredients are local, depending on the growing cycle.

chicken-handled glass doors

The moment I entered through the kitschy chicken-handled glass doors, I experienced a living, breathing tribute to Smith’s love affair with the Sunshine state. A mixture of country meets modern. I could envision being welcomed into a typical southern home, replete with a screen porch dining option.

High beamed ceilings and exposed wood made of Florida cypress. Tables crafted in Florida — including the zinc tops.

A Florida Farmers Wall celebrates state growers, ranchers and fisheries. Each photo runs with a story of the farm or family and rotates every four months. During my recent visit, Teena Borek of Teena’s Pride in Homestead was the featured purveyor.

A giant mural depicting a bucolic Floridian scene by the late local artist Matt Callahan evokes a tropical, yet down-home feel.

Collage of framed photographs of Chef Smith and family

Every wall is covered with whimsical bric-a-brac. One area features a collage of framed photographs of Chef Smith and family members throughout the years. Smith poses next to an old still, captioned, “Modern Day Moonshiner.” I heard that Smith’s grandfather and uncle ran a bit of moonshine in the day.

There’s an American Gothic type portrait of the chef’s great grandparents, Leonard and Lela Miller.

Smith’s great grandparents

You don’t want to miss anything, so take a walk around the restaurant, and don’t forget to look up or you’ll miss the chandeliers draped with vintage burlap from Florida produce growers and cooperatives.

Seating includes booths that can accommodate large parties and small tables for more intimate dining. There are two large round tables that were sliced from same camphor tree that was burned by fire in Clarcona in Orange County. If you belly up to the bar, you may notice its rounded corners were fashioned from that same tree. The rest of the bar is made from reclaimed river red eucalyptus salvaged from the Davis Island Country Club and Lake Seminole Golf Course in the Tampa Bay area.

What About That Food?

The atmosphere is just the tease. At Homecomin’, the food takes center stage. It’s comfort food served elegantly, yet without pretention.

It begins with the staff, oozing southern charm, putting guests at ease, as if we were being welcomed into a private home. The perfect atmosphere to visit with an old friend and our spouses.

Moonshine Flight

Menus in hand, the four of us perused the starters and main plates. The exploration made more enjoyable with a moonshine sampler of Olde Smokey Apple Pie, Ole Smokey Blackberry and my favorite, AFK Lemon Shine — accompanied by a surprisingly delicious pickle juice chaser and addictive candied pecans.

Our server suggested we start with Church Lady Deviled Eggs and Bee Haven Bay Fried Green Tomatoes.

Church Lady Deviled Eggs

Bee Haven Bay Fried Green Tomatoes

Details rule at this establishment and that goes for food presentation. Six deviled eggs were cradled in a ceramic egg carton. Creamy, whipped egg crowned with slabs of bacon. A perfect burst of flavor — sweet, salty, smoky.

Fried green tomatoes were swathed in a delicate, crispy cornmeal batter served atop locally grown arugula, topped with shaved country ham and finished with an irresistible creamy remoulade. The generous portion easily accommodated seconds.

Braised Short Ribs

Mains were just as impressive. The husbands ordered the Braised Short Ribs. Slow cooked, juicy and fork tender, not an ounce of fat, served over light-as-air mashed potatoes and grilled corn succotash, which I kept digging into when my husband wasn’t looking.

Veggie Kitchen Plate

My friend couldn’t resist an all veggie Kitchen Plate — a trio of dishes chosen from the sides menu: Momma’s Mac and Cheese, KC Greens (braised kale and collard greens) and Grilled Corn Succotash.

Art’s famous fried chicken

I could almost hear a drum roll as I went in for the first cut of Art’s famous fried chicken. Would it match the taste memory of my mother’s mouth-watering preparation? You betcha! Crispy, light batter with burst-in-your-mouth seasoning encased a moist, buttermilk-brined bird. It’s tough to admit it was better than mom’s. Juicy and crunchy — the perfect bite.

Anticipation builds for that first fried chicken bite.

I barely had room for the accompanying mashed potatoes smothered with gooey cheese and a freshly baked cheddar drop biscuit. Portions were generous and flavors were addictive. I made room.

Hummingbird Cake

Speaking of saving room, our server insisted we try the Hummingbird Cake, a dense pineapple and banana confection topped with cream cheese frosting. This southern specialty came with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a lit candle for the birthday girl and her friend who celebrated two weeks before.

I made a wish and blew out my candle. While I can’t divulge my wish, it involves a return visit to Chef Smith’s welcoming home.

The restaurant offers counter and sit-down service. And I hear it offers an amazing Sunday brunch.

For more information or to make a reservation call 407-939.5277 or visit www.homecominkitchen.com.

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