Chef Art Smith's Homecomin': A Delicious Trip to Old Floridaby Donna Fesel, contributing writer
I am a huge fan of Southern food. Give me some greens, grits, fried green tomatoes, catfish—I love it. I’m fortunate to live in a city where there are lots of great places to enjoy Southern cuisine, but my favorite places to eat Southern food are the eateries big and small (and food trucks!) throughout the South. I’ve traveled to Nashville, Memphis, Raleigh, Charlotte, Charleston, Savanna, lots of towns in Florida, and loads of tiny spots where my family has pulled off the highway and found some magical Southern food.
So when I heard that Art Smith (former chef to Florida governors Bob Graham and Jeb Bush, and Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef through 2007) was returning to his Florida roots to open what he called a “farm-to-fork” restaurant at Walt Disney World’s Disney Springs, I counted the days until I could visit.
First chance we got, on our first night of my family’s most recent Walt Disney World vacation, we ate at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ in The Landing section of Disney Springs. No stranger to successful restaurant ventures (in Atlanta, Washington D.C., and Chicago, Smith also participated in the menu design of the popular LYFE restaurant chain), Art Smith is a son of Florida. He was born and raised in Jasper (midway between Tallahassee and Jacksonville).
Smith is also no stranger to WDW; he worked in a WDW kitchen as part of the Walt Disney Magic Kingdom College Program. Homecomin’ brings Smith home to WDW and allows him to share his Florida roots and recipes featuring locally sourced ingredients.
As we approached Homecomin’, I noted the fun and rustic signage encircling the building, and noted the cozy screened in porch and outdoor seating areas. Even the front door is not forgotten, with door pulls featuring a sculpted rooster. We were seated immediately.
As we waited to order, I was taken with the sheer number of interesting Southern items to look at, including my favorite—some chandeliers seemingly created from old farm feed bags. There was even a little area to purchase souvenirs and cookbooks.
Another don’t-miss? A plate inscribed by Smith with his mantra, “Food is Love.”
The dining room is anchored on one side with a gracious open kitchen where you can sidle up to see the masterful culinary staff at work.
Once seated, my husband ordered a Moonshine Flight (three small portions of distilled flavored alcohols, and served with candied pecans and a pickle juice palette cleanser). We enjoyed sipping the small portions of interesting and delicious drinks.
Next up: Appetizers. My son and husband love deviled eggs. They ordered the Church Lady Deviled Eggs, served standing up in an adorable egg carton. They were creamy and topped with crunchy bacon. Since I never met a pimento cheese recipe I didn’t like, I ordered theJasper Board, consisting of an assortment of Southern specialties including the cheese, smoked fish dip, shaved ham, bread and butter pickles, buttermilk crackers, and more candied pecans. It was simply delicious and plenty to share.
For entrees, I ordered Art’s Fabulous Fried Chicken. It is brined in buttermilk and served with mashed potatoes and a cheddar drop biscuit. The chicken was wonderful, crunchy coating, moist meat. The biscuit was a little pillow of yumminess.
My son ordered Momma’s Mac and Cheese. It was rich and cheesy, and came in an adorable little cast-iron pan. My husband ordered Shrimp & Grits, served with tomato gravy and Tasso ham. He found the shrimp to be cooked really well, and the spice level was there, but manageable.
We passed a relaxed few hours at Homecomin’. The food was very tasty, the service was warm and friendly, and the atmosphere was comfy and inviting. We’ll definitely return, as usual I planned poorly and ran out of room before dessert, there’s a Hummingbird Cake there with my name on it.
Have you visited Homecomin’? I’d love to hear what you thought.