If it had been a regular night, I might have dinged the staff at Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming for sloppy service. The bar, for example, was strewn with the plates and glasses of previous diners, and we had to ask for a bar rag so we could wipe down the counter in front of us ourselves.
But it wasn’t a regular night. It was Friday, after Hurricane Matthew had blown through and left the area. Its impact was less than we had feared, but most restaurants had made the decision — a wise one, I thought — to suspend service until Saturday. That’s an expensive choice to make. Any time a restaurant is closed it’s not making money. But restaurants run on people, and entreating their staffs to stay home and out of harms way was the right thing to do.
I also thought it was the right thing that some restaurants scrambled to open for dinner Friday.
Homecoming Kitchen was one that did. But because the staff had originally been told not to report to work until at least Saturday — who knew if even then there would be power, supplies, a building left standing? — those who came to work did so on a voluntary basis. And because many of the businesses at Disney Springs remained shuttered, those that were open were slammed. The wait for a two-top, I was told at the host stand, would be three and a half to four hours.
So I was delighted when my guest and I snagged a couple of seats at the bar. And I certainly didn’t mind doing a bit of table busing once I learned of the volunteer staff. Knowing that, I think they all did a stellar job.
One assumes the kitchen was also staffed by those who raised their hands to come in. And there, too, the crew performed admirably.
We started with the Bee Haven Fried Green Tomatoes. FGT has become a bit trite — it’s hard to find creative ways to present it. But this was new: served on greens and underneath piles of shaved ham and drizzled with remoulade. The tomatoes were good and firm, and the saltiness of the ham was a good counterpoint to the seasonings in the breading.
My friend chose the Shrimp & Grits for an entree. Here, too, was a dish that is quickly becoming passé but seemed somehow new with this presenation. It featured pan-seared Florida shrimp on a ploof of creamy grits with a gravy made with tasso ham that made a wonderful oily moat around the plate. It was all delicious.
Unfortunately, Art’s Fabulous Fried Chicken was a disappointment. Despite a buttermilk “brine,” the meat was too dry. That the mashed potatoes and cheddar biscuit that accompanied it were quite good couldn’t quite make up for the chicken. I’d like to think it was an anomaly of the situation, but I’m not sure that’s the case.
On a previous visit, I had the Hummingbird Cake, pineapple and bananas with a cream cheese frosting that I can heartily recommend.
The restaurant has a back-porch kind of atmosphere to it, and indeed there is a screened in area behind the bar for grab and go selections.
It has a neighborhoody feel that is welcoming. And opening your doors to people who need a hot meal and cool air after a storm is a very neighborly thing to do.
Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming is at Disney Springs. It is open for lunch and dinner daily (weather permitting). The phone number is 407-560-0100.