Homecoming Florida Kitchen opened this week at Disney Springs, nestled between The Landing and Town Center. Rather than me try to explain exactly what the restaurant is and who Art Smith, here’s the official information:
Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Southern Shine showcases the cuisine of Chef Smith, who was born and reared in the town of Jasper, Fla., on the Florida-Georgia border. After 25 years of preparing award-winning meals for celebrities and heads of state and appearing on television, he is making Florida his home once again.
With farm-to-fork cuisine that showcases the bounty of Florida, and design inspired by turn-of-the century Florida architecture of the late 1800s, Homecoming will feature traditional Southern favorites with sophisticated, chef-inspired creations. The 6,000-square-foot, 200-seat restaurant “is where Florida heritage meets New Southern cuisine,” explains Smith.
Smith says he is especially pleased with the restaurant’s Disney Springs connection, as he recalls summertime gatherings at the springs in the Northern part of Florida, casual get-togethers known as “homecomings” when family and friends gathered to share Southern specialties, enjoy homemade desserts and maybe sip a hand-crafted cocktail under the shade of live oak trees.
“Once we heard the story of his passion for Florida and his vision for the restaurant, we knew that it was a perfect match” said George Kalogridis, president of Walt Disney World Resort. “We’re thrilled to welcome Chef Art back to the state and share his spirit of Homecoming with our guests from around the world.”
The “rustic-chic” restaurant has a glass-walled show kitchen and the Southern Shinebar that celebrates an era where characters might have created some homegrown spirits on their homesteads just beyond the springs. The bar will feature whimsical cocktails, punches and coolers, including some made with now-legal variations of moonshine.
Smith’s expertise is all over the menu from Southern favorites like homemade pimento cheese, Church Lady deviled eggs, and low country shrimp and grits. “Each dish has a little Florida twist and makes guests feel like they’re on the back porch with me for every meal,” says Smith.
Desserts will be a specialty, with cakes, pies and delectable sweets made daily and shipped from a bakery in Hamilton County, including the restaurant’s signature Mockingbird Cake. “Southern women, using delicious ingredients and love, are the world’s best bakers,” explains Art.
Charles Arthur “Art” Smith, age 55, is an American chef who worked for former Florida governors Bob Graham and Jeb Bush and, until 2007, was personal chef to Oprah Winfrey. His expertise is Southern American cooking. While attending Florida State University, he completed culinary internships with The Greenbrier in West Virginia and the Walt Disney World College Program.
A James Beard Award recipient for his New York Times best-seller list cookbook Back to the Table: The Reunion of Food and Family, Smith has also authored Kitchen Life: Real Food for Real Families; and Back to the Family. His latest cookbook, Art Smith’s HealthyComfort, has a focus on healthy cooking and healthy living.
Smith has made regular television appearances on programs such as “Iron Chef America,” “The Today Show,” “Nightline,” “Fox News,” “Extra,” “BBQ Pitmasters,” “Dr. Oz,” “Oprah,” “Top Chef” and “Top Chef Masters.”
Smith founded the non-profit charity Common Threads, which focuses on teaching children about different cultures through food and art. Common Threads has served thousands of healthy meals to children around the world since 2006, and in 2007 he received the Humanitarian of the Year award from the James Beard Foundation.
With Smith moving his family back to Florida, he founded Reunion, a non-profit charity that focuses on community renewal projects as well as teaching Southern tradition from the garden to the kitchen at Chef Art Smith’s Florida Garden and Kitchen School.
Smith is executive chef and co-owner of the highly successful restaurants Table Fifty-Two in Chicago, Southern Art and Bourbon Bar in Atlanta and Art and Soul in Washington, D.C.
Beginning with this review, we are introducing a new rating system for food and drink items. Since I feel it may be hard to weed through just how much we may like or dislike a particular item, we will use a rating system out of 7 (yeah, 7), with 7 being the highest of recommendations and 1 being the lowest. These numbers will take into account the quality and value of each item under review. With that being said, let’s dive in.
The interior of the restaurant is charming enough, evoking feelings perhaps of an upscale Cracker Barrel.
A rather stunning mural rests above the kitchen area, celebrating the home of some of the fresh ingredients guests will find in many of the offerings at the restaurant.
A look at the menu.
The pricing is pretty fair, and it is one of the cheaper sit-down restaurants at Disney Springs.
A rather witty variety of drink coasters available.
OK, let’s start with appetizers…
Church Lady Deviled Eggs ($10) – These were just about perfect. A few years ago, I may have been too scared to try these, but having a few (good and bad) deviled eggs since then, I can tell you these are a cut above most. Phenomenal bacon and chive flavor and a cute presentation. SCORE: 6.5 out of 7.
BBQ Chicken Wings ($12) – Surprisingly, these weren’t all that spicy, but what they lacked in spice they made up for in flavor. Personally, I’d rather have these than the sticky wings at the Polynesian, but I may be in the minority. I just wish they were slightly spicier. SCORE: 6 out of 7.
Bunch of Puppies ($9) – Fairly standard, nothing special, and fairly tasteless without the accompanying sauce. SCORE: 4.5 out of 7.
Side Order of Cheddar Cheese Drop Biscuits ($6) – For $6, you can get 4 biscuits. While they look good, they weren’t anything special and lacked a lot of flavor. There were no accompaniments for the biscuits either, which made the bland flavor seems kind of odd. Something was definitely missing from these. SCORE: 2 out of 7.
Shrimp and Grits ($26) – Good flavor, but not a whole lot for the price. The side of greens were really good, but not enough to save the meal. SCORE: 3.5 out of 7.
Chopped Pork Barbecue Plate ($23) – This was my favorite dish of our entire experience. The barbecue sauce had a nice spice to it with a good kick, which is pretty much all I ever want out of barbecue sauce. The macaroni and cheese was crunchy and well seasoned on the top, yet creamy and soft underneath, making for a really pleasant flavor combination. The inclusion of a biscuit was nice bonus as well. Overall, a lot of food for your money and my #1 choice at Homecoming. SCORE: 7 out of 7.
Art’s Fabulous Fried Chicken ($26) – The chicken wasn’t anything special, in fact, I think the fried chicken from Plaza Inn at Disneyland is better (maybe even at Trail’s End). Despite the menu stating it comes with the plural “biscuits”, it comes with just one, but at least the mashed potatoes were good I suppose. SCORE: 3 out of 7.
Hummingbird Cake ($10) – This thing is ginormous and as good as it is massive. Tastes like a really good banana bread, but the pineapple mixture gives it an interesting flavor. The lump of ice cream is unnecessary given the size of this, but it’s nice to have. At least 3 people can split this. SCORE: 6.5 out of 7.
Key Lime Pie ($8) – I don’t like Key Lime and I keep telling you all this, but you keep making me eat it… in all seriousness, the waiter recommended this and it wasn’t bad, but no one at our table likes Key Lime Pie so we just didn’t understand what all of the excitement was about. SCORE: 3 out of 7.
Shine Cake ($10) – This adult only dessert is a simple as it is delicious. It’s basically a pound cake that has soaked in alcohol (moonshine syrup) and I will be back to soak in more of this. SCORE: 7 out of 7.
Did I mention how big the Hummingbird Cake was?
Let’s move on to drinks…
The Local ($10) – Good tropical flavor, my second favorite drink of all that we tried. SCORE: 6 out of 7.
Basil Smash ($10) – I’m not a bourbon fan, but this was solid. The alcohol wasn’t overpowering, but that might be what you are looking for… SCORE: 4 out of 7.
Bootlegger ($12) – Unique because of the blackberry jam infused flavor, I would highly recommend the Bootlegger. SCORE: 5.5 out of 7.
Bushwhacker ($12) – My favorite drink at Homecoming and possibly in my top 10 at Disney World. I like sweet drinks, so this really hit the spot. SCORE: 7 out of 7.
Sweet Tea Shine ($12) – Simply sweet tea and moonshine, but very, very good. Yes, it is served in a Styrofoam cup. Score 6 out of 7.
Old Fashioned Elder ($12) – Not my style, so I may not be the best to judge this, but it didn’t seem like anything special. SCORE: 2.5 out of 7.
There is a souvenir cup available with most drinks for $6, which is basically a hard-plastic Solo cup.
All in all, Homecoming Florida Kitchen is good, but I just don’t know if it is good enough to hang in there with the best of Disney Springs. The Boathouse, Morimoto Asia, and Frontera Cocina are all phenomenal, and honestly, I’d rather have a select few counter service meals at Springs over some entrees here. Homecoming is a good addition for the added capacity it brings, the unique menu it offers compared to everything around it, and for the truly wonderful appetizers, drinks, and desserts featured. That being said, I’m not sure I would rather have the Shine Cake than the Pecan Pie from Frontera Cocina, I wouldn’t take any of our entrees from Homecoming over anything I’ve tried at the Boathouse, and I don’t feel the value on most entrees is near many other at Disney Springs.
Homecoming is good, it’s just really hard to be excited about what is offered here after a year of trying some really phenomenal new additions to Disney Springs. There are reasons to go here, there are just more reasons for me to return to many of the other options at Disney Springs before that.
OVERALL SCORE FOR HOMECOMING FLORIDA KITCHEN – 5 OUT OF 7.