Fifth Group Restaurants owns six restaurant brands and one catering company. Only one of the brands has more than one location. That would be South City Kitchen, now in Buckhead as well as Midtown and Vinings. These are three very different sections of the metro. They serve crowds with diverse tastes and somewhat different budgets. SCKB either has to show that its concept works anywhere – which would be interesting – or else it has to acknowledge the specific needs and meet the unique demands of each neighborhood – which would be exciting. Fifth Group is straddling the fence, appearing to want to opt for the latter, but fearful of losing itself in the process.
Just look at the crab cakes. On the Vinings menu: Maryland crab cake, watercress and citrus salad, tarragon-lemon cream, $15. On the Midtown menu: Maryland crab cake, roasted and pickled carrots, harissa crema, $15. On the Buckhead menu: Jumbo lump crab cake, apple fennel slaw, cider vinegar-molasses, $15. Do you like it safe and tame, or bold and tangy, or super seasonal?
That apple fennel slaw was very much on point and of the autumnal moment. On the other hand, the famous, amazing fried chicken looks the same at all three places for $19. The trout also looks and costs the same, but it shifts from specialties to the other entree section.
The standout appetizer was the roasted oysters with fennel cream, andouille crumble, charred lemon. Given its fluffy richness, this pillowy, snazzy Rockefeller interpretation lifted easily from the shell and held together properly on the fork. The bourbon-cured smoked salmon also demonstrated some solid Southern flair.
Something that is only happening at the Buckhead location is a “for the table” section, which includes three plates from $30 to $90 and serves four to six people family-style. We ordered the red quinoa and spicy field arugula. The salad was served on a huge, gorgeous platter, but we quickly encountered long leaf problems as we transferred it from the platter to our small appetizer plates.
The other two family-style options are sea scallops and a tea brined-smoked chicken, so you could actually feed four people off this menu for a total of $120.
The dessert menu is $9 flat, and it’s worth it. That terrific coconut tart I first tasted in Vinings has been seriously upgraded to a cream pie, but the star of the dessert menu is unquestionably the lightly delightful lemon doberge cake.
SCK often gets proper credit for being a place of Southern comfort foods, but the deeper truth is that it’s got a solid grasp of New Orleans cuisine specifically. See also: the sour dough beignets with pecan pie filling and bourbon anglaise. The Buckhead bourbon and whiskey menu is their most extensive yet, while the cocktail menu tends more toward the stiff and less toward the sugary.
Executive Chef Jason Starnes, formerly of The Sun Dial at the Westin Peachtree Plaza, is certainly off to a running start. Fifth Group has wisely hired a chef who can maintain the classic SCK personality while applying some of his own creativity and regional expertise to the new location. Spitting distance away at Southern Art and Bourbon Bar, celebrity chef Art Smith had better not rest on his laurels. Starnes has come down from his revolving tower in the Downtown skyline to vanquish competitors at ground level and Buckhead dining certainly just got a little more interesting.
South City Kitchen Buckhead is located at 3350 Peachtree Road. For more information, visit buckhead.southcitykitchen.com.