Celeb Chef Art Smith Serves Up Southern Comforts in Naples
How does 1500 South hold up after the hype has died down?
Art Smith's Famous Fried Chicken
Most people recognize Art Smith from Top Chef as a jolly blond giant stirring love into food. He was also Oprah’s personal chef, holds two James Beard Awards and is now the most famous restaurateur to colonize our shores.
When he opened 1500 South in March at the Naples Bay Resort, which is his first foray in his home state, the town’s food cognoscente (myself included) rushed in.
But I returned nearly two months later for the real test: how it would fare on a regular night. I desperately wanted it to pass with flying colors, not just because I love Smith’s idea of haute Southern comforts with an Italian undercurrent (homage to his pop-up at Expo Milan), but because I don’t want another restaurant sinking into the hotel’s graveyard of failed fine-dining experiments.
“Wow,” my husband said quietly as he took in the striking light fixture punctuating the marble dining room. My jaw dropped for a different reason—I couldn’t eyeball one empty table.
Because our party of five had to wait for a seat indoors (for which a manager profusely apologized), we took the chance to knock back Smith’s Grandma Mabel’s lemonade ($10), a naughty vodka-spiked and deliciously tart number. When we did sit, our server arrived with warm, crumbly house biscuits flecked with rosemary and cheddar. She also suggested what turned out to be a compact yet crowd-pleasing charcuterie spread ($24). Folded slices of artisanal Italian and American cured pork were cleverly paired with homemade fixings, including pickled mustard seeds, hot pickles and creamed pimento cheese.
Everyone was itching to try a “hoecake” ($16), a cross between a pancake and crepe served open-faced like a flatbread. The quirky name drew us in, but we were sold on the cornmeal base foiled by pungent gorgonzola, tender shreds of richly braised oxtail and a scatter of peppery greens. A crisp lamb sausage “pizzetta” ($18) with a Neapolitan-style crust also disappeared quickly: We couldn’t get enough of the piquant tomato sauce offset by gobs of ricotta and delicate rings of fennel.
Pan Roasted Black Grouper
With uncannily on-point timing, the boards were cleared and our main dishes were soon delivered. Smith’s famous fried chicken ($27) was four pieces of the moistest, juiciest white meat enveloped by a thick brown crust that itself deserves an award. Another dish I’d order again and again is the macaroni and cheese ($29); the mascarpone-based sauce gave each of the shells a memorable sweetness.
As my friend was raving about her grouper with boiled peanuts and wilted kale ($32)—impressive for what it wasn’t (no breading nor tropical salsa in sight)—I grabbed a forkful of my husband’s shrimp and octopus grits coated in Smith’s hot sauce ($28). Yowza. I appreciate that good Southerners never have Tabasco out of reach, but if nonstop tingling isn’t your cup of tea, consider yourself warned.
Another Southern favorite, a 12-layer Hummingbird Cake ($10 per slice), proved a feat of engineering. The paper-thin spongy layers with subtle undertones of banana and pineapple were glued together by a light cream cheese frosting. Our forks went on the offensive, though, toppling the coconut-dusted tower in minutes.
When our server returned with the bill, my friend said what I was thinking: “Please send the chef our compliments. We’ll definitely be back.”
Oxtail Bolognese Bucatini
1500 Fifth Ave. S., Naples, 239-774-1500, 1500southnaples.com.
Open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, 5-10 p.m. Wheelchair-accessible. Reservations encouraged.