Rhett Butler wouldn’t cotton to the Southern Gentleman

The Southern Gentleman

3035 Peachtree Road, Atlanta

0 of 4 stars (fair)

Good evening. Rhett Butler here.

It has come to my attention that the good city of Atlanta has within our perimeter a restaurant named after me. Well, no, it isn’t my name exactly, but it is called the Southern Gentleman, and if I’m not the man that name brings to your mind, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

I must warn you, the news is not good.

But let us not speak of worst things first. This is a finely appointed room, located on the second floor above the well-polished Buckhead Atlanta estate. You’ll walk around a little balcony and step through a pair of doors where the entranceway has been tiled with the words “YES MA’AM.” A fine phrase, indeed.

The booths and tables and stools have been lined with tufts of conditioned leather, so that any seat may be a comfortable one. The walls have smoky mirrors that reflect the revelry of the evening. If you head to the lavatory, you will find floor tiles indicating separate rooms for “GENTS” and “BELLES.” Above the open kitchen pass, you’ll see a row of jugs just like the ones your old pappy put his moonshine in.

So, please, take a seat in a comfortable chair. It may be the finest pleasure you find at the Southern Gentleman.

The meal will begin with a dish with which you are well acquainted, a trio of deviled eggs. They are as rich and firm as you remember them, only they are served with a substance described as okra chutney that is appealing neither in slimy texture nor in vaguely spicy seasoning.

You would do a little better with a trio of cheddar herb biscuits and country ham. The ham, cured by the Edwards family of Virginia in a strongly salty style, is oddly paired with a salty biscuit and a salty fried pickle. Thank goodness these things come with a bowl of sweet blackberry jam to cut through the salt.

You could try the chicken wings, which are tender, crunchy and marinated with the flavor of spicy peanut butter made from peanuts grown in this very state of Georgia. This is interesting, the old Southern flavor of peanuts married to the modern Yankee phenomenon of spicy chicken wings. I cannot say that it is good, but it is interesting.

The main dishes also offer scant satisfaction. Instead of chicken and dumplings, a plate of duck confit and dumplings is offered. The duck leg was cooked tender, but the onions and root vegetables that accompanied it were nearly as raw as if I’d picked them from the field myself.

There was a thick burger composed of ground pork meat, served pink and juicy and piled with pickled red onions, jalapenos, Creole mustard, Tomme cheese and a large handful of parsley. Where they got the idea for that combination, I’ll never know.

Your best option may be the cochon, a cube of pork composed by pressing skin-on pork belly atop pork shoulder. The plate is dressed with a smear of creamy cornbread puree and a pile of vinegary greens. Too bad that the skin on my serving was so hard I might have needed a mallet and chisel to break it. It was otherwise a lovely hunk of pork.

On my most recent evening at the Southern Gentleman, I happened to overhear the discussion of a couple, recently arrived from a Yankee state, in town to sample our region’s cuisine.

I wanted to send them an urgent telegram across the bar: “Kind Sir and Madam, Please do not believe that our fair city has only this to offer. Please consult with our more seasoned Southern chefs. Yours, Rhett Butler.” Instead, I did nothing. I drank away the guilt of my inaction, which is something one can do at the Southern Gentleman.

They will serve you a Boulevardier cocktail right out of a barrel, and there is a fine Old-Fashioned made with Four Roses to be had. (Of course, in my day there was nothing old fashioned about it. We just called it a whiskey cocktail.)

Outside of mixed cocktails, there is a long list of bourbon and rye worth drinking heavily. I examined the offerings closely and found some distilled by one George T. Stagg and bottled from the very barrel in which it was aged. A strong, fine drink by itself in the glass.

If, having read my gustatory evaluations for many sentences now, you feel a bit overwhelmed by an unexamined version of Southern culture that is both painfully cliché and deeply uninteresting, then you know a little of what it is like to eat at the Southern Gentleman. It is an establishment that treats Southern culinary history like a box of little bric-a-brac to be played with, only the playing isn’t very fun. It makes me bored with a place and cuisine that I would rather love.

As for the Southern Gentleman, I’m not asking you to forgive me for saying all of this. I’ll never understand or forgive myself.

But, in spite of the Southern Gentleman and me, and the whole silly world going to pieces around us, I still love the South. Because, we’re alike — bad lots, both of us, selfish and shrewd, but able to look things in the eyes and call them by their right names.

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