Everything You Need to Know About Art Smith’s Homecoming
Who says you can’t go home again? Well, Thomas Wolfe does, but a noted wordsmith of our times, Jon Bon Jovi disagrees. For that matter, so does the man who once was Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef. He’s also competed on Top Chef Masters and won several culinary honors over the years. His name is Art Smith, and he owns one of the hottest new restaurants at Disney Springs. Here’s everything you need to know about Art Smith’s Homecoming.
A Quick Biography
In the days before he cooked for politicians, celebrities, and royalty, Art Smith was a Floridian. Born and raised in Jasper, Smith went to Florida State. Like many other students in the state, he also worked in the Walt Disney Magic Kingdom College Program. It’s a wonderful story. Hometown boy made good.
Appreciating a rare opportunity, Disney park planners gave Art Smith a special offer. They asked him to come home and open a restaurant, one with a personal touch. Disney asked one of their own to become the face of Disney Springs comfort food.
That sort of southern cuisine has always been a strength of Art Smith. It’s why Oprah and the governor of Alabama loved having him around. It’s also why he was the perfect choice to host a southern comfort eatery. A former Disney cast member went out on his own and became a celebrity chef AND one of the most respected members of his profession. In a way, Art Smith’s Homecoming has the best theme of anything at Disney Springs. That’s because it’s based on true events.
A Sudden Change
As cliché as the statement sounds, Disney made Art Smith an offer that he couldn’t refuse. Born in a small town named Jasper, Florida (population: 4,546…which is somehow an improvement of 3,000 people from the previous census), Smith is open about the fact that he couldn’t wait to get out of there. In his defense, the biggest employers in Jasper are a phosphate farm and a nursing home. It’s not the best place for a gifted chef to make his bones.
Disney executives appreciate the bonds of family and home, though. They wanted to lure one of the most famous graduates of their college program back into the fold. Smith had no incentive to go. He was rich, famous, and happy, with a loving husband and four adopted children he clearly adores.
When Disney headhunted him, Smith was understandably reluctant. The kindhearted man saw a reason to make the move, though. He pitched them on the idea of selling locally sourced products for all of the food at his restaurant. Specifically, the celebrity chef wanted to produce and bake many of his goods in his hometown of Jasper.
Smith was so willing to give the residents of his hometown new job opportunities that he moved back to the area. He sold a Chicago mansion and returned to Jasper. There, his celebrity connections helped him to reinvigorate the area.
A former Jai Alai stadium became the host site for the bakery, and Smith also created The Florida Garden and Kitchen School, a cooking and gardening school in the area. Formerly a mansion, this place will train the locals in creating farm-to-table products. Whenever you eat at Art Smith’s Homecoming, you’re enjoying a taste of Jasper…all thanks to the largesse of the city’s favorite son.
The Basics about Art Smith’s Homecoming
In July of 2016, this new restaurant opened to rave reviews and long lines. You don’t even have to try a bite of anything to understand why. For all of the international cuisine and foodie havens at Walt Disney World, the property is unmistakably southern in locale and nature. Many of the cast members are from the area, and while literally hundreds of food options are available onsite, Art Smith’s Homecoming is the perfect addition to Disney Springs. Orlando residents think of it as Cracker Barrel’s menu as cooked by a Top Chef Master.
You’ll know that you’ve reached the restaurant when you see something that looks like an older Florida home. Giant windows run from the floor to the ceiling, with patio seating available outside. Assuming the weather permits, this setting is an idyllic way to enjoy Disney Springs. You can lie back in a comfy lounge chair and watch the tourists wander by. To better encapsulate the theme of a Florida home, one side of the exterior has an adjoining “pool”. You can’t swim there, of course, but it’s a lovely authentic touch.
The interior features touches that would seem right at home at Art Smith’s place. The tables include family plates, fake fruit, coffee table books, and other staples of southern living. The walls have countless pictures on them, reflecting the walls of a family home. And wood cabinets and ceiling lights are seemingly everywhere. There’s a fine line between the theming of this eatery and a visit to the residence of any Orlando citizen. By which I mean that Disney really nailed the theme. To be fair, it’s probably the easiest one they’ve ever done since most of the Imagineers had done research for it all their lives.
Southern Food Perfected
Let’s be blunt that the food at Art Smith’s Homecoming isn’t for dieters. If you’ve ever seen Art Smith, you know his eating habits aren’t the healthiest. His passion for fried foods is well documented, which makes him a sweeter version of Paula Dean. Assuming that you don’t mind the calories, his flavors will blow your mind.
The pride and joy of the restaurant is its chicken, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You’re going to want to try one of the Starters here. They have silly names like Church Lady Deviled Eggs and Bunch of Puppies, but that’s part of the charm. All of these foods are wonderfully, albeit fattening. I highly recommend the Jasper Board, which is basically charcuterie meats and cheeses plus some extras. It’s exquisite. No matter what you order from this section, target the pimento cheese and/or buttermilk crackers. These are the optimal flavors on the Starters menu.
You can also order sides a la carte. I’m mentioning this only because one of them is a perfect bite. The Cheddar Cheese Drop Biscuits are one of the tastiest treats at Disney Springs. When you hear the name, you probably think of Red Lobster, and you’re in the right vicinity. It’s that sort of flavor, only better. The breading in the biscuits is fresher due to that glorious Jasper connection. When you want a quick snack, these biscuits are $6 and yes, you can get them to go! The restaurant even has specific Grab and Go menu items like a Fried Chicken Sandwich and a Chopped Pork Sandwich.
The Main Plates and Desserts
Now we’re talking! These are the foods that you will remember long after you’ve left Disney Springs. I’m salivating just thinking about them right now.
The signature dish at Art Smith’s Homecoming is Fried Chicken & Doughnuts, the best food combination since peanut butter met jelly. You get two pieces of the chicken plus sugar doughnuts better than the kind folks at Krispy Kreme or Dunkin could ever dream up.
Smith has stated that he wants all of the foods at Homecoming to be shareable, items that friends and family happily pass around the table. Both the chicken and the doughnuts are perfect for this. Every bite puts a smile on a loved one’s face. Note that you can also order the Fried Chicken without the doughnuts…but only if you want to make a huge life mistake.
For the most part the other Main Plates are either fish or pork. The Fried Catfish and Florida Grouper are locally sourced and sustainable (thanks, Jasper!), but even the Chopped Pork Barbecue Plate is a far cry from the friend chicken. When you go to Art Smith’s Homecoming, do it right! Get the fried chicken.
As for the desserts, after barely a year in business, these items are already the stuff of myth and legend. Since you had doughnuts as an entrée (please let this idea catch on!), the kitchen staff presumes you want something different for dessert. That’s cake, pie, or cobbler. The Key Lime Pie and Fresh From Florida Cobbler are both okay but weaker than the cake options.
As for the cakes, Auntie’s Chocolate Cake is a chocoholic’s dream. The Hummingbird Cake is actually an Art Smith original that he highlighted in his best-selling cookbook. That recipe is decadent but also one you can recreate at home.
The star dessert here is unquestionably Shine Cake. If your table is only getting one dessert (not counting the doughnuts….they’re an entrée!), this is the one. It’s a butter cake with a little something extra. And that extra is moonshine. You don’t get any more southern than that. Just in case these components aren’t over the top enough, the Shine Cake also comes with a scoop of ice cream. I’m not saying it’s the best dessert at Walt Disney World, as that’s a tough list to crack. It is, however, undoubtedly my favorite dessert at Disney Springs.
Given the above, there’s only one logical conclusion. Art Smith’s Homecoming is a perfect addition to Disney Springs. The food is fantastic, but that’s not even the best part. Every time you eat here, you’re doing something good for a tiny city in Florida that could use the help. It’s comfort food with a healthy dose of decency. We’ve made it one of our regular Disney restaurants, and I strongly encourage you to do the same.