“Crackling cracklins!” gushes the server as he delivers a noisy plate of maple-glazed pork belly on cornbread pudding. The pop-pop-pop comes from a garnish of pork rinds, added just as the dish leaves the kitchen. While the restaurant scene has picked up some nice Southern accents of late (Boss Shepherd’s, Southern Efficiency), none of them is finer than this formal dining room, where big sprays of flowers suggest a garden, even though you’re underground, and the mere thought of the baked-to-order bread basket threatens to fill you up as you’re perusing the menu. While the list is larded with pork (the rib chop rocks), Vidalia encourages you to eat your vegetables. The “blue plate” may be the most thoughtful meat-free composition in town, four daily-changing dishes presented on a single expanse of china. Scores from a recent collection included black-eyed pea risotto streaked with Swiss chard and warm leek soup with a sail of fried basil. The secret to the city’s best shrimp and grits? Hot sauce, butter, tasso ham and fresh, head-on shrimp all contribute to the cause. Go easy on the warm cornbread and biscuits. Good as they are, you’ll want to save space for a classic pie (I’m nuts for pecan) or cake (sing to me, caramel). Sometimes busy, the cooking always shows finesse. What’s most delicious about this restaurant, cared for by owner Jeff Buben and chef de cuisine Hamilton Johnson, is its consistency — for over two decades.
2013 Fall Dining Guide
2013 Fall Dining Guide By Tom Sietsema
October 10, 2013
Tired of having to read lips during dinner? Book a table at Vidalia. Need a place to take a visitor or toast an anniversary? Owner Jeff Buben's salute to Southern cooking should be at the top of your list.
No restaurant in the city does a more convincing shrimp and grits or pecan pie than this place, a series of dining rooms that, with the help of frosted glass and a sunny palette, erase the reality that you're eating below ground. As hard as it is to pull yourself away from the tried and true on this menu, be sure to check out the specials or whatever chef de cuisine Hamilton Johnson has recently added to the roster. The rewards might be barbecue braised pork cheeks embellished with cheddar grits, pickled jalapeno, spiced peanuts and (we're almost there!) a topping of crisp oysters, and bison short ribs, glossy from a glaze of root beer and butter and poised on creamy potatoes.
Lesser dishes make occasional appearances, but I can forgive Vidalia onions forced on a dry pineapple upside-down cake when the service is pampering and so much else is so right. Vidalia is 21 years old and aging gracefully.
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