Table Fifty-Two & Art Smith’s Chicago Legacy
Location: 52 W. Elm Street
I take comfort in knowing that even though I can no longer catch up with Oprah every weekday to discuss worldly events, the best bra for your cup size, or the reasons behind various bodily functions, I can still have the opportunity to eat like Oprah (reservations permitting.)
Though the queen of daytime TV has left us for sunnier days, her famed personal chef, Art Smith, is still taking the Gold Coast by storm with his restaurant, Table Fifty-Two. Beyond the fact that this spot has the power of O behind it, it has a little something more to offer than just a celeb chef. The restaurant offers a wide array of Southern-inspired dishes in an intimate setting, making the three month waitlist just a little less daunting. Table Fifty-Two is located on Elm street, between Clark and Dearborn, in what was once the 19th-century carriage house of the Briggs Mansion. It’s a good thing I’m an aware pedestrian, because had I not been paying attention I might have completely passed by this place. There isn’t a grand entrance or large overhead sign, and certainly no crying children with balloons attached to their wrists standing nearby. It displays just a simple menu board with the dishes for the evening.
So what does a chef who has published cookbooks and has served as a TV personality on an iconic talk show serve? What everybody loves: fried chicken and collard greens, of course. Table Fifty-Two prides itself on its Southern decadence. Smith, having grown up on a family farm close to the Florida-Georgia border, is sticking near and dear to his roots. My table of eight, having been seated in the more elegant upstairs, were just a bit skeptical as to how authentic this Southern food could be. Usually when I eat fried chicken it’s served in buckets on checkered table cloths rather than in a room full of chandeliers and covered in Venetian wall paper.
But it was love at first bite. Almost immediately upon being seated our server graced us with a little basket of biscuit heaven. The parmesan cheese biscuits have a reputation of their own at Table Fifty-Two. They’re served hot, fresh from the oven, with cheese still melting over the sides. And this is just the beginning. We ordered an array of starters that included savory crab cakes that literally melt in your mouth to fried green tomatoes bursting with goat cheese and scarred scallions and wood-fire pizzas with only the freshest ingredients. We indulged on main courses such as the cornmeal crusted catfish, a Berkshire pork chop served with a killer strawberry chipotle glaze and pistachio crusted chicken breast. And as always, my favorites usually come on the side; three cheese mac, cornbread served with a jalapeno-honey butter and deliciously fried okra. As if the overall taste of the meal wasn’t enough, the presentation of every dish was plated with such care and artistic precision it almost made one feel just a little guilty for digging right into it. Almost. My initial impression of not being able to get “Southern style full” in such a classy joint was clearly very off.
We left Table Fifty-Two much less energetic than when we arrived, but only because we were all five minutes away from slipping into food comas. That is until we walked outside and happened to notice The Lodge was less than a block up. After dinner drinks, anyone? And so the wonderful Chicago cycle of eating and drinking perhaps just a little too much continues on…