Southern twists

Story by H.M. CAULEY/Photos by JASON GETZ

Many of us are revved with rejuvenation in early spring, and David Gross, executive chef at South City Kitchen in The Hotel at Avalon, is no different when it comes to playing with his menu for the season. He has specific flavors and ingredients when this time of year arrives.

South City Kitchen debuted its fourth outpost in January at Hotel Avalon. As with its sister locations in Midtown, Buckhead and Vinings, the 240-seat restaurant will serve several of its specialties, including she-crab soup, lump crab cakes, and shrimp and grits. In his new space, Gross, who most recently was head chef at Cook Hall in Buckhead, is in charge of maintaining the eatery’s Southern roots while catering to a hotel clientele.

The menu is accompanied by a full bar selection of craft cocktails, draft beers, and whiskeys and bourbons. An increasing popular barrel program that partners distilleries and wineries produces cocktails that blend bourbon and red wine.

Gross took a break from his bustling kitchen to share what overnight guests and local diners can look forward to.

Living: Are there some South City signature items that diners will find on the Alpharetta menu?

Gross: Definitely. The buttermilk fried chicken, the fried green tomatoes and the chicken livers on parsnip puree will be on the menu. South City is also known for its brunch with a ham Benedict and chicken and waffles. Here, we're doing brunch on Saturday and Sunday, but we also have breakfast, lunch and dinner — and room service — every day because we serve the hotel clientele as well.

It’s a big beast. I have a staff of 40 for the back-of-the-house alone. The front line is open so you can see people cooking and get a feel for the good energy, but behind the scenes is a huge kitchen with a lot of space.

Do you envision any menu changes for spring?

Gross: Spring is my favorite time to change menus. I like working with anything that's sweet, delicate and small, and anything "baby" is super sexy. So I'll use baby beets, baby asparagus, English peas and micro herbs in soups, vegetable purees and some other fun things. I look forward to having five or six different things each week that will change with the season and local availability.

Do you have any menu favorites?

Gross: I like fried chicken with collards. I also like the salads and all the roasted vegetables we do. We use a lot of heirloom vegetables and grains, and I hope to get a lot of things planted with local farmers for next year so we have our own sustainable stock. We'll ask some farmers to set aside a couple of rows for South City. I've done that before with other restaurants I've run, and it's great.

What made the move to South City an attractive one for you?

Gross: I wanted to do more of a Southern style. I'm originally from Pennsylvania, and I've lived all around the country, and I went to the [Culinary Institute of America]. I've been in Atlanta for about 20 years now and have worked for the Ritz-Carlton, the Buckhead Life restaurants and the City Grill. But I want to get back to the roots of Southern style.

And just before I took this position, I was chef at the Jean-Georges market concept at the W hotel in Buckhead, so I had the right tools to assist with this kind of operation. And it’s always exciting to open a new property. A lot of our clientele here is well traveled, and they’re happy they don’t have to go all the way intown to find us. I’ve met a lot of people who are jazzed about us being here, and we’re stoked to be in Avalon.

South City Kitchen in The Hotel at Avalon, 9000 Avalon Blvd., Alpharetta. 678-722-3602,

Insider Tips:

Chef David Gross says one of his favorite things to do is teach cooking classes at the Atlanta Botanical Garden and Peachtree Road Farmers Market.

Don’t be misled by South City Kitchen’s presence as part of a hotel. The eatery is part of the high-quality, Atlanta-based brand, Fifth Group Restaurants, which includes La Tavola and El Taco establishments in Virginia-Highland, Alma Cocina downtown, and Lure and Ecco eateries in Midtown.