First Look: Honeysuckle Opens Downtown

The gist: Those who mourn the recent closing of the long-beloved Vidalia can take comfort in knowing that the space has been taken over by chef Hamilton Johnson, who worked at Vidalia under chef-owner Jeffrey Buben for seven years. Honeysuckle opens tonight, offering Johnson’s modern take on Southern cuisine, as filtered through his South Carolina upbringing. Aside from working with Buben, Johnson earned his chops working at Maverick Southern Kitchens in Charleston and by running a pop-up of Honeysuckle at the Prequel restaurant incubator.

The food: Diners should expect a marriage of Lowcountry cuisine with European touches — but with the modern sensibilities of a young chef pushing the boundaries. For instance, there’s a hamachi appetizer with sea buckthorn, an ingredient popularized by New Nordic cuisine that’s not typical in these parts. You’ll also find elk cheeks with white chocolate–parsnip fondue. Dishes also play with pairing luxe ingredients with lowbrow accents, such as the champagne-poached oysters flavored with country bacon and garnished with chicken “cracklins.” The bar menu skews more mainstream, with items like an egg-topped burger, sweet and sour wings and charcuterie — although the chef apparently couldn’t resist slipping in a veal tongue bruschetta. Pastry chef T.C. Lumbar presents such enticing-sounding enders as a buckwheat waffle with smoked chocolate; hazelnut praline and brown butter ice cream; and blood orange sherbert with beet meringue, honeysuckle jelly, sugared almonds and sorrel.

The space: We all know chefs love their tattoos. In this case, Johnson isn’t content to keep them hidden under his sleeves, instead working with designer Ron Saleh to create a space inspired by his body art and his favorite tunes. Like the food, the design overlaps modern and funky with traditional by incorporating an oak communal table atop an antique Belgian rug with bold, edgy ceiling murals. Private dining spaces include a red-hued room featuring gold-framed images of David Bowie and Lou Reed and a copper-painted room with a portrait of Miles Davis.

Photos by Lacey Johnson