People enter both through Southern Belle, the easygoing, small plates restaurant and cocktail lounge named for Ward’s co-owner and wife, Emily, an attorney and former Miss Georgia.
Southern Belle seats just 45 people inside, while picnic tables line a narrow patio in a back alleyway to accommodate an additional 40 people. Sunday afternoons see the patio transform into more of a beer garden for “Sunday Fundays”, complete with live music and food specials like grilled oysters and andouille sausage.
The design for Southern Belle retains some historic elements of the original Poncey-Highland building in the brick walls and decorative white tin ceiling above the dining room. The room teeters between a vintage Southern parlor and low-key lounge with velvet-tufted chairs placed at cocktail rounds and low-level coffee tables paired with leather barrel chairs. A large oval dining table surrounded by eight rattan back chairs sits at the center of the room leading into the lounge area. Inscribed in blazing blue neon above the service bar is the subtly veiled Southern colloquialism, “Bless Your Heart.”
Framed art clustered together along the walls throughout the restaurant depict old photographs of long-forgotten families and illustrated images of Atlanta figures and other icons like Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A midcentury destination ad for Atlanta-based Delta Airlines uses Scarlett O’Hara as its poster girl. Actress Vivien Leigh portrayed the questionable heroine in the 1939 movie Gone With the Wind which is set in the city and based on the novel by Atlanta author Margaret Mitchell.
1939 also marks the year Plaza on Ponce opened in the neighborhood, anchored by its now landmark movie theater.
It’s in the food where Ward and chef de cuisine Spencer Gomez really seem to bridge Atlanta’s past and present at Southern Belle.
The dozen small plates on the menu include dishes like ceviche incorporating sweet potatoes and fermented chiles marinated in citrusy leche de tigre, beef short rib braised in Dr. Pepper, and a Vietnamese grilled pork belly served with pickled vegetables, jalapeños, and nuoc cham dipping sauce. The lone dessert presently on the menu — a warm sticky toffee-coffee pudding served with Biscoff cookie ice cream — is prepared tableside from a Delta beverage cart.
General manager and sommelier, Cate Hatch, teamed up with Ticonderoga Club owners Greg Best and Paul Calvert to develop a mix of classic cocktails and original highballs and sours. The cocktail menu spotlights Southern distillers such as Atlanta’s ASW Whiskey, Richland, Georgia’s Richland Rum, and Mississippi-based Cathead Vodka.
The wine list offers around ten bottles by the glass, emphasizing small natural, organic, and biodynamic wine producers.
Take a look at the menu:
Open Wednesday - Saturday, 5 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Sunday, 12 p.m. to 9 p.m.
1043 Ponce De Leon Avenue NE, Atlanta. southernbelleatlanta.com.