Two weeks ago Pam Taylor and I had the pleasure of dining at One Flew South, a “southernational” upscale dining restaurant located in Terminal E at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The Atlanta stop was a connection from Nassau, Bahamas to our home in Kansas City. Since we had a six-hour layover, we took advantage of the time to eat at this dining oasis. One Flew South may cost more than travelers plan to spend when at the mercy of airport dining venues (and what place isn’t?), but the restaurant offers great value and a decidedly more pleasant and healthy alternative to the nearby food court options.

Pam discovered One Flew South by researching TripAdvisor.com. Comments on the restaurant included “attentive to the needs of the traveler” to “makes an airport a joyful place to be” to “over hyped.”

“Over Hyped” also said: I really don’t understand what all of the rave reviews have been about. I found this to be a truly average restaurant, service freindly, presentation of food nice but actual food very average. I guess being airport food makes it that much better—but don’t expect too much like we did from all the rave reviews.

So, what did we expect? Previous guests raved about the pork belly sliders. Reviews of the in-house sushi bar were not as enthusiastic. We popped in to see for ourselves.

Chef Duane Nutter

Chef Duane Nutter

Executive Chef Duane Nutter and general manager Brad Register bill One Flew South as a place for “spirited global fare featuring premium ingredients from regional farmers and purveyors.” Proper cocktails and an exceptional sushi menu were also touted as features.

Chef Nutter worked stints at well-regarded restaurant hotels in Atlanta, Palm Beach, and Louisville. In 2006, Nutter was invited to compete on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America and he cooked at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City the following year. Since 2008, he has been at the helm of One Flew South as executive chef.

Pam and I were seated quickly which surprised me because the restaurant was relatively full and busy. However, the staff is conscious of their clientele’s needs as travelers that want to enjoy good food and drink on a tight timetable so they can catch a flight. Without ever feeling rushed, we were seated, greeted, and served by Antoine with a calming blend of hospitality and efficiency.

Pam ordered a glass of Torrontes from Argentina and I ordered a Pimm’s Cup made with fresh apples, oranges, cucumber, lemon, and mint. Both drinks were refreshing. The cocktail was comparable to what I’d expect from my favorite bartenders in Kansas City. While the rest of the extensive wine, cocktail, and beer menu looked enticing, we held ourselves to one drink apiece and sated our thirst with water. Also, we wanted to save room for the food.

We split an order of the vaunted pork belly sliders; house-cured salmon bruschetta with fig relish, apple cider vinaigrette, and lime zest; pecan dusted scallops with sweet potato and cranberry hash and arugula sauce; and a pulled duck confit sandwich with fig and toasted peanut relish. The salmon bruschetta was light with a sweet-tart zing from the apple cider and lime. The scallops were cooked to perfection and made us happy as, well, clams.

Pork Belly Sliders

Pork Belly Sliders

The pork belly sliders were slightly fatty bits of pork in a sweet, slightly Asian-influenced barbecue sauce and topped with golden raisin slaw. I detected soy sauce or perhaps hoisin sauce. The appetizer was indeed delicious although a Midwestern serving would have undoubtedly included more meat.

Later in the meal, we struck up a conversation with our server Antoine and discovered he was a budding wine and food writer. We introduced ourselves and mentioned my background in food writing. I shared a small detail about the buns on our pork belly sliders that were over toasted. The burnt toast flavor in the first bite detracted from the taste of the meat that Chef Nutter and his team has taken pains to spotlight.

Antoine apologized although it wasn’t his fault and said he’d mention it to the kitchen. Pam and I were content to finish the rest of our light but filling dishes. A few minutes later, Antoine appeared with a fresh (and unexpected) order of pork belly sliders. We were surprised and appreciative. Pam and I were both completely full at that point, but I managed to stuff them down rather than let the food and kind gesture go to waste.

We enjoyed chatting with Antoine further. He took time to share more about his aspirations and serve us attentively without making us feel like we needed to free up the table. We vowed to come back for dessert since we had no room at the moment. As time passed in the airport, we never summoned the willpower to make good on that dessert but there’s always next time.

The soothing blend of old school jazz, samba, and other music styles helped to set the restaurant apart from the usual noise found in a busy airport terminal. The use of wood throughout the room, a mural-sized photograph of tree trunks and green leaves, white furniture, and other decor established a relaxed feel in the space.

We were completely impressed by the quality of the food, value of the prices, top-notch service, and refreshing accommodations that made a pair of tired travelers feel human again.

In this age of “foodies” with access to online information and opinions, it is easy to see why people with a keen interest in food and drink might have high expectations based on hype only to walk away disappointed. Such people might be dissatisfied no matter where they are, no matter what they ate, or how they were served.

For our time and money, we were glad that we found One Flew South on our way home.

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Photographs courtesy of Green Olives Media.