Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming, the newest dining addition to a recently revitalized Disney Springs, is just about as Florida as a restaurant can get.
Smith, famous for bringing Southern food to places like Washington, D.C., and Chicago as Oprah's personal chef, has returned to his native state to create a restaurant that combines innovative farm-to-table cuisine with classic Southern staples, all in a warm, inviting space.
Homecoming is situated along the dazzlingly blue “springs” in Disney Springs’ Landing district, formerly Pleasure Island at Downtown Disney, which has undergone major renovations over the past two years. There’s a reason the hosts say “Welcome home!” as you walk in: The restaurant resembles a cozy Florida cabin with rustic wood detailing, mason-jar candles and lofty ceilings. The screened-in patio overlooking the springs feels like sitting on a front porch in rural Florida—minus, thankfully, the mosquitoes.
Smith, who was a Magic Kingdom intern in 1981, was excited to be part of the new Disney Springs and fill a void. "I see Florida but I don't taste Florida," Smith observed. "We need a Florida restaurant. My objective is to give people what's fresh and what's local, and also what's Florida ... the roadside stands, fish camps, it always has this casualness about it. We give the dishes here a little more love, but you also want to keep the integrity of the simplicity."
You can’t have an authentic Southern meal without freshly baked biscuits, and Homecoming’s cheddar-cheese drop biscuits do not disappoint. Smother them with either the restaurant’s signature herby palmetto butter or homemade hot sauce and you can’t get much more Southern than that—though Homecoming will certainly keep trying.
Another Southern staple—sweet potatoes—come chopped up in a cast-iron skillet, their outsides sizzling with caramelized cane sugar. Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, sweet all the way through—it’s the only candy that’s good for you.
The main courses paint a vibrant tapestry of Floridian cooking—a fish-of-the-day sandwich (grouper, in my case), dripping with hot-sauce aioli and served with a side of crispy homemade barbecue chips, a Tarpon Springs take on a Greek salad (topped with potato salad), and a plate of uber-tender buttermilk fried chicken and doughnuts (a twist on the famous fried chicken and waffles), served with a side of braised kale and collard greens.
All dishes are meant to be accompanied by Homecoming’s signature menu of artisanal moonshines—essentially the Deep South in liquid form.
"My great-grandfather was a moonshiner, and he made moonshine on our property," said Smith. "We have a wonderful creek there, and moonshine depends on freshwater supply. It's common in the South, and particularly North Florida/South Georgia in the Moonshine Belt with all the springs, there was lots and lots of moonshine, and still to this day lots of moonshine is made."
Homecoming shines yet again during dessert, which comprises Smith’s famous cakes and pies. Choose a classic pecan pie, chocolate cake or something more inventive: the adults-only Shine Cake soaked in a boozy moonshine syrup or the chef’s famous Hummingbird Cake, a towering, moist three-layer pineapple and banana cake covered in decadent cream-cheese frosting, just like Grandma's. Definitely don’t skip dessert here; a Southern meal isn’t complete without something sweet.
Several of the new Disney Springs restaurants have opened takeout windows for guests who want to grab a bite and walk around the area, and Homecoming joins in with a small menu of to-go sandwiches, desserts and bar selections. It’s a great choice for getting just a taste of Homecoming without the commitment of a sit-down meal, especially if antsy kids are in tow.