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Honeysuckle’s Sweet on Regional Cuisine, Funky Spirits

Chef Hamilton Johnson is ready to rock

Honeysuckle chef and owner Hamilton Johnson
[Stephen Benedicto]

With just days to go before guests are invited to feast their eyes on his first solo restaurant, Honeysuckle, chef/owner Hamilton Johnson is offering up a taste of what’s in store.

Although his work address hasn’t changed — Honeysuckle, the second-most anticipated restaurant opening in our December poll, is replacing Vidalia, which closed last month after a 20-plus year run — the nascent restaurateur is excited about putting his stamp on the place.

“Kind of a rock and roll, fine-dining edge,” is how Johnson, a Vidalia alum, characterized his vision for the wholesale renovation.

For instance, there’s the ceiling-spanning collage composed of tattoos inked into Hamilton’s flesh.

Karma will find a way. Ceiling install is beyond belief.

A photo posted by Megan Henley (@megabot) on

(Sous chef Megan Henley, formerly of Blue Duck Tavern, has been documenting the transformation on Instagram.)

Johnson is also carving out room in the middle of the subterranean retreat for a four-top chef’s table. “You don’t get a menu. You just get what I feel like cooking,” he said of plans for the free-form dining experience.

The a la carte menu, Johnson said, celebrates regional American cooking with some international flourishes — including Icelandic and Finnish touches. “I fell in love with both of those places,” he said of a thought-provoking journey up North.

Those memories manifest as Icelandic seaweed-crusted pork tenderloin with cipollini onions, melted parsnip, roasted apple and quail. The South rises again courtesy of creamed collards with smoked ham hocks, and a buckwheat waffle accompanied by smoked fudge, hazelnut praline and brown butter ice cream.

A traditional tasting menu remains on the table, though Johnson would prefer to highlight a single ingredient (seasonal items, mostly) rather than pursue thematic programming.

The opening beverage program is expected to feature remixes of the Cosmo, Old Fashioned and Pisco Sour. Original entries include the Under Pressure (white whiskey, pomegranate, cherry, honeysuckle syrup, citrus and a prosecco float), Nuts and Bolts (Nocello liqueur, Bulleit bourbon, cherry brandy, cherry and walnut bitters) and Black Magic (“max-strength wormwood” absinthe, pastiche cocktail bitters and Benedictine liqueur).


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