A Shining Example of Contemporary Southern Dining
By Hope S. Philbrick
Chef Hilary White, owner of The Hil: A Restaurant at Serenbe in Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia, was crowned First Place Champion of the inaugural Golden Onion professional cooking competition in 2012. An impressive feat, though knowing she’s an award winner isn’t necessary to become a fan: One bite of her food will do the trick.
White grew up in rural Shelby, Ohio, and is a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. She spent much of her early career working with Atlanta’s Buckhead Life Restaurant Group and earned particular recognition when, in 2000, she was named the company’s first female executive chef at the award-winning 103 West in Buckhead.
White, who is an active member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, Southern Foodways Alliance and served as a Georgia Grown Executive Chef in 2012, was drawn to the Serenbe community’s collective commitment to sustainability when selecting a location for her own restaurant. (Serenbe, which is nestled into the 900-acre Chattahoochee Hill countryside 32 miles south of Atlanta, Georgia, was founded by Marie and Steve Nygren.)
Opened in 2007, The Hil is a family affair: Hilary helms the kitchen, her husband Jim White is general manager, and her mom Sandy Pitsch is dining room manager. Like visiting a friend’s home, the atmosphere is warm and inviting. To help set the ambiance, bookcases, upholstered furniture and other homey décor fill the entryway.
Chef Hilary’s menu features produce from Serenbe Organic Farm, which is located around the corner from the restaurant. Reading through the appetizer, pizza, entrée and dessert options the commitment to regional, seasonal ingredients is clear.
The menu is approachable; ingredients and cooking techniques are familiar. Yet dishes are upscale and more sophisticated than their names suggest. Each plate confirms White is a top chef.
Whether from land or sea, items are cooked to perfection. White’s mushroom soup is divine; one dining companion noted that she’d never enjoyed mushroom soup before this one. The margherita pizza has a crisp thin crust that cracks with each bite. The large chunks of chicken in Hilary’s All Natural Chicken Pot Pie are fork tender. The Hil Burger is juicy with rich flavorful toppings of shiitake mushrooms, Swiss cheese, smoked bacon and H1 Sauce; crisp-tender French fries are piled alongside. Bass is flaky yet moist and served atop couscous with a zesty mix of vegetables. The vegetable plate currently features smashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables, tangy collards, fried onions and a grit cake—the mix changes with the seasons, as does the entire menu.
Cocktails are easy sippers. Even the Sazerac—a drink that usually packs a bitter punch—is smooth. If it were possible to pour Florida sunshine into a glass, it might taste like the new bright and cheery grapefruit martini.
Also new to the menu is a cheese plate dessert that features sheep’s milk cheeses from Many Fold Farm, a family-owned operation located in the Chattahoochee Hill countryside. The pair of creamy cheeses both have a tangy bite, balanced by the fig preserves made with figs from Chef White’s own backyard.
The warm Hil-made waffle with butterscotch pecan ice cream and Bourbon caramel sauce is a lesson in how favorite flavors from childhood can be elevated to impress grownup palates anew—plus serves as an invitation to return for brunch (served Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) The new yellow layer cake with meringue frosting and stewed strawberries somehow manages to taste both light and buttery with irresistible frosting reminiscent of marshmallows.
“I wish this restaurant was closer,” sighed one dining companion, who perked up upon realizing it is near his in-laws’ home. Though it would be ideal if The Hil were within walking distance, moving to Serenbe may not be a feasible option for all who adore the restaurant. Thankfully it is just 32 miles from Atlanta—and it’s an easy, peaceful drive along less-trafficked roads.
The Hil: A Restaurant at Serenbe
9110 Selborne Lane, Suite 110
Palmetto GA 30268
Read more about Chef Hilary White
-Photos © HSP Media LLC
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