I’ve got a new draft blog post up on likely top ten pick Austin Meadows of Grayson High School. Also, if you missed my review of dinner at The Spence, Top Chef All-Stars winner Richard Blais’ newest venture, you should head there first. I was still thinking about that meal two days later.
I did have another memorable dinner in Atlanta, at Decatur’s Cakes & Ale, which has twice made Bon Appetit‘s list of the ten best new restaurants in the country (they bent the rules and listed it again in 2012 when C&A opened a new location with a bakery attached). The name is accurate, as they sell both cakes and ales, but the standouts on their menu involve local produce, factoring heavily in every dish.
After a helpful chat with the server, I went with three smaller plates instead of a single entree, paying a few dollars more (maybe $3-5 more) but getting more variety and I think more food overall. The menu changes frequently, so these items may not be available a few weeks from this review. First up was the house-cured lardo on crostini with browned broccolini, mirin, and a side salad of tatsoi, a green leafy member of the Brassica family with a mustardy flavor. The lardo was indulgent, of course, infused into the bread by the heat of the latter, but balanced with the acidity of the mirin and slight sweetness of the caramelized, crispy bits of the baby broccoli. I could have done without the tatsoi salad, however, which was also very acidic and more than the plate required, but the crostini were unforgettable right down to the golden color where the lardo had melted into the bread.
Next up was a verdant spring salad of baby golden beets, sliced radishes, kohlrabi matchsticks, shaved celery, frisee, and sliced almonds, tossed with a rhubarb vinaigrette and served over creamy fromage blanc (a white farmer’s cheese). Hugh Acheson would have approved of this salad: it had texture, it had color, it had sweet and bitter elements, and it had a light tang from the dressing. I doubt I’ve ever eaten a salad faster and it certainly didn’t advertise itself as “health food,” even though it was an antioxidant bomb.
The third small plate was the polenta verde with roasted asparagus, a fried egg, and a small salad of frisee, roasted (I assume) shiitake mushrooms, and pancetta. The polenta was rich and creamy but still had some tooth to it, and could have stood as a side item on its own. The asparagus spears were cooked perfectly, tender but not mushy or stringy, and played well with the polenta and the salad. The one disappointment was the sunnyside-up egg, which was overcooked; the yolk was congealed underneath and didn’t run, which meant no sauce for the asparagus. It’s harder to poach eggs to order than fry them, but a poached egg would make this dish more cohesive. You can bury me in that polenta verde, though.
I mentioned to the server that “I was told there was cake,” which produced a dessert menu featuring an item called Coffee & cream: a layered torte of devil’s food cake, espresso-chocolate mousse, and praline crunch underneath, served with a smear of dark chocolate fudge sauce. This dessert could have been designed especially for me – rich, dark, slightly bitter underneath the sweetness, featuring two of my favorite flavors, chocolate and coffee, together. The hazelnut gelato on the side was nice but unnecessary as a potential obstacle between me and the chocolate.
I should also mention the solid cocktail menu, featuring the Welcome Wagon – Gosling’s Black Seal dark rum from Bermuda, Aperol (a low-alcohol amargo similar to Campari), aquavit, lemon bitters, and ginger ale. It sounds like a lot of alcohol, but the flavors worked well together for a warm, rounded punch. I also tried a local beer, a red rye ale that I believe was from Terrapin Brewery in Athens, although from their site I’m not sure if that was the Mosaic or another offering.
Moving away from fine dining to Q, I had the chance to meet a friend at Fox Brothers BBQ, not far from Cakes & Ale’s location in Decatur. Fox Brothers’ menu is straightforward Q, but to their credit there’s some attention paid to seasonal items – they won’t serve fried okra out of season, for example. The chicken fried ribs starter was a new thing for me – just what it sounds like, smoked ribs, cut up and deep fried. They were surprisingly un-greasy, probably fried very fast at a very high temperature, and of course, very, very delicious. At the server’s suggestion I got the sliced brisket plate with tater tots and collard greens. The meat was a little dry but had a powerful smoke flavor, as much as any brisket I’ve ever tried, even though the smoke ring itself was small. The point of smoked meat is to taste the smoke as well as the meat, so Fox Brothers hit on that. The sides were solid, and I mostly had to stop eating them because this was an absurd amount of food. It’s good Q for anywhere, but in Atlanta, which seems to be a Q desert, this was superb.
And if you find yourself in Sylvester, Georgia, down in Worth County south of Macon and west of I-75, I can recommend Fat Boy for some solid Q as well, with very good “chipped” (shredded) pork at really reasonable prices. I’d skip the fried okra there, though, as it clearly came from a freezer bag. Several sites suggested Pap’s in Sylvester for fried chicken, but it appears to be abandoned and the phone has been disconnected.