We’ve all been there: Family or friends are coming in from out of town and the only meal you can meet for is brunch. And since they’re likely headed on the road not long after, it can’t be as leisurely (or boozy) as you might like. Bonus demerits: It’s going to have to be somewhere these newbies can drive to — and park — easily. (“Can we park on the street?” No. Not ever.) Add my own iron law: I refuse to stand in line to wait for a table, so if our party needs to eat at crush time, we want a reservation.
No need to cave and commit to one of those heinous hotel buffet steam-table free-for-alls where a dispirited cook with a hotplate custom-oversalts your omelet to order, where no one is sitting down at the same time but constantly popping up for a little more of this or that, where the mimosas are refilled so often you worry about Aunt Geraldine. No, not even because, after you consider your vegan niece and carnivorous husband and gluten-free brother, there is “something for everyone” at aforementioned heinous buffet. No: Don’t give in. Go for a place where you can all actually sit down and have a nice conversation over good food. Isn’t that the purpose of this, after all? Do the homework — it’s out there, man.
Brunch menu. Note: No pasta.
Brunch is not usually my thing, so I when I started looking around, I was surprised at how few really good Atlanta restaurants serve it. It’s not surprising — surely this is the most labor-intensive, slimmest-margin mealtime for restaurateurs. No wonder many just want to put out piles of overcooked pasta and heavily ribbed “caesar salad” under sneeze guards. But with my sister and niece staying in Buckhead, I looked found what turned out to be the perfect spot for their sophisticated Southern palates, who nevertheless craved something a little more familiar (and slightly healthier) after ambitious dining all weekend. Still, I know these two tiny workout fiends can put away some biscuits and eggs.
Which immediately made me think of Empire State South. I hadn’t been there in a few years, but it sure fit the bill, down to easy-find/easy-park details. (Just be sure to tell first-timers to pull up the Hyatt’s driveway at the corner of 10th and Peachtree — Empire State South’s sign can be hard to see. If they pull past the valet stand, self-parking is free in the garage for a couple of hours.)
The bocce courts are still out front, with some little kids pretending they know how to play, the verdant lawn a welcome respite from the heat. Inside, sunshine streamed through the large windows and over our table, soon crowded with dishes like pimento cheese with bacon jam, cold pickled pole beans with tomato and watermelon, a griddled biscuit with bacon, cheddar and a little bowl of the most perfectly crisp hash browns you’ve ever seen, a chanterelle mushroom omelette under fresh curly pea shoot tendrils, Eggs Benedict with candied bacon, a farm egg with fried Carolina Gold rice, mushrooms, sausage, beet greens and corn puree. Excellent with the Corpse Reviver No. 2 (gin, triple sec, cocchi americano) if you have a driver. This wine list — especially by the glass — is one of the best I’ve seen in town. A glass of Aubry premier cru champagne is lovely with dessert — and why wouldn’t you want some? You’ve finally settled into some good conversation, and no one has to get
on the road just yet.