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Archive for August, 2015

Salty Dog

Sunday, August 16th, 2015
The Diner Bar, from the outside looking in.

The Grey’s Diner Bar, from the outside looking in.

I’ll be doing a full review of Savannah’s hot-as-a-biscuit new restaurant, The Grey, in Savannah’s old Greyhound Bus Terminal, later on. In short, I’m as excited about it as the rest of the national press, with the New York Times and Washington Post, among many others, bestowing glowing praise on both the food and creative rescue of the 1938 structure. Chef Mashama Bailey (formerly of New York’s Prune) has already helped earn The Grey a James Beard nomination for Best New Restaurant — an extraordinary feat considering the place has only been open since December. But as wonderfully retro-cool as the dining room is, many writers haven’t mentioned the charming “diner bar” space attached to what was once the terminal’s waiting room, where passengers ordered soft drinks and sandwiches while waiting for their buses. It’s now a dark, inviting, slightly Edward Hopper-ish space, with the same swoopy Deco curves as the rest of the building. There are a few sandwiches, cheeses and charcuterie, cocktails and raw bar items (including oysters and Sapelo Island clams), along with desserts and ice cream from the venerable Leopold’s. If you’re not able to squeeze into the main dining room, consider dropping into this happening space to get a feel for what the fuss is all about.

"Air Conditioned * Waitress Service" for the Grey's Diner Bar oyster menu.

“Air Conditioned * Waitress Service” for the Grey’s Diner Bar oyster menu.

Inside The Grey's Diner Bar.

Inside the Diner Bar.

Change Partners, and Dance

Sunday, August 16th, 2015
Re-enacting Degas' "The Absinthe Drinker" at Athens' Seabear.

Re-enacting Degas’ The Absinthe Drinker at Athens’ Seabear.

A few months ago, my Georgia Trend editor and I were talking about grilled octopus, and how it seemed to be having a moment. I noticed it often came in a restaurant that featured a bocce court (such as Atlanta’s Leon’s and No. 246, or, in the case of the Optimist, a small putting green). Not long after that came oysters on the half-shell, often served at a place that also offers absinthe, the once-(U.S.)-outlawed, now safer French spirit known for inspiring green-fairied visions for artists like Picasso, Van Gogh and Lautrec in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. (To try oysters and absinthe the way crazy Parisian artists did, but without the fairies, go to Decatur’s Kimball House, downtown Atlanta’s Publik House or Athens’ Seabear.) The most recent pairing? Cocktails on tap in low-fi diners and/or leatherette booths. Apparently it’s a kind of new take on the soda fountain, except with alcohol. Check them out at Atlanta’s Victory Sandwich Bar, which offers a Jack and Coke Slushie, and Decatur’s Pinewood, which boasts of serving its on-tap Old-Fashioned in “three seconds.” On Whitaker Street, near the river, the speakeasy-style Savannah Cocktail Co. offers a whole menu of “draft” drinks, available during happy hour on weekdays, including a Moscow Mule, Vieux Carre and Blanca Negroni.BFKCB4

Egg hunt

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

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 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.