First Look: Parish

Pandemonium at Concentrics' newest restaurant

Pandemonium. That's what we encountered during our first visit to Parish Foods & Goods (240 N. Highland Ave., 404-681-4434) in Inman Park. Bob Amick and Todd Rushing of Concentrics Restaurants opened the New Orleans-style restaurant a few weeks ago.

The pandemonium begins with the effort to find parking. There's valet service at the side of the building and you might as well resign yourself to using it, because street parking is hard to find during peak dinner hours. If you have any disability that keeps you from climbing stairs, the next bit of pandemonium comes as you enter the restaurant. There is no handicap access to the main upstairs dining room and, even if you negotiate the few steps from the street, you'll find the restroom inside down a steep flight of stairs.

Then there's the pandemonium that occurs with the opening of most notable restaurants – a crush of people, a staff in shock, lengthy waits for food and occasional mix-ups. It's almost like dining in the French Quarter during a holiday. This is a first look at an ambitious restaurant. I'm sure the kinks will be ironed out soon.

Parish is located in an 1890 building that belonged to the Atlanta Pipe and Foundry Company. Amick and Rushing have done a spectacular job of evoking the feeling of NOLA with their usual meticulous attention to architectural detail and interior design.

Parish is actually a two-level operation. Downstairs is Parish Market, where you can buy everything from breads and pastries to produce and flowers. The baked goods are a highlight of Parish. They are the work of Jonathan St. Hilaire, certainly among the best pastry chefs in our city.

The market also includes a coffee bar and, in the back, houses the restaurant's completely open kitchen where you can order sandwiches and pastries. You can take these out or eat them on the patio or at a communal table inside the market. Don't expect plates. You'll be eating off brown paper.

The menu upstairs and down is a bit of a surprise. You will not find many of the classic dishes we associate with Creole cooking. There's no jambalaya or étouffée, not even red beans and rice to eat with the muffuletta or oyster po' boy, both of which are deliciously executed with crispy bread and high-quality ingredients. (By the way, don't order the larger muffuletta unless you plan to share it with someone.)

The menu upstairs does feature some New Orleans-inspired food prepared by chef Timothy Magee. There's a raw bar where you can spend a lot of money rapidly. We bought a dozen oysters on the half shell, for example, and spent $24. The oysters had great flavor, especially those from Martha's Vineyard, but quite a few were less than plump. We also ordered some jumbo barbecued shrimp, served heads-on in a tangy, addictive sauce. Price? $18 for about six.

We tried a couple of entrees (for which we spent considerably less, $15 each, than the starters cost). Wayne chose andouille-crusted catfish served over chive aioli and I ordered browned, glossy pork cheeks placed atop a pancake with a mustard-cream sauce and some microgreens. For dessert we ordered a peach bread pudding. Generally, we found our entrees and dessert better executed than the starters.

Service at the restaurant was friendly but harried. It doesn't help that Parish has no printed menus. You have to read the menu off a chalkboard on the wall. That's all well and good if one is within view. If it isn't, the server will recite it for you, but you'll disassociate halfway through and end up getting up from the table to read the chalkboard. Weirdly, the restaurant's press material says the decision not to print menus is about conserving paper. Then why aren't plates used in the market instead of (granted, recycled) paper?

Nonetheless, kudos are due to Amick and Rushing for going way green with this restaurant. It's promoting sustainable farming and local growers. Our receipt even mentioned the names of two local growers from whom the restaurant had bought some of its ingredients that day.

The restaurant and market are open for lunch and dinner every day of the week. The market also serves breakfast. This is an enormous undertaking.

Back to Basics

Dining at Parish, upstairs and down, left me with a powerful craving for the more down-home New Orleans cooking. So we headed a few days later to Redfish (687 Memorial Drive, 404-475-1200).

This restaurant owned by Gregg Herndon, formerly of Tiburon Grille and Taste of New Orleans, is not as atmospheric as Parish but Wayne and I agreed we had a good meal at Redfish.

We started with a special – a huge, fried soft-shell crab stuffed with the restaurant's crawfish cake and served with a jalapeño remoulade. It was the best treatment of these seasonal favorites I've had in a long time. Crunchy, sweet, salty, juicy.

For my entree, I ordered crawfish étouffée – a huge serving full of fresh crawfish and redolent of a roux infused with spices. I have always liked Herndon's étouffée because he makes it spicy.

Wayne ordered catfish to compare it to his entree at Parish. He gave the prize to Redfish, but I think the catfish being deep-fried and double the serving at Parish influenced his choice. It too was spicy – pepper-fried – and served with a jalapeño tartar sauce, hot-pepper vinegar, red beans and rice, and cucumber coleslaw.

Our meal started with a basket of house-made potato chips and more of the jalapeño remoulade. Go light on them if you want dessert. We couldn't think about it.

Complaints? I always find the valet parking here annoying. The restaurant has a gigantic parking lot – big enough that I don't think it ever gets really full. But you're expected to turn your keys over to a valet. I don't see the point.

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