The Feed Store: College perk

New chef Peter Golaszewski shakes things up

I spent five years running weekly newspapers in rural Georgia. When I returned to Atlanta, I got a brief gig in College Park, which reminded me a lot of the small towns where I lived. It was a nice transition — except for the food. The restaurant closest to my office was a wildly popular Shoney's. There was the usual fast food, certainly not the homestyle cooking I'd eaten in rural diners. The exception was Barbecue Kitchen on Virginia Avenue. I still crave its food occasionally.

This all came back to me during my visit to the Feed Store (3841 Main St., College Park, 404-209-7979) on a recent Saturday night. I'd forgotten, though, that the sleepy initial impression of the town is quickly dispelled when an explosion that seems to occur three feet above your head interrupts your nostalgic reverie. I'm talking about the continual stream of airplanes taking off from the nearby airport. I let out a scream when the first blast hit me as I was walking across Main Street to the restaurant. Be prepared!

The Feed Store has been around for about five years – as a restaurant. Earlier, it was an actual feed store acquired by the grandmother of the current owner, Celita Bullard, in 1926. The building's interior is a surprise. The patina of old brick contrasts with furniture of curvy, whimsical design and placement. Lighting is quirky. It's the work of the owner, who is a designer herself, and it's a terrific departure from the ubiquitous boutique-in-a-box look.

We were surprised to find the restaurant almost entirely empty. Our server explained that the staff was pretty mystified itself but guessed that the Virginia-Highland Summerfest, underway that evening, had distracted their usual intown commuters. The restaurant also relies heavily on business people staying in the many airport-area hotels. That means it tends to be busiest – we're talking packed – Monday through Wednesday.

The Feed Store has become the focus of attention recently because of the hiring of chef Peter Golaszewski, a Detroit native who most recently cooked (to rave reviews) at the defunct Epicurean. Earlier, he was chef de partie at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead and he's also worked at several restaurants in the Midwest.

The young chef has jumped on the crowded nouveau-Southern bandwagon. Like most others now, he attempts to feature local ingredients. Happily, he spins classics with more finesse and creativity than most. It's worth noting that the Feed Store is a fine-dining restaurant but quite affordable by downtown standards. Most entrees are around $20 and most appetizers are less than $10.

Our meal started with a complimentary taste of a savory black-eyed-pea spread lightly spiked with truffle oil and served with lavosh. Nice.

I ordered an appetizer of "Buffalo crawfish tails" with rhubarb slaw. Do not order this without planning to share it. It was a gigantic portion. The tails, succulent and only mildly seasoned with hot sauce, were tasty but I was mainly interested in the rhubarb slaw, as I told our entertaining server, John.

"Oh," he said, "I know what you mean. I don't even like rhubarb, but in this dish it furnishes a slightly bitter-sour, kind of crunchy note that contrasts really well with the crawfish, don't you think?"

Um, yeah, exactly.

Honestly, though, I'd like the heat turned up on the crawfish sauce.

We also ordered "barbecued Georgia catfish pâté" with balsamic honey and chili oil, served with a toasted baguette. The dish was visually stimulating, to say the least. The pâté was served over a mosaic drawn with the oil and honey. The fish had much better flavor than I expected, not sharing most Southerners' zeal for catfish.

My entree was pretty amazing. The "country-fried beef short rib" was the menu's most expensive item at $27. Short ribs have become an inevitability on Atlanta menus. Golaszewski's version, fork-tender but deliciously enclosed in a crunchy batter, has to be among the most unique. It was served over buttermilk mashed potatoes with a gravy made with roasted shallots and whole-grain mustard. Asparagus was also on the plate.

Wayne ordered veal meatloaf, served with crawfish-potato pancakes, asparagus and a cognac steak sauce. I have to be honest. The portion was so huge it repulsed me.

"It's so big," I told John.

"Well," he said, "in this economy, we want to send people away feeling well-fed and like they got their money's worth."

Regardless of the economy, even a glutton is going to leave the restaurant with half this portion of meatloaf in a takeout container. Taste? Not bad, but not as interesting as my short rib. I'm not a huge meatloaf fan.

Other entrees include cornbread-stuffed quails; pan-seared Scottish salmon with pecan sauce; Spring Mountain fried chicken with duck confit, Coca-Cola-baked beans and scuppernong barbecue sauce. There are pan-seared scallops with curried crab risotto; catfish with a succotash of fava beans, clams, pearl onions and bacon; and Georgia shrimp over tomato grits.

The menu offers a vegetable plate, featuring three choices, as an entree, too. We decided to order one, picking vanilla-beet puree, pole beans, and potatoes mashed with pimento cheese and mustard greens. The latter, strange as it sounds, was my favorite, probably because I'm addicted to mustard greens (which were also available straight-up). The beets bordered on cloying; the vanilla boosts the natural sweetness. Pole beans were just like your mama's.

I had heard a rumor of something like an iced-tea ice-cream float on the dessert menu, but found no such thing. At John's recommendation, we shared "banana pudding bread pudding" with vanilla bean ice cream. Flawless. They need to put this in the vats at those all-you-can-eat Southern buffets in the suburbs.

Other desserts include strawberry-rhubarb cobbler and sorghum-molasses cheesecake.

The restaurant is definitely worth a drive from anywhere in town. Because of the unpredictable impact of convention and business trade, I'd definitely make reservations.

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