First Look: Parker's on Ponce

Last week, Our Fearless Leader finally uttered the "r" word: recession. Never mind that anyone who has rolled a cart in a grocery store or coasted to a gas pump has known the word has been applicable for months. Now it's an official part of reality. We've been in a recession for a year.

Given that, it's surprising that restaurants, especially higher-end restaurants, continue to open. My bank account says "burger," not "steak," so it felt almost decadent to show up at a new steakhouse last week. Parker's on Ponce (116 E. Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-924-2230) is located in the former Mick's building across from the courthouse in downtown Decatur.

The restaurant seems huge – all restaurants look huge to me these days, owing to their epidemic emptiness – but Parker's space is broken up into several dining rooms. We ate in the front room, where a few other tables were seated.

It's been years since I was in the building, so I'm not sure how much remodeling has occurred. The space is warmly lit, almost minimalist in décor, and features a few glowing fireplaces. I saw my first Christmas decorations of the year here – a few poinsettias and a silvery stocking.

Our server gave us the scoop. The restaurant, more than a year in planning, has been opened by brothers JT and Chris Scott, who earlier worked at Mick's. (They are the sons of the late Tom Scott, DeKalb County's longtime tax commissioner.) Chef is David Hartshorn, who earlier was the chef at Einstein's in Midtown.

Although it bills itself as a steakhouse, the menu includes as many fish, chicken, pork and pasta dishes as beef. There's nothing very experimental about the food. About as wild as it gets was my starter of "Irish, not French, onion soup," heavy with Guinness and a decent aged cheddar instead of Gruyere. It had a powerful sweetness to it.

Wayne ordered a dip of fontina and ricotta cheese topped with a puree of roasted vegetables. It was served with a crackery, thick flatbread. Don't think about ordering this for your lonesome or you'll fill up before your entree arrives. I liked the stuff – how can you not like whipped, creamy cheese? – but I'd prefer the vegetables more roughly chopped.

There are six steaks available. "All steaks," says the menu, "are wet-aged and certified choice or better." Prices range from $16 for an 8-Ounce New York strip to $52 for a porterhouse for two. Wayne ordered the 22-ounce Kansas City strip ($29), half of which he took home.

I asked our server how the steaks are cooked and she said, "They're grilled. It's not like 1,800 degrees or anything complicated." Flavor was good and, for the money, I'd probably return, keeping in mind that I'm not going to get the prime-guaranteed beef I'd get at Rathbun Steak.

There's a choice of 11 sides. These, too, are mainly straightforward and tried and true: mashed potatoes, fries, asparagus, creamed spinach, etc. Wayne ordered the Merlot mushrooms – a huge portion of whole white button 'shrooms that took up most of the plate on which the hugely thick steak was served. Not bad, not great.

I'm sorry to report that my own dish, ordered at the server's suggestion, missed the mark. It was the sesame-seared tuna with wasabi-spiked mashed potatoes, sesame ginger vinaigrette and asparagus.

The tuna was not top quality. It might have been better had it been sliced thinner before searing, although this would compromise the sesame coating, which was agreeable. Neither one of us could detect the wasabi in the potatoes and, oy, the asparagus was skinny but tough. I can't recommend it.

I spied other dishes going to tables and most of them looked very appetizing, especially roasted chicken with a jalapeño-cheddar grit cake and braised collards. There's only one vegetarian dish, a Portobello mushroom "steak" grilled and served over pea-and-fennel risotto.

We ordered a single serving of white chocolate bread pudding for dessert. It was gooey, chewy, sweet and boozy with bourbon. Yum.

I'll be interested to hear others' comments on the restaurant. It had been open a few weeks when we visited.

Here and there

Maybe it was because I got stuck with the fish instead of the steak at Parker's or maybe it's anticipating the opening of Richard Blais' Flip, but I was left craving a hamburger a few days later.

So, we drove to East Atlanta to dine at the Earl, whose burger is among my favorites in the city. Anyone who thinks the recession has killed the restaurant business completely should come here. The place was packed, smoky and loud. In fact, there was a wait for a table and nobody keeping a list, so we left.

We walked to the Glenwood, which I haven't visited since the departure of chef Ryan Stewart. We found the place eerily empty, compared to the Earl, but had a good meal. We split an order of fried chicken livers in Buffalo sauce for a starter – irresistibly crunchy but almost tempura-like, velvety, stingingly hot.

Then we both had burgers – with bacon and cheddar for me and bacon and blue cheese for Wayne. A few oddly flavorless fried pickles were on the side. I also got some collards that were deliciously fatty but needed a considerable shot of vinegar. Wayne got decent fries. ...

Speaking of fried pickles, they're now on Daddy D'z menu, too. The barbecue joint is using dill spears instead of the usual bread-and-butter-shaped ones. They're a bit greasy but good. ...

The Lamplighter, down the street from Daddy D'z, may be open for lunch by the time you read this. If the menu chef Carmen Cappello is planning gets served, you'll definitely want to sample the novelty. Call 'em: 404-748-4370.

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