Beyond pub grub at P’cheen

The Old Fourth Ward standby debuts a new menu, plus BBQ night

In this economy, nothing succeeds day-to-day like the formula of the neighborhood pub: good food, low prices and lots of booze.

That — and quite a crowd — is what you’ll find most evenings at P’cheen (701-5 Highland Ave., 404-529-8800, The restaurant opened three and a half years ago and, in retrospect, probably deserves classification as one of the city’s first gastropubs.

There’s a good reason for that. Alex Friedman, who co-owns P’cheen with Keiran Neely, is the executive chef. He worked earlier as chef at Pastis and Anis, one of my lunch favorites for years. He has developed a cross-cultural menu that befits what the website describes as a place “steeped in tradition and rinsed with modernity.” The phrase makes my teeth hurt it’s so sweet, but it’s right on.

P’cheen’s name is Gaelic for “moonshine.” Although you won’t find the stuff on the menu, you will find a rendering of a Celtic wine god and a still on one of the burnt-orange walls. The place glows.

I had no intention of reviewing P’cheen when we stopped by recently. But the restaurant has debuted a new menu and has joined many others by offering a recession-busting special on Monday nights — barbecue that you do not want to miss. Before I get to that, consider our meal from the regular menu.

I especially liked my entree of bouillabaisse — a huge bowl of saffron-fennel broth swimming with shrimp, mussels, squid and cod. Two thick slices of baguette, spread with rouille, were in the bowl, too. The seafood was all perfectly cooked, the broth tangy, the rouille rich and garlicky. And the price was only $16.

Wayne ordered the same thing he did the first time we dined here three years ago — the chef’s curry special. This visit’s was a chicken curry and a cauliflower one with coconut-basmati rice. Deliciously spicy and authentic but no match for my bouillabaisse.

My starter was also a great surprise — grilled lamb merquez, the popular North African sausage. Two large slices were served over a sauté of three varieties of mushrooms: white oyster, shiitake and French horn. This sausage is popular in France, so, with my bouillabaisse, I was wishing I was in Paris or Provence.

Wayne’s starter was a piquant, aromatic ceviche spiked with Thai basil, kaffir lime and green chilies. We concluded with a banana-chocolate dessert made by Chocolate Pink Café. Its weirdly inflated price was $10. I suppose it would be plenty for two normal eaters, but only one of us ate this. I’m not telling which one.

There’s much more on the regular menu from cultures as diverse as Jamaica, the U.K. and Mexico. Vegetarians won’t go hungry, either.

If you’re a meat eater, though, you definitely want to get to P’cheen on Monday night when the restaurant hosts “Mike’s Bone Lick BBQ.” Sous chef Mike Lasage, from Louisiana, is a total barbecue freak and is the reason a huge smoker is parked in front of the restaurant, according to co-owner Neely.

Three meats are available, chipotle-rubbed chicken, pulled pork and baby back ribs. I ordered the three-meat combo with two sides and all three sauces that Lasage prepares: mustard-based from South Carolina, vinegar-based from North Carolina, and ketchupy-sweet stuff from Kansas City. He also makes a strong pepper vinegar.

The stuff beats most of the barbecue around town. Lasage rubs all the meats with herbs so that they taste terrific without any of the sauces. But both Carolina sauces are a welcome change from the usual Georgia stuff and will make anyone from those two states (including Wayne and I) nostalgic. The Kansas City sauce was way too sweet for me.

For my sides, I chose pork-braised collards that included the surprise of well-cooked cloves of garlic. I doused them with the pepper-vinegar and cleaned the bowl. I also sampled the mac-n-cheese spiked with a few slices of fresh jalapeño pepper. You can also order a cider slaw and bacon-jalapeño corn bread.

The Monday menu includes a few sandwiches, smoked wings, the restaurant’s signature burger and couple of routine entrees, too.

Following Christiane

Christiane Lauterbach devoted a few pages of her latest issue of Knife and Fork to pizzerias, including, of course, the controversial Varasano’s, which she gives a three-star rating.

Her “Find of the Month” is Skewerz Pizza K (543 10th St., 404-885-1120), which is a hole-in-the-wall near Georgia Tech. I skimmed her review before visiting late Tuesday night, being intrigued by a pizzeria whose main theme is Indian. Or something. There’s a neon sign in the window that says “WING.” And there are two hookahs — that’s like water pipes, not ho’s — sitting on the counter where you order. There’s also a painting of a hookah beside a plate of kabobs.

The restaurant is mainly takeout. There are three or four tables and although we planned to eat in, we were given our two pizzas — one lamb and the other tandoori chicken — in the usual takeout boxes with a couple of Styrofoam plates. We put one pie on the table and the other in a chair.

Oy. When I got home, I read Christiane’s review closely. She didn’t mention trying the pizzas here and, in fairness, her review of the place was set apart from her pizzeria feature. In any case, believe me: You should ignore the pizzas. They are ordinary commercial pies. The lamb on mine was literally paper thin rectangles and the chicken on Wayne’s was minced. The presence of some onions and jalapeños at least gave his some flavor. Mine had utterly no flavor of lamb.

What Christiane does recommend in her review are the “astonishingly good chicken skewers,” the keema naan and the tandoori chicken sans pizza. She writes that she recognized several of the staff from Zyka, a favorite Indian restaurant in Decatur (which also uses taboo Styrofoam). We did find the staff quite friendly and if we’re in the neighborhood again, we might stop in for the “skewerz,” but we’ll skip the pizza for sure.