Restaurant Review - Above par

Golf-themed Clubhouse takes slightly different approach to familiar food

THE FIRST TIME I walked into The Clubhouse, I stood in the foyer (which looks suspiciously like the bar) for five minutes. It was 2:30 on a weekday afternoon. Only two tables were occupied that I could see. I could also see six staffers in front of me, at least one of whom appeared to be a host or manager. Surely, I was wrong about that, though; after all, no one made a move to approach me. It didn't take a professional to see that this was not the time to review this new restaurant, no matter how great the buzz, no matter how many readers asked about it. So I left.A week later, I tried again. This time, The Clubhouse was bustling, including the staff, one of whom had been dispatched to Pottery Barn to buy those retro black dial telephones. The table in the small waiting area was covered with them, and the floor around it was littered with shopping bags.
We'll never know whether the hostess behind the desk would have rushed right over and seated us this time, because my guest rushed right up to her before I could stop him. So we were seated immediately right there in the front room. And I do mean right there, on an open, raised level immediately off the bar. (Which, by the way, has several high tables of its own, in addition to food service.)
The Clubhouse is a curious place, open and brightly colored in maroon and gold in some places, clubby and dark (plenty of mahogany and black and white photographs of nightclub life of yesteryear) in others. I adore the whimsical bar stools, and if I could find out where the wall lamps came from, I'd get a couple for my living room.
As I mentioned, the front door opens into a space that is at once the foyer and the bar, which is outfitted with tables. Clearly, though, this is a working bar; news headlines in LED red blink across the back. This is probably a better idea when the top story isn't Mad Cow disease, as it was on the day of my visit. The Clubhouse menu is big on steaks.
The Clubhouse menu is big on a lot of things. Most are the usual suspects, but nearly every one looks different than expected. The crust on the chicken pot pie, for example, is mashed potatoes. Similarly, meat loaf and mashed potatoes are called a sundae, and stacked to prove it. Overall, however, the menu has no defining theme, other than to take a stab at a culinary genre not often thought of as one: golf club grill.
It turns out that The Clubhouse is a budding chain. Atlanta is its third city, behind Oakbrook (Chicago) and Costa Mesa, Calif. (The literature drops Kevin Costner's name, for the confidence-challenged.) Thus, the bill of fare attempts to entice everyone. If you aren't in the mood for chicken piccata or angel hair pasta simply dressed with plum tomatoes and white wine, then you may be tempted by bourbon glazed pork chops. Waldorf salad makes an appearance along with grilled ham and cheese and the unfortunately named Garbage Salad. (Really, now.)
The Clubhouse kitchen is big on seasoning. Crab cakes, for instance, are bathed in mustard sauce, possibly to disguise the fact that filler is in the majority. (Don't you believe it when you see the term "jumbo lump crab" in the description.)
Curious — but good — is the honey peppercorn salmon, a thick hunk of salmon covered with black pepper on one side and honey on the other, then roasted. (It tastes more like honey-baked ham than salmon.) As usual, in such places that try to be haute, too much sauce detracts. But steamed asparagus was perfect, as are mealy fries.
Desserts are ridiculously large and gooey, with the exception of the sorbets. The chocolate layer cake, to give you an example, is 10 inches long and three inches deep. And that, I was informed with regret, was a small piece. Heaven help us.
The Clubhouse, at Lenox Square, 3393 Peachtree Road. 404-442-8891. Open daily at 11:15 a.m. Expensive. Average price of dinner entrée, $23. Credit cards. Dress: business and serious shopping attire. Ambiance: upscale but a chain nonetheless. No-smoking section. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible.