Restaurant Review - No place like home

Good pickin’s at High Cotton

A pet peeve of mine is when restaurant menus or servers describe items as being “homemade.” As opposed to what? Does the chef do the cooking at home and then bring the dishes to the restaurant? Or does he just live in the kitchen like an inmate? Talking up restaurant food as “homemade” seems pointless: How much can I want home cooking if I’ve left my home to get a meal?

Having gotten that off my chest, I can say that Dunwoody’s High Cotton is more sleek than genuinely homey, unless you happen to live in a gentleman’s club. Partners Kevin Carey and Michael Zajack seem to be modeling High Cotton along similar lines of Houston’s, with a warm, polished interior and a classy but unfussy approach to American steakhouse fare. And so far, they’re acquitting themselves well.

Occupying the former space of Park Bench in the Dunwoody Village area, High Cotton features a 100-seat interior designed largely around brick and burnished wood; the lighting is soft but not dim. In warmer weather the brick patio will be quite inviting, as it’s sheltered from the view of Chamblee Dunwoody Road by a hill and a handsome pair of old, overhanging oak trees.

Evoking Southern luxury, “high cotton” is an upbeat expression for a bumper crop, and the name makes the restaurant sound more genteel and Southern than it actually is. Parts of the menu have an Italian accent, employing plenty of marinara sauce and pasta sides and entrees. Based on what I’ve sampled, the kitchen takes care in crafting quality dishes across the board, even with de rigeur items like the Caesar salad ($7.95 at lunch), which includes fresh garlic and anchovies in the dressing. The house salad features a pleasantly mild Italian dressing, and each bowl of fresh greens satisfies on its own terms — as opposed to being a steakhouse sop to health concerns before you gorge yourself on red meat.

The club sandwich ($7.95) proved more than ample. It was cut into quarters so thickly layered with ham, smoked turkey, cheese and flavorful bacon that they exceed one’s bite radius. It includes a generous quantity of green lettuce leaves, but slathers on the sweet mayonnaise and relish spread with too heavy a hand, until mayo is nearly all you can taste. The side order of apple cider coleslaw is merely adequate, with the cider not nearly as noticeable as the yellow raisins among the shredded cabbage.

There’s not much oyster meat in the crispy oysters ($7.95), but the fried breading alone, with the addictive remoulade sauce, is yummy enough to make the starter worth ordering. (I’m surprised restaurants haven’t already made breading into an appetizer.) The corn chowder ($2.95) makes a good cold-weather dish. It’s thick to the point of muddiness, but hearty and slightly peppery on the tongue, with bits of shredded carrot, skins of new potatoes and green onion.

The lightly browned steak-cut swordfish special ($19.95) proved thick and firm, with a hint of butter in the unobtrusive sauce making up for some dryness in the meat. It was, in fact, more “steaky” than the High Cotton sirloin ($18.95), grilled meat sliced thin, nearly submerged in its caramelized onions and topped with mushroom sauce. There was so much liquid that it was nearly a stew. The brown mix of mushroom and onion sauces was a bit sweet and heavy, but the steak itself had tenderness and a welcome hint of smoky flavor.

High Cotton’s servers are friendly and outgoing while stopping short of being aggressive. The menu doesn’t include barbecue ribs, but so far it seems to be attracting its Houston’s customers: businessmen taking job interviewees for an informal bite; extended families chatting about “Car Talk”; the occasional young couple with shrieking infant. I wouldn’t consider High Cotton much like home, but that’s not necessarily a drawback.??