Restaurant Review - Brunch at Watershed

Eggs don't go over — or down — easy

All Atlanta — indeed, anyone, anywhere who values good, honest food — owes a debt of gratitude to Scott Peacock, the executive chef at Watershed, for championing Southern regional cuisine. Years ago, he teamed with the legendary Edna Lewis, doyenne of the genre, to revive not only the traditional recipes, but also the practice of employing indigenous, organic ingredients of the highest quality.

Lewis grew up in Virginia at a time when quail was hung for a week in the feather before roasting, the food on trains was prepared over a wood-burning stove. In her cooking, she used lard so pure it had less fat than butter.

Peacock's menu echoes the classics while being thoroughly modern. Nearly every dish is the result of an intense devotion to bringing out the flavor inherent in each ingredient. There is nothing to compare with the fried chicken special, served only on Tuesday nights. I've heard complaints about paying $17 for two pieces of chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and a cream biscuit. Ridiculous! It's worth twice that to experience what two days' worth of soaking in buttermilk can do to chicken.

The news that Watershed is now open for brunch, then, sent us rushing to Decatur to see what revelations Peacock had in store for Sunday mornings. And there are some delightful things: French toast paired with tart fresh fruit and sweet candied bacon ($9), for example; the tangy buttermilk pancakes ($6); the simple but satisfying brown onion vegetarian gravy and cream biscuits ($6); sausage gravy and buttermilk biscuits ($7); or the hearty breakfast shrimp on rice ($9).

Silky home-cured gravlax ($12) tops the list of cold plates. Translucent slices of trout, a refreshing change from the usual, heavier salmon, can be draped over long slices of toasted bread and dotted with chopped eggs or onions or capers.

This dish is a typical example of the Watershed style. Its flavors are pure but subtle. Impatient diners often miss the nuances and decide the food has no taste. It's their loss.

But in the midst of Watershed's otherwise exemplary fare, a shocking and unforgivable thing is happening to eggs. First, neither our server (one of the least informed, least attentive and, apparently, least interested I've encountered in some time) nor (he claimed) the kitchen staff had ever heard of soft-cooked eggs, four-minute (milky soft whites and runny yolks) or otherwise. After two go-rounds on the issue, he brought out a pair of eggs cooked beyond the pale. When we tried to send them back, he said there was no point to it. The eggs were already cooked, sitting in a bowl. "We don't cook eggs to order," he said. What?? Even Waffle House does that.

Until the kitchen shapes up in that area, then, consider yourselves warned. A heavy hand with poached eggs adversely affects the comfortingly bland chicken hash, chucks of meat submerged in cream gravy on top of gritty corn griddle cakes ($9); and the creamed spinach with poached eggs and country ham bits ($9).

But even manhandled eggs cannot dim the brilliance of the ultra-creamy, ultra-smooth grits. Have them with the most basic breakfast — bacon, eggs, grits and toast ($9) — with the groaningly heavy but expertly salted country ham steak, red-eye gravy, grits, eggs and buttermilk biscuits ($12), or order them alone. A full breakfast can be constructed of this and other side dishes: two eggs any style, cinnamon or cheese toast, bacon or candied bacon, creamed spinach or roasted new potatoes, ranging in price from $2 to $6 for the bread basket containing six baked goods of your choosing. (I highly recommend the tiny brioches.)

Short though the brunch menu is, it nevertheless has something suitable for any appetite presenting itself 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., not an easy thing. For true breakfasters, there is wonderfully chewy steel cut oats, to be doctored with apple sauce, brown sugar and clabber ($6). For health nuts, there is homemade muesli with fruit and yogurt ($6). Those of you who hate the thought of brunch will be relieved to know you can order the Black Angus burger with extra sharp cheddar ($9), a standard from the lunch and dinner menus.

Later in the day, the Shed salad ($5) and Greek salad ($10) appeal. Watershed's salads are always a treat, thanks to the variety and freshness of locally grown produce. Greens are especially nice, and the kitchen employs them liberally in or out of salads. Two examples, a spinach salad with fried oysters ($9), and my personal favorite, the bacon, watercress and tomato sandwich ($8).

That a kitchen could produce such wonders and cook eggs so poorly is puzzling and regrettable.