Restaurant Review - Under the Sycamore tree

The Sycamore Grill has it made in the shade

The oldest building in the Village of Stone Mountain, a two-story stone and clapboard structure constructed in 1836, has been a post office, a Civil War hospital, numerous hotels and an abandoned wreck. It is our good fortune that today it is The Sycamore Grill, named in honor of the 153-year-old tree shading the verandah.
It is a very small building; one can scarcely imagine what it must have been like in any of its previous incarnations. But it is possible to glimpse the past in the main room where a transparent panel in one wall exposes part of the original 2-foot-thick wall, its bricks fabricated of clay, mud, rock, horse hair and the local granite.

The interior is pleasingly simple: wooden chairs painted dark green; rough-textured walls painted a muted color somewhere between mustard and cream; two or three fresh stems in small bud vases on each of the eight tables.

The crisp white tablecloths raise expectations, and with the exception of a few entrees inexplicably covered with cheese, these are more than satisfied. The ingredients are high quality, they are combined in interesting ways, and they are prepared with a high degree of skill.

One needn't wait for the entrees to experience this. Even a salad will do. Something like the wilted spinach salad, for example, an enormous mound of fresh spinach, steamed to an exemplary consistency, bathed in an apple cider and brown sugar dressing and incorporating toasted prosciutto, goat cheese, walnuts and grape tomatoes ($7). Sweet, salty, biting, crunchy — all these flavors and textures burst in the mouth simultaneously.

That's typical of the kitchen's style. Blue crab fritters shine under a lemon-dill cream sauce ($7); sweet potato french fries are tweaked by a blue cheese dipping sauce ($6); the fried green tomatoes' tartness is mellowed by crumbled goat cheese and roasted red pepper sauce ($7); whole grain mustard-apricot sauce punches up a plate of coconut shrimp ($9). And these are only the appetizers.

They are large enough, however, to serve as main courses, as are the lovely salads. No wisps of brown lettuce here. Beds of hand-picked mixed greens cradle such diverse fillings as crisp sweet onion straws, grape tomatoes, seedless cucumbers and sunflower seeds (the $5 house salad); blackberry chicken salad with caramelized walnuts ($7); or kabobs of beef tenderloin, sweet peppers, portabella mushrooms and grape tomatoes, which are topped with Danish blue cheese and onion straws in a red wine peppercorn vinaigrette ($12).

The kitchen's strength is grilling. Paired with the nuanced sauces or glazes — blackberry, orange, lemon-basil and roasted red pepper among them — beef, duck, lamb and pork loin rise to their fullest flavor.

My favorite is the luscious marinated flank steak, grilled medium rare and enhanced by a light, piquant red wine peppercorn sauce ($15). But I would never turn down the veal reduction and blue cheese crumbles on the 8-Ounce filet mignon ($25) or the pineapple-garlic glazed marinated pork loin rib chop on its bed of crispy sweet onion straws ($16).

Duck lovers, rejoice! For you, there is roasted duck breast with a spicy blackberry sauce ($17). And an apple-mint glaze is a much more refreshing treatment for the 14-ounce New Zealand rack of lamb ($25) than the usual herb crust.

While grilled meats are the highlights of The Sycamore Grill menu, they aren't the only option. The kitchen encrusts chicken breast with pecans, then adds a spicy orange sauce ($16); a whopping 10-ounce blackened chicken breast arrives at the table with Creole sauce, garlic andouille green beans and succotash ($16). Only one entree features pasta — bowties tossed with shrimp, yellow and roma tomatoes, yellow corn, watercress, garlic, basil and parmesan cheese ($24). Grilled Georgia Mountain Trout and its toasted pecan-basil butter melt in the mouth ($18).

Many of the entrees — or a version of them — are also available at lunch. On the verandah, perhaps? amy.jinknerlloyd@creativeloafing.com