First Look: Folk Art

Wisteria’s chef Jason Hill gets artsy with breakfast and lunch

Atlanta loves its breakfast and brunch — especially when fried chicken and biscuits are involved. When Wisteria chef/owner Jason Hill opened Folk Art last month, just a couple of doors down from Wisteria, lines were quick to form.

Inside, the restaurant reminds me of a hipster Cracker Barrel. Vintage signs — including a large illuminated one that says “Drugs”— hang on the worn brick walls and mix with other colorful knickknacks one might find cluttering an old Southern general store. It feels clean and new, but also like it has been part of the neighborhood forever. The space is tightly packed with wooden booths and tables bolted to the distressed floor — it can feel downright claustrophobic if the medium-sized restaurant is full. What’s more, parties of four people have to break up and have an aisle between tables. A minor annoyance, but worth mentioning if you are planning a large gathering there. Most people didn’t seem fazed by the inconvenience.

Hill is working hard to make this endeavor work and you may spy him making the rounds at the restaurant. His menus — there’s one for breakfast, brunch, and lunch — are centered around breakfast and lunch staples with a little bit of flair (art?) and a Southern wink. At breakfast and brunch, the twists work reasonably well. At lunch? Not so much.

Anything with Hill’s fried chicken is a bona fide win. He’s worked hard on the recipe at Wisteria and garnered well-earned acclaim from loyalists. The chicken’s greaseless crust is one of those nubbly battered ones you can pick off and eat as a meal itself before getting to the meat, which is full of flavor and seasoned from an apparent brine. You can get the chicken on a waffle such as the plain “Jane” or the more over-the-top “Bread pudding” waffle that is studded with raisins and nuts and rife with cinnamon. Pass on any of the accompanying compotes or homemade jams as they have way too much spice and cloying sweetness. The blackberry didn’t taste like blackberry at all. Just go with the Vermont maple syrup instead.

The chicken is also a component of my favorite dish the restaurant serves: the Folk Southern Fried. The fried chicken and two perfectly fried eggs are covered in salty and peppery sausage gravy and placed atop a biscuit. These biscuits might not be the type that you can hold and eat one-handed while driving your car, but, man, they are beautiful, crumbly — and huge. Hill makes them about five inches wide, slices them in half, and griddles them so the already buttery biscuits form a nice crust.

If you don’t like cinnamon, don’t order the pancakes. A whole-wheat batter was polluted with too much of the spice and the pancakes lacked the requisite fluffiness. The omelets, however, provide some promise. A mixture of Gruyère, caramelized onions, garlic, and spinach boost the otherwise mundane breakfast food into something extraordinary as far as eggs are concerned. The side of fantastic white grits studded with whole kernels of corn and a biscuit instead of toast make this a satisfying start to your day.

Folk Art’s food at lunch is overcomplicated and, as a result, full of missteps. Perhaps the restaurant takes the art thing a little too seriously with this menu. The Donald, roasted duck pastrami with Thousand Island dressing, horseradish, caramelized onions, and cumin pickles on marble rye, is so oddly sweet it’s hard to get past two bites. To make matters worse, the entire thing is floppy as if the bread was not adequately toasted and therefore not strong enough to hold the barrage of ingredients. The same problem befalls the patty melt. The beef is tasty and it’s cool that you can order it with two, three, or four patties. But the bread was greasy, flabby, and unappetizing.

A steak sandwich sounded promising. How can you go wrong with shaved rib-eye, onions, and peppers? Again, the sandwich was poorly constructed and collapsed when it was first picked up, leaving us to pick through the greasy mess of cheese covered beef on a stale bun. Call me a sandwich Nazi, but I don’t like struggling to eat such a basic food. There is, however, a fried chicken sandwich, which is the sole bright spot on the lunch menu. I cannot comment on the appetizers because we did not receive the frog legs or fried pickles we ordered. Aside from that snafu, service was attentive if not a bit overeager at times in explaining most of the menu to us. Will servers ever stop doing this? It is breakfast food. Not physics.

Despite its shortcomings, lunch might be saved by the restaurant’s full bar. Folk Art has an impressive beer list, including Bell’s Oberon and cocktails such as Bloody Mary’s. Perhaps when they simplify the lunch menu — lightening up the seasoning and taking the kimchi off the Reuben — lunch will hold more promise. Until then, you better stick with breakfast or a liquid lunch.

?This story has been updated since its original publication.