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Restaurant review: The Mercury

The Ponce City Market restaurant is big, with ambition to match

Photo credit:
On the surface, the Mercury (675 Ponce De Leon Ave. N.E., 404-500-5253, themercuryatl.com.) has everything going for it: Top-notch cocktail minds. A chef with solid experience. A swanky mid-century modern aesthetic with sleek custom chairs and tables that look like something out of “Mad Men.” A beautiful oval bar that takes up half the restaurant and is stocked with all sorts of cocktail curios.Considering that the Mercury is co-owned and operated by Atlanta cocktail royalty Julian Goglia of the Pinewood Tippling Room, I was surprised by the cloying sweetness of so many cocktails I had here. After my visits, I found myself perplexed. How could they screw up the drinks? The Mercury is tucked away in a far corner on the second floor of the behemoth Ponce City Market, out of sight from the main food hall but still in range of the mall walkers looking to fill their go cups. Sit at the bar near the door and there’s a good chance you’ll get sideswiped by one of them in passing. The restaurant, which is one of the higher end restaurants in the market, is big — 4,400 square feet — with ambitions to match. But the experience falls short, especially when it comes to the food.Goglia says he and his partners, chef Mike Blydenstein and Brooks Cloud, started with a much simpler vision: a place with cocktails and a good prime rib sandwich. They originally had a smaller space about the size of the Pinewood in mind. But the restaurant evolved into something much larger and more complex than they’d envisioned after PCM landlord Jamestown offered a space five times larger across the hallway. Instead of just a prime rib sandwich, the Mercury offers prime rib (procured locally from Revere meat company) in three different cuts and named after the three partners, sides, oysters, steakhouse salads, and plenty of meat. No value assignedGoglia has great presence as he circles the room in his suit, thick black glasses, and black hair, looking like a cross between Buddy Holly and Johnny Cash. But I wish he was behind the bar more teaching his staff how to make balanced drinks, because even though the mai tai came in a beautiful crystal glass crowned with a purple orchid, it was so sickly sweet I had to ask for extra lime juice to make it drinkable. The same fate befell my Old Fashioned, Daiquiri, and Whiskey Sour. I switched to beer during my last visit. The Ode to Viceroy, however, was a nicely tart and balanced drink of scotch, ginger, lime, and falernum. Should your party all be in the mood for the same drink, the bar offers classic cocktails such as martinis and Rob Roys made tableside. Blydenstein, who worked for Emeril Lagasse before coming to the Pinewood, oversees the food at both the Pinewood and the Mercury. His kitchen at the Mercury struggles with seasoning and technique, mostly too much salt and not enough technique. Too much salt in the otherwise comforting classic French onion soup and homemade lattice-cut potato chips. Too much stuff in my bowl of burrata ravioli with wild mushrooms, cherry tomato, asparagus, and beurre blanc. The pasta was colored red and yellow, something that disturbs me as much as red, white, and blue tortilla chips. The salt and acid levels were in check, but the excess of toppings weighed down this otherwise silky pasta. At lunch, my prime rib sandwich disintegrated after I cut it in half, slumping and spreading onto the plate until it resembled Lady Gaga’s meat dress. Burned chicken breast ruined a Cobb salad with its bitterness. The crunchy crab Louie salad, however, was as fun to eat as a big salad gets. Large chunks of romaine are mixed with boiled eggs, jumbo lump crab, tomato, asparagus, and avocado. Though it needed salt, I’d come back for this dish. That and the Pinewood burger, an excellent double stack topped with American cheese, thick bacon, lettuce, tomato, onions, and remoulade, brought over from its namesake. A pan-sautéed filet of trout had nice crispy edges and was set atop baby vegetables. No value assignedThe prime rib gets a lot of play, but each time I’ve had it, it’s been dry instead of tender like you’d expect from such a luxurious piece of meat cooked slow and low. It’s served à la carte with a creamy horseradish sauce and a dish of jus. A straightforward New York strip was the best piece of meat I tried. It was juicy and perfectly cooked. For a place with so many steaks on the menu, the prices are moderate versus somewhere like Ford Fry’s Marcel. The most expensive item is the Brooks’s Cut of prime rib for $49. A basic 12-ounce New York strip costs $32. Dinner for two with drinks can easily run $150-$200.Each steak comes with a choice of eight sauces, none of which seemed to be prepared correctly, most disappointingly the bordelaise that was bright red rather than the earthier deep burgundy looked for in a sauce made with red wine and veal stock. Sides have been disappointing with undercooked cauliflower in the cauliflower gratin, runny creamed spinach, and gummy whipped potatoes. Desserts — most of which are brought in from Yoss Baking, a small wholesale bakery in Norcross — are a bright spot in a town where dessert often disappoints. The most ordered dessert must be the birthday cake. It arrives with a tall silver candle that shoots sparkles into the air as the server delivers the Funfetti-studded yellow cake with chocolate buttercream. Sadly, though, the cake is flavorless. Instead, I direct you to the key lime pie, carrot cake, or ice cream sundae, which are all exceptional. The carrot cake has just the right amount of spice to complement the moist cake’s toothy bites of carrot. The cream cheese frosting is just sweet enough. A layered key lime pie ends the meal on a tart and flaky note. And a towering ice cream sundae with walnuts and chocolate sauce is the kind of thing you want to share on a first date.


The Mercury has the foundation to be something beyond steaks and cocktail roadies, but right now, it lacks finesse. You could make a meal here, if pressed to dine, but a destination this is not. It seems that the trio got too far away from its original vision and lost in an ambitious concept. (2 out of 5 stars)



More By This Writer

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I knew I was falling in love with Bread & Butterfly, the new Inman Park restaurant from Cakes & Ale owners Billy and Kristin Allin, after the second bite of my mushroom French dip sandwich during my first visit. The rye bread was crunchy and generously buttered. Gooey strands of Gruyère dangled from the dark brown stewed mushrooms and onions. I dipped the sandwich in the red wine jus and, as I ate, forgot that a French dip is supposed to have beef. The sandwich was unexpected at a place so whimsically French, a place where I anticipated steak frites and a glass of wine, not a crave-inducing vegetarian sandwich.

 
Simple pleasures reign at this jewel box of a restaurant. Bread & Butterfly has generous hours and serves breakfast, lunch, brunch, snacks, and dinner. Chef Bryan Stoffelen, formerly chef de cuisine at Cakes & Ale, is turning preconceived notions of dishes like a French dip upside down and making classic dishes like pancakes so well you forget all others before them. The restaurant, which Stoffelen classifies as European, serves up a wicked cocktail and sells sister bakery Proof Bake Shop pastries. It’s a one-stop shop for all of your dreamy and romantic Parisian-inspired needs.

 
Dark wood bistro tables and chairs lend coziness to the space. A yellow neon sign on the adjoining patio reads “merci” in a playful script. It casts a warm light that cascades across the green- and white-tiled floor. Despite the restaurant’s vintage French feel, you’re more likely to hear the Rolling Stones than Edith Piaf echoing off the dining room’s dark green walls.

 
No value assigned

 
Like Cakes & Ale, which borrows its name from Shakespeare, Bread & Butterfly also nods to a passage from a literary classic — Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. The quote describing a fluttering creature with buttered bread wings and a sugar cube head is printed on a large mirror hanging in the main dining room.

 
My favorite meals to spend here are breakfast and brunch, when stacks of fluffy, decadent pancakes arrive drizzled in butter and maple syrup. Wait, you must be thinking, they put the syrup and butter on before it reaches my table? Yes, but hold on. The kitchen balances the flavors to deliver the perfect amount of sweetness. The edges are lacy, the first bite crisp. Then, closer to the center, they turn creamy and light. This is my favorite dish on the menu.

 
One of the first things any French-trained chef learns is how to make an omelet. Stoffelen must have aced that class. Bread & Butterfly’s omelet has feathery edges that almost resemble rose petals. It comes with a lip-puckering salad of crunchy mixed endive. At brunch a thick piece of toasted brioche loaf sets the stage for loosely scrambled and super buttery eggs topped with smoked trout. While the combination of eggs, toast, and crème fraîche sauce sings, the trout adds a superfluous note of smoke and seafood.

 
Raclette cheese is normally melted, scraped from a large hunk, and eaten with potatoes and veggies. At Bread & Butterfly it’s presented as a gooey riff on potato gratin and served with sour cornichons and the same salad as the omelet. The burger, which comes with crispy bistro fries, is fat, juicy, and just big enough. At almost an inch tall, the patty is topped with melted Swiss, mayonnaise, grain mustard, and caramelized onions, and served on a brioche bun. You’ll likely need an extra napkin.

 
The long, plump mussels of the moules frites special beckoned to me when I saw them delivered to another table. The sauce is a buttery sonnet of wine and clam liquor so good I dipped my fries in it. A roast chicken is covered in a mixture of crème fraîche and herbs prior to cooking. The luxe coating makes the meat incredibly moist and aromatic. Prices are reasonable — no dinner dish exceeds $18 — making Bread & Butterfly a great place to take a date or just stop in for a bite solo.

 
No value assigned

 
For a restaurant with Proof as its sister bakery, I expected the desserts to taste as good as they look. But a towering layer cake filled with fresh macerated blueberries had a spongy texture and was too moist. The chocolate cake lacked richness. A bit of coffee in the batter or a more intense chocolate might remedy this. The breakfast pastries and small treats are better, including meringues fit for an île flottante and perfect crumbly linzer cookies filled with raspberry jam. The baguette, also from Proof, is so airy and crusty it may dethrone Star Provisions.

 
The bartenders are chatty and friendly as they mix Americanos with Campari, sweet vermouth, and club soda, and slide Vieux Carres across the short marble-topped bar toward guests. As the wine and beverage director at Cakes & Ale since 2012, Jordan Smelt has made a name for himself among Atlanta oenophiles. With Bread & Butterfly now also under his purview, Smelt has focused on French wines for the restaurant’s short but strong list, although it does include six select North American wines in a section entitled ’Merica. Smelt is never far during dinner service to lend some guidance.

 
Service takes its cues from the French and feels professional and proud. Servers wear crisp white button downs and ties or bowties. My water glass always stayed full, even in a room packed with people waiting for brunch. I appreciate thoughtful touches like a sugar cube placed in the curve of the spoon next to my creamy morning cappuccino.

 
In a town where French concepts never seem to land with steady footing, Bread & Butterfly has found balance between the refined and approachable. Dining here is a pleasure I long for. I relish my early morning breakfasts of pancakes with cappuccino as much as a late night drink. Bread & Butterfly manages to feel as sweet and fluttery as a fling while possessing the staying power of true love. (4 out of 5 stars)

 
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I knew I was falling in love with Bread & Butterfly, the new Inman Park restaurant from Cakes & Ale owners Billy and Kristin Allin, after the second bite of my mushroom French dip sandwich during my first visit. The rye bread was crunchy and generously buttered. Gooey strands of Gruyère dangled from the dark brown stewed mushrooms and onions. I dipped the sandwich in the red wine jus and, as I ate, forgot that a French dip is supposed to have beef. The sandwich was unexpected at a place so whimsically French, a place where I anticipated steak frites and a glass of wine, not a crave-inducing vegetarian sandwich.

 
Simple pleasures reign at this jewel box of a restaurant. Bread & Butterfly has generous hours and serves breakfast, lunch, brunch, snacks, and dinner. Chef Bryan Stoffelen, formerly chef de cuisine at Cakes & Ale, is turning preconceived notions of dishes like a French dip upside down and making classic dishes like pancakes so well you forget all others before them. The restaurant, which Stoffelen classifies as European, serves up a wicked cocktail and sells sister bakery Proof Bake Shop pastries. It’s a one-stop shop for all of your dreamy and romantic Parisian-inspired needs.

 
Dark wood bistro tables and chairs lend coziness to the space. A yellow neon sign on the adjoining patio reads “merci” in a playful script. It casts a warm light that cascades across the green- and white-tiled floor. Despite the restaurant’s vintage French feel, you’re more likely to hear the Rolling Stones than Edith Piaf echoing off the dining room’s dark green walls.

 
%{[ data-embed-type="image" data-embed-id="579b559a89121c800a8eb3e9" data-embed-element="aside" contenteditable="false" ]}%

 
Like Cakes & Ale, which borrows its name from Shakespeare, Bread & Butterfly also nods to a passage from a literary classic — Lewis Carroll’s ''Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There''. The quote describing a fluttering creature with buttered bread wings and a sugar cube head is printed on a large mirror hanging in the main dining room.

 
My favorite meals to spend here are breakfast and brunch, when stacks of fluffy, decadent pancakes arrive drizzled in butter and maple syrup. Wait, you must be thinking, they put the syrup and butter on before it reaches my table? Yes, but hold on. The kitchen balances the flavors to deliver the perfect amount of sweetness. The edges are lacy, the first bite crisp. Then, closer to the center, they turn creamy and light. This is my favorite dish on the menu.

 
One of the first things any French-trained chef learns is how to make an omelet. Stoffelen must have aced that class. Bread & Butterfly’s omelet has feathery edges that almost resemble rose petals. It comes with a lip-puckering salad of crunchy mixed endive. At brunch a thick piece of toasted brioche loaf sets the stage for loosely scrambled and super buttery eggs topped with smoked trout. While the combination of eggs, toast, and crème fraîche sauce sings, the trout adds a superfluous note of smoke and seafood.

 
Raclette cheese is normally melted, scraped from a large hunk, and eaten with potatoes and veggies. At Bread & Butterfly it’s presented as a gooey riff on potato gratin and served with sour cornichons and the same salad as the omelet. The burger, which comes with crispy bistro fries, is fat, juicy, and just big enough. At almost an inch tall, the patty is topped with melted Swiss, mayonnaise, grain mustard, and caramelized onions, and served on a brioche bun. You’ll likely need an extra napkin.

 
The long, plump mussels of the moules frites special beckoned to me when I saw them delivered to another table. The sauce is a buttery sonnet of wine and clam liquor so good I dipped my fries in it. A roast chicken is covered in a mixture of crème fraîche and herbs prior to cooking. The luxe coating makes the meat incredibly moist and aromatic. Prices are reasonable — no dinner dish exceeds $18 — making Bread & Butterfly a great place to take a date or just stop in for a bite solo.

 
%{[ data-embed-type="image" data-embed-id="579b559a89121c800a8eb3e6" data-embed-element="aside" contenteditable="false" ]}%

 
For a restaurant with Proof as its sister bakery, I expected the desserts to taste as good as they look. But a towering layer cake filled with fresh macerated blueberries had a spongy texture and was too moist. The chocolate cake lacked richness. A bit of coffee in the batter or a more intense chocolate might remedy this. The breakfast pastries and small treats are better, including meringues fit for an île flottante and perfect crumbly linzer cookies filled with raspberry jam. The baguette, also from Proof, is so airy and crusty it may dethrone Star Provisions.

 
The bartenders are chatty and friendly as they mix Americanos with Campari, sweet vermouth, and club soda, and slide Vieux Carres across the short marble-topped bar toward guests. As the wine and beverage director at Cakes & Ale since 2012, Jordan Smelt has made a name for himself among Atlanta oenophiles. With Bread & Butterfly now also under his purview, Smelt has focused on French wines for the restaurant’s short but strong list, although it does include six select North American wines in a section entitled ’Merica. Smelt is never far during dinner service to lend some guidance.

 
Service takes its cues from the French and feels professional and proud. Servers wear crisp white button downs and ties or bowties. My water glass always stayed full, even in a room packed with people waiting for brunch. I appreciate thoughtful touches like a sugar cube placed in the curve of the spoon next to my creamy morning cappuccino.

 
In a town where French concepts never seem to land with steady footing, Bread & Butterfly has found balance between the refined and approachable. Dining here is a pleasure I long for. I relish my early morning breakfasts of pancakes with cappuccino as much as a late night drink. Bread & Butterfly manages to feel as sweet and fluttery as a fling while possessing the staying power of true love. __(4 out of 5 stars)__

 
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I knew I was falling in love with Bread & Butterfly, the new Inman Park restaurant from Cakes & Ale owners Billy and Kristin Allin, after the second bite of my mushroom French dip sandwich during my first visit. The rye bread was crunchy and generously buttered. Gooey strands of Gruyère dangled from the dark brown stewed mushrooms and onions. I dipped the sandwich in the red wine jus and, as I ate, forgot that a French dip is supposed to have beef. The sandwich was unexpected at a place so whimsically French, a place where I anticipated steak frites and a glass of wine, not a crave-inducing vegetarian sandwich.

 
Simple pleasures reign at this jewel box of a restaurant. Bread & Butterfly has generous hours and serves breakfast, lunch, brunch, snacks, and dinner. Chef Bryan Stoffelen, formerly chef de cuisine at Cakes & Ale, is turning preconceived notions of dishes like a French dip upside down and making classic dishes like pancakes so well you forget all others before them. The restaurant, which Stoffelen classifies as European, serves up a wicked cocktail and sells sister bakery Proof Bake Shop pastries. It’s a one-stop shop for all of your dreamy and romantic Parisian-inspired needs.

 
Dark wood bistro tables and chairs lend coziness to the space. A yellow neon sign on the adjoining patio reads “merci” in a playful script. It casts a warm light that cascades across the green- and white-tiled floor. Despite the restaurant’s vintage French feel, you’re more likely to hear the Rolling Stones than Edith Piaf echoing off the dining room’s dark green walls.

 
No value assigned

 
Like Cakes & Ale, which borrows its name from Shakespeare, Bread & Butterfly also nods to a passage from a literary classic — Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. The quote describing a fluttering creature with buttered bread wings and a sugar cube head is printed on a large mirror hanging in the main dining room.

 
My favorite meals to spend here are breakfast and brunch, when stacks of fluffy, decadent pancakes arrive drizzled in butter and maple syrup. Wait, you must be thinking, they put the syrup and butter on before it reaches my table? Yes, but hold on. The kitchen balances the flavors to deliver the perfect amount of sweetness. The edges are lacy, the first bite crisp. Then, closer to the center, they turn creamy and light. This is my favorite dish on the menu.

 
One of the first things any French-trained chef learns is how to make an omelet. Stoffelen must have aced that class. Bread & Butterfly’s omelet has feathery edges that almost resemble rose petals. It comes with a lip-puckering salad of crunchy mixed endive. At brunch a thick piece of toasted brioche loaf sets the stage for loosely scrambled and super buttery eggs topped with smoked trout. While the combination of eggs, toast, and crème fraîche sauce sings, the trout adds a superfluous note of smoke and seafood.

 
Raclette cheese is normally melted, scraped from a large hunk, and eaten with potatoes and veggies. At Bread & Butterfly it’s presented as a gooey riff on potato gratin and served with sour cornichons and the same salad as the omelet. The burger, which comes with crispy bistro fries, is fat, juicy, and just big enough. At almost an inch tall, the patty is topped with melted Swiss, mayonnaise, grain mustard, and caramelized onions, and served on a brioche bun. You’ll likely need an extra napkin.

 
The long, plump mussels of the moules frites special beckoned to me when I saw them delivered to another table. The sauce is a buttery sonnet of wine and clam liquor so good I dipped my fries in it. A roast chicken is covered in a mixture of crème fraîche and herbs prior to cooking. The luxe coating makes the meat incredibly moist and aromatic. Prices are reasonable — no dinner dish exceeds $18 — making Bread & Butterfly a great place to take a date or just stop in for a bite solo.

 
No value assigned

 
For a restaurant with Proof as its sister bakery, I expected the desserts to taste as good as they look. But a towering layer cake filled with fresh macerated blueberries had a spongy texture and was too moist. The chocolate cake lacked richness. A bit of coffee in the batter or a more intense chocolate might remedy this. The breakfast pastries and small treats are better, including meringues fit for an île flottante and perfect crumbly linzer cookies filled with raspberry jam. The baguette, also from Proof, is so airy and crusty it may dethrone Star Provisions.

 
The bartenders are chatty and friendly as they mix Americanos with Campari, sweet vermouth, and club soda, and slide Vieux Carres across the short marble-topped bar toward guests. As the wine and beverage director at Cakes & Ale since 2012, Jordan Smelt has made a name for himself among Atlanta oenophiles. With Bread & Butterfly now also under his purview, Smelt has focused on French wines for the restaurant’s short but strong list, although it does include six select North American wines in a section entitled ’Merica. Smelt is never far during dinner service to lend some guidance.

 
Service takes its cues from the French and feels professional and proud. Servers wear crisp white button downs and ties or bowties. My water glass always stayed full, even in a room packed with people waiting for brunch. I appreciate thoughtful touches like a sugar cube placed in the curve of the spoon next to my creamy morning cappuccino.

 
In a town where French concepts never seem to land with steady footing, Bread & Butterfly has found balance between the refined and approachable. Dining here is a pleasure I long for. I relish my early morning breakfasts of pancakes with cappuccino as much as a late night drink. Bread & Butterfly manages to feel as sweet and fluttery as a fling while possessing the staying power of true love. (4 out of 5 stars)

 
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Tuesday July 26, 2016 04:00 am EDT
The simple pleasure of Inman Park's cozy French cafe | more...
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 Summer appears to be the hot time to open a ramen shop in Atlanta. Jinya Ramen Bar (5975 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs), an LA-based chain, quietly opened July 1 in Sandy Springs near the Whole Foods. Guy Wong (Miso Izakaya, Le Fat) opened his long-awaited ramen concept, Ton Ton, inside Ponce City Market July 7. 

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    It is too early to pass judgement on both, but it’s safe to say that Atlanta’s ramen scene is heating up. Up next in our ever-growing ramen market? Chef Mihoko Obunai’s Nexto, which is holding pop-up nights that you can track on Facebook. "
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  Both restaurants serve a variety of ramen, are open for lunch and dinner, and have been packed ever since they opened. During my visit to Jinya, I noticed people choosing to eat their ramen outside on the porch even though it was above 90 degrees that day. After a 20-minute wait on Saturday afternoon, I scored a table and, eventually, a bowl of spicy chicken ramen (I added a poached egg and ground chicken from the add-on menu). I also paid a visit to Ton Ton shortly after they officially opened last week. Wong was working the line and looked hyper-focused on making sure every single bowl of ramen was perfect before it left the kitchen. I went with the Hakata Tonkotsu Classic at Ton Ton.

    It is too early to pass judgement on both, but it’s safe to say that Atlanta’s ramen scene is heating up. Up next in our ever-growing ramen market? Chef Mihoko Obunai’s [http://www.nextoatl.com/|Nexto], which is holding pop-up nights that you can track on [https://www.facebook.com/nextoatl/|Facebook]. "
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 Summer appears to be the hot time to open a ramen shop in Atlanta. Jinya Ramen Bar (5975 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs), an LA-based chain, quietly opened July 1 in Sandy Springs near the Whole Foods. Guy Wong (Miso Izakaya, Le Fat) opened his long-awaited ramen concept, Ton Ton, inside Ponce City Market July 7. 

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    It is too early to pass judgement on both, but it’s safe to say that Atlanta’s ramen scene is heating up. Up next in our ever-growing ramen market? Chef Mihoko Obunai’s Nexto, which is holding pop-up nights that you can track on Facebook.              13087866 17438551        http://dev.creativeloafing.com/image/2016/07/0a2a94_screen_shot_2016_07_12_at_2.44.12_pm.png                  Omnivore - A (photo) tale of two ramens "
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Thursday July 14, 2016 08:08 am EDT

image-3
Summer appears to be the hot time to open a ramen shop in Atlanta. Jinya Ramen Bar (5975 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs), an LA-based chain, quietly opened July 1 in Sandy Springs near the Whole Foods. Guy Wong (Miso Izakaya, Le Fat) opened his long-awaited ramen concept, Ton Ton, inside Ponce City Market July 7. 

Both restaurants serve a variety of ramen, are open for lunch and...

| more...
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  string(35) "Restaurant Review: Ticonderoga Club"
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  string(69) "The Krog Street Market neighborhood tavern is firing on all cylinders"
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  string(6565) "There is a sign at Ticonderoga Club that reads: "We keep this joint and this joint keeps us (broke)." The scrappy quote seems appropriate coming from partners — and Atlanta restaurant royalty — Greg Best, Paul Calvert, Regan Smith, Bart Sasso, and David Bies. Between them, they have combined experience from Holeman and Finch, Restaurant Eugene, and Paper Plane. And it feels like they poured all of that combined institutional knowledge into their seven-month-old Krog Street Market tavern.

Named after the 18th-century French fort in upstate New York near Best's and Smith's hometowns of Poughkeepsie and Binghamton, Ticonderoga's vibe is both eccentric and amusing. A perennially cheerful Smith greets diners at the host stand and surveys the room to ensure service is a step ahead of the customer. It always is. Multicolored Christmas lights dangle from the top of the bar, a framed John Travolta picture sits high on a shelf, and vintage stained glass lamps hang above the dining room's two patchwork leather booths. The shiny wooden bar feels like a modern riff on an old-timey saloon. Its sides are painted with the lower halves of colonially clad soldiers that, when viewed from just the right angle, align with the bartenders' visible upper bodies. It's an illusion — not a trick.

Chef David Bies' return is a win for Atlanta. As Restaurant Eugene's former chef de cuisine, Bies demonstrated his fine dining artistry. After Eugene, Bies traveled throughout Europe, Central America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia for three years, and his affinity for the many different cuisines he encountered is evident at Ticonderoga.

As unassuming as the restaurant looks, eating there feels like an explosion of glitter to the face. Fancies (small plates), dinner (larger dishes), and table sides (self-explanatory) comprise the menu. Only one item is served at lunch: the Spiedie, which is a tangy marinated chicken sandwich popular in upstate New York that's served on a sesame hoagie roll with shredded lettuce and a creamy mayo sauce. Ticonderoga also offers a funky little brunch on weekends. The actual menu is illustrated! For example, the Hard Back Breakfast — eggs over "Eazy" with meat, potatoes, and toast — is listed next to a caricature of Eazy E.

image-1
At dinner one night I fell in love with a thick slab of grilled foie gras — its fat smoky and caramelized — that was paired with finely chopped, rehydrated Michigan cherries and spread over buttery white toast. Bies looks to India for inspiration in his Sweetbreads 65 dish, a golden oval of shallot-encrusted sweetbreads served over tangy, cucumber-studded goat's milk raita. The fork-tender sweetbreads were spicy from the kashmiri chilies in the 65 sauce. I found that generous swipes through the cool yogurt tamed the heat nicely. Ticonderoga's vegan noodle bowl is the one dish I crave and must order whenever I'm there. It's a spicy veggie-heavy take on Singapore noodles coated in dry madras curry. The vermicelli tangles with whatever vegetables farmer friends bring that day. The three versions I have had contained everything from turnips to bok choy.

Ticonderoga's Ipswich clam roll may be one of the best clam sandwiches in town, perhaps in the country. Bies personally picks up his clam bellies (the best part of the clam due to its rich flavor and texture) from the airport nearly every week. He coats the bellies in a light breading, fries them, and then stuffs them into a top-sliced white bun slathered in tartar sauce.

The chef's Restaurant Eugene roots peek out in side dishes such as al dente hakurei turnips and asparagus bathed in an emulsified lemon butter sauce. A side of smashed potatoes crisped up with butter is like a fine dining homage to Waffle House hash browns. A smear of lemony crème fraiche and smattering of chives are the only embellishments, but the richness of the Yukon gold potatoes and bright crème fraiche make the otherwise simple side feel luxurious.

After dining here numerous times, I have experienced just two missteps — one serious and the other less so. When you order Ticonderoga's three-pound sous vide chuck roast, the staff rings a bell near the bar and shouts, "Chuck wagonnnnnn!" The commotion causes everyone to turn their heads toward the platter of sliced beef doused in maître d'hôtel butter as it makes its way through the dining room. After waiting in hot anticipation, I plucked a medium-rare slice from the plate and got to cutting. It wasn't easy. The texture of the meat was so chewy it felt like I was eating beef bubble gum. The other slip was a side of wok-fried leafy greens that came out bitter and slightly burnt.

image-2
For cocktail fans, having both Calvert and Best running the bar is like a dream come true. Calvert says the goal for the cocktail and wine lists was to keep them short and focused and to change them infrequently so people could rely on certain drinks being there. Smith and Calvert's relationships with distilleries and winemakers set the foundation for Ticonderoga's offerings. The cocktails are well balanced, but make no effort to mask the spirits' booziness. The house Ticonderoga Cup is a powerful punch made with rum, cognac, sherry, pineapple, and lemon poured over pellet ice packed into a copper cup and crowned with a sprig of mint. The Eveready is a spicy, sippable mezcal drink made fruity with the additions of lime, raspberry, ginger, and cucumber.

Ticonderoga's food-friendly wine menu is a true connoisseur's list with 13 by-the-glass wines (sparkling, white, red, and fortified), 12 bottle-only, and one 12-year El Maestro Sierra Amontillado sherry. There are also several ciders, which are popping up everywhere right now, and beers on draft, in bottles, and in cans.

Considering the partners' pedigree, Ticonderoga is refreshingly affordable for a place of its ilk. During a visit where my table ordered multiple drinks and more food than three people could ever eat, the bill came out to be $150. Calvert says they wanted Ticonderoga to be a place where you could come have a clam roll and a beer or throw down and buy a $200 bottle of vintage champagne if you wanted to.

One night as I greedily forked the last bits from the bottom of the vegan noodle bowl, I imagined how cool it would be to enter these doors as someone who knows nothing of its background. The drinks would amaze me and Bies' food would be a delightful surprise. Yet, even after five visits, I still look forward to the next just like it was my first. (4 out of 5 stars)

image-3"
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  string(6579) "There is a sign at Ticonderoga Club that reads: "We keep this joint and this joint keeps us (broke)." The scrappy quote seems appropriate coming from partners — and Atlanta restaurant royalty — Greg Best, Paul Calvert, Regan Smith, Bart Sasso, and David Bies. Between them, they have combined experience from Holeman and Finch, Restaurant Eugene, and Paper Plane. And it feels like they poured all of that combined institutional knowledge into their seven-month-old Krog Street Market tavern.

Named after the 18th-century French fort in upstate New York near Best's and Smith's hometowns of Poughkeepsie and Binghamton, Ticonderoga's vibe is both eccentric and amusing. A perennially cheerful Smith greets diners at the host stand and surveys the room to ensure service is a step ahead of the customer. It always is. Multicolored Christmas lights dangle from the top of the bar, a framed John Travolta picture sits high on a shelf, and vintage stained glass lamps hang above the dining room's two patchwork leather booths. The shiny wooden bar feels like a modern riff on an old-timey saloon. Its sides are painted with the lower halves of colonially clad soldiers that, when viewed from just the right angle, align with the bartenders' visible upper bodies. It's an ''illusion'' — not a trick.

Chef David Bies' return is a win for Atlanta. As Restaurant Eugene's former chef de cuisine, Bies demonstrated his fine dining artistry. After Eugene, Bies traveled throughout Europe, Central America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia for three years, and his affinity for the many different cuisines he encountered is evident at Ticonderoga.

As unassuming as the restaurant looks, eating there feels like an explosion of glitter to the face. Fancies (small plates), dinner (larger dishes), and table sides (self-explanatory) comprise the menu. Only one item is served at lunch: the Spiedie, which is a tangy marinated chicken sandwich popular in upstate New York that's served on a sesame hoagie roll with shredded lettuce and a creamy mayo sauce. Ticonderoga also offers a funky little brunch on weekends. The actual menu is illustrated! For example, the Hard Back Breakfast — eggs over "Eazy" with meat, potatoes, and toast — is listed next to a caricature of Eazy E.

[image-1]
At dinner one night I fell in love with a thick slab of grilled foie gras — its fat smoky and caramelized — that was paired with finely chopped, rehydrated Michigan cherries and spread over buttery white toast. Bies looks to India for inspiration in his Sweetbreads 65 dish, a golden oval of shallot-encrusted sweetbreads served over tangy, cucumber-studded goat's milk raita. The fork-tender sweetbreads were spicy from the kashmiri chilies in the 65 sauce. I found that generous swipes through the cool yogurt tamed the heat nicely. Ticonderoga's vegan noodle bowl is the one dish I crave and must order whenever I'm there. It's a spicy veggie-heavy take on Singapore noodles coated in dry madras curry. The vermicelli tangles with whatever vegetables farmer friends bring that day. The three versions I have had contained everything from turnips to bok choy.

Ticonderoga's Ipswich clam roll may be one of the best clam sandwiches in town, perhaps in the country. Bies personally picks up his clam bellies (the best part of the clam due to its rich flavor and texture) from the airport nearly every week. He coats the bellies in a light breading, fries them, and then stuffs them into a top-sliced white bun slathered in tartar sauce.

The chef's Restaurant Eugene roots peek out in side dishes such as al dente hakurei turnips and asparagus bathed in an emulsified lemon butter sauce. A side of smashed potatoes crisped up with butter is like a fine dining homage to Waffle House hash browns. A smear of lemony crème fraiche and smattering of chives are the only embellishments, but the richness of the Yukon gold potatoes and bright crème fraiche make the otherwise simple side feel luxurious.

After dining here numerous times, I have experienced just two missteps — one serious and the other less so. When you order Ticonderoga's three-pound sous vide chuck roast, the staff rings a bell near the bar and shouts, "Chuck wagonnnnnn!" The commotion causes everyone to turn their heads toward the platter of sliced beef doused in maître d'hôtel butter as it makes its way through the dining room. After waiting in hot anticipation, I plucked a medium-rare slice from the plate and got to cutting. It wasn't easy. The texture of the meat was so chewy it felt like I was eating beef bubble gum. The other slip was a side of wok-fried leafy greens that came out bitter and slightly burnt.

[image-2]
For cocktail fans, having both Calvert and Best running the bar is like a dream come true. Calvert says the goal for the cocktail and wine lists was to keep them short and focused and to change them infrequently so people could rely on certain drinks being there. Smith and Calvert's relationships with distilleries and winemakers set the foundation for Ticonderoga's offerings. The cocktails are well balanced, but make no effort to mask the spirits' booziness. The house Ticonderoga Cup is a powerful punch made with rum, cognac, sherry, pineapple, and lemon poured over pellet ice packed into a copper cup and crowned with a sprig of mint. The Eveready is a spicy, sippable mezcal drink made fruity with the additions of lime, raspberry, ginger, and cucumber.

Ticonderoga's food-friendly wine menu is a true connoisseur's list with 13 by-the-glass wines (sparkling, white, red, and fortified), 12 bottle-only, and one 12-year El Maestro Sierra Amontillado sherry. There are also several ciders, which are popping up everywhere right now, and beers on draft, in bottles, and in cans.

Considering the partners' pedigree, Ticonderoga is refreshingly affordable for a place of its ilk. During a visit where my table ordered multiple drinks and more food than three people could ever eat, the bill came out to be $150. Calvert says they wanted Ticonderoga to be a place where you could come have a clam roll and a beer or throw down and buy a $200 bottle of vintage champagne if you wanted to.

One night as I greedily forked the last bits from the bottom of the vegan noodle bowl, I imagined how cool it would be to enter these doors as someone who knows nothing of its background. The drinks would amaze me and Bies' food would be a delightful surprise. Yet, even after five visits, I still look forward to the next just like it was my first. __(4 out of 5 stars)__

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  string(6927) "    The Krog Street Market neighborhood tavern is firing on all cylinders   2016-06-02T08:00:00+00:00 Restaurant Review: Ticonderoga Club   Jennifer Zyman 1306510 2016-06-02T08:00:00+00:00  There is a sign at Ticonderoga Club that reads: "We keep this joint and this joint keeps us (broke)." The scrappy quote seems appropriate coming from partners — and Atlanta restaurant royalty — Greg Best, Paul Calvert, Regan Smith, Bart Sasso, and David Bies. Between them, they have combined experience from Holeman and Finch, Restaurant Eugene, and Paper Plane. And it feels like they poured all of that combined institutional knowledge into their seven-month-old Krog Street Market tavern.

Named after the 18th-century French fort in upstate New York near Best's and Smith's hometowns of Poughkeepsie and Binghamton, Ticonderoga's vibe is both eccentric and amusing. A perennially cheerful Smith greets diners at the host stand and surveys the room to ensure service is a step ahead of the customer. It always is. Multicolored Christmas lights dangle from the top of the bar, a framed John Travolta picture sits high on a shelf, and vintage stained glass lamps hang above the dining room's two patchwork leather booths. The shiny wooden bar feels like a modern riff on an old-timey saloon. Its sides are painted with the lower halves of colonially clad soldiers that, when viewed from just the right angle, align with the bartenders' visible upper bodies. It's an illusion — not a trick.

Chef David Bies' return is a win for Atlanta. As Restaurant Eugene's former chef de cuisine, Bies demonstrated his fine dining artistry. After Eugene, Bies traveled throughout Europe, Central America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia for three years, and his affinity for the many different cuisines he encountered is evident at Ticonderoga.

As unassuming as the restaurant looks, eating there feels like an explosion of glitter to the face. Fancies (small plates), dinner (larger dishes), and table sides (self-explanatory) comprise the menu. Only one item is served at lunch: the Spiedie, which is a tangy marinated chicken sandwich popular in upstate New York that's served on a sesame hoagie roll with shredded lettuce and a creamy mayo sauce. Ticonderoga also offers a funky little brunch on weekends. The actual menu is illustrated! For example, the Hard Back Breakfast — eggs over "Eazy" with meat, potatoes, and toast — is listed next to a caricature of Eazy E.

image-1
At dinner one night I fell in love with a thick slab of grilled foie gras — its fat smoky and caramelized — that was paired with finely chopped, rehydrated Michigan cherries and spread over buttery white toast. Bies looks to India for inspiration in his Sweetbreads 65 dish, a golden oval of shallot-encrusted sweetbreads served over tangy, cucumber-studded goat's milk raita. The fork-tender sweetbreads were spicy from the kashmiri chilies in the 65 sauce. I found that generous swipes through the cool yogurt tamed the heat nicely. Ticonderoga's vegan noodle bowl is the one dish I crave and must order whenever I'm there. It's a spicy veggie-heavy take on Singapore noodles coated in dry madras curry. The vermicelli tangles with whatever vegetables farmer friends bring that day. The three versions I have had contained everything from turnips to bok choy.

Ticonderoga's Ipswich clam roll may be one of the best clam sandwiches in town, perhaps in the country. Bies personally picks up his clam bellies (the best part of the clam due to its rich flavor and texture) from the airport nearly every week. He coats the bellies in a light breading, fries them, and then stuffs them into a top-sliced white bun slathered in tartar sauce.

The chef's Restaurant Eugene roots peek out in side dishes such as al dente hakurei turnips and asparagus bathed in an emulsified lemon butter sauce. A side of smashed potatoes crisped up with butter is like a fine dining homage to Waffle House hash browns. A smear of lemony crème fraiche and smattering of chives are the only embellishments, but the richness of the Yukon gold potatoes and bright crème fraiche make the otherwise simple side feel luxurious.

After dining here numerous times, I have experienced just two missteps — one serious and the other less so. When you order Ticonderoga's three-pound sous vide chuck roast, the staff rings a bell near the bar and shouts, "Chuck wagonnnnnn!" The commotion causes everyone to turn their heads toward the platter of sliced beef doused in maître d'hôtel butter as it makes its way through the dining room. After waiting in hot anticipation, I plucked a medium-rare slice from the plate and got to cutting. It wasn't easy. The texture of the meat was so chewy it felt like I was eating beef bubble gum. The other slip was a side of wok-fried leafy greens that came out bitter and slightly burnt.

image-2
For cocktail fans, having both Calvert and Best running the bar is like a dream come true. Calvert says the goal for the cocktail and wine lists was to keep them short and focused and to change them infrequently so people could rely on certain drinks being there. Smith and Calvert's relationships with distilleries and winemakers set the foundation for Ticonderoga's offerings. The cocktails are well balanced, but make no effort to mask the spirits' booziness. The house Ticonderoga Cup is a powerful punch made with rum, cognac, sherry, pineapple, and lemon poured over pellet ice packed into a copper cup and crowned with a sprig of mint. The Eveready is a spicy, sippable mezcal drink made fruity with the additions of lime, raspberry, ginger, and cucumber.

Ticonderoga's food-friendly wine menu is a true connoisseur's list with 13 by-the-glass wines (sparkling, white, red, and fortified), 12 bottle-only, and one 12-year El Maestro Sierra Amontillado sherry. There are also several ciders, which are popping up everywhere right now, and beers on draft, in bottles, and in cans.

Considering the partners' pedigree, Ticonderoga is refreshingly affordable for a place of its ilk. During a visit where my table ordered multiple drinks and more food than three people could ever eat, the bill came out to be $150. Calvert says they wanted Ticonderoga to be a place where you could come have a clam roll and a beer or throw down and buy a $200 bottle of vintage champagne if you wanted to.

One night as I greedily forked the last bits from the bottom of the vegan noodle bowl, I imagined how cool it would be to enter these doors as someone who knows nothing of its background. The drinks would amaze me and Bies' food would be a delightful surprise. Yet, even after five visits, I still look forward to the next just like it was my first. (4 out of 5 stars)

image-3             13087483 17255522        http://dev.creativeloafing.com/image/2016/06/074b65_food_review1_1_06_magnum.png                  Restaurant Review: Ticonderoga Club "
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Thursday June 2, 2016 04:00 am EDT
The Krog Street Market neighborhood tavern is firing on all cylinders | more...
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  string(5042) "If you found yourself shrugging when it was announced that celebrity chef Jonathan Waxman was opening a restaurant in town, don't fret. You weren't alone. Waxman was a pioneer of California cuisine, with contemporaries such as Alice Waters and Jeremiah Towers. Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold once called him "the Eric Clapton of chefs." Waxman became a more current household name thanks to a recent stint on Bravo's "Top Chef Masters." He has restaurants in New York, Nashville, and now, since opening Brezza Cucina in October 2015, Atlanta. In short, he is kind of a big deal.

But these days it takes more than the name of a famous out-of-town chef to woo and captivate Atlantans.

Atlanta is proud of its homegrown talent — chefs like Adam Evans, whom Waxman enlisted to sail his Atlanta ship. Evans was the soul of the cooking that put the Optimist on the map. He paid his dues working there and at Ford Fry's flagship JCT. Kitchen and Tom Collichio's short-lived Craftbar before that. In recent years, Evans has enjoyed substantial creative freedom and his cooking seemed to thrive in such environments. But at Brezza, the talented chef appears to have been benched.

The restaurant bills itself as a modern Italian American restaurant. Since opening in Ponce City Market last fall it has been packed with Beltline enthusiasts and market shoppers. The dining room — about the size and shape of an Olympic swimming pool — is sparsely decorated. The vibe is industrial chic with painted white bricks, high factory ceilings, and large windows that allow an abundance of natural light to stream in during the day. At night, the room is warmly lit with string lights and the fiery glow of a wood-burning oven.

The menu is separated into the classic categories antipasti, secondi, and contorni, and dolci. Waxman's initials are everywhere on the menu. You don't see much of Evans at all, which is a shame. 

image-1
The JW kale salad, which is made with silky chopped kale tossed in a pungent anchovy dressing and topped with a delightful smattering of breadcrumbs, was one of the most enjoyable dishes I tried. A simple starter of plump grilled oysters was brightened with tangy balsamic butter and a simple squeeze of lemon. Cubes of crispy pork belly were the stars of a plate that embodied springtime — the juicy hunks of pork counterbalanced with radishes and peas atop a spring pea puree.

Most of the pastas I tried were overcooked. Strands of thick bucatini — chewy and swollen with too much water — tossed with Sapelo Island clams and guanciale were awkward to eat in the tall bowl they were served in. The gnocchi, which is served in a cast iron pan finished in the oven, tasted salty and burned. Fresh raviolis filled with smooth ricotta were the one bright spot. The delicate pockets finished with ramps, morels, and a buttery sauce were a treat.

Despite being prepared in an elaborate wood-burning oven, Brezza's pizzas were also a disappointment. At the high temperatures such ovens are capable of reaching, the pizza's dough should have exploded into a puffy, airy crust. Instead, it resembled a dense focaccia. The basic tomato and mozzarella pizza tasted like it was made with quality ingredients, but the lackluster texture was so disheartening much of the pizza went untouched. Another pie made with mozzarella, crispy prosciutto, tomato, and arugula came with a pepper jelly that was so cloyingly sweet the pizza was almost inedible.

Brezza's JW roast chicken, however, is a solid entrée choice. Half a bone-in chicken is cooked in the wood oven and then finished with a bright Italian salsa verde made with anchovies, parsley, garlic, olive oil, capers, and vinegar. Try it with a side of the addictive fried potatoes covered in grated Parmesan.

image-3
The meal ended sweetly. A bittersweet chocolate budino topped with whipped cream was rich and thick. The accompanying biscotti provided a nice crunch to the creamy pudding. A lighter option, the chocolate and sea salt sorbet, had a smooth, pleasing texture and just enough chocolate flavor to make it feel indulgent.

The two cocktails I chose from Brezza's list of five rather uninteresting options were unbalanced and poorly executed. The JW Paloma — El Jimador tequila, grapefruit, and soda — was heavy on the tequila. The shrub cocktail was an odd-tasting mix of vodka, balsamic preserved citrus, ginger, and red wine.

For the most part, Brezza accomplishes what it set out to accomplish. It’s a trendy, attractive restaurant with mass-market appeal. But it lacks creativity, personality, and soul. There were moments when I felt like I was in a turn-and-burn resort restaurant. 

My biggest grievance, however, isn’t related to Brezza’s concept or the kitchen’s technical missteps. It’s that the restaurant doesn’t seem to be utilizing its most valuable asset: Evans. I hope Waxman will loosen the reins and let Evans do what we know he is good at: cooking food with a lot of heart. (2 out of 5 stars)

image-2"
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  string(5052) "If you found yourself shrugging when it was announced that celebrity chef Jonathan Waxman was opening a restaurant in town, don't fret. You weren't alone. Waxman was a pioneer of California cuisine, with contemporaries such as Alice Waters and Jeremiah Towers. Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold once called him "the Eric Clapton of chefs." Waxman became a more current household name thanks to a recent stint on Bravo's "Top Chef Masters." He has restaurants in New York, Nashville, and now, since opening Brezza Cucina in October 2015, Atlanta. In short, he is kind of a big deal.

But these days it takes more than the name of a famous out-of-town chef to woo and captivate Atlantans.

Atlanta is proud of its homegrown talent — chefs like Adam Evans, whom Waxman enlisted to sail his Atlanta ship. Evans was the soul of the cooking that put the Optimist on the map. He paid his dues working there and at Ford Fry's flagship JCT. Kitchen and Tom Collichio's short-lived Craftbar before that. In recent years, Evans has enjoyed substantial creative freedom and his cooking seemed to thrive in such environments. But at Brezza, the talented chef appears to have been benched.

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The menu is separated into the classic categories antipasti, secondi, and contorni, and dolci. Waxman's initials are everywhere on the menu. You don't see much of Evans at all, which is a shame. 

[image-1]
The JW kale salad, which is made with silky chopped kale tossed in a pungent anchovy dressing and topped with a delightful smattering of breadcrumbs, was one of the most enjoyable dishes I tried. A simple starter of plump grilled oysters was brightened with tangy balsamic butter and a simple squeeze of lemon. Cubes of crispy pork belly were the stars of a plate that embodied springtime — the juicy hunks of pork counterbalanced with radishes and peas atop a spring pea puree.

Most of the pastas I tried were overcooked. Strands of thick bucatini — chewy and swollen with too much water — tossed with Sapelo Island clams and guanciale were awkward to eat in the tall bowl they were served in. The gnocchi, which is served in a cast iron pan finished in the oven, tasted salty and burned. Fresh raviolis filled with smooth ricotta were the one bright spot. The delicate pockets finished with ramps, morels, and a buttery sauce were a treat.

Despite being prepared in an elaborate wood-burning oven, Brezza's pizzas were also a disappointment. At the high temperatures such ovens are capable of reaching, the pizza's dough should have exploded into a puffy, airy crust. Instead, it resembled a dense focaccia. The basic tomato and mozzarella pizza tasted like it was made with quality ingredients, but the lackluster texture was so disheartening much of the pizza went untouched. Another pie made with mozzarella, crispy prosciutto, tomato, and arugula came with a pepper jelly that was so cloyingly sweet the pizza was almost inedible.

Brezza's JW roast chicken, however, is a solid entrée choice. Half a bone-in chicken is cooked in the wood oven and then finished with a bright Italian salsa verde made with anchovies, parsley, garlic, olive oil, capers, and vinegar. Try it with a side of the addictive fried potatoes covered in grated Parmesan.

[image-3]
The meal ended sweetly. A bittersweet chocolate budino topped with whipped cream was rich and thick. The accompanying biscotti provided a nice crunch to the creamy pudding. A lighter option, the chocolate and sea salt sorbet, had a smooth, pleasing texture and just enough chocolate flavor to make it feel indulgent.

The two cocktails I chose from Brezza's list of five rather uninteresting options were unbalanced and poorly executed. The JW Paloma — El Jimador tequila, grapefruit, and soda — was heavy on the tequila. The shrub cocktail was an odd-tasting mix of vodka, balsamic preserved citrus, ginger, and red wine.

For the most part, Brezza accomplishes what it set out to accomplish. It’s a trendy, attractive restaurant with mass-market appeal. But it lacks creativity, personality, and soul. There were moments when I felt like I was in a turn-and-burn resort restaurant. 

My biggest grievance, however, isn’t related to Brezza’s concept or the kitchen’s technical missteps. It’s that the restaurant doesn’t seem to be utilizing its most valuable asset: Evans. I hope Waxman will loosen the reins and let Evans do what we know he is good at: cooking food with a lot of heart. __(2 out of 5 stars)__

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Atlanta is proud of its homegrown talent — chefs like Adam Evans, whom Waxman enlisted to sail his Atlanta ship. Evans was the soul of the cooking that put the Optimist on the map. He paid his dues working there and at Ford Fry's flagship JCT. Kitchen and Tom Collichio's short-lived Craftbar before that. In recent years, Evans has enjoyed substantial creative freedom and his cooking seemed to thrive in such environments. But at Brezza, the talented chef appears to have been benched.

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The menu is separated into the classic categories antipasti, secondi, and contorni, and dolci. Waxman's initials are everywhere on the menu. You don't see much of Evans at all, which is a shame. 

image-1
The JW kale salad, which is made with silky chopped kale tossed in a pungent anchovy dressing and topped with a delightful smattering of breadcrumbs, was one of the most enjoyable dishes I tried. A simple starter of plump grilled oysters was brightened with tangy balsamic butter and a simple squeeze of lemon. Cubes of crispy pork belly were the stars of a plate that embodied springtime — the juicy hunks of pork counterbalanced with radishes and peas atop a spring pea puree.

Most of the pastas I tried were overcooked. Strands of thick bucatini — chewy and swollen with too much water — tossed with Sapelo Island clams and guanciale were awkward to eat in the tall bowl they were served in. The gnocchi, which is served in a cast iron pan finished in the oven, tasted salty and burned. Fresh raviolis filled with smooth ricotta were the one bright spot. The delicate pockets finished with ramps, morels, and a buttery sauce were a treat.

Despite being prepared in an elaborate wood-burning oven, Brezza's pizzas were also a disappointment. At the high temperatures such ovens are capable of reaching, the pizza's dough should have exploded into a puffy, airy crust. Instead, it resembled a dense focaccia. The basic tomato and mozzarella pizza tasted like it was made with quality ingredients, but the lackluster texture was so disheartening much of the pizza went untouched. Another pie made with mozzarella, crispy prosciutto, tomato, and arugula came with a pepper jelly that was so cloyingly sweet the pizza was almost inedible.

Brezza's JW roast chicken, however, is a solid entrée choice. Half a bone-in chicken is cooked in the wood oven and then finished with a bright Italian salsa verde made with anchovies, parsley, garlic, olive oil, capers, and vinegar. Try it with a side of the addictive fried potatoes covered in grated Parmesan.

image-3
The meal ended sweetly. A bittersweet chocolate budino topped with whipped cream was rich and thick. The accompanying biscotti provided a nice crunch to the creamy pudding. A lighter option, the chocolate and sea salt sorbet, had a smooth, pleasing texture and just enough chocolate flavor to make it feel indulgent.

The two cocktails I chose from Brezza's list of five rather uninteresting options were unbalanced and poorly executed. The JW Paloma — El Jimador tequila, grapefruit, and soda — was heavy on the tequila. The shrub cocktail was an odd-tasting mix of vodka, balsamic preserved citrus, ginger, and red wine.

For the most part, Brezza accomplishes what it set out to accomplish. It’s a trendy, attractive restaurant with mass-market appeal. But it lacks creativity, personality, and soul. There were moments when I felt like I was in a turn-and-burn resort restaurant. 

My biggest grievance, however, isn’t related to Brezza’s concept or the kitchen’s technical missteps. It’s that the restaurant doesn’t seem to be utilizing its most valuable asset: Evans. I hope Waxman will loosen the reins and let Evans do what we know he is good at: cooking food with a lot of heart. (2 out of 5 stars)

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Article

Wednesday May 4, 2016 04:00 am EDT
Celeb chef Jonathan Waxman's first Atlanta restaurant lacks local appeal | more...
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  string(7078) "While dining with my friend Michael Dellaporta at Staplehouse one night, he told me how happy he was that the restaurant had finally opened. Michaels' wife, Kristen Mohn Dellaporta, had many plans to help the Giving Kitchen, the charitable foundation that benefits from 100 percent of Staplehouse's profits. As CFO of Abbadabba's, Kristen wanted to give restaurant professionals discounts on quality, no-slip work shoes. But cancer interrupted all of her plans. Kristen passed away in December 2015.

The Giving Kitchen was born out of a tragedy related to cancer when Staplehouse's original chef, Ryan Hidinger, was diagnosed and passed away in January 2014 at 36. Hidinger's supporters, close friends, and family founded the nonprofit in the late chef's honor to help those still struggling with hardship. In September 2015, Hidinger's wife, Jen, his sister, Kara, and brother-in-law Ryan Smith — with the help of countless community donations — opened Staplehouse in Old Fourth Ward.

But this story isn't about the Giving Kitchen's origins or the organization's life-changing work. By now most of us are familiar with that tale. This review is about the restaurant and its head chef, Ryan Smith, who is cooking the best food of his career.

Smith, who has worked under great chefs such as Restaurant Eugene's Linton Hopkins and Hugh Acheson of Empire State South, was recognized early on for his skill. He left his post at Empire State South in fall 2013 to focus on launching Staplehouse with copartners, Jen, Business Manager and TGK Spokesperson, and Kara, the restaurant's general manager. Prior to this venture, Smith's career had always consisted of executing, albeit collaboratively, someone else's vision. This is the first time we're getting to experience Smith's blend of regional, New American-modernist cuisine unfiltered.

image-1
Located in a charming, two-story building on Edgewood Avenue, Staplehouse manages to feel both casual and refined. Exposed brick walls give the space a contemporary urban loft vibe. Laid out in a plane-like configuration, banquette seating and wood tables line the length of the dining room. One end is home to a modest bar and large windows that overlook Edgewood. The back of the restaurant — where the main entrance, host's stand, and patio are all located — is where Smith and his crew can be found cooking in the bright open kitchen.

Staplehouse uses the Tock online ticketing system, where, if you choose the chef's five-course tasting menu for $85, you pay for the meal plus tax and gratuity in advance. The tasting menu is a lengthy and filling experience. In fact, on one occasion I was so full from a freshly baked intermezzo of potato bread and whipped olive oil I barely touched the duck breast course that followed.

Although the tasting menu has variations and dishes that aren't available otherwise, ordering a la carte is a more cost-effective way for a group to taste most of the menu. Theoretically, if a table of three chose to order every a la carte dish that night (items ranged from $7 for the puffs to $49 for a ribeye during one of my visits) the total would come to $210. That is noticeably less than the $255 three tasting menus would cost. And that's before drinks.

Whether you splurge for the tasting or choose to order a la carte, Staplehouse is not the best fit for picky eaters or diners who habitually ask for substitutions. I imagine Staplehouse's intensely friendly — although sometimes scattered — staff would accommodate any diner request. But when you choose to come here, it's to experience Smith's unique perspective. Significantly altering dishes he's mindfully composed defeats the purpose of eating at a restaurant like Staplehouse in the first place.

Components such as a black-as-night pool of pleasantly bitter charred cabbage sauce or whipped beef fat that brought to mind a funky aged blue cheese showcase Smith's affinity for intense and exaggerated flavors. Another time, a tamer, sweeter version of the beef fat was dolloped onto a silky King crab leg terrine. The chef finished the dish with a bright green celery oil vinaigrette splattered dramatically across the plate.

image-2
During each of my visits, I was served wedge of "charred" cabbage. One night, the earthy vegetable was served in a smoky n'duja sausage broth. My favorite version found the sweet and tender vegetable blanketed in an ethereal layer of sake bushi (shaved cured salmon). The sublime dish exemplifies Smith's ability to keep things simple and let worthy ingredients shine without excessive manipulation.

Smith also reduces his reliance on traditional fats like butter. In the farro piccolo with crispy roasted mushrooms, for example, it is buttery sunflower seeds and a runny egg yolk that give the dish its rich and creamy heft. One of my favorite dishes, a towering pile of sweet baby turnips — some the size of peanut M&Ms — and big chunks of pepperoni showed how incredible the chef's sauce-making skills are. The vibrant green sauce made from the turnip tops was sweetened by the addition of slow-cooked black garlic. The sweet notes of caramelized garlic are a perfect bright complement to the spicy and salty pepperoni and juicy turnips.

While the precise presentation is in line with Smith's visual and artistic plating style, the desserts lacked the thoughtfulness found on the rest of the menu. One night, for example, not only was a pistachio financier too dry, the tiny dill meringues it came with clashed with the citrusy cara cara sorbet. I would have preferred a wedge of cheese and, perhaps, this would be a good place for the warm potato bread that came before the meat course.

If you choose a tasting menu, wine pairings ($40) selected by beverage director and manager Stephen James bring out the best in Smith's cooking. If you prefer to order off the menu, James' wine list includes affordable and approachable wines such as Priorat by the glass or my favorite crisp springtime wine, the Bandol Rosé. The cocktail menu, which James also oversees, is exceptional. In fact, I have found myself pairing cocktails with my meal more than wine because of their vibrant, experimental nature. Anything the bar makes with tequila is both dangerously fun and refined. The El Diablo is a fruity concoction of tequila, creme de cassis, ginger beer, and lemon. The Penicillin, a powerful combination of scotch, honey, ginger, and lemon, was like a remedy to the bitter cold outside.

As I drank hot strong sips of that old-timey boozey cure-all, I felt at home and comforted in this family's restaurant. I watched as Kara, with her baby girl expertly positioned on her hip, seat guests before handing her daughter off to a relative, who was presumably taking her home for bed. The baby's exit was not complete without kisses from Dad in the kitchen and snuggles from Aunt Jen at the hostess stand. Between this family’s hospitality and Smith’s refreshing food, Staplehouse humbly redefines what a contemporary mom-and-pop eatery can be. (4 out of 5 stars)

image-3"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_raw"]=>
  string(7559) "While dining with my friend Michael Dellaporta at Staplehouse one night, he told me how happy he was that the restaurant had finally opened. Michaels' wife, Kristen Mohn Dellaporta, had many plans to help [http://clatl.com/atlanta/the-giving-kitchen-offers-restaurant-workers-economic-relief/Content?oid=14464153|the Giving Kitchen], the charitable foundation that benefits from 100 percent of Staplehouse's profits. As CFO of Abbadabba's, Kristen wanted to give restaurant professionals discounts on quality, no-slip work shoes. But cancer interrupted all of her plans. Kristen passed away in December 2015.

The Giving Kitchen was born out of a tragedy related to cancer when Staplehouse's original chef, Ryan Hidinger, was [http://clatl.com/omnivore/archives/2013/01/09/chef-ryan-hidinger-discloses-cancer-diagnosis-atlanta-restaurants-rally|diagnosed] and [http://clatl.com/omnivore/archives/2014/01/09/staplehouse-chef-ryan-hidinger-passes-away|passed away] in January 2014 at 36. Hidinger's supporters, close friends, and family founded the nonprofit in the late chef's honor to help those still struggling with hardship. In September 2015, Hidinger's wife, [http://clatl.com/atlanta/atlanta-according-to-jen-hidinger/Content?oid=16729206|Jen], his sister, Kara, and brother-in-law [http://clatl.com/atlanta/20-dinner-with-ryan-smith/Content?oid=3150471|Ryan Smith] — with the help of countless community donations — opened Staplehouse in Old Fourth Ward.

But this story isn't about the Giving Kitchen's origins or the organization's life-changing work. By now most of us are familiar with that tale. This review is about the restaurant and its head chef, Ryan Smith, who is cooking the best food of his career.

Smith, who has worked under great chefs such as Restaurant Eugene's Linton Hopkins and Hugh Acheson of Empire State South, was recognized early on for his skill. He left his post at Empire State South in fall 2013 to focus on launching Staplehouse with copartners, Jen, Business Manager and TGK Spokesperson, and Kara, the restaurant's general manager. Prior to this venture, Smith's career had always consisted of executing, albeit collaboratively, someone else's vision. This is the first time we're getting to experience Smith's blend of regional, New American-modernist cuisine unfiltered.

[image-1]
Located in a charming, two-story building on Edgewood Avenue, Staplehouse manages to feel both casual and refined. Exposed brick walls give the space a contemporary urban loft vibe. Laid out in a plane-like configuration, banquette seating and wood tables line the length of the dining room. One end is home to a modest bar and large windows that overlook Edgewood. The back of the restaurant — where the main entrance, host's stand, and patio are all located — is where Smith and his crew can be found cooking in the bright open kitchen.

Staplehouse uses the Tock online ticketing system, where, if you choose the chef's five-course tasting menu for $85, you pay for the meal plus tax and gratuity in advance. The tasting menu is a lengthy and filling experience. In fact, on one occasion I was so full from a freshly baked intermezzo of potato bread and whipped olive oil I barely touched the duck breast course that followed.

Although the tasting menu has variations and dishes that aren't available otherwise, ordering a la carte is a more cost-effective way for a group to taste most of the menu. Theoretically, if a table of three chose to order every a la carte dish that night (items ranged from $7 for the puffs to $49 for a ribeye during one of my visits) the total would come to $210. That is noticeably less than the $255 three tasting menus would cost. And that's before drinks.

Whether you splurge for the tasting or choose to order a la carte, Staplehouse is not the best fit for picky eaters or diners who habitually ask for substitutions. I imagine Staplehouse's intensely friendly — although sometimes scattered — staff would accommodate any diner request. But when you choose to come here, it's to experience Smith's unique perspective. Significantly altering dishes he's mindfully composed defeats the purpose of eating at a restaurant like Staplehouse in the first place.

Components such as a black-as-night pool of pleasantly bitter charred cabbage sauce or whipped beef fat that brought to mind a funky aged blue cheese showcase Smith's affinity for intense and exaggerated flavors. Another time, a tamer, sweeter version of the beef fat was dolloped onto a silky King crab leg terrine. The chef finished the dish with a bright green celery oil vinaigrette splattered dramatically across the plate.

[image-2]
During each of my visits, I was served wedge of "charred" cabbage. One night, the earthy vegetable was served in a smoky n'duja sausage broth. My favorite version found the sweet and tender vegetable blanketed in an ethereal layer of sake bushi (shaved cured salmon). The sublime dish exemplifies Smith's ability to keep things simple and let worthy ingredients shine without excessive manipulation.

Smith also reduces his reliance on traditional fats like butter. In the farro piccolo with crispy roasted mushrooms, for example, it is buttery sunflower seeds and a runny egg yolk that give the dish its rich and creamy heft. One of my favorite dishes, a towering pile of sweet baby turnips — some the size of peanut M&Ms — and big chunks of pepperoni showed how incredible the chef's sauce-making skills are. The vibrant green sauce made from the turnip tops was sweetened by the addition of slow-cooked black garlic. The sweet notes of caramelized garlic are a perfect bright complement to the spicy and salty pepperoni and juicy turnips.

While the precise presentation is in line with Smith's visual and artistic plating style, the desserts lacked the thoughtfulness found on the rest of the menu. One night, for example, not only was a pistachio financier too dry, the tiny dill meringues it came with clashed with the citrusy cara cara sorbet. I would have preferred a wedge of cheese and, perhaps, this would be a good place for the warm potato bread that came before the meat course.

If you choose a tasting menu, wine pairings ($40) selected by beverage director and manager Stephen James bring out the best in Smith's cooking. If you prefer to order off the menu, James' wine list includes affordable and approachable wines such as Priorat by the glass or my favorite crisp springtime wine, the Bandol Rosé. The cocktail menu, which James also oversees, is exceptional. In fact, I have found myself pairing cocktails with my meal more than wine because of their vibrant, experimental nature. Anything the bar makes with tequila is both dangerously fun and refined. The El Diablo is a fruity concoction of tequila, creme de cassis, ginger beer, and lemon. The Penicillin, a powerful combination of scotch, honey, ginger, and lemon, was like a remedy to the bitter cold outside.

As I drank hot strong sips of that old-timey boozey cure-all, I felt at home and comforted in this family's restaurant. I watched as Kara, with her baby girl expertly positioned on her hip, seat guests before handing her daughter off to a relative, who was presumably taking her home for bed. The baby's exit was not complete without kisses from Dad in the kitchen and snuggles from Aunt Jen at the hostess stand. Between this family’s hospitality and Smith’s refreshing food, Staplehouse humbly redefines what a contemporary mom-and-pop eatery can be. __(4 out of 5 stars)__

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  string(7409) "    Chef Ryan Smith shines at philanthropic fine-dining gem   2016-03-30T08:00:00+00:00 Restaurant Review: Staplehouse   Jennifer Zyman 1306510 2016-03-30T08:00:00+00:00  While dining with my friend Michael Dellaporta at Staplehouse one night, he told me how happy he was that the restaurant had finally opened. Michaels' wife, Kristen Mohn Dellaporta, had many plans to help the Giving Kitchen, the charitable foundation that benefits from 100 percent of Staplehouse's profits. As CFO of Abbadabba's, Kristen wanted to give restaurant professionals discounts on quality, no-slip work shoes. But cancer interrupted all of her plans. Kristen passed away in December 2015.

The Giving Kitchen was born out of a tragedy related to cancer when Staplehouse's original chef, Ryan Hidinger, was diagnosed and passed away in January 2014 at 36. Hidinger's supporters, close friends, and family founded the nonprofit in the late chef's honor to help those still struggling with hardship. In September 2015, Hidinger's wife, Jen, his sister, Kara, and brother-in-law Ryan Smith — with the help of countless community donations — opened Staplehouse in Old Fourth Ward.

But this story isn't about the Giving Kitchen's origins or the organization's life-changing work. By now most of us are familiar with that tale. This review is about the restaurant and its head chef, Ryan Smith, who is cooking the best food of his career.

Smith, who has worked under great chefs such as Restaurant Eugene's Linton Hopkins and Hugh Acheson of Empire State South, was recognized early on for his skill. He left his post at Empire State South in fall 2013 to focus on launching Staplehouse with copartners, Jen, Business Manager and TGK Spokesperson, and Kara, the restaurant's general manager. Prior to this venture, Smith's career had always consisted of executing, albeit collaboratively, someone else's vision. This is the first time we're getting to experience Smith's blend of regional, New American-modernist cuisine unfiltered.

image-1
Located in a charming, two-story building on Edgewood Avenue, Staplehouse manages to feel both casual and refined. Exposed brick walls give the space a contemporary urban loft vibe. Laid out in a plane-like configuration, banquette seating and wood tables line the length of the dining room. One end is home to a modest bar and large windows that overlook Edgewood. The back of the restaurant — where the main entrance, host's stand, and patio are all located — is where Smith and his crew can be found cooking in the bright open kitchen.

Staplehouse uses the Tock online ticketing system, where, if you choose the chef's five-course tasting menu for $85, you pay for the meal plus tax and gratuity in advance. The tasting menu is a lengthy and filling experience. In fact, on one occasion I was so full from a freshly baked intermezzo of potato bread and whipped olive oil I barely touched the duck breast course that followed.

Although the tasting menu has variations and dishes that aren't available otherwise, ordering a la carte is a more cost-effective way for a group to taste most of the menu. Theoretically, if a table of three chose to order every a la carte dish that night (items ranged from $7 for the puffs to $49 for a ribeye during one of my visits) the total would come to $210. That is noticeably less than the $255 three tasting menus would cost. And that's before drinks.

Whether you splurge for the tasting or choose to order a la carte, Staplehouse is not the best fit for picky eaters or diners who habitually ask for substitutions. I imagine Staplehouse's intensely friendly — although sometimes scattered — staff would accommodate any diner request. But when you choose to come here, it's to experience Smith's unique perspective. Significantly altering dishes he's mindfully composed defeats the purpose of eating at a restaurant like Staplehouse in the first place.

Components such as a black-as-night pool of pleasantly bitter charred cabbage sauce or whipped beef fat that brought to mind a funky aged blue cheese showcase Smith's affinity for intense and exaggerated flavors. Another time, a tamer, sweeter version of the beef fat was dolloped onto a silky King crab leg terrine. The chef finished the dish with a bright green celery oil vinaigrette splattered dramatically across the plate.

image-2
During each of my visits, I was served wedge of "charred" cabbage. One night, the earthy vegetable was served in a smoky n'duja sausage broth. My favorite version found the sweet and tender vegetable blanketed in an ethereal layer of sake bushi (shaved cured salmon). The sublime dish exemplifies Smith's ability to keep things simple and let worthy ingredients shine without excessive manipulation.

Smith also reduces his reliance on traditional fats like butter. In the farro piccolo with crispy roasted mushrooms, for example, it is buttery sunflower seeds and a runny egg yolk that give the dish its rich and creamy heft. One of my favorite dishes, a towering pile of sweet baby turnips — some the size of peanut M&Ms — and big chunks of pepperoni showed how incredible the chef's sauce-making skills are. The vibrant green sauce made from the turnip tops was sweetened by the addition of slow-cooked black garlic. The sweet notes of caramelized garlic are a perfect bright complement to the spicy and salty pepperoni and juicy turnips.

While the precise presentation is in line with Smith's visual and artistic plating style, the desserts lacked the thoughtfulness found on the rest of the menu. One night, for example, not only was a pistachio financier too dry, the tiny dill meringues it came with clashed with the citrusy cara cara sorbet. I would have preferred a wedge of cheese and, perhaps, this would be a good place for the warm potato bread that came before the meat course.

If you choose a tasting menu, wine pairings ($40) selected by beverage director and manager Stephen James bring out the best in Smith's cooking. If you prefer to order off the menu, James' wine list includes affordable and approachable wines such as Priorat by the glass or my favorite crisp springtime wine, the Bandol Rosé. The cocktail menu, which James also oversees, is exceptional. In fact, I have found myself pairing cocktails with my meal more than wine because of their vibrant, experimental nature. Anything the bar makes with tequila is both dangerously fun and refined. The El Diablo is a fruity concoction of tequila, creme de cassis, ginger beer, and lemon. The Penicillin, a powerful combination of scotch, honey, ginger, and lemon, was like a remedy to the bitter cold outside.

As I drank hot strong sips of that old-timey boozey cure-all, I felt at home and comforted in this family's restaurant. I watched as Kara, with her baby girl expertly positioned on her hip, seat guests before handing her daughter off to a relative, who was presumably taking her home for bed. The baby's exit was not complete without kisses from Dad in the kitchen and snuggles from Aunt Jen at the hostess stand. Between this family’s hospitality and Smith’s refreshing food, Staplehouse humbly redefines what a contemporary mom-and-pop eatery can be. (4 out of 5 stars)

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Wednesday March 30, 2016 04:00 am EDT
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[Admin link: Restaurant review: The Mercury]