By Wyatt Williams
Drew van Leuvan is quietly building an empire along Peachtree.
After jumping ship from Concentrics to open the quirky Seven Lamps outside Lenox Square, van Leuvan has since gained a Midtown foothold with the lovely but little cocktail bar Grain, and now Tavernpointe, a large, casual restaurant in between the two. All of these bear the van Leuvan touch, which is European-styled (pastas, charcuterie), a touch globally minded (lobster ramen, curried caramel popcorn) and lightheartedly American (corn dogs, fried oysters, chicken wings).
Tavernpointe is van Leuvan’s quickest creation, opening only months after Grain, and his most conservative. It is a handsome room, featuring brick and blond wood, dimly lit, full of long narrow tables and with an open kitchen not unlike Seven Lamps. Instead of van Leuvan’s more cheffy quirks, the menu here is stacked with familiar, classic dishes: steak frites, Caesar salad, spaghetti with pesto, double-stack cheeseburger, and so on.
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This is probably a smart decision for the neighborhood. Tavernpointe is located on the ground floor of an office building aside Ansley Park, a space that has struggled to find an audience since Bruce Logue abandoned La Pietra Cucina a few years ago to open BoccaLuppo in Inman Park. Perhaps van Leuvan will be the one to draw the crowd. Pop in for lunch and you’ll see more than a few office workers in pressed shirts and slacks dining on a quick salad or sandwich.
At the center of Tavernpointe’s menu is the restaurant’s apparent flagship offering, smoked “Peruvian-style meats.” These plates come with chicken, brisket or both, served alongside a creamy slaw, a little cast-iron pan of cornbread and another side of your choice.
One order is an enormous amount of food, easily enough to feed two people. The chicken is seasoned with a marinade that includes aji amarillo chiles and, according to van Leuvan, quite a number of other ingredients. The brisket gets a simpler rub of salt and pepper and an injection of the marinade before going in the smoker. On the plate, the meats get doused with a rich chicken and veal stock-based sauce.
I’ll admit that I was perplexed by the smoked meats. The brisket wasn’t exactly barbecue-competition tender, but it was pleasantly smoky and tender enough. It was the same story with the chicken, which suffered from the common smoked-chicken problem of rubbery skin, but was otherwise capably smoked.
The trouble was that the many-ingredient marinade and the heavy dousing of sauce got in the way of each other. There were too many flavors: rich stock, complicated marinade, smoky preparation, some chiles, some spices. I thought I tasted mustard, too, but van Leuvan said not. My tongue was like a spinning compass. It couldn’t tell which direction it was going. I had the feeling that I would have enjoyed it more if the kitchen had done half the work and just put a little smoky meat on the plate.
It was an odd misstep from a kitchen that otherwise is getting things right. The oysters Rockefeller were a lovely, by-the-book rendition of the traditional, buttery dish. The steak frites had a strong, garlic-heavy salsa verde to brighten it up. The spaghetti with pesto and bread crumbs was precisely al dente, simple and filling.
Outside of the main plates, the smoked meats fared better. The positively enormous smoked chicken Caesar had a lovely touch of smoke, simple and good. The chopped brisket sandwich fared better than the plate, too, full of fall-apart tender brisket sliced from the fatty side instead of the lean. This fatty side seemed to be less complicated by the marinade and more focused by the flavors of that rich sauce.
As with van Leuvan’s other restaurants, the bar program is a real pleasure. There are smart vintage cocktails, fun house-made sodas, an interesting wine list and good local beers. I was more than pleased by a glass of Berroia Txakolina, a dry, young Spanish white that stands up wonderfully against the richer flavors of oysters Rockefeller or smoked meat. It’s a pricey glass, but worth it.
Speaking of money, Tavernpointe is a place where you can spend a lot or very little. Entrees can run around $30, but sandwiches run closer to $10. The portions are generous. A half-plate of pasta would be enough for a full plate in many other joints. It’s the kind of welcoming largess that can ingratiate a restaurant to a neighborhood. We’ll see if the neighborhood agrees.
1545 Peachtree St., N.E., Atlanta
2 of 4 stars (very good)
Food: New American and Peruvian barbecue
Service: friendly and attentive
Best dishes: smoked chicken Caesar, oysters Rockefeller
Vegetarian selections: salads, pastas, vegetable sides
Price range: $$
Credit cards: all major credit cards
Hours: 11 a.m. -10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays, 4-11 p.m. Saturdays, 4-9 p.m. Sundays
Parking: behind the restaurant
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: low
Address, phone: 1545 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-549-3954