It sits on my desk, pristine in its masculinity amid a horror of feminine clutter. An imposing cover makes it look like a textbook, and in a way, it is. British chef and TV personality Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's "The River Cottage Meat Book" (Ten Speed Press, $40 hardcover) just won James Beard awards for single subject (meat, and lots of it) and for cookbook of the year. And it's been one of the most talked about cookbooks of the year.
The winning is an impending sign of the times: Meat is hot.
And I'm not talkin' filet and ribeye; strip and tenderloin. I'm talkin' souse. Sweetbreads. Marrow. Alternative meats.
There are a few forces at work that have made head cheese move to the head of the pack. First, the British invasion is happening all over again, but this time it's brawn, not the Beatles, crossing the Atlantic. The gastropub movement that started with Britain's famed Eagle has a strong hoofhold in the States these days, and with it comes menus rife with rillette.
Juxtapose that with the farm-to-table/sustainable movements and a new campaign pops into play — total utilization of product. Our grandparents never wasted anything. Our parents taught us to conserve, but basked in the knowledge that they had provided us with enough to allow for a little waste from time to time. And we've been spoiled on eating high on the hog. And that's what we've been doing, literally.
There was a time when pig's head wasn't exactly the sort of thing a connoisseur cut her teeth on, but these days the weirder the part, the better. Parts is parts, after all.
Linton Hopkins, the chef-owner of Buckhead's bastion of Southern cuisine, Restaurant Eugene, has decided to capitalize on two things he is very, very good at: creating and riding a trend until it becomes a way of eating (his fresh take on Southern cuisine garnered him a 2008 Beard nomination) and making everything from scratch.
Put the two together and an idea begins to germinate. Add four other professionals from the restaurant industry — Hopkins' wife and sommelier Gina, bartenders Andy Minchow, Greg Best and Regan Smith – and the concept hatches: a public house, where everyone, including industry professionals getting off work late looking for a bite, can find a comfortable seat and a well-made meal: Holeman & Finch Public House.
Small, tidy and bedecked with chefs Tony Seichrist's and Adam Bidderman's hanging house-cured hams, salumi and pork bellies, the place is not for the meat meager. Calling themselves Five Forks Restaurant Group, the five have created the perfect British gastropub, with a very heavy Southern accent.
The menu has small bites, all of which are heavy. Eating here is like a culinary expedition to meatville, especially pork – crispy fried pork ears and tails come with a sweet and sour barbecue sauce; lovely gratin of bone marrow is spread deliciously over the restaurant's impeccably good country bread. (A bakery, H & F Bread Co., is in the works for a July opening. It's just up the street at 2255 Peachtree.) Georgia greens are dressed just right and sent from the kitchen with hog jowl and tender, savory roasted veal sweetbreads.
And then there's the souse. On the menu but often unavailable (we can talk about Hopkins' local sourcing vs. USDA regulations some other time), once it arrives, it's well worth the wait. This isn't the gelatinous, head-cheesy mess pig's head usually ends up as – this is tender meat boiled with a seasoned broth, then mixed with capers and house-made mustard and a bit of hard boiled egg and topped with bread crumbs from the house-made hamburger buns.
There are more familiar options: a thick, juicy slice of pork belly rests over creamy grits with a bit of pickle (one of Hopkins' greatest contributions to the Atlanta dining scene is his assortment of house-made pickles) and sweetly charred onion. Bacon drenched in sorghum syrup is served over a poached egg over Johnny cakes.
On the less formidable list, a threesome of deviled eggs – 1. sweet pickle, 2. cayenne, and 3. bacon – and pop-in-your mouth beignets of Louisiana crawfish. Hen of the woods mushrooms with Parmesan and Anson Mills polenta is one of the kitchen's best efforts, and completely free of alternative parts. The house-cured salumi — bresaola and lardo in particular — are fun with a dip of Portuguese red wine.
The bar list is as creative as the rest of the menu, somewhat a given considering three bar tenders as partners. Gin lovers will find solace in Smith's mix of gin, bitters, lemon and mint topped with tonic. The restaurant has partnered with Coca-Cola to create "the perfect serve" — basically a house mix of Coke —and Holeman & Finch has exclusivity on the rights. Best capitalizes on the fizz with a Hemingway/Havana-esque sweet, fun blend of Coke, fernet branca amaro and a delicate cube of frozen lime.
Fernet branca and Coke co-star again in a float topped with candied lime peel, but the glazed doughnuts, sugared and stacked two to a plate, are the reason to order dessert.
There are no reservations; just walk in and take a seat (if you can find one).
Holeman & Finch seems a little bit country, and a little bit rock-n-roll. Part British gastropub, part Southern soul. The dichotomy makes for a good combo, head to tail.
Service: Fired up and ready to rock. They have a great attitude, know what's up in the kitchen, and are willing to go that extra mile.
Address, telephone: 2277 Peachtree Road, Suite B, 404-948-1175
Price range: $$
Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, Diners Club
Hours of operation: Open for dinner Monday through Saturday until 1:30 a.m. Sunday brunch 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Vegetarian Dishes: Well, there are a few non-meat items, but really ... not so much
Best dishes: Souse, hen of the woods mushrooms over creamy polenta, pork belly with creamy grits and charred onion, poached egg with roasted bacon over johnny cakes, ANY of the house-made breads, charcuterie plate, deviled eggs, gratin of marrow
Children: Yes, with caveats: They don't take reservations, so keep that in mind when arranging a visit. The menu is pretty adventurous for really young kids.
Parking: Garage with complimentary valet if desired
Wheelchair access: Yes
Noise level: High when busy
Web site: www.www.holeman-finch.com.
KEY TO RATINGS
Outstanding: Sets the standard for fine dining in the region.
Excellent: One of the best in the Atlanta area.
Very good: Merits a drive if you're looking for this kind of dining.
Good: A worthy addition to its neighborhood, but food may be hit or miss.
Fair: The food is more miss than hit.
Restaurants that do not meet these criteria may be rated Poor.
Pricing code: $$$$$ means more than $75; $$$$ means $75 and less; $$$ means $50 and less; $$ means $25 and less; $ means $15 and less. (The price code represents a meal for one that includes appetizer, entree and dessert without including tax, tip and cocktails.)
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