I’m not going to spend much time trying to figure out why Atlanta’s most lauded chefs, Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison, owners of Bacchanalia, Floataway Café, the Quinones Room at Bacchanalia and Star Provisions, would want to open their most casual restaurant to date and have the menu focus on alternative, “whole animal” foods in the middle of a recession.
I’m just going to tell you that Abattoir is by far the most enjoyable dining experience I’ve had in this city in a long time.
And it seems their most personal. Everything, from the music (from Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass to the Black Crows) to the wide, open loft space that was once a slaughterhouse (the name means “slaughterhouse” in French), has Quatrano’s deft, feminine touch.
The center of the room is graced with a formidably large farmhouse table that doubles as a serving station abuzz with servers. The couple has employed designer Dominick Coyne, who also designed Bacchanalia and the recent renovation of Floataway Café, to interpret the interior landscape, adding natural tones and textures to an industrial setting, with exposed brick and luminous windows on the back wall that are original to the building. Inside the newly minted White Provision complex, the timbre set is perfect for the burgeoning neighborhood. (The trellised patio overlooks the Westside railroad tracks, as well as a bridge to the Star Provisions complex, and boasts a wood-burning fireplace. Can’t wait ‘til fall.)
All of which is moot, of course, if the menu doesn’t prove itself, which it so aptly does. Joshua Hopkins, a long-time employee of Quatrano and Harrison’s, is not only chef de cuisine, but also partner in the venture. He has been the chef de cuisine at Bacchanalia for close to four years, and worked at several notable Charleston restaurants, including Slightly North of Broad and High Cotton.
And for all the press talk prior to opening of “whole animal cuisine,” there is nothing for even the most shy of eaters to lament on this menu. Divided into short sections that make for an easy perusal, it’s highlighted by “food in a jar” and “offal,” both of which are nothing short of genius.
I have developed quite an addiction to the potted chicken liver and foie gras with Armagnac, a wickedly smooth concoction served in a preserving jar to be spread over the rustic, wood oven-toasted bread from the Star Provisions bakery. It is a naughty thing, this pate.
Equally tempting are pickled shrimp in a jar — plump Georgia white shrimp with pickling spices. This section of the menu is by far my favorite, and meaty, fatty rabbit rilletes and spicy pickled cabbage could easily satisfy as a meal, with never a venture into other parts of Hopkins’ efforts.
But that would be a mistake, since the tripe stew, with honeycomb tripe so soft and supple you may not notice it’s there, is served up in a brothy soup with lots of punchy, bright cilantro and a yummy chunk of pork belly.
I can hardly give enough credence to the emphasis on local produce. A watermelon salad, served simply in a white bowl, is so fresh and sweet that it needs little complement from shaved fennel and a kiss of ginger. But it benefits from it anyway. How local is it? One of the servers brings it from his grandfather’s farm south of the city.
Sweets of brown sugar meringue — a crunchy, butterscotch of dacquoise — with wisps of peach ice cream and fresh raspberry coulis, as well as snacks of fried ceci peas (think chick peas, only smaller) are like crack, and continue the addiction that begins with the chicken liver and foie gras pate.
And while there are bumps of imperfection (most often from desserts, or a boring cured sausage called a “thin Jim”), they are easily overlooked. Fun beers (PBR in a can for $2.50) and a simple wine list, plus fresh, perky cocktails round out an evening of total comfort. My only true complaint is that the open space makes for a very loud night.
I really don’t need to wonder why Quatrano and Harrison opened Abattoir. They are restaurateurs, after all. Their intent is, I’m sure, as personal this new wonder of a restaurant. All I have to do is go, and enjoy.
Food: American farmhouse cuisine
Service: Formal and professional, with lots of personal touches
Price range: $$
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express
Hours of operation: Dinner, Tuesday – Saturday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Best dishes: Chicken liver and foie gras with Armagnac, pickled shrimp, picked spicy cabbage, ceci peas, chicharrones, local watermelon (when available), tripe stew, brown sugar meringue with peach ice cream
Vegetarian selections: The "local produce" section of the menu has lots of options
Parking: Adjacent garage
Wheelchair access: Yes
Noise level: High
Address, telephone: 1170 Howell Mill Road, inside the White Provision complex, Atlanta, 404-892-3335
Web site: www.starprovisions.com
Pricing code: $$$$$ means more than $75; $$$$ means $75 and less; $$$ means $50 and less; $$ means $25 and less; $ means $15 and less. The price code represents a typical full-course meal for one excluding drinks.
Key to AJC ratings
Sets the standard for fine dining in the region.
One of the best in the Atlanta area.
Merits a drive if you're looking for this kind of dining.
A worthy addition to its neighborhood, but food may be hit and miss.
Food is more miss than hit.
Restaurants that do not meet these criteria may be rated Poor.
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC