Cabbagetown is unapologetically scrappy. Perhaps that’s why I feel comfortable in this southeast Atlanta neighborhood. Between, in front and behind rows of clapboard cottages are yards and green spaces cluttered with reclaimed wood, old metal parts and random doodads fashioned into cheap garden art.
The people are as easygoing and ad hoc as the social gathering spaces they create here. You want a beer at lunch on a weekday? You want a beer as lunch on a weekday? No one will bat an eye, including at Mouth of the South, the casual, no-frills restaurant and bar that opened on Carroll Street last year.
Short-order bar food is what’s coming out of this kitchen. Once you place your order at the bar, you’ll know when your order is up. Just listen for the ding of the call bell. Get ready for disappointment.
Tacos are tacos in name alone. Available on soft flour or hard corn tortillas are fillings such as Baja fried fish, smoked brisket and pulled pork. Even if they did a better job smoking meat, it wouldn’t matter because the tacos are so weighted down with wet add-ons like slaw and sauces. These tacos are floppy, soggy messes.
If you want something Mexican-inspired, choose the elote instead. The whole cob of grilled corn could stand for further grill time, and being that it’s sacrilegiously slathered with Duke’s mayo before getting a cotija cheese-chili powder treatment, consuming it will still be as messy as eating one of those tacos, but it’s much more satisfying to crunch on cooked corn kernels than to sink your teeth into a quickly disintegrating taco.
MOTS nachos are nothing fancy, just corn tortillas loaded with smeary, saucy, seasoned things like refried beans and black beans, pico de gallo, a few rings of jalapenos, a spoonful of guacamole, and a ladleful of hot queso. It’s something you might make late at night with friends when you realize after a few drinks that you need to put food in your empty bellies. The nachos are not much to look at, but they get the job done. So does serving it on a small metal tray, which is how every item on the food menu is plated at Mouth of the South.
Butt Naked Wings aren’t a pretty picture either. The chicken wings — six to an order — are dry and tough. The Korean Fried Chicken version that gets tossed in a gochujang sauce and topped with a scattering of sesame seeds is the only one worth ordering.
And yet, Mouth of the South does have a section of the menu that I will open my mouth wide for: sandwiches. Highly recommendable is the EBLT, which features eggplant bacon, vegan fried tomatoes, a roasted red pepper aioli and mixed greens on toasted sandwich bread. Eggplant bacon. Now we’re talking! Bite into the eggplant slices and you’ll get that bit of tug and pull you expect from bacon, but none of the bitterness you may have suffered from poorly cooked eggplant.
A Philly French Dip uses the same shredded smoked brisket featured in the ho-hum barbacoa taco, but gussies up the toasted hoagie with a colorful trio of grilled pepper slices and onions, gooey melted Swiss and provolone cheeses and Sriracha mayo. If the accompanying au jus would be served hot instead of lukewarm, just imagine!
If you’re looking to round things out with a side dish, steer clear of the Cabbagetown Slaw that’s chintzy on the creamy dressing (the slaw is much better enjoyed slapped between a bun for the fried fish sammie). Mac-and-queso is strangely soupy and as suspect as the gloppy mac-and-cheese that Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms tweeted about in her Christmas feast. More satisfying bites come from fried green tomatoes with roasted red pepper aioli — the same tomato that’s part of the EBLT sandwich equation.
Food and drink are not of the same equation at this establishment. Whether intended or not, drinks are the draw at Mouth of the South. This is a craft beer swilling hole, the list dominated by local brews on tap, in cans and bottles. There is no cocktail list to speak of, but ask about their house shandy, an easygoing mix of tequila, citrus juices and agave with a topper of sour ale. If you know what you like, ask for it; the bartenders, who double as food runners, are an accommodating sort, and they’ll set you right up. But from what I notice, most people keep it simple.
That would be in keeping with the sparsely decorated space, concrete floor below, exposed ductwork above and a few TVs in between. And it would be in keeping with a neighborhood that probably could give a middle finger to what this food critic thinks. Because when you’re on your second or third pint of Creature Comforts, Wild Heaven, Reformation or Scofflaw, and you feel like a $4.50 taco or some $9 nachos, you really don’t care. You just want to hear the ding of the call bell from the kitchen. Your order is up. That’s all that matters.
MOUTH OF THE SOUTH
Noon-late Mondays-Saturdays; 11 a.m. (brunch served until 3 p.m.)-late Sundays. 186 Carroll St., Atlanta. 404-963-5016, motsatl.com.
Recommended: Elote (Mexican street corn). Philly French Dip. EBLT.
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