The first time I went to Kennesaw, I got in a verbal skirmish with my husband over Civil War fact and fiction as we trekked to the top of Kennesaw Mountain, battlefield site during the Atlanta campaign. My latest visits to Kennesaw saw me disputing barbecue with dining partners at the Nest.
Kennesaw isn’t really a contentious place. In fact, taking a perch at the Nest makes for an amenable outing in the northern suburbs. Now that the pollen’s nearly quit falling, the full-service restaurant beckons with an eclectic alfresco ambiance in which to enjoy top-notch craft beer and juicy brisket.
Located a few blocks off historic downtown Main Street, the Nest makes its home in two renovated 1880s clapboard houses. A bar and adjoining lounge occupy one; three dining rooms and the kitchen the other. Connecting them is a long, covered porch that opens to a patio with a stunning stone fireplace as its centerpiece. On the front lawn, you’ll find a row of picnic tables, and perhaps a few kids turning cartwheels on the artificial grass.
Come one, come all – even the family dog!
The Nest is craft beer nirvana. Among its 48 rotating beers on tap, you’ll find local names, including Kennesaw breweries Burnt Hickory and Dry County, plus a wide selection of regional and national beers. Drink light and easy on a lager like Dry County Lechuza, make it fruity and fizzy with the 21st Amendment Sparkale out of San Francisco or pucker up on a sour beer from North Carolina brewery Wicked Weed.
Not only will the varied list pique your interest, so will the prices. Get a 4-ounce pour for as cheap as $1.25, an 8-ounce glass for an average of $3.50 and a pint for around $7. There’s also a cellar list of larger-format bottles if you’re feeling festive.
As you sample your way through the suds, nibble on house-made pimento cheese that steers from tradition with bits of goat cheese added to the chunky pimento-cheddar blend. Scoop it up with water wafers, carrots, celery sticks, and cucumbers flecked with powdered Sriracha. For an upcharge, add pork rinds — but only if you like yours dry, crunchy and full of chile heat. (I’m partial to puffy, warm ones that melt in the mouth and leave a bit of salty oil to lick off my fingers.)
Barbecue is the main food draw. Chicken, pork, brisket and ribs come off the smoker that sits out front. These meats find their way into appetizers like smoked chicken egg rolls, salads, sandwiches, wraps and even tacos. Of course, you could just have it all as a big ol’ mound of meat on a plate, otherwise known as the Whole Farm.
Problem is, no matter what you stuff that meat into, there’s not a lot of smoke to it. The best of the bunch was slices of fatty brisket, but even that held more char than smoke. Ribs had some satisfying tug, and chicken wings were fairly juicy, but tasted more grilled than smoked. Pulled pork, in particular, was dry, and needed sauce to bring it to life.
So take your pick among its four regular sauces — sweet, spicy, mustard-based and white — or buck up a quarter apiece for specialty sauces: peach, the vinegary Reclaimed Carolina, a Sriracha white that’s best left alone, and Burnin’ Sherman — thick and sweet like tomato-based Maull’s, a table staple in my native Missouri, but with quite a bit of heat. Victory is yours when you slap that pulled pork between two slices of sandwich bread, pour on the Sherman and pile on the slaw.
That slightly creamy slaw, by the way, is good all on its own. So’s the 4 Cheese Mac that’s showered with grated Parm. So are the collards, if you like yours super salty; and the hand-cut fries, if you don’t mind them a bit more floppy than crispy.
Think twice before ordering the grits, however. These are bland, dry and thick.
It’s not Georgia ‘cue without Brunswick stew. This version, called KSU STU, was full of meaty flavor and that anticipated vinegary tang and dotted with corn and lima beans. Yet it was thin and runny, more soup than stew.
There is a side of the day. One visit, it was black beans blended with pico de gallo. Another trip, there was no side of the day. It was supposed to be, again, black beans blended with pico de gallo, but someone in the kitchen apparently forgot to make it, which is head-scratching since black beans also land on Tex-Mex-y menu items like nachos and the El Choppo Salad.
The banana pudding here won’t win awards, but it gets points for fancy presentation — even if comes in a plastic cup. Whipped cream reaches high above the rim, with a trio of vanilla wafers climbing up this airy white cloud.
The Nest will have you floating on cloud nine with its casual and varied seating options. And the staff will keep you comfy as they speedily deliver beer, barbecue and banana pudding. If the kitchen could match its food with the quality of the craft brews they pull from the taps here, there’d be even more reason to roost often at this idyllic spot.
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