The star of the Ole Reliable lunch menu is the smoked salmon salad niçoise, a feel-good mélange of potatoes, green beans, kalamata olives, preserved tomatoes and cucumber, with a layer of egg salad and smoked salmon rolls garnished with scallions. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LFIGUERAS@AJC.COM.

Review: For healthy breakfast, lunch in downtown Atlanta, look to Ole Reliable

Plus, looks at new downtown restaurants Fin & Feathers and Blackbird

Food is a welcome diversion for office workers who deal with the daily 9-to-5 grind. Heading to the building cafeteria is at least a pause from pushing paper or staring at a computer screen, but that doesn’t mean the fare is all that great. Overcooked eggs and burnt coffee for breakfast, the never-changing salad bar, the boring ham and cheese sandwich with chips and a soda combination — no wonder everyone looks forward to the food truck parked out front.

Enter Ole Reliable, the new cafe in the lobby of the Georgia Pacific Center downtown. Ole Reliable is accessible not just to daytime employees in the building, but to anyone who walks through the revolving doors at 133 Peachtree St.

It’s a counter-service concept that debuted in June, from chef Kevin Gillespie and his Red Beard Restaurants group. And, although Gillespie is known for his upscale dining spots Gunshow and Revival (and newly launched bar Cold Beer on the Eastside Beltline), Ole Reliable isn’t his first attempt at a quick-service model. He’s been at it for the past two years with his Gamechanger concession stand at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Ole Reliable offers savory and sweet open-faced sandwiches, aka toast, for breakfast and lunch. Pictured is one featuring Italian mascarpone cheese and peach preserves with blueberries and fresh mint on toasted bread made by local bakery Root Baking Co. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LFIGUERAS@AJC.COM.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Ole Reliable is a game changer for office workers seeking thoughtful, nourishing breakfast and lunch options — and a quality cup of coffee. Running late for work? You could hit a drive-through for an egg and cheese biscuit or a calorie-laden doughnut. The alternative: stop in at Ole Reliable for a filling portion of silky fresh yogurt with toasty granola, whole grain oats, coconut flakes, almonds and dried blueberries. It’s a delicious, creamy-crunchy combination, with natural sweetness rather than the heaps of sugar that so often turn cereal into dessert (which is the case with the cafe’s chewy granola bar that crumbles due to poor binding).

Among hot breakfast items, the baked local egg frittata is egg-ceptional. The satisfying, savory mix of eggs, caramelized onions, roasted poblano peppers, bacon and cheddar cheese baked in muffin tins reminded my of my mom’s hash puffies, an unfussy, handheld brunch dish she made for us as kids. The frittata comes with a small salad — crisp, peppery arugula lightly dressed in a zippy, citrusy vinaigrette. Greens for breakfast? Greens for breakfast!

The section of the menu labelled “open-faced sandwiches” — let’s call it what it is: toast — is available during breakfast (7-10 a.m.) and lunch (10:30 a.m.-3 p.m.). Here, there are savory and sweet options, all served on thick slices of hearty bread from nearby Root Baking Co. Whereas some restaurants have turned toast into a kitchen sink number, at Ole Reliable you’ll find toppings well-paired and kept to a minimum, like cream cheese made with cashew milk that’s topped with preserved tomatoes, smoked chile oil and tendrils of baby basil. Mmm. A slather of Italian mascarpone cheese and peach preserves dotted with blueberries and wisps of fresh mint is divine — and a fine complement to a cup of coffee made from beans by local roaster Docent.

For those seeking more than drip coffee, Ole Reliable is dependable for quality espresso-based drinks, and even for nondairy milk choices (oatmilk!). Questionable, however, is an iced drink called the Americano Spritz. Espresso and effervescent Topo Chico mineral water is a thing at coffee bars, but orange juice and an orange rind added such bitterness that it tasted like unquaffable nonalcoholic Fernet.

Lunch brings a brief lineup of soups and salads. Even on 90-degree summer days, a hearty Tuscan zuppa goes down well, especially when it features housemade sausage, black kale, potatoes and pecorino cheese. The cafe’s posole was on the thin side, and a bit heavy-handed with salt and cumin.

The star of the lunch menu is the smoked salmon salad niçoise. This gratifying, feel-good mélange of boiled potatoes, toothsome green beans (neither raw nor overcooked to floppy), briny kalamata olives, preserved tomatoes and cucumber is prettied with a layer of egg salad, followed by rolls of bright pink smoked salmon slices garnished with scallions. At $14, it’s the most expensive item on the carte, and worth every dollar.

Those who opt to eat these clean bites at the cafe, instead of at their desk, will find tables cleaned and cleared frequently. Kudos to the staff, especially considering how much traffic Ole Reliable sees, particularly since the main cafeteria at the Georgia Pacific Center closed this summer. An extra trash can would be a welcome addition to the single trash receptacle that overflows with coffee cups and discarded to-go boxes by 1:30 p.m.

Ole Reliable is a new cafe located in the lobby of the Georgia Pacific Center downtown. The daytime counter-service concept is from chef Kevin Gillespie and his Red Beard Restaurants group. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LFIGUERAS@AJC.COM.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Office workers have more options than ever for finding a quick bite (think: curbside food trucks and the growing number of grocery store cafes). The attraction of Ole Reliable is that it brings a chef mentality (a creative menu featuring high-quality, seasonal and locally grown ingredients) to the workplace dining circuit. A tight menu has enough diversity to find broad appeal. Ordering is rapid and efficient; so is the pick-up window, except during peak lunch hours. The food, despite being served in takeout containers, still is presented thoughtfully — and it doesn’t make you want to sneak in an afternoon snooze.

DINING REVIEW

Ole Reliable

6:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. 133 Peachtree St., Atlanta. Facebook: Ole Reliable ATL.

Recommended: baked local egg frittata, smoked salmon nicoise salad, open-faced sandwiches (especially peach preserves with Italian mascarpone, blueberries and mint), and soup of homemade hot Italian sausage with Tuscan black kale, golden potato, pecorino and olive oil.

Napkin notes from around downtown

Fin & Feathers

Located on Edgewood Avenue, a couple of blocks east of the Downtown Connector, is Sweet Auburn neighborhood newbie Fin & Feathers. It opened quietly last month, yet the scene already is lively. It’s a familiar story for owner Damon A. Johnson Sr., who previously worked at Atlanta restaurants and clubs BQE, Members Only, Crave and Escobar.

Here, an amicable staff keeps guests happy with generous pours and casual American fare, primarily of the seafood (the fin) and chicken (the feathers) kind, for a reasonable price.

The beverage menu is a list of straightforward value wines, mass-market beers and cocktails with California name references, like the East LA, a mix of tequila, triple sec, lime juice and simple syrup with a red wine float that tasted surprisingly less sweet than it sounded.

It becomes a sweet deal during happy hours (weekdays from 5 to 8 p.m.) when select cocktails, wines and a handful of bar bites, like tacos, wings, chicken tenders and fries, are all $5.

Dynamite Pepper Shrimp of deep-fried shrimp with sweet pepper sauce is among the shareable starters at new Fin & Feathers in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood downtown. LIGAYA FIGUERAS/LFIGUERAS@AJC.COM.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

An easy, shareable pick would be the restaurant’s signature wings, which brings 10 on a plate (flavored with your pick: lemon pepper, barbecue, mild or fire that’s not that of five-alarm level) with blue cheese or ranch dressing. Try deep-fried delights like the Dynamite Pepper Shrimp with pepper sauce, and catfish nuggets that don’t taste one bit muddy, like the bottom feeder it is, and which come with a creamy-tart remoulade for dipping.

Toppings like peach pineapple salsa, pickled cabbage and garlic jerk aioli elevate an otherwise ordinary jerk turkey burger. But, a peach ginger sauce doesn’t help the four tiny lamb chops that offer precious little meat for a large sum of $32.

At least, entrees come with a couple of sides. Mac and cheese and herb fries are no-frill standards, but, when done right, there’s no need for frills. Shoot, between those two dishes and a bowl of light, airy whipped red potatoes, it would be a carb party in my mouth.

Fin & Feathers. 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 5 p.m.-3 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; and 5 p.m.-midnight Sundays. 360 Edgewood Ave. SE, Atlanta. 678-892-0504, finandfeathersatl.com.

Blackbird

In theory, a new restaurant in downtown’s entertainment-packed Centennial Park district that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner sounds like a grand idea. In practice, Blackbird could leave tourists thinking twice about Atlanta’s dining scene.

Located on Marietta Street, in the former Studio 7 event space, and a mere block from the Georgia Aquarium, Blackbird offers familiar American fare: pancakes, French toast, sausage gravy and biscuits for breakfast; a burger, chicken sandwich or shrimp po’boy for lunch. You get the idea. A number of egg dishes speak to calorie-watchers who want only the whites, or a dose of veggies in an omelet. And, a succinct seven-item lunch menu is mindful of the veg crowd, with offerings like a veggie po’boy and roasted cauliflower sandwich.

The problem here lies partially in poor execution, and also in a questionable product. Smoked cheese grits aren’t really cheese grits if the cheese is just shredded and set on top and the grits aren’t even hot enough to melt it. A veg po’boy — any po’boy — shouldn’t be served on dry, stale bread.

The Blackbird Sandwich, featuring egg white, brie, spinach, pesto, enoki mushrooms and bacon, is an item on the breakfast menu at the restaurant located in downtown Atlanta’s Centennial Park district. LIGAYA FIGUERAS/LFIGUERAS@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Daytime dining at Blackbird was at least better than the evening. It’s a bad sign when a restaurant’s online reservation doesn’t send a confirmation. It’s an even worse sign when you call to confirm, are told that, yes, indeed, you have a reservation, but show up to find locked doors due to a private event.

But, locked doors would save you from tough, inedible grilled artichoke that lacked the only other component that was supposed to be on the plate: endive. Locked doors also would save you from salty scallops with room-temp grits (again); from a cold rib-eye of grayish, hacksawed meat slices drizzled with Worcestershire; from a floor staff more interested in congregating around the bar than waiting on patrons; and from a kitchen that doesn’t appear to care.

Blackbird. 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 8 a.m.-1 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Fridays; 8 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. 393 Marietta St. NW, Atlanta. 404-993-5328, blackbirdatlanta.com.

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