Give the Colonnade credit for not messing with classics

Don't mess with that aspic! … Stop serving the chicken livers, and I won't be back! … What do you mean you're out of Parker House Rolls?

These are the kinds of comments you hear at a restaurant so old it’s become an Institution.

That would be the Colonnade, the Cheshire Bridge Road bastion of old-school Southern food with the signature squiggly neon sign: “Since 1927.”

Resilient to the vagaries of fashion, fires and fast food, this venerable establishment is to Atlanta what Galatoire’s is to New Orleans: a local landmark where a loyal clientele congregates seven days a week in a room that resembles a comfy Southern country club.

Credit: Becky Stein

Credit: Becky Stein

Into this corridor of antique shops, tawdry “adult” stores, gay bars and bakeries, the faithful flock for crispy fried chicken (four pieces per order!), pot roast, chicken-fried steak and an exhaustive list of 32 side items that hasn’t changed much since the ’50s. (Waldorf salad, anyone?)

They come here to be greeted by the same chihuahua-like man who takes names from behind a pulpit. They come to get their martinis and their Jack and Cokes mixed by the same stern-looking blonde.

“We have some people that eat here seven days a week,” says general manager Jodi Stallings. Her parents, Paul and Christine Jones, bought the Colonnade in 1979 — when she was 9 years old.

One thing you may notice about the icon is that it has no ionics.

It takes its name from its original location: a small white-columned house that sat at the corner of Piedmont Road and Lindbergh Drive. When it lost its lease and moved around the corner in 1962, the name stayed. To put this in perspective, when the restaurant opened in 1927, Calvin Coolidge was in the White House, and the talkies were a new invention.

So when change happens at a place like the Colonnade, where some customers have gathered for more than 50 years, people notice. Late last year, the restaurant ended its cash-and-check-only policy and started taking credit cards. Must have been a slow news day. Atlanta radio and TV stations reported the story, and USA Today posted 11 Alive’s broadcast on its website. Suddenly, the Nade was national news.

One can only imagine what would happen if the cottage cheese and peaches suddenly disappeared from the menu. No more pear salad with mayo and cheddar? Stop the presses! The tomato aspic? “I would get in trouble if I took that off,” Stallings tells me.

Feeling nostalgic for the old days when I lived around the corner, I returned recently for my old standby: the fried seafood platter with a loaded baked potato and so-called “Marian” salad (lettuce, red onion, tomato, cucumbers and pickled beets). When our sweetly scatterbrained waitress (“server” may be the PC term, but it just doesn’t feel right at the Nade) asked what kind of dressing I wanted, I didn’t hesitate. “Blue cheese!” I blurted, watching a trace of a grin appear on my friend’s face.

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

The memories seemed to almost spill out onto the table.

There was my old AJC colleague Nancy Roquemore, who used to say that her car could drive itself home from the Nade. (Fortunately, she lived nearby.) There was Atlanta Symphony Orchestra conductor Robert Spano, who once told me he loved the Colonnade because it was like a cross between a gay bar and a geriatric ward. (Well put, maestro.)

There was that lost Saturday when my friend Ruthie and I cruised Cheshire Bridge under the guise of “antiquing.” After a couple of false starts, we ended up at the Colonnade bar, drinking bloody marys and munching fried shrimp. I looked at the clock. It wasn’t even noon. A classic Colonnade moment — like a taste of New Orleans in the ATL.

These were some of the thoughts that percolated in my mind as I slurped sweet tea and dunked crispy oysters and luscious scallops into tartar sauce.

My guest got the turkey and dressing smothered in gravy — along with mac and cheese and Waldorf salad. Now some people like their noodles doused with thin cheese sauce. I like mine baked until the milk and cheese turn into custard and the dish can be cut into squares like lasagna. The Colonnade version was kind of the best of both worlds — thick and rich, as if the sauce had been allowed to almost set, then gently scrambled into clumps of cheddar-y elbows. Delicious.

The Waldorf salad looked like it needed more mayonnaise. In fact, it was perfect. Just apples, pecans and raisins moistened with a little sweetened mayo.

In 2007, the owners brought in executive chef Ryan D. Cobb. Though he likes to feature nightly specials to show off his fine-dining background, Cobb says he only tweaked the core offerings. “After 88 years, I think we’d have some issues if we went too far off,” he says. So even though you might get seared duck breast over roasted winter vegetables or pork tenderloin with apple cider reduction, roasted fingerling potatoes and haricots verts, you can still find salmon croquettes and chopped steak with mushroom gravy. And, as Cobb says glibly: “We still take cash.”

Fair enough.

Just don't touch the Parker House Rolls. Or you will get a call from me.

The Colonnade

1879 Cheshire Bridge Road, Atlanta. 404-874-5642,