In Louisiana, what most of us would think of as a county is called a parish. It's a good name for a new restaurant from Bob Amick and Todd Rushing in Inman Park: split on two levels, the restaurant is home to three concepts — the New Orleans-inspired restaurant upstairs, a market with sundries, coffee, fresh juices and pastries and a to-go counter in front of the kitchen with po boys, sammies and such.
Bob Amick has been at the restaurant game in this town (and in Florida and now, Chicago) for some time, having moved from the success of co-founding the Peasant restaurant group to his present-day Concentrics Hospitality, which is now the mothership to 10 restaurants, with more on the way.
Trois, the flag ship, is a modern Midtown marvel of French austerity; Piebar, a pizza concept in the Trust Company Bank building designed by Henri Jova in 1962, was a disaster. One Midtown Kitchen was the first of Atlanta's scene restaurants; in its heyday the only place in town for the young and restless. Two Urban Licks remains, even after three years (an eternity in Atlanta), as packed as it was when it opened. Tap is, for better or worse, Atlanta's first gastro-pub.
And yet it is Parish Foods & Goods that embodies the best of Amick as restaurateur: rich character and a fun, enjoyable menu wrapped into three concepts. Flawed, but never dull. And full of surprises and hospitality.
Amick has a penchant for high design, and often uses the Johnson Studio, the city's uber design firm, to make a stylish mark on his creations. But at Parish, he and wife Rowina (a designer) placed the finishing touches on the building, the office structure of an 1890s pipe fitting factory. The result is a hodgepodge of remnant-like pieces pulled together to compose a comfortable whole, with lots of sassy New Orleans panache.
The upstairs dining room is layered with rich textures, from the original tin roof ceiling, scraped to its honest first coat of paint, to exposed brick walls under plaster and a 7-by-5 foot antique mirror behind the bar touting the evening's raw bar specials, such as west and east oysters and peel-and-eat shrimp. Red Murano glass chandeliers stud the ceiling; the plaster model of a statue of lovers seems out of place in the middle of the dining room, as if we all dropped in on them unannounced. The effect is a pleasant sensory overload that feels as if the set of Interview with a Vampire clashed with a Garden District tea party.
It's here that big, black chalkboards advertise the menu — a rich mix of New Orleans favorites from chef Timothy Magee. Magee's appointment as executive chef is the classic tale of understudy to star billing, since Two Urban Licks' Scott Serpas, who was originally slated as chef, bowed out last year to open his own restaurant. Magee is no stranger to New Orleans, having done stages at Luke, Bayona and Commander's Palace. He came to Parish from Concentric's Lobby at Twelve.
Magee's cooking is honest, simple and when it is good — as in a bowl of New Orleans style barbecued shrimp — it is very good. Fat, juicy shrimp, heads on, are drenched in a molasses-like sauce, rich with butter, spice and thick slices of lemon. A slab of fresh, slightly toasty French bread becomes a boat of flavor for dipping.
Sausages are house-made, and served up in a trio made with chicken and laced with herbs and spices. Savory cheesecake layered with a bank of creamy filling juxatposes minced crawfish and more of the fine sausage to create another standout; a slightly breaded broiled Gulf redfish is short on looks but long on fresh fish flavor, the kind that makes you wonder why you ever order meat.
But the offerings falter with a gumbo of chicken sausage plus andouille in a gumbo that lacks the dirty roux and spice it needs. And ahi tuna tournedos covered in an overwrought sauce are out of place and over powered. Carolina crab claws bordelaise are sloppy seconds after the dazzling shrimp.
The din in the dining room can make for painful conversation toward the end of a meal. Do yourself a favor: have dessert downstairs in the market, where an oversized communal table strewn with the day's newspapers and a grapevine basket filled with lemons and oranges is too inviting to pass up. Flanked by a comfortable patio, the room serves as provender of an odd mix of soaps, funky houseware pieces and baby clothes.
And it's also the showcase for pastry chef Jonathan St. Hilaire's larder — from buttery, house-made croissants filled with almond and chocolate to espresso tarts and brownies. Ask for a coffee, have a seat in one of the worn leather arm chairs and enjoy a slice of lemon coconut cake from the market, or the creamy, milk chocolate French silk pie from the dining room's menu. St. Hilaire has always proven his mettle as a gifted dessert chef, from his early days at Woodfire Grill to his role as executive pastry chef for Amick, overseeing all Concentrics' properties.
But now he makes his buttery mark with pastry, too: apple tarts to go, tiny blueberry cheesecakes, frangipane and pistachio tartlets and loaves of Pullman bread make Parish one of the best bakeries in the city.
And it's the downstairs market that's the most fun anyway — a take-away counter offers po boys and muffalettas, as well as groovy sodas and chips. Biting into layers of meats and olives between the fat Italian muffaletta loaves while enjoying the breeze on the patio is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
Everyone from Amick's clever and hospitable son, Justin, (who serves as one of Parish's managers and has a strong palate for wine), to owner Todd Rushing, to Amick himself made it clear that my critic's cover had been blown, though other than an abundance of hospitable information they left me to eat and enjoy.
And Parish is enjoyable — perhaps the most enjoyable of all of Amick's enterprises. It combines a friendly dose of New Orleans bon ton with Atlanta's New South vogue.
Food: New Orleans
Service: When you're waited on by the owner's son, you tend to get good service. Amick has pooled some of his best talent here, though.
Address, telephone: 240 North Highland, 404-681-4434
Price range: $ - $$
Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, American Express
Hours of operation: Market open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday 7 a.m. to midnight, Saturday 8 a.m. to midnight, Sunday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Dinner hours for the restaurant are Monday through Thursday 5 to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to midnight and Sunday 5 to 10 p.m. Brunch in the restaurant Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Vegetarian Dishes: Sunflower salad with sunchokes, fresh vegetable plate
Best dishes: New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp, savory cheesecake, fresh oysters, broiled gulf redfish; all the desserts and pastries are OMG good
Parking: Complimentary valet
Wheelchair access: Yes, but only in the market downstairs
Smoking: No smoking
Noise level: Very high in the dining room; lower level is quiet
Patio: Yes, two
KEY TO RATINGS
Outstanding: Sets the standard for fine dining in the region.
Excellent: One of the best in the Atlanta area.
Very good: Merits a drive if you're looking for this kind of dining.
Good: A worthy addition to its neighborhood, but food may be hit or miss.
Fair: The food is more miss than hit.
Restaurants that do not meet these criteria may be rated Poor.
Pricing code: $$$$$ means more than $75; $$$$ means $75 and less; $$$ means $50 and less; $$ means $25 and less; $ means $15 and less. (The price code represents a meal for one that includes appetizer, entree and dessert without including tax, tip and cocktails.)
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