Atlanta Orders In: Poor Hendrix has not lost its neighborhood appeal

Takeout from Poor Hendrix: clockwise from left; spicy cold sesame noodles; golden beet salad; roast chicken with fingerling potatoes and garlic lemon aioli (center); salmon tartare with chips. Contributed by Wendell Brock
Takeout from Poor Hendrix: clockwise from left; spicy cold sesame noodles; golden beet salad; roast chicken with fingerling potatoes and garlic lemon aioli (center); salmon tartare with chips. Contributed by Wendell Brock

After four months of dealing with COVID-19, Poor Hendrix remains a well-nigh perfect neighborhood restaurant.

Inspired by owners Aaron and Jamie Russell’s sojourns in Spain and France, and named after a beloved (now deceased) rescue pup, it’s a place where you can find cheer in the form of cold sesame noodles, an exquisitely fresh salmon tartare scooped up with Zapp’s chips, and maybe a pint of luscious bananas Foster ice cream.

As the Fourth of July arrives, I can't think of a better spot for affordable, hand-crafted picnic fare than this East Lake gem, open since November, 2016.

Poor Hendrix employee Karim Hanna mans the takeout window. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
Poor Hendrix employee Karim Hanna mans the takeout window. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Back in March, when the Russells decided to close their dining room as the pandemic spread, they sat down and “wrote a whole new business plan to create a takeout business instead of a dine-in business,” Aaron said. People seem to love cold fried chicken, so they concocted a $40 picnic pack of chicken, deviled eggs, potato salad and chocolate-chip cookies. It was so successful that it gave birth to a weekly picnic spread, built around everything from muffulettas and mezze to the cuisines of India and France. (Starting Friday, the feature takes a Thai turn, with green papaya salad, pork larb and coconut flan.)

Poor Hendrix originally was conceived as a bistro and bar, offering two separate menus six nights a week, an idea that worked well until operations were streamlined in March. Where once there was a staff of 20 to 25, there's now a skeleton crew of seven, including the Russells.

Poor Hendrix chef and co-owner Aaron Russell is a master of sweets and pastries; this milk chocolate mousse with bourbon caramel sauce and pretzels is a fine example of what he can do in simple, takeout mode. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
Poor Hendrix chef and co-owner Aaron Russell is a master of sweets and pastries; this milk chocolate mousse with bourbon caramel sauce and pretzels is a fine example of what he can do in simple, takeout mode. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

On June 23, the patio opened for table service, with strict safety protocols in place. But on Thursday, the Russells abruptly announced they were re-closing the outdoor space, out of concerns over the spiraling COVID-19 cases in the state. "I feel like we have a responsibility to our community to encourage folks to stay home until this most recent surge is under control and it's safe to ease restrictions again," Aaron said.

Before Poor Hendrix, Jamie, 40, helped a former professor conduct research on great apes. Aaron, who turns 40 this month, built an impressive resume as a fine-dining pastry chef (the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead; Seeger’s; Restaurant Eugene). Excited by the precision and meticulousness of dessert-making, he learned his craft at the Ritz under the watchful eye of chef Bruno Menard and pastry chef Manabu Inoue. He is a five-time James Beard Award semifinalist in the outstanding pastry chef category.

The daily special at Poor Hendrix might include a whole roasted chicken, with crispy fried fingerling potatoes, for $24. A garlic-lemon aioli (not shown) elevated the dish into something luxurious. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
The daily special at Poor Hendrix might include a whole roasted chicken, with crispy fried fingerling potatoes, for $24. A garlic-lemon aioli (not shown) elevated the dish into something luxurious. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Though Poor Hendrix exudes a casual vibe, the attention to detail is everywhere, from snacks and beverages to packaging. Because it has a small kitchen, with minimal refrigeration, it gets ingredients delivered six days a week. I believe that’s why its offerings are so flavorful and bright.

It has partnered with one of its main suppliers, Tucker Farms in Rome, to offer a Community Supported Agriculture box for Friday pickup. At the suggestion of customers, it now offers bottled salad dressings to go with the farm-fresh lettuces.

Poor Hendrix offers takeout of house “staples,” like salmon tartare with chips and spicy cold sesame noodles, as well as daily specials, like a golden beet salad with basil. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
Poor Hendrix offers takeout of house “staples,” like salmon tartare with chips and spicy cold sesame noodles, as well as daily specials, like a golden beet salad with basil. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

The Russells are grateful that their takeout enterprise has been sufficient to keep the restaurant in the black, but Aaron misses “getting to create food that’s meant to be eaten the moment it comes off the stove.”

I hear you, chef. But, you certainly won’t find me complaining about your cold noodles, salmon tartare and brown-butter rice crispy treats.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

POOR HENDRIX

Menu: eclectic mix of bistro food, bar snacks and drinks

What's new: lots of cold food; picnic packs; CSA box from Tucker Farms; bottled dressings and sauces

Alcohol: beer, cider, wine, cocktails

What I ordered: whole roasted chicken with potatoes, beet salad, salmon tartare, cold sesame noodles, bananas Foster ice cream, milk chocolate mousse with bourbon caramel and pretzels. Though good cold, the chicken came with instructions for reheating, an idea I endorse. The lemon-garlic aioli dipping sauce elevated the dish into something luxurious. The beets, with a hint of fresh basil, were lovely. You never can go wrong with the noodles and tartare. The ice cream and mousse were sublime, as you would expect from a world-class pastry chef.

Service options: call or walk up for takeout; no delivery

Safety protocols: follows all government-recommended protocols

Address, phone: 2371 Hosea L. Williams Drive SE, Atlanta; 404-549-8756

Hours:

4:30-9 p.m. Thursdays-Tuesdays.

Website: poorhendrix.com