Arnette’s Chop Shop is a word-of-mouth kind of place. You’d have no reason to venture this far back on Apple Valley Road in Brookhaven unless you were planning to sup here. Well, you could be dropping off your pup at the doggie day care next door. Otherwise, it’s because you’re lost.
But word-of-mouth about Arnette’s is spreading. The new steakhouse is packed on weekends, and the takers don’t seem to be just neighbors, the original target audience for Word of Mouth Restaurants. The hospitality group already serves the community with three dining concepts — Valenza, Haven and Vero — nearby on Dresden Drive. With Arnette’s, business partners Michel Arnette, Steve Rayman and chef Stephen Herman wanted to bring to Brookhaven a “stylish alternative” to a steakhouse.
Arnette’s is stylish to the nines. Prepare to be wowed by a massive wooden front door, by two stories of wining and dining that include an intimate chef’s table near the open kitchen, a central dining room that’s as plush as any steakhouse with banquettes and round booth seating, but airy with expansive windows and high ceilings with exposed ductwork that create a modern, industrial feel.
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If you dine upstairs, you’ll ascend through an artsy rib-cage stairway to find another well-appointed dining area and bar. Pass through the door to the breezy covered terrace decked out as well as the poolside of a five-star resort, but with the not-so-opulent view of an asphalt parking lot. Try not to look that way as you take a seat and order a drink.
The cocktail I can confidently recommend is the 40 Day Aged Manhattan, mellowed by time, and yes, potent, but not holding the burn of similarly slow sippers like the bourbon-based Cul-De-Sac or the one-two punch of whiskey and mezcal in Smoke in the Valley. On the white spirits side, a blood orange margarita riff is flavorful, although overly viscous. Up on the Roof tastes as sophisticated as spiked lemonade.
But the wine list is approachable and holds an extensive number of dependable reds to pair with the main affair: meat.
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Sorry. Am I rushing things? Well, much of my experience at Arnette’s is about rushed things.
USDA Prime cuts are sourced from Chicago purveyors Purely Meat Co. and Allen Bros. Unfortunately, many chops suffered from inconsistent cooking. A 14-ounce bone-in filet was dry and chewy. An 18-ounce KC strip was ordered medium rare. The ends came crisped, medium well. A few knife cuts in, I found the requested medium rare. Deep in the center, blood spilled out, spelling rare. For $64, that’s not fair.
The kitchen performed far better searing smaller cuts – 6-ounce portions of spinalis, Wagyu zabuton and filet of rib-eye. It’s nice to see more than a handful of small-portioned chops on the menu, a service to guests in the mood for a steak but not in consuming 36 ounces or paying $120 for it.
The cut that brought a yee-haw at the table was the 22-ounce cowboy rib-eye. My dining partner ordered it medium. It came medium rare. Fine by me. I prefer it that way. The wet-aged beef was dripping with juices, bursting with flavor. It needed nothing, a lucky thing, because on not a single visit did anyone bother to ask if we wanted a sauce. (For the record, there are five: bearnaise, compound butter, au poivre, roast shallot bordelaise and barrel-aged Worcestershire.)
I have to wonder which chops on the menu are prompting folks to buck up and join the restaurant’s Knife Club, a loyalty program that starts at $600. (Membership brings with it a set of custom engraved knives that remain at the restaurant, wrapped in fine cloth and tucked away in the knife library behind the reception desk.) Maybe it’s the Bacon, a hot appetizer that needs no steak knife at all. A strip of unctuous pork belly is slathered in a thick glaze of bourbon and maple syrup and showered with crushed peanuts, jalapeno rings, cherries and bits of popped popcorn. The sweet-salty, crunchy-tender, mild-spicy heat combinations made every bite interesting.
No other appetizer compared to the Bacon. Not the Wagyu beef tartare with its odd pairing of half a popover. Not the Eggs & Eggs, a coupling of wet, barely scrambled eggs with caviar that drowned in the concoction.
Herman is a farm-to-table fellow. That shows in the number of veg sides at Arnette’s. But here, as with steaks, execution fell flat. A server described a tomato, zucchini, squash and pepper medley as akin to ratatouille. It was more like a fast saute, the cherry tomatoes still whole and not even bursting. The dish wanted for something beyond what any home cook can whip up.
Hen of the woods is a mother of a mushroom. Thick and meaty, it takes time to coax out her earthy juices and deep flavor. Every time I ordered them, they were a rush job.
My eyes lit up at the loaded hasselback potato on the menu. And a hasselback is a thing of beauty when the potato is sliced so thinly that it fans out. Here, it was just a glorified baked potato, thickly sliced and dumped with creme fraiche and scallions. If you crave spuds with your steak, go with the Dauphinoise and cross your fingers that the scalloped slices are creamier than what I got.
Suffice it to say that the dry-as-a-bone crust of a dark chocolate tart best sums up my dessert experiences.
Despite all the snafus, why is it that every time I left Arnette’s, I was almost sorry to leave?
Because I’ve tasted Herman’s food at Italian spot Valenza, new American spot Haven and pizza joint Vero. It’s delicious. His dishes are usually not complicated, because he lets seasonal, locally sourced ingredients speak for themselves. I wanted the ingredients to speak at Arnette’s.
Because service was attentive, almost to a fault. You will find Michel Arnette himself making rounds, servers eager to please and runners practically bumping into one another to fill your water glass. The silent dance of the server is something the staff here has yet to display.
Also because candles cast a warm dim on the downstairs patio. Upstairs, lights twinkle. The seating is cushy, and firepits beckon me back on cooler fall evenings. I want to be in this space.
As a space, Arnette’s is the finest fine dining option in Brookhaven. But when bread service, pork belly, a cowboy rib-eye and a Manhattan cocktail are among the few things worth a repeat order, the wrong kind of word-of-mouth is going to get out.
ARNETTE’S CHOP SHOP
Overall rating: 1 of 4 stars (good)
Food: American steakhouse
Service: friendly and eager
Best dishes: Bacon appetizer, James River oysters, 6-ounce spinalis, 22-ounce cowboy rib-eye
Vegetarian selections: salads, burrata ravioli, numerous potato preparations and vegetable side dishes
Price range: $$$$$
Credit cards: all major credit cards
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 5-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays
Children: not recommended
Parking: free parking lot and street parking
MARTA station: Brookhaven
Reservations: available online
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: medium
Takeout: not advised
Address, phone: 2700 Apple Valley Road, Brookhaven. 404-969-0701