For a critic like myself, who longs to be served dishes from chefs cooking not just with their hands but also their head and their heart, it has been painful for me to watch over the years a fair number of chefs in Atlanta be served the same lesson that Ouzts apparently was. Simply put, there is a modest audience in this town for food that is individual, born of the mind of a distinct chef. Ouzts’ Cockentrice belongs to a group of Atlanta restaurants that never found the audience they deserved. The late Angus Brown and Nhan Le’s Lusca comes to mind, as does Asha Gomez’s Cardamom Hill. Fine company, if bittersweet.
When a chef emerges from the trauma that is losing that sort of defining statement-restaurant, he or she usually comes bearing another hard lesson: There is plenty of real estate and foot traffic available in this town for chefs willing to flip gussied-up cheeseburgers and spin rotisserie chickens. It’s a conclusion I’d be tempted to call cynical if it weren’t so obviously true.
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The menu served at Barleygarden is, in that way, what people want. A plate of chicken wings comes in buffalo or lemon pepper seasoning. There are fries and aioli that might inspire you to say, “Not bad!” You can get a pretty good bowl of fried cauliflower seasoned addictively with paprika and Parmesan. If I was killing a long afternoon on the patio, I could easily imagine ordering two bowls worth.
Some of the menu (boring salads, forgettable sandwiches) seems to be written in a “no kitchen can screw this up” safety zone, which would be better if it were true. One night I was served a dry, grainy pork bratwurst burger cooked past well done into a zone I’d call oblivion. Not even a heap of caramelized onions, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing could save it.
By far, the best elements of the kitchen here come from the Spotted Trotter’s fine charcuterie. The most exciting option is a build-your-own grilled cheese sandwich that can be filled with a rotating selection of meats including pastrami or chorizo, cheeses, and house-made lingonberry jam or mustard. Order just pastrami and provolone with mustard, and you’ll have a thin but satisfying savory snack. Load it up with the works (three meats and three cheeses) and you’ll have a salty, melty indulgence on your plate.
You’ll notice the menu, not so modestly, also offers “The Best Hot Dog You’ll Ever Eat.” Will that be true for you? I think it depends on what hot dogs you’ve eaten, but it is quite good: juicy, snappy, salty, and meaty enough to balance an ample bun. Loaded up with a mustard seed-laced pickle relish, I’d happily put it in my top five. That “best ever” phrasing is maybe the most ambitious thing on the menu.
Barleygarden is a place that understands its customers. You can order a nice local beer in a to-go cup and wander around the shops of Avalon, ogle the Tesla cars and Apple phones, or linger on the rooftop, nibbling on fries. No need to bother sitting down for fancy food.
BARLEYGARDEN KITCHEN AND CRAFT BAR
900 Avalon Blvd., Alpharetta. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays; 11 a.m.-midnight Thursdays-Saturdays; 12:30-10 p.m. Sundays. 678-266-6220, barleygardenkitchen.com.
Recommended dishes: grilled cheese sandwich, hot dog, fried cauliflower