The little white plant served as the garnish for a butternut squash tart.
The tart was a welcome alternative from the typical pumpkin pie of autumn. There was, on the side, a dab of cranberry compote and a dollop of Dark and Stormy — rum ice cream and ginger ice cream swirled into a zinger of a frozen treat. Scattered around the chilly quenelle were crumbled sugar cookies that, a few years ago, might have been referred to on a restaurant menu as cookie “dust,” had those crumbs been pulverized to a powder. But, amid all this happening on the dessert plate, the little white plant is what held my attention. It was a corn sprout.
The corn sprout. I can’t get the corn sprout out of my head. What does the corn sprout mean? What was it doing in that dessert? What does it say about the minds at work in the kitchen at the Shed at Glenwood? A lot, I think.
The dessert came from a kitchen helmed by 28-year-old Justin Dixon. This is his first prominent exec chef gig, one he’s been at now for the past year. Dixon attended the Art Institute of Atlanta and got his start at Pano’s & Paul’s. He since has worked in this city under such names as Ian Winslade, Zeb Stevenson, Shaun Doty, Chris Hall and, most recently, Wesley True.
Dixon wrote me some months ago suggesting that I dine at the restaurant in East Atlanta’s Glenwood Park, adding: “We are getting rave reviews from our regulars and neighbors. I think we’ve gotten to the point where I would like to showcase what we’re doing here to the rest of the city.”
I did not respond. I did check it out.
Sitting down in the soft-lit, quiet bistro, I was greeted, like most diners in the room, with an amuse-bouche of warm tomato bisque in a demitasse cup. When your work week is harried, the weekend arrives, and you decide to eat out, you just want to find calmness, to be taken care of. This little offering was a gracious gesture that no one at my table took for granted.
With drink options that include five barrel-aged cocktails (the Sazerac worked for me; the 12 Year Itch, a rum-Fernet-Antica vermouth trio, proved too potent for my taste), local craft beers and a weekend-only wine deal that nets you a serviceable bottle for $20, it’s easy to get comfortable quickly at the Shed.
The menu is easily navigable, too. Divided into snacks, toasts, oysters, cheese, apps, mains, sides and desserts, there are just a handful in each category and the price point makes it easier to sample from every section.
Start with snacks, especially the Steak + Eggs. The twist to these deviled eggs is the unexpected beef tartare buried below the expected deviled egg filling. Bread + Butter begets four oval Parker House rolls, a dab of caramel apple butter in the center, nestled in a cast-iron pan. The look is homey. The bread is yeasty and airy, but would been better if that cast-iron pan was actually hot. It was stone cold. (Mac-and-cheese suffered a similar fate.)
Toast is still a thing, and the Shed has three offerings. There’s the fried chicken salad. It’s fun, fatty and flavorful, although the toast was, at times, unwieldy, with some bites of chicken double the average dice. The whipped ricotta-cranberry combo is a flavor pairing in keeping with the seasons, but the ricotta was so generously mounded atop the bread that, with every bite, white clouds of cheese fell off. My repeat toast order would be the trio of cashew butter, green apple and celery. It’s like the ants on a log snack sans the ants (aka raisins) from elementary school years.
Many of the items at the Shed will take you back to your childhood, because comfort food abounds here. In some instances, the dishes are exactly what they purport to be, like Hamburger Helper or a pot roast, called Meat + Potatoes, that holds deeply flavorful braised beef with root vegetables.
In many cases, those familiar dishes have been reimagined or updated, as in the presentation of a chicken pot pie topped with puff pastry rather than being enveloped in a crust. The essence of a Snickers bar is captured in profiteroles filled with caramel ice cream, drizzled with chocolate, nougat and a sprinkle of chopped peanuts.
At times, though, there were little details that left me wishing for something better. One of the joys, for me, of a pot pie is breaking into the crust and seeing the steam rush out. Here, no steam escaped and the filling was glutinous instead of creamy and luscious. A plate of orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabe and butternut squash was too salty to enjoy. A burger patty of house-ground dry-aged beef was dry and underseasoned. The cake of a Ding Dong wanted for moistness; the dessert also was served very cold, muting some of the richness of the chocolate icing.
A few minor elements left me wondering. Why are some dishes so formally plated and others not? Why are some dishes playfully named and others not?
I think it’s about a chef finding his voice. And I’ll be back to eat up what Dixon has to say through food.
I know just what I’m ordering, too. I’m starting with those deviled eggs. Then, a big bowl of Atlanta Harvest Greens Salad with butternut squash, goat cheese, fennel, pumpkin seeds toasted just so and a marvelous sweet-astringent maple vinaigrette pulling it all together. I’ll hope that pork ’n’ beans is still on the menu — the bourbon-glazed pork belly with braised white beans might be simple, but they do it very well here. They call it an appetizer, but it’s entree enough for me. If I can’t get that, I’ll shift to mains and make it the pork shoulder that’s just as fork-tender as the braised beef in the perfect pot roast, but which takes an Asian turn with coconut rice and the funk and fire of apple kimchi.
Of course, the finish has to be the butternut squash tart. That tart will make me groan as I slip into a food coma. It’ll also make me think.
I now know why Dixon uses the corn sprout from boutique microgreens grower Ashland Farm atop that tart. To him, it speaks of fall. And his family always has corn for Thanksgiving.
Did the sprout add to the taste of the dish? For me, barely. Did it make the dish prettier? Perhaps. Did it signal that someone in the kitchen at the Shed was attempting to do something new? Definitely.
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