The entertainment district adjacent to the Braves stadium known as The Battery Atlanta debuted last year, but now that the bulk of restaurants, bars and shops are open, the place is in full swing. Among the spots to have opened this season are Garden & Gun Club and Punch Bowl Social.
Garden & Gun Club gets you close to pregame revelry near the Right Field entrance yet far from ballpark concessions. Forget hot dogs, beer, popcorn and peanuts. This is a Southern lounge, a concept from the folks behind the Charleston, S.C.-based magazine of the same name.
No membership is required, but there’s a bit of cheeky exclusivity in the air. Wedged between C. Ellet’s steakhouse and Antico Pizza, it’s a small space that’s easily missed.
It’s country club comfy. Shady greenery on the patio separates you from the sweaty throng of humanity. Inside, seated on a leather chair and your bag hanging from a brass hook, you might even feel like high society, despite your Braves jersey.
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To start things off right proper, order the Proper Old-Fashioned made with Blade and Bow Kentucky straight bourbon, a few dashes of angostura bitters, brown sugar and lemon. Like all beverages at G&G, it’s served on a paper napkin printed with the club’s name and the location “Atlanta, Georgia,” in case you drink one too many Old-Fashioneds and forget where you are.
The club doesn’t take itself too seriously. A competent bar team also happens to be entertainers. One night, with all dozen or so seats taken at the U-shaped bar, they kept the crowd amused with a mechanical ice-cube maker that turns squares into spheres.
Stick with tradition when it comes to food and drink, though. Cocktails from the “Classics” section of the menu — that Proper Old-Fashioned, the rummy Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, a julep heaped with mint — were exactly what I hoped for from such time-tested concoctions. You can go alt indie with a cocktail from the “Originals” category — nearly all are named for songs from Athens-born ’80s rock band R.E.M., but the majority don’t belt out much of a tune except for the Manhattan-esque Exhuming McCarthy.
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Southern bites dominate the food menu. Slathering a thick dip of smoked cobia on saltines doctored up with Old Bay, scooping up pimento cheese with celery sticks, dunking cornmeal-fried shrimp into comeback sauce and finger-picking thinly sliced Benton’s ham was not only pleasant noshing, but I felt myself feeling more and more Southern pride with each bite. And I’m not even from these parts! (Though I’d love to see more Southern pickings accompany the ham board than three wee biscuits and tomato jam.)
I adored the chopped chicken liver, so chucky and piled on a sizable slice of warm toast. Yet the same chunkiness and generous portion of rich, earthy chicken organ is exactly what another dining partner didn’t like.
Oh, but isn’t that the way with Southern food? There’s so much opinion. So argue your way through a bowl of battered fish and grits. A dinner partner who doesn’t like anything cooked to the consistency of “baby food” enjoyed the bite of these coarse Pencil Cob grits from Anson Mills. Debate what makes gumbo great as you spoon into this turkey neck version that’s as deep in flavor as it is in color, ladled over Carolina Gold rice.
I imagine you’ll come to a consensus that the cake of the day is worth it, especially if it’s the butter cake, a sort of bruleed pound cake with a crusty top that’s finished off with house-made butter pecan ice cream, whipped cream and strawberries. We were all smitten.
The Garden & Gun Club kitchen isn’t breaking any new ground with Southern specialties. So don’t take things too seriously. It may be a club in name, but it’s more like Cheers.
Just a few paces away, it’s the fun and games that have millennials packing the cavernous, two-story Punch Bowl Social. Even when the Braves don’t have a home stand, it’s standing room only, with bar stools and tables claimed until 2 a.m., along with bowling lanes, foosball tables, dart boards, cornhole, giant Jenga, an arcade room, karaoke and a virtual reality zone.
Punch Bowl Social, part of a growing national chain, is pretty much Dave and Buster’s for adults. You can’t take food too seriously here, either, even though the menu bears the name Hugh Acheson as culinary partner, which our server made sure to mention in her welcome spiel.
I enjoy Acheson’s Empire State South. I’ve found pleasures in his upscale Battery eatery, Achie’s, inside the Omni Hotel. His Five & Ten and the National are staples on the Athens eating map. Which is why it’s hard to look past the mediocrity that arrived at the table at Punch Bowl Social: a cold sloppy Joe; an Impossible burger that was not just expectedly meatless, but unexpectedly flavorless; a $20 lobster roll (with a free strand of hair) whose wetness saturated a barely toasted hot dog bun.
Then there was the OMFG GF Southern Fried Chicken order that came with half of a breast OMFG cut off and missing. I hope that the hungry cook in the kitchen enjoyed that poultry half better than I enjoyed the other. Before we even realized the chicken order was a cluck-up, a runner dropped off a fried drumstick at the table with the only explanation that the kitchen said to bring it.
Sides proved no better. House-cut fries arrived lukewarm and droopy; apart from a desire for fiber, a three-bean quinoa salad would have a die-hard vegetarian skipping out right quick.
The kitchen was put through the paces that night, but the same apathy occurred on a rainy day, when a friend and I were practically the only ones in the dining room since the rest of the place had been rented out for a corporate function.
The special, the waiter told us, was the Knockoff Burger. Is that the same one that’s listed on the menu? I asked. Yes, but the place is dead, the weather is lousy, and it’s not a game day, he reasoned. That not-special special is a Big Mac pretender. Lil’ Street Tacos are lil’ as advertised; the dryness of the pork carnitas is not.
Sriracha Peanut Fries may be the best thing of all. It’s bar food through and through, but with a quirk that I’ve come to expect and enjoy from Acheson’s creations. You don’t know that crushed peanuts plus pickled peppers and onions plus the heat of Sriracha plus hoisin plus garlic mayo is good till you’ve tried it.
Perhaps Punch Bowl Social patrons don’t mind, because there are so many diversions to keep you contented here besides food, including punch bowls like the It’s a Mer-Man’s World, which is too tea-steeped for my tastes, but is perfect as a pinkies-up moment for Instagram.
The Battery is in no short supply of entertainment. I hear there’s pickup dominoes at the newly opened Latin sandwich shop El Super Pan just a few storefronts down. I’m game.
Garden & Gun Club. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays. The Battery Atlanta, 2605 Circle 75 Parkway, Atlanta. 770-726-0925, gardenandgunclub.com.
Punch Bowl Social. 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Mondays-Fridays; 9 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturdays; 9 a.m.-midnight Sundays (21 and older after 10 p.m.). 875 Battery Ave., Atlanta. 470-443-1443, punchbowlsocial.com/location/atlanta.