Review: Field Day’s bar food and cocktails just right for neighborhood

The Big Day Burger at Field Day is a double stack with some extras: jammy-sweet bacon agrodolce and a perfect confit egg yolk. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

Memo to Field Day: Stop spoiling me.

Otherwise, from now on, I’m going to want all my fries with luxurious accompaniments — like your dipping sauce setup of creme fraiche, trout roe and finely snipped herbs. I’m going to tsk tsk regular old cheeseburgers — and hold out for your Big Day double stack, slathered with jammy-sweet bacon agrodolce and topped with a perfect confit egg yolk. That sunny blob oozes on demand, making the gourmet sandwich more moist, more choice.

Field Day’s executive chef and co-owner Mike Pitts left BeetleCat to start this new restaurant. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

Nestled in a Highland Avenue shotgun (formerly Roman Lily Cafe, most recently Across the Street), Field Day is an improvement on the concept of a chef'ed-up neighborhood bar, an oddly elusive animal in this status-driven, fine-dining-obsessed town. From sibling partners Rob and Owen Bouton and executive chef Mike Pitts (who left BeetleCat to start this new endeavor), Field Day registers as a welcome sweet spot between high-end gastropub and everyday diner-dive. (I'm looking at you, Cold Beer and LLoyd's Restaurant & Lounge.) A follow-up to the brothers' like-minded Queen Street Grocery in Charleston, Field Day is the after-5 bookend to their bodega-style sister establishment next door, Everyday Market, where you may fetch wine, cheese and other provisions to go.

If you’re looking for something between high-end gastropub and everyday diner-dive, Field Day will hit the spot. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

At Field Day, beverage director David Petro’s smart, well-mixed cocktails deserve equal billing with Pitts’ anything-goes menu. The chef breezily fashions classic snacks and starters (crab dip, clam chowder); snazzy, original sandwiches (a pork-shoulder riff on Philly cheesesteak; grilled cheese with kimchi); meat-and-potato variations (steak tartare with chips; baked potato loaded with barbecue brisket; bistro steak-frites); and — apropos the name — lovely fresh veggies executed with contemporary panache.

Cocktails at Field Day include the Mauresque (left) and the Paloma. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

Sipping a smoky, mezcal-based Paloma and a Mauresque Cocktail (a potent, anise-perfumed beauty of absinthe, cognac, pear brandy, orgeat, rose water and lime), we scooped up tartare with Zapp’s potato chips and spread crab dip on toast points. The former was a chunky affair with mushrooms and sliced pearl onions, slicked with Fernet vinaigrette — a solid effort, albeit a little too heavy on the mustard for me. The latter, delicately seasoned with pickled celery and dill, tasted clean and fresh, though I didn’t quite get the presentation: The spread was packed into what appeared to be a recycled cobalt-blue glass jar, the kind one normally associates with Noxzema — kinda cute and kinda cumbersome to fish out.

There are plenty of reasons to love Field Day’s duck and citrus salad, including flavors that bounce off one another. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

I had no quibbles with the duck and citrus salad, however. With its sweet-tart satsuma, blood orange and grapefruit segments; bitter watercress; unctuous duck confit; salty pecorino; and duck-fat dressing, it pushed all the right buttons: seasonally appropriate, visually attractive, flavors that bounce off one another. Less impressive was a ho-hum chowder of littleneck clams, potatoes and white miso, with nori-dusted oyster crackers on the side. It seemed to be trying too hard to be clever, but the Asian touches didn’t really suit, or sing (#umamifail).

Obsessed as I am with that previously mentioned Big Day Burger, it would have been nicer had the bun been warm. But once I broke that egg yolk and let the richness of Tillamook cheddar and sweet-tart bacon jam marry with humble pickle and mayo, it all came together. Damn fine burger.

I had a similar issue with the house-cut fries — nicely executed though a bit on the cool side. But when you’re contemplating a little cup of creme fraiche, with a generous dollop of bright-orange trout roe and finely chopped chives for stirring in, nothing to be done but pick up a tater and give it twirl. Damn sexy potatoes. Totally worth the $5 upcharge.

You can put together your own veggie plate at Field Day with (clockwise from top) cauliflower, hakurei turnips and Sea Island peas. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

If you find the fare to be a little meat-heavy, peep the right column of the menu. Tender cauliflower with whipped sheep’s milk cheese, brown butter, golden raisins and capers is a delicious starter. Or you can make it the centerpiece of a self-styled veggie plate, which is how we designed the final course of our supper for two. Sea Island red peas, cooked in shiitake broth and seasoned with bacon, brought back memories of childhood summers spent picking and shelling fresh Southern field peas. Tangy hakurei turnips, dressed with a light, sweet-and-sour mustard sauce and tossed with Asian pear and cilantro, completed our veggie trio. This chef seems to intuit the notion of salt, fat, acid, heat.

Desserts don’t get a lot of attention at Field Day. (By that, I mean there’s usually just one or two.) Happily, the one I sampled, a loosely constructed, house-made guava cheesecake, drizzled with a shiny slick of guava jam and topped with fresh fruit, was a knockout.

At the end of it all, Field Day won me over with its unpretentious vibe, wonderful cocktails and variety of offerings, from homespun to luxe, always at a good value. (Only one entree tops $20.) It’s not a high-profile restaurant; nor does it care to be. Rather, it’s an ideal spot for little indulgences and late-night munchies. Should you desire a bottle of wine, a pint of ice cream or a doggy pop to take home, Everyday Market beckons.

FIELD DAY

Overall rating: 2 of 4 stars (very good)

Food: Elevated bar food, with most entrees under $20

Service: Amiable and chill; servers allow you to set your own pace

Setting: In a time-washed North Highland storefront, one of the few to survive the wrecking bar, refurbished with color and flair and a shiny new kitchen

Best dishes: Duck and citrus salad. Steak tartare. Crab dip. Fries with creme fraiche and trout roe. Big Day Burger. Cauliflower. Sea Island Peas. Hakurei turnips. Guava cheesecake.

Vegetarian selections: Field Day salad. Grilled cheese. Cauliflower. Fries. Kabocha squash. Hakurei turnips. Guava cheesecake.

Alcohol: Yes. Full bar, with delightful cocktails

Price range: $$$

Credit cards: all major credit cards accepted

Hours: 5-11 p.m. Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays (closed Mondays and Tuesdays); 5 p.m.-midnight Fridays-Saturdays

Children: No problem, but keep in mind: It's a bar, and can get lively as the night unfolds.

Parking: on the street and in the free lot east of the restaurant

MARTA station: King Memorial; Inman Park-Reynoldstown

Reservations: no

Wheelchair access: yes

Noise level: can get loud when busy

Patio: yes

Takeout: yes, but not over the phone or via delivery services; may order at the restaurant to go

Address, phone: 668 Highland Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-941-7079

Website: fielddayeveryday.com

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