Atlanta’s east side has many neighborhoods enviable for dining. There’s Virginia-Highland, Old Fourth Ward, Inman Park, Reynoldstown, Grant Park …
Lately, new eating options pop up so often in these parts that it’s tricky to keep up with them all. Heck, it’s tricky just to stay in the know about action along Memorial Drive. One new development on this happening boulevard is the Larkin on Memorial, a mixed-use facility located across from Oakland Cemetery.
The roster of food tenants at the Larkin includes Grant Park Market, Fire Pit Pizza, Ramen Station, Kale Me Crazy and Full Commission. The last makes its home in a freestanding building in this 63,000-square-foot complex. It is here that David Traxler has entered into the Atlanta dining fray as a first-time owner-operator of a casual, boutique-y little spot that serves bites with a Southern bent for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He’s onto something.
Perhaps that’s because Traxler takes a less-is-more approach. The hours might be long, but the menus are succinct. And service makes sense: counter service weekdays until 3 p.m., sit-down service for dinner and weekend brunch.
A cortado, from beans by local coffee roaster East Pole, paired with the Homemade Poptart will be my standard order any time I walk through the doors in daylight hours. The Homemade Poptart is served warm, toasted, and the filling changes regularly (plum was yum). Colored sprinkles and a zigzag of icing tickle childhood fancies; a scattering of fresh berries attracts adult eyes.
The scratch poptart is one of the few items that remain on the menu since the restaurant opened last summer. Chef Elodie Westover, who joined the kitchen in December, has revamped most everything else. Westover, the former executive pastry chef for sister restaurants Golden Eagle, Muchacho and Ladybird, has a knack for baked goods.
It’s not just her sweet treats, like a slice of strawberry breakfast bread that does justice to gluten-free baked fare; it’s all the breads. Sourdough, white loaf, brioche and English muffins are all made in this cramped kitchen. Try the sandwich of the day, as well as the Northern or the Southern — handhelds served on an English muffin. If the muffin had been toasted longer to give the insides better crispness, and the smoked salmon had more smoke to it, the Northern, a lox-and-bagel riff, would be my standard order for a daytime savory nosh. (The Southern is egg-centric.) These sandwiches come with a side. Crispy Torn Potatoes were as average as any roasted potato wedges; a bowl of undercooked grits relied on cheese to carry the weight.
As night falls, the place shifts from cafe to bar-restaurant. A dinner menu holds a mere half-dozen starters, five entrees and a handful of sides, respectively labeled “openers,” “opportunities” and “bonus,” in keeping with the Full Commission theme in homage to Traxler’s former IT job.
Openers are few. They are minimalist. They are strong. Fried okra brings a lidded Mason jar filled with slivers of the nicely crisped veggie seasoned with curry salt and a ramekin of raita for dipping. Even the citrus-sesame dressing on a seasonal salad merits a shoutout for exceptional flavor and the care given to lightly coat each piece of lettuce, beet, pickled red onion and goat cheese. Salads are serious stuff for the rabbit crowd, after all.
Salt and vinegar pork rinds are less serious, and where things start to get fun. Salty, barely oily, and dunked in a vinegary, red hot sauce, these chunks of puffy, crispy chicharrones are what you need to pair with beer here. Regional and local beers are on tap — the closest one comes from Grant Park neighbor Eventide. Wine is especially fun. The by-the-glass list is succinct, but still explorable. Options for half-glasses, glasses or a carafe (and half-priced bottles on Wednesdays) are there to match both your pocketbook and your inclination for alcohol.
While the food menu has undergone changes since chef Westover’s arrival, the cocktail menu has not. Good. That means you’ve got the opportunity to try the Full Commission, their signature gin-vodka martini. Great, if they would chill down the glass better when making the drink.
If you order a second round (recommended: Old Fashioned on draft or the tequila-and-mezcal-based Boiler Room), maybe you’ll be more forgiving about the runniness of the pimento cheese sandwiched between your snack of otherwise cute little profiteroles.
When more than munchies strike, order the duck sandwich. At $15, it’s a bit pricey, and really should be advertised as an oversized slider. Portion aside, the flavorful shredded duck plus raclette cheese plus house pickles plus cherry gastrique plus garlic aioli equal fine bites, and ones far superior to another meaty option, like the Cornish Game Hen atop a bowl of one-dimensional baked beans.
If Full Commission wants to lure the Kale Me Crazy crowd with its own grain bowl, it has work to do. Grains — a combination of brown rice and quinoa — were wet and heavy. This generously portioned dish may make the health crowd feel good mentally, but their taste buds may be left wanting.
Not so with the Carolina trout. This was the unexpected winner, my full commission. The lovingly treated fish was cooked butterflied, skin-side flipped in when plated. The fillets sat atop an understated beurre blanc, served alongside a grit cake that held its own (compared to those brunch cheese grits) and sauteed green beans and Broccolini, sourced, like most produce here, from a local farm. This is the sort of quiet dish, one where the chef lets the food do the talking, that I would have sought at the now-defunct Cakes & Ale in Decatur.
While Westover and her culinary team maneuver in cramped back quarters to turn out a dish as laudable as the trout, we patrons taking a seat out front in the main dining room can’t maneuver quite as deftly. Tightly packed tables along a banquette form a barrier between cushy seating and a tiny aisle. “I need to figure out how to shimmy out of here,” said a woman at an adjacent table, upon finishing her meal. Overhearing her, we shifted our table a good 6 inches so she could squeeze by. Perhaps the less-is-more approach might be applied here, because there is a difference between cramped and cozy.
Most of the other elements at Full Commission do add up to “cozy”: a large patio — currently in winter mode, enclosed and with space heaters — offers seating options that range from lounge sofas to high-top tables; a genuinely gracious staff whom you might come to know by name after just a few visits; and, let’s not forget, a warm poptart with a good cup of coffee.
Overall rating: 2 of 4 stars (very good)
Food: all-day, Southern-inspired bistro-cafe
Service: friendly and expeditious
Best dishes: Fried okra, Carolina trout, salt and vinegar pork rinds, duck and raclette sandwich, Homemade Poptart
Vegetarian selections: Fried okra, fried cauliflower, butternut squash soup, seasonal salad, winter grain bowl, numerous side dishes, roasted veggie grit bowl during brunch
Price range: $$-$$$
Credit cards: all major credit cards
Hours: 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 7 a.m.-midnight Fridays; 8 a.m.-midnight Saturdays; 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays
Parking: free lot parking
MARTA station: King Memorial
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: moderate
Patio: yes, enclosed and heated during winter
Address, phone: 519 Memorial Drive SE, Atlanta. 404-941-9102
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