The world of wine is so vast and varied that it’s easy to get frustrated before you can even take flight. So much terrain to navigate: the very nomenclature of the grape itself and where it was harvested, by whom and in what year, whether or not anything was added or removed. Moving from label to table, there is no set style on how restaurants and bars write wine lists, either. An unschooled eye might wonder if Penedes is a place in Spain, or a glass of bubbles; if Montepulciano is a Tuscan town, or a big bad red.
For those who want to drink good wine without feeling intimidated, or robbed by an expensive restaurant, Hazel Jane’s, next to Cold Beer on the Beltline, is a panacea — a safe haven from the gobbledygook of the grape. It’s also a coffee bar (with some financial backing from Revelator); a celebration of feminist derring-do (it’s named for Hazel Jane Raines, the first woman in Georgia to earn a pilot’s license); and a deeply felt expression of the personal ethos of beverage director Melissa Davis and chef Brad Morris.
It is a place where — however laughable my oenophilic discourse may be — I was never treated with anything less than patience, never rushed or nonplussed, never pressed to try this, drink that. I approached Hazel Jane’s in a tabula rasa state of mind and departed, three visits later, with a desire to drink deeper and savor the adventure.
Bubbles with rice grits and a poached egg? Why not? A dry vermouth, redolent of the honeybees and balsam firs of Canada, with a wedge of olive oil cake? Hear, hear. A delicious, dangerously drinkable frappato/nero d’Avola blend from Sicily with steak? Sì, sì! (The staff will even give you a “passport” for journalizing your choices, and file it away in a safe box until you return.)
Davis (previously of Staplehouse and Cakes & Ale) focuses on “organic/biodynamic/earth husbandry-style” bottles, eschewing the “natural-wine” label. Altogether, she’s picked 150 selections from around the world. Any bottle may be opened with the purchase of two glasses, and once a bottle is uncorked, it can be had by the glass. (Be sure to ask what’s open and, for extra value, what’s left from the previous night.)
As for the food, I’ve taken a shine to Morris’ small plates and brunch dishes more than his mains. I’ve found some plates to be underseasoned (the tonnato and the snapper, for example), while others were overly saline. Case in point: A bowl of squid with cannellini beans, fennel, rapini and piquillo salsa would have been sensational had it not been so salty.
That said, Morris (formerly of Ticonderoga Club, Empire State South and Watershed in the Scott Peacock heyday) loves to bask in the flavors of the Mediterranean, which happen to pair splendidly with vino. My small quibbles aside, his simple, understated style, sense of locality and waste-mindfulness are very admirable.
Consider a heavenly plate of roasted beets in which every part of the vegetable was put to smart use. Gemlike red and gold roots sat on a pile of greens; hidden underneath were dabs of cooling creme fraiche. I loved the contrast of the sweet agrodolce-pickled stems, the luxury of the cream, the tartness of the vinaigrette.
If a medium-rare coulotte steak was good, if a bit chewy, the best part of the plate was the saute of turnips, rutabaga and smoky bacon. Might I have a serving of just that, please? And though the snapper was a just a tad undersalted and overroasted, when I took a bite with its accompaniment of bok choi and mushrooms and a sip of Moutard Family’s 2018 Qu’est-Ce Que C’est Aligoté from Burgundy, it improved considerably.
A nice time to check out Hazel Jane’s is during weekend brunch. I am 100% sold on the rice grits (from Mississippi’s Two Brooks Farm) with zingy roasted and pickled mushrooms, rapini and a poached egg. (Try the middlins’ with a glass of 2018 Gamine Grenache from Oregon.) Another lovely seasonal brunch offering has been a sweet potato hash with crispy shredded chicken, caramelized onions, zingy hakurei turnips, greens and an over-easy egg. (Savor it with Fondo Bozzole Foxi’s 2017 trebbiano frizzante from Italy.)
Whether you want to sip vermouth, nibble almonds and enjoy a tete-a-tete with a friend, or loll over a multicourse dinner, Hazel Jane’s has a seat for you. You can play it safe, or soar across the universe on a bar stool. No visa, no hassle, no BS.
Overall rating: 2 of 4 stars (very good)
Food: Contemporary with Mediterranean influences, plus a heady selection of Old and New World wines, with a focus on “organic, biodynamic, earth husbandry-style” bottle; sherries, vermouths, amaros and delightful oddities.
Service: Impeccable, with a deep understanding of the beverage program
Setting: In a commodious, light-filled new Beltline space
Best dishes: Spiced almonds, tonnato and ricotta, roasted beets, rice grits, sweet potato hash, lemon mousse
Vegetarian selections: Marinated olives, spiced almonds, radicchio salad, roasted beets, rice grits, olive oil cake, lemon mousse
Price range: $$$
Credit cards: all major credit cards accepted
Hours: 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays; 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturdays; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays
Children: no problem
Parking: Free parking along Airline Street, Ezzard Street and Edgewood Avenue (from Edgewood, take ramp down to the Beltline). Paid parking at Edge on the Beltline.
MARTA station: King Memorial
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: low to moderate
Patio: yes, a very handsome and inviting pet-friendly one with prime Beltline views
Address, phone: 670 DeKalb Ave. NE, Suite 102, Atlanta. 404-317-3780
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