How do you take your coffee shops? Do you like dark lairs with sputtering espresso machines and spiky baristas? Or do you prefer bright, sunny rooms with marble counters, smart wine lists and chefs who aim to create thoughtful, handmade food?
If you belong to the latter camp, Mourning Dove Cafe might give you reason to coo.
Perched in a secluded northern branch of The Shops Buckhead Atlanta, in the space vacated by Corso Coffee last year, Mourning Dove is the new nesting ground of executive chef Andrea Kirshtein. A pastry artist with an impressive resume (the Spence, the Luminary, Empire State South), Kirshtein is flying solo for the first time, backed by corporate partner Revelator Coffee Co.
Rather like the cafe’s namesake, a compact creature with gray feathers and a soft call, Mourning Dove seems a little meek and mild. As far as coffeehouses go, you’ll have an experience that is more soporific than overly stimulated.
On the patio sits a Big Green Egg, where Kirshtein smokes meat for sandwiches. Inside is the tiny kitchen where she bakes bread, biscuits, coffeecake, scones and other treats. I have a feeling she gets most of the essential cooking out of the way early in the day. It’s a simple matter of economy, because her work space is so tight.
Stop in before noon, and you may have an exceptionally delicious chicken sausage biscuit with silken apple butter. Or a little dish of Israeli shakshuka that is especially wonderful sopped up with grilled sourdough toast. Or a spot of chicken soup that’s both comforting and heady. Lurking in the complex, deeply flavored broth is a lovely surprise: crescent-shaped egg dumplings like the ones the chef’s grandma used to add to her Chicken Paprikash.
As the day wears on, however, the food tends to leave the impression that it’s been sitting around, waiting to be rewarmed. A smoked brisket sandwich, made with sourdough bread and perked up with tangy pickled radicchio, was good but hardly a revelation. Chicken poutine, baked like a pie and cut into wedges, sat on a crust of shredded, vermicelli-textured potatoes. I’ll bet it was fabulous fresh out of the oven. Alas, by the time it got to me, it was rather meh.
I didn’t think much of the so-called Monte Cristo, either. The classic French sandwich of ham and Gruyere is traditionally dipped in egg and fried in butter. Kirshtein’s variation is a looser affair of toasted brioche, smoked turkey, Gruyere and a whisper of ham. It’s dusted with confectioners’ sugar and paired with strawberry puree — a worthwhile idea that ought to appeal to lovers of sweet-savory combos. That said, I found my Sunday afternoon Monte Cristo rather lackluster and uninspired.
During a weekday lunch, my friend and I started with an appetizer of Tuscan white-bean spread with flatbread. The delicate crackerlike crisps were marvelously brittle on the exterior yet soft and crumbly when you broke into them — love that texture. It’s a nice little nosh, although the second time I tried it, it had been blasted in the microwave so long it was scaldingly hot and tasteless.
Thankfully, I can find no fault with the coffee. I had a perfect cortado and a lovely cappuccino.
The smartly tailored list of wine and bubbles evokes France, with a smattering of West Coast, European and South American grapes. A couple of side notes: I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to drink wine, I usually start around the time Mourning Dove closes (5-7 p.m.). The counter-service format is not conducive to sipping cocktails and wine, either — not when you have to return to the cash register every time you want a fresh drink.
It will be interesting to see how this endeavor evolves. Shortly after it opened, I stopped by with a food critic from another outlet. Kirshtein’s husband, Eli, who is culinary director for Revelator, recognized my colleague. Just about every thing we tried was memorable.
Lately, it’s been harder to get a handle on the place, not to mention a dependable bite. The staff can be slow and plodding and doesn’t seem that engaged in much more than making coffee.
Now, if you want to nurse your cup in a pretty environment that’s just steps away from the city’s poshest boutiques, Mourning Dove’s for you. Me, I’ll take a chicken sausage biscuit over a Dior bauble any day.