Editor’s note: The AJC’s restaurant review team is undergoing a change. This week, we bid a fond farewell to Elizabeth Lenhard, who reviewed restaurants for the AJC for the past two years, and we welcome Wendell Brock, a longtime AJC contributor and 2016 winner of a James Beard Foundation journalism award for food writing. Wendell joins AJC dining editor Ligaya Figueras and contributor Wyatt Williams in providing fair, unbiased reviews of metro Atlanta restaurants.
Never thought it would come to this. Never thought I’d utter these words: I’m embroiled in a long-distance relationship with a sandwich.
Neither a conventional looker nor a singular slab of beef, the one I lust for does boast a rather coquettish name and a pedigree akin to royalty in the Atlanta delicatessen world.
My princess calls herself Pastrami on Wry, and she’s just that: a zaftig pile of thinly sliced, slow-roasted wagyu brisket tucked into a rather flashy getup of marble rye. Adorned with melting Swiss, a bit of red onion and a generous dab of prickly Dijon, she is currently holding court at the newly opened Muss & Turner’s East Cobb.
This voluptuous beauty is the handiwork of chef Todd Mussman, who along with business partner Ryan Turner opened the original Muss & Turner’s in Smyrna in 2005, forever changing the gourmet-sandwich game in Atlanta.
Pastrami on Wry demands to be paired with a side of M&T’s ridiculously good, perfectly seasoned house-made french fries and a mug of beer. Then it is worth driving for, day or night, whether you work down the street or live intown like I do.
If you don’t know how M&T rolls, please allow me to introduce you.
In 2010, after its from-scratch kitchen and quirky nomenclature attracted a worshipful following, the team brought in partner-chef Chris Hall and added a second restaurant, Local Three. Two years later, it knocked out a wall to open the M&T speakeasy, Eleanor’s. Now the restaurant group, Unsukay Concepts, has replaced its east Cobb establishment Common Quarter (2013-2017) with a second M&T.
Both M&Ts are casual joints with walk-up counter service during the day — and a sit-down-dinner format in the evening. That’s when things get fancy.
Sure, you can still order sandwiches, salads, bar snacks and some signature sides. But you may also opt for charcuterie and cheese boards, and smartly nuanced small plates and entrees that incorporate fresh seasonal ingredients.
Right now at M&T East Cobb, that means bruschetta with goat cheese, grape tomatoes, strawberries, mint and basil — or pork belly with succotash and charred-onion relish.
On a recent dinner visit, we happened upon a starter of just-foraged chanterelles sauteed with white wine and thyme and served over buttery slices of country loaf. At once rustic and luxurious, this comforting fare was just the right nosh to go with my perfect Boulevardier and my friend’s glass of rosé. Divine.
A special of chicken (braised, smoked and fried) with roasted veggies, fingerlings and morel butter sounded very appealing, as did a pork loin with German potato salad, asparagus and smoked-peach vinaigrette. Thinking these dishes might disappear before this review could run, we stuck to staples. (We’ve since learned these entrees have joined the summer menu, so if you happen to stop by, our bum decision can be your gain.)
But back to the sammies: M&T East Cobb offers an astonishing list of 25 at lunch and dinner: Burgers, Reubens, cold corned beef. Tuna melt, shrimp salad, bagel with salmon and cream cheese. Pork done up as Southern barbecue, as a banh mi riff, a Mexican torta, and something called “Tasty China.” (It’s spiked up with Szechuan peppers.) Vegetarians won’t leave hungry, either: There’s falafel, grilled cheese, egg salad with arugula, and apples with Gruyere.
So. Many. Choices.
I was already familiar with the Gobbler from previous visits to the Smyrna restaurant. (For the uninitiated, it’s roasted turkey, lingonberry sauce, thyme mayo and Bubby Muss’ Ritz Cracker stuffing. Bubby would be the chef’s mother, Helene, and it’s not talking turkey to say he does her proud.)
The aforementioned Pastrami on Wry was schmeared with just a tad too much mustard. (Next time, we might go for the horseradish aioli.) Otherwise, a complete and total knockout. God, how I want to ravish it.
A fish-sandwich lover, I had no bones with the Baja Trout: a crispy, buttermilk-marinated fillet tucked into a bun with pickled jalapenos and slaw of cabbage, cilantro and red onion perked up with lime.
The Aporkalypse Now — thinly sliced loin with smoked chicken-liver mousse, Asian-inflected slaw and cilantro aioli — was hardly “the horror” of the Francis Ford Coppola film, especially when dipped in the ramekin of spicy nam prik sauce. (To go with this nifty sand, I’d probably forgo the In-A-Van cocktail I tried — it tastes too much like tequila with Mexican lemon-lime soda — in favor of a Creature Comforts Tropicalia.)
But whatever you do, don’t forget the fries and a dipping sauce. Or two. (We love the horseradish. You might want truffle or garlic mud or tzatziki — there are 11 in all to choose from.) My god, those long slender taters are good. A half order is plenty for two.
If you’d prefer greens over spuds, a side of delicious, vinegary collards won’t disappoint. I dug those dang tangy collards, but I’m not ashamed to say I liked the Truffleupagus even better.
Um. What’s Truffleupagus?
Why it’s the most creamy, decadent mac-and-cheese you can imagine, with a panko crust and a touch of truffle. Named for one Aloysius Snuffleupagus of “Sesame Street” fame, it requires a snout, or snuffle, to snarf up the truffle. Call me nonsensical. But for a person who freely admits to carrying on with a pastrami sandwich, it’s not far-fetched at all.
It’s what makes me get in the car, and shift into Muss & Turner overdrive.