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To accompany the drinks, there is a long menu of small but affordable bites. Chef Jamie Russell, who has made his name in Atlanta working mostly as a pastry chef for fine dining destinations, including Restaurant Eugene, is sneaking in some distinctly European touches. There are nods, like tomato garlic bread topped with anchovies, to the classics of Spanish tapas alongside ubiquitous bar staples like chicken wings and fries.
As for execution, these small plates would be more impressive with a touch more finesse. The plate of tomato garlic anchovy bread had much more blackened toast char than garlicky tomato flavor. The white anchovies were pleasantly tasty, at least. A bowl of smoked trout dip with pickled red onions obscured the trout’s smokiness in buttermilk. Between sips of beer, though, it hit the spot well enough.
Of all of these, I liked a dish of sweet potato biscuits the most. Topped with thick wedges of salty country ham and plated with a pool of sticky sorghum butter, it was the kind of addictive bar snack that dangerously inspires a second (or third) order.
On the left-hand side, though, Poor Hendrix is a more polished place. A wall-size rack of wine bottles faces a few window-facing round, dark wooden tables. A narrow row of tables runs into the back. On the walls, that night’s dinner menu is handwritten on boards, never more than a few appetizers and a handful of entrees. On this side, service is attentive and the kitchen’s ambitions are more apparent in execution.
A bowl of herb-marinated white beans is perfect for passing around the table at Poor Hendrix. CONTRIBUTED BY WYATT WILLIAMS
A bowl of herb-marinated white beans and crispy sesame crackers was the kind of light but tasty, pre-dinner snack that goes just right with a glass of chardonnay. Nice, too, was a bowl of confit baby potatoes brightened by an acidic, chile oil-spiked aioli. Any meal, though, will begin with house yeast rolls. Their crisp, salt-topped crust and chewy interior are a real pleasure. There’s no surprise here that the chef cut his chops in the pastry department.
A plate of red wine-braised short ribs was as classic as could be. The beef was fork tender and deeply savory, and the pearl onions were just beginning to caramelize.
The farro risotto packed a double punch of umami from oyster mushrooms and Asiago cheese into a toothsome, hearty plate that never felt too rich. The roast trout with grits topped with bacon lardons and roast mushrooms was rich and decadent, though that could have used a little restraint on the butter. Russell may still have some fine-tuning work to be done in the kitchen, but the broad strokes of these meals have been a real pleasure.
Sitting with friends at one of those round wooden tables with an arrangement of flowers by the window, sipping from the short list of wines and passing these plates around to share — these are the pleasures that make a neighborhood long for a restaurant to call its own. In Poor Hendrix, I believe East Lake has found one.
Poor Hendrix. 2371 Hosea L. Williams Drive, Atlanta. 4 p.m.-midnight Sundays-Thursdays, 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Closed Wednesdays. 404-549-8756, poorhendrix.com.