The result is a place that does what hotels do best: welcome you in, give you plenty of comfortable room and decent service at a price. The lengthy menu all but guarantees that every patron will find something to like. Like a hotel, though, it can feel a little impersonal, less someone’s home and more anyone’s home, less Oakhurst Village and more Anytown, USA. The menu is vaguely Southern, but only in the most general of ways. It’s hard to know what the kitchen is proud of. One of the dangers of pleasing everyone is that it leaves precious little time for personality.
If you’re looking for an interesting dish at Scout, try the Angels on Horseback — shucked oysters, smoked bacon and grilled brioche. CONTRIBUTED BY MIA YAKEL
In general, the kitchen is more than competent. The french fries, short, nearly matchstick size made from the celebrated Kennebec variety, are pleasantly crisp and salty. The cauliflower florets, fried in a Pabst Blue Ribbon batter and served with horseradish-spiked sour cream, are fun to dip and munch on between sips of a cold drink. A salad of local, light green lettuces and lemon vinaigrette is topped with a pleasantly sweet crumble of pecan brittle.
But these rather average small plates also obscure much more interesting food, like the Angels on Horseback, a dish of warm, buttery oysters and bacon lardons served over a long slab of toasted brioche. It is a comfort dish of notable vintage, the kind of thing that a student of classic menus might know, and the rendition that Semancik is putting out of his kitchen is top-notch. I’d gladly eat two plates’ worth, so long as they both came with one of Shuman’s cocktails.
The first time I looked at the cocktail menu here, I was a bit skeptical. Shuman has no qualms about working more than a half-dozen ingredients into a drink. One of the long descriptions on the menu stretches into three lines of fine print. Yet, every cocktail I’ve had at Scout has been precisely focused and balanced in flavor.
A simple cocktail? Not quite. Scout’s Street Sense has bourbon, Hamilton’s Pimento Dram, El Guapo Chickory-Pecan Bitters, Night in Brussels IPA, and banana. CONTRIBUTED BY MIA YAKEL
I’m particularly taken with his habit of using local beers for mixers to change the length and mouthfeel of a drink. The bourbon-based Street Sense adds Night in Brussels IPA and a banana shrub to make a complex balance of fruity and savory notes. The Nitro Toronto has all the creamy, smooth qualities of nitrogenized beer (Think: Guinness) but the punch of boozy rye and Fernet Branca Menta. It is delicious, but dangerous. Have a few and you’ll need to hail an Uber home.
The entrees are more than accommodating in portion. An ample duck breast comes piled atop a thick hunk of cauliflower and colorful slaw. The pork chop comes seared to a golden brown with a mess of collards, a bowl of mashed sweet potatoes and some local apples cooked down with mustard. It might have earned the $28 price tag if the golden brown exterior didn’t hide a dry, stringy beyond-well-done interior. The duck breast suffered a similar fate, the rosy interior cooked a solid gray. In general, I enjoyed the small plates and cocktails at Scout much more than these pricier entrees.
The kitchen did much better with a bowl of Georgia Red Shrimp Creole over a bed of creamy, pearl couscous instead of white rice. It is a nice spin, the best qualities of the rich, tomato-packed punch of shrimp Creole and the buttery decadence of shrimp and grits. The shrimp were spot-on, still juicy, and the enormous portion more than satisfied.
Paired with the Angels on Horseback one night, these rich dishes reminded me of New Orleans, a town where the hotel bars and restaurants are full of personality and, as it happens, chef Semancik spent some years studying and working. I wish there were more plates on this menu where I could taste that sense of style and place. Scout is more than fine for a short stay, but it feels too much like a hotel in Anytown, USA.
Overall rating: 2 of 4 stars (very good)
Food: New American
Service: casual but accommodating
Best dishes: Angels on Horseback, Georgia Red Shrimp Creole, fried cauliflower
Vegetarian selections: salads and sides
Price range: $$
Credit cards: all major credit cards
Hours: 4 p.m.-midnight Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4-10 p.m. Sundays
Parking: lot and street parking
Reservations: available online
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: low
Address, phone: 321 W. Hill St., Decatur. 404-496-6863