A modern Israeli restaurant — with a falafel shop next door. A Provencal-inspired haunt — with an attached wine bar. A husband-and-wife operation that serves rabbit and duck in the main dining room — and wood-fired bagels and sandwiches in an adjoining cafe.
One noticeable 2019 trend was that a number of Atlanta chefs and restaurateurs have opened concepts in pairs. I call it the “sister restaurant” phenomenon: two spaces that are physically, financially, and in some cases intellectually conjoined, as if they are having a conversation with one another.
As the year comes to a close, it occurs to me that the bigger, more visible siblings have gotten more attention than their bashful sidekicks. In the interest of fairness, sibling rivalry and deliciousness, I recently checked out these sister concepts to see what I’ve missed. Here, then, is a quartet of brief year-end reviews.
Tal Baum has vivid memories of her grandparents’ falafel stand in Haifa, Israel. There were only two things on the menu, falafel and Italian sodas. With Falafel Nation, beside her contemporary Israeli hotspot, Aziza, Baum and company want to replicate the bright flavors and easygoing charm of Israeli street food.
Like her grandparents’ hole in the wall, Falafel Nation has a brief menu. I suggest you go with a couple or three people and order one of everything.
There’s sabich: a pita foldover abundantly stuffed with creamy fried eggplant, hummus, sliced boiled eggs, Israeli salad, amba and harissa. There are fried ground-chickpea balls (aka Baum’s safta’s falafel), green with herbs and delicious in a bulging pocket with hummus, salad, tahini, and the Israeli hot sauce zhug. There’s a hummus bowl, with fried chickpeas, sliced boiled egg and crunchy sour pickles. And a wonderful salad (romaine, grape tomatoes, feta, fried chickpeas, egg, toasted pepitas, pickles) that I love to get with falafel. And don’t dare miss the fries, dusted with salt and turmeric and served with harissa aioli for dipping.
So does the food take me back to my recent visit to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem? Well, no. The hummus isn’t as luscious. I long for better pita. And there’s a little bit of inconsistency, though Falafel Nation does get better every time I stop by. And when restaurant manager Daniela Guevara is manning the fryers, loading pitas with all the fixin’s, and filling cups of fries Five Guys style, all is right with the world.
1170 Howell Mill Road NW, Suite P10, Atlanta. 404-968-9437, aziza-restaurant.com/falafel-nation/.
In the Decatur space most recently home to Cakes & Ale, Terry Koval and his wife, Jenn, have installed their very personal restaurant, the Deer and the Dove. In the adjacent storefront, they’ve created B-Side, a showcase for an appealing menu of breakfast and lunch sandwiches (made with head baker Emma Colon’s bread and bagels), a daily soup and a quiche, a salad and some snacks.
Chicken-liver or duck pate, served with bagel chips and pickles, is a good nosh with a glass of wine. Some say the wood-fired bagels are the best in town. After trying a benne seed with smoked-trout schmear, I won’t go that far. But once I started to play around — “Gimme an Everything with smoked salmon and olive and caper spread and a benne seed with pimento cheese and ham” — I was much happier with Colon’s small, chewy, air-pocket-y bagels.
I was also pretty tickled by the pimento cheese sandwich on sliced brioche and the turkey and bacon club on a kaiser roll. (I think dressing up the pimento cheese with ham, sausage, bacon or an egg is a swell idea.)
The Morning Combo — a fried egg and cheddar sandwich on a soft kaiser roll with Duke’s mayo, plus a 12-ounce coffee — makes for a wonderfully satisfying breakfast. At $7, it’s a bargain, too, though I like to add the house-made breakfast sausage ($2). I can’t think of a better way to begin the day than to perch myself on a bar stool with a combo and contemplate the pentimento effect on the brick wall separating B-Side from the Deer and the Dove. “Mrs. Teele’s Home Bakery,” says the time-washed sign of yesteryear. How perfect.
155 Sycamore St., Decatur. 404-748-4617, deerdove.com/b-side.
Imagine a golden-brown waffle cone filled with a swirl of chocolate and vanilla soft serve, coated in a hot-pink strawberry shell that looks like it’s been rolled in a sandbox of sprinkles. Or maybe you’d like coffee soft serve speckled with cocoa-nib bark. Don’t eat dairy? Big Softie in Summerhill is here for you — with a dreamy oat and coconut milk vanilla that’s better than any vegan ice cream I’ve tasted.
Owner Sarah O’Brien knows from dairy. (She gets her milk from the happy cows of Southern Swiss Dairy in Waynesboro.) Her team makes the cones, the dips that magically harden like molten lava, and most of the crispy, crunchy, nutty on-top-ofs that impart texture, and fun. O’Brien, you may recall, is the mother of Little Tart Bakeshop, which started selling its rustic, often French-inspired pastries at local farmers markets in 2010 and now numbers three brick-and-mortars.
Sharing a kitchen with a soft-serving li’l sister seems like a natural for the Summerhill Little Tart, which opened over the summer. Ice cream is the perfect sweet treat for diners who’ve had their fill of Junior’s Pizza or Wood’s Chapel BBQ across the avenue.
Soft serve with a strawberry shell and shards of pink praline might make you feel pretty in pink. I’m happy with a cup of plain vanilla or coffee. Oh, OK. If you insist: Maybe with some peanut crunch or benne brittle thrown on for good measure. All of Instagram will drip with envy when Big Softie is the subject of your click-and-lick posts.
And now a scoop: Look for a Big Softie walk-up window at the Grant Park Little Tart in spring 2020.
66 Georgia Ave. SE, Atlanta. 404-348-4797, ext. 3; bigsoftieatl.com.
Chef Nick Leahy has said Tin Tin is named for his fun-loving French great-aunt; the place also declares that it’s “not your grandma’s wine bar.” So who is the intended clientele of this sunny lunchtime spot, late-night hideaway, and sister establishment of his Provencal-inspired fine dining room, Aix?
Hey, I didn’t come to West Midtown to check IDs. I’m just here for the deviled Mimosa Eggs (with crispy shallots and trout roe), a good salad and the roaring fire that lights up one side of the space. Leahy’s lunch menu has an entire section devoted to the pan bagnat. Here the classic flattened baguette sandwiches are stuffed with the traditional tuna — or ham, chicken, mushrooms and Boursin, smoked salmon, hanger steak. The Chopped Nicoise is tuna-free, but it’s tossed with salty ham, green beans, new potatoes, egg, cucumber and caperberries. A perfect $9 meal. Je l’adore.
I was much less smitten with the apres-11 p.m. offerings: oysters in a small gratin with melted foie gras and toasted brioche for sopping; a ho-hum steak tartare with fries. Next time, maybe I’ll go for those heavenly sounding disco frites — a fancy poutine-like concoction with duck.
956 Brady Ave. NW, Suite 100, Atlanta. 770-838-3502, aixatl.com/winebar.
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