The Friday night that a winter storm hit Atlanta, there was a power outage at Krog Street Market. The place went dark just as I was paying the bill at Ticonderoga Club, a restaurant and bar tucked into the back corner of the popular food hall that’s attracting the young and beautiful to Inman Park.
With no electricity to process the credit card, the server, who had impressively (it was always ladies first) waited on my table and most of the others in the restaurant’s front area, took down a phone number and said he’d call to settle up the next day. Well, that was random, agreed my dining partners.
Random. Ticonderoga Club is random. Mostly, random works. But not all of the time.
Random works with amusing quirks like the captain’s chair permanently affixed at the intimate bar amid a small fleet of stools. Like the skull imprinted on select plates that may or may not be among those you’ll eat from. Like the faux fish in the bathroom that serves as a toilet paper holder.
The nautical is an undercurrent at Ticonderoga Club and part of its backstory. The bar pays respect to beverages that our Colonial forefathers used to unload from trade ships — rum, brandy, Madeira and other fortified spirits, even cider. That makes sense, considering the beverage program was created by Greg Best and Paul Calvert, two longtime area bartenders with inclinations for classically minded imbibing.
A brief list of seven cocktails thankfully returns us to a simpler day of few ingredients, all understandable. Among those cocktails, I lingered like a lover with the Buckskin Playmate, a deep, dark mix of bourbon, rye, Madeira, vermouth, herbaceous Herbsaint and bitters — though I would have appreciated a big old ice cube in this boozy drink.
The Cognac-forward Antique Sour was similarly balanced, and so elegant with its delicate froth. Thread & Theory, however, fell short. Too much acid from apple cider vinegar threw it off kilter, giving the rum-amaro concoction a near hollow feel.
The Ticonderoga Cup is a phenomenal house punch, but served in a handleless metal mint julep cup, servers might consider informing drinkers of the proper way to hold the cup (either near the rim or from the bottom) lest they freeze their fingers.
The kitchen likewise favors the sea, with fish and seafood accounted for among starters, soups, sandwiches and mains.
Some were outstanding, like the Fisherman’s Friend, a bowl teeming with shrimp, clams and mussels in a delicious basil fish broth. Others satisfied without impressing, such as the Ipswich clam roll or the playful fish sticks that have such potential when not over-fried.
One missed the boat entirely: Cangrejo el Diablo. The soft-shelled crab drenched in an unimpressive chile-tomato sauce over pan-wilted bok choy with a garnish of scallions and basil was a disjointed mess.
Carnivores would do well to order the tender sweetbreads that sit atop arugula puree and citrus brown butter. They’d also do well with the spiced pork confit. It’s essentially carnitas dabbed with a coriander relish served over a creamy masa porridge that takes inspiration from pap, a Honduran porridge.
Honduran? Chef-partner David Bies is well traveled. His wife is Honduran and he spent time living in South America. The former Restaurant Eugene chef de cuisine also traversed Southeast Asia, which accounts for those accents on the menu.
One of the best dishes highlighting those Asian flavors is the butternut squash salad. A boldly colorful, crunchy creative mélange of raw butternut squash batonettes, papaya, pomegranate, crushed peanuts and dried shrimp is dressed in the Vietnamese fish dipping sauce nuoc mam sweetened with maple syrup instead of palm sugar.
One that did not was the vegan noodle bowl. Warm vermicelli noodles with snow peas, bean sprouts, julienned butternut squash, beets and other veggies lacked umami. Normally, that might come from fish sauce, but this offering is vegan. The dish also needed acidity, such as the burst of citrus from a lime wedge or two.
Ticonderoga Club is a venture by multiple, talented personalities. But combine those sensibilities on one menu and they don’t always harmonize. Do Asian flavors actually pair well with each of the cocktails on the menu? No. It would be helpful if Ticonderoga Club offered food and drink pairing suggestions — whether printed on the menu or delivered during the server’s spiel.
The best way to enjoy Ticonderoga Club’s strong suits — its high execution of drinks, its curious, global menu and its comfortable tavern surroundings — is to start with a round of cocktails, then choose a beverage that can hold its own with whatever you want to eat.
That might be wine or a local brew, but the three different ciders offer an interesting route. A glass of crisp, mineral cider from Spain’s Asturian region, for example, paired superbly with seafood, cutting through the fatty egg yolk that served as a dip for shrimp wrapped in kataifi (shredded phyllo) and fried to a crisp.
One dining partner pointed out that the vegan noodle bowl was on course, it simply needed adjustments. I’d say the same for the hasselback potato. Rather than an impressive potato show, where the spud gets sliced into thin wedges yet is still adjoined at the bottom and baked until the layers fan out, the loaded potato was cut into six wedges so thick it couldn’t do the accordion trick.
Likewise, Ticonderoga Club, with all of its fun quirks and explorable food and drink menu, is on the right course. It’s just that the ship is listing slightly.