Atlanta Orders In: The Companion broadens appeal to stay viable

Eggplant fries, with chile crisp, scallions and cilantro, are a favorite at the Companion. Courtesy of the Companion.
Eggplant fries, with chile crisp, scallions and cilantro, are a favorite at the Companion. Courtesy of the Companion.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

When I first wrote about the Companion in April, it wasn’t officially open yet, but the bar and restaurant from chef Andy Gonzales and the team behind Steinbeck’s Ale House in Decatur was taking phone orders for dinner to go.

Now, some seven months later, the neighborhood spot on Marietta Road in the Bolton area finally has its liquor license, and is offering indoor and patio dining, plus the entire menu is available for takeout.

“It’s really easy to lose hope, especially as the winter is upon us, and it does get a little nerve-wracking from moment to moment,” Gonzales said, when I stopped in to pick up an order on a rainy day.

A recent special at the Companion was a fried airline chicken breast over grits with collards. Courtesy of the Companion
A recent special at the Companion was a fried airline chicken breast over grits with collards. Courtesy of the Companion

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

But, he said, “when the weather is good, it’s nice on the patio, and business has been good on the weekends. You know, we’re paying our bills, we’re paying our staff, so it’s just a matter of staying around and relevant.”

Gonzales noted that being able to serve beer, wine and liquor has increased business. And, he has continued to update and expand the menu, while featuring daily specials, along with a handful of tried-and-true signature items.

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“We want to entice people, please more palates, and give them more reasons to be here,” he said. “I realize that my food isn’t always for every palate. If you’re a little picky, maybe, and there are certain things you will and won’t eat, sometimes our food can be pretty aggressive.”

Still, that approach is the reason Gonzales built such a following at Steinbeck’s, where, in addition to his Tower of Power burger, he created favorites with Asian and Latin flavors, like eggplant fries with chili crisp, and his Chinese breakfast with pork belly and wilted leeks.

“Steinbeck’s took a long time to develop into that,” Gonzales said. “When we came over here, what’s done the best is the most basic items. Both of our burgers have sold like gangbusters. The smothered tots have done great. The smoked wings and the Vietnamese wings have done great. But, we also have to figure, if we dialed a few things down, and broadened it out a bit, it might appeal to more people.”

Beyond taking into account what’s likely to be most popular with neighborhood diners, Gonzales said the pandemic sometimes has impeded his creativity.

The Companion offers a cheese steak special with a kale salad on the side. Courtesy of the Companion.
The Companion offers a cheese steak special with a kale salad on the side. Courtesy of the Companion.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“In the times of COVID, you don’t get to do whatever the hell you want to do,” he said. “You have to be really smart and choosey, because there’s not as many people going out, and there’s not many people who have money to go out.”

Looking back on the original concept for the Companion, Gonzales said he designed the menu to feature eight “flagship” items and eight “esoteric” items, with specialty cocktails, and “a really aggressive wine list.” But, he concluded, “all that’s just not feasible, right now.”

“If I want the Companion to do all the things I designed it to do, it has to be open,” Gonzales said. “We need to scale back, and learn how to make ends meet. We’re going to have to go back to Companion 1.0, but with booze this time, to get through the winter and make sure it’s still viable.”

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THE COMPANION

Menu: pub grub, with technique

Alcohol: beer, wine, cocktails

What I ordered: eggplant fries, with chili crisp, scallion and cilantro; kale salad, with beets, radish, blue cheese, pistachios and charred lemon vinaigrette; seared beef Philly, with caramelized onions and melted provolone, on a “crunchy-squishy roll”; fried airline chicken breast special, with grits and collard greens. The spicy eggplant fries are a longtime favorite, and they did not disappoint. The hefty Philly was nearly enough for two. The chicken was perfectly fried, moist on the inside and crispy on the outside.

Service options: indoor or outdoor dining; takeout; call or go online for current menu, or to place an order

Outdoor dining: spacious Astroturf patio, with picnic tables and heaters

Mask policy: employees wear masks

Address, phone: 2316 Marietta Road NW, Atlanta; 404-228-1632

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. daily

Website: thecompanionatl.com

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