Atlanta Patio Pick: The show goes on at City Winery

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Editor’s note: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s dining critics are resuming in-person restaurant visits, marked by the recent launch of a weekly Patio Pick series. We’ll share our outdoor dining experiences online each Thursday, and in the print edition of the Friday Do Guide.

As a journalist who has reported on the myriad restructuring that restaurants have undergone throughout the pandemic, I am the last person who should be jarred by this latest period of recovery. Yet, I was when I visited City Winery Atlanta.

Entering through the patio, past a handful of patrons perched on bar stools, past the eye-catching wine bottle staircase wall that leads to a concert hall and kitchen below, to check in at the reception area, something was missing. There was no face on the other side of the desk. There always has been a host or hostess to greet us at this cavernous space.

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

After a few minutes, a server approached and invited me to sit wherever I liked. Patio, please.

The music venue/full-service restaurant/winery situated in an outbuilding next to Ponce City Market unlocked doors in mid-May after more than a year with only sounds of silence due to COVID-19. The reopening brought a revamped design with plenty of outdoor upgrades, including umbrella tables and plush lounge seating around a fire pit. The espalier vines have done some growing up in the past few years, giving shape to a comfortable green backdrop in the heart of urban Atlanta.

City Winery reopens with a new executive chef in Will Artley, who spent the past two decades of his 30-plus-year culinary trajectory in Washington, D.C. When the coronavirus arrived, the Culinary Institute of America grad found himself without a job and writing a resume for the first time in ages because plans to build a restaurant with him as chef-partner fell through.

Artley hopes to build City Winery into a dining destination, but that will take some time to implement with only four cooks, where 16-18 would typically be the norm on show nights.

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

The server approached the table. What would I like to drink? City Winery has a stocked bar, but it is a fully functional winery. I opted for a mix-and-match wine flight of two reds and two whites. The sauvignon blanc Sip and See was the best of the bunch: refreshing, light and minerally on a warm, humid day.

When it came to food options, the server gave a heads-up about two things: the limited menu and a probable lag in bringing food to the table because, well, there aren’t many cooks on the line these days.

I used my smartphone to scan the QR code that brought up a menu of two salads, six shared plates, three large plates, and gelato or sorbet for dessert. It’s a menu for a restaurant in recovery.

The spring salad brought strawberries, blueberries, red onions, nubs of goat cheese and roasted hazelnuts on a bed of lettuce greens lightly coated in a balsamic poppy seed dressing. The fresh mélange hit the mark for complementary flavor and texture notes — sweet, salty, crunchy, soft. Add a protein (chicken, shrimp or salmon) for an upcharge, and it would be substantial enough to call dinner.

Half of the shareable options are selections of cheese and cured meats. The other choices — burrata, hummus and whipped feta — are of the dip or swipe variety. The house-made burrata, in particular, was a pleasure to dig into. Cut through the outer shell of mozzarella, and cream and curds ooze forth, begging to be spooned with garlicky pesto onto grilled ciabatta.

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Boundary-breaking? No. Satisfying? Absolutely — especially on a breezy patio in summertime. Ditto for the pan-seared salmon entree that brought a crisp, moist fillet on a bed of Israeli couscous with cooling green goddess dressing.

I’ll look forward to Artley’s upcoming plans to add braised short rib to the menu and to incorporate the winery’s vino into dishes like braised chicken and an heirloom tomato carpaccio.

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

“The menu is going to progress as the dining progresses,” Artley told me when we spoke on the phone. “As much as I want to open up the menu … I want to make sure we are able to execute. As we work more together, I think we’ll come together.”

They already are, as with event nights, when a lone server handles the entire patio and dining room while the rest of the team heads downstairs to make sure that dinner and a show goes on.

“Everybody on staff is really dedicated to hospitality and making people happy,” Artley said.

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

City Winery Atlanta

Menu: limited menu of contemporary American and bar food

Alcohol: full bar; makes own wines on premises, available by the glass and bottle; wine flights ($15) are flexible (choose four: white, red or mix and match), affordable, and a nice way to sample a variety

What I ordered: spring salad ($14); burrata ($14); whipped feta ($13); pan-seared Atlantic salmon ($27)

Service options: dine-in, including show dining; takeout available

Mask policy: mandated for staff; patrons are requested to wear mask when server approaches the table

Address, phone: 650 North Ave., Atlanta; 404-946-3791

Hours: 4-10 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 4-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 4-10 p.m. Sundays


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