One Fine Meal: Brunch Apothecary’s cathead biscuits are just what the doctor ordered

Chicken and Churros Waffle from the Brunch Apothecary in Dacula
Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Caption
Chicken and Churros Waffle from the Brunch Apothecary in Dacula Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Editor’s note: Last March, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution suspended its restaurant reviews and began publishing a series called Atlanta Orders In, which looks at the operational challenges faced by Atlanta restaurants and serves as a guide to ordering takeout. This week, we launch One Fine Meal, a weekly series that spotlights well-executed food from restaurants in greater Atlanta. Do you have feedback about the new series? We want to hear from you. Send your comments to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

I was sorely late for my appointment at the Brunch Apothecary.

Geography partly was to blame. Located in Dacula, the restaurant marks the halfway point on the road to Athens.

But, I finally made it on a recent Sunday morning for a takeout excursion, with nearby Little Mulberry Park as the final destination for filling my belly with oversized biscuits, crispy chicken atop waffles, stone-ground grits and other Southern brunch items.

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Open since March, 2016, the Brunch Apothecary is the brainchild of husband-and-wife Rico and Katie Cunnington, owners of Rico’s World Kitchen in Buford. The Cunningtons have a knack for repurposing historic spaces. Rico’s resides in a former gas station; the Brunch Apothecary once was the residence and office of the town’s physician.

Built in 1905, the one-story Folk Victorian country house stayed in the hands of the same family through generations, until its most recent owner, a Rico’s customer, approached the Cunningtons. “She was operating a little restaurant there and she was asking for advice and help,” Katie Cunnington said. After some back and forth, the woman simply offered them the space.

The Brunch Apothecary in Dacula was once the residence and office of the town’s physician. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Caption
The Brunch Apothecary in Dacula was once the residence and office of the town’s physician. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

The restaurant’s proximity to Hebron Baptist Church steered the direction the Cunningtons took with the new place. Alcohol couldn’t make the drinks menu, so they reasoned that a daytime spot made the most sense. “Who doesn’t love brunch? Everybody can get what they want,” Cunnington said.

When it comes to brunch, everybody wants a biscuit, and Rico Cunnington wanted theirs to be like the ones he enjoyed at the now-defunct Larry’s Biscuits in Buford.

“Rico spent months trying to perfect those cathead biscuits,” Cunnington recalled, referring to her husband as a “mad scientist” when it comes to recipe development.

The Southern smothered biscuit at the Brunch Apothecary comes with a choice of meat, tomato slice and poached egg, all covered in gravy. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Caption
The Southern smothered biscuit at the Brunch Apothecary comes with a choice of meat, tomato slice and poached egg, all covered in gravy. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

On a typical Saturday, the kitchen flies through upward of 200 of the massive, soft, flaky biscuits — whether sold as a side, piled with fixings from the build-your-own menu, or blanketed in sausage gravy, as with the Southern smothered biscuit, and the popular Cowboy special, featuring country fried steak. Unsold biscuits find new life the next day in an egg casserole, for which add-ins change daily under the direction of head chef Jen Swan.

But, the Brunch Apothecary offers more than biscuits.

There’s the monte cristo sandwich, in which pimento cheese and red pepper jelly delightfully straddle the sweet-savory line. “It definitely needs napkins, but it’s worth it,” Cunnington said.

When I placed my order over the phone, General Manager Mercedes Brooks suggested adding fried chicken for an upcharge. That, too, was worth it.

The exterior of the Brunch Apothecary in Dacula
Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Caption
The exterior of the Brunch Apothecary in Dacula Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Among the more creative menu items is the chicken and churros waffle. The cinnamon-inflected, mildly sweet churro batter is a terrific complement to the fried chicken; a generous pat of guava butter melds the components together.

It was 9:30 a.m. when I arrived for my takeout order, yet all three of the restaurant’s dining rooms already were filled with a sizeable crowd (the restaurant cut back the days it is open due to the pandemic, and is seating at 60% capacity). The handful of socially distanced tables on the front porch also had been claimed. Folks on the wait list sat in their cars, waiting for a text message to alert them that their table was ready.

Cunnington noted that they have tried in subtle ways to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, while also avoiding conflict with guests who might disagree with recommended guidelines.

“We’re trying to survive with everything we’re doing,” she said.

Considering that patrons are coming from miles around, this old apothecary once again might start dispensing remedies (for hunger) six days a week.

Thanks to pimento cheese and red pepper jelly, the Southern monte cristo at the Brunch Apothecary delightfully straddles the sweet-savory line. The sandwich comes with roasted potato wedges. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Caption
Thanks to pimento cheese and red pepper jelly, the Southern monte cristo at the Brunch Apothecary delightfully straddles the sweet-savory line. The sandwich comes with roasted potato wedges. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

THE BRUNCH APOTHECARY

Menu: Southern brunch

Alcohol: no

Recommended dishes: chicken and churros waffle, Southern smothered biscuit with andouille sausage, monte cristo sandwich, chicken and sausage gumbo with rice

Price range: $$

Service options: carryout or dine-in (no reservations); place carryout orders in person or via phone; curbside available upon request; no delivery

Outdoor dining: covered porch

Experience: My order was ready on arrival, tightly packaged and payment quickly processed by a friendly front-of-house staff member. The restaurant encourages, but does not mandate, masks for guests, although during my visit most patrons wore masks when not seated. However, that reinforced my personal decision to enjoy the food off-premises. Do not miss the cathead biscuit. It was delicious under a warm blanket of house sausage gravy. The churro batter and guava butter on the waffle are a nice twist.

Address, phone: 2595 Fence Road NE, Dacula; 678-731-7338

Hours: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays

Website: thebrunchapothecary.com

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