You can’t beat early fall produce: The last of tomatoes, okra stalks still kicking and growing sky-high pods if you don’t pick them in time, all those deep, dark greens. Butternut squash begins pushing summer squash off the stage. And the entire cast of the onion family has a part.
Go to any restaurant in Atlanta that cooks seasonally right now, and you’ll find the pick of late September on the plate. Here are six dishes that we’re enjoying as we bid adieu to summer and embrace the tastes that autumn has in store.
Grilled Cheese with Cauliflower & Celery Root Soup at Hobnob
When the weather cools, the classic combination of grilled cheese and tomato soup heats up. At Hobnob, enjoy the change from velvety tomato soup to a silky cauli-celery root puree brightened with finishing swirls of basil pesto and Sriracha. The base is a vegetable stock, so all you need to do to keep this cup of veg goodness free of meat is to ask your server to hold the bacon garnish. The grilled cheese sandwich is no afterthought, either. Slices of a country loaf get a thin spread of date-fig jam and enough Tomme cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy of Thomasville, Ga., to bring on the melty, stretchy goodness that makes eating a grilled cheese sandwich a smile-inducing event. This dish finds its way onto the dinner menu, but fun comes around during weekend brunches when live music and college football on big screens take over at 1 p.m. (both days in Brookhaven, Sundays only in Midtown).
1551 Piedmont Ave. NE, Atlanta, 404-968-2288, and 804 Town Blvd., Brookhaven, 404-464-8971, hobnobatlanta.com.
The Southern Vegetarian at R Thomas’ Deluxe Grill
Peace, love, live birds in cages and feel-good bites are all to be found at this eclectic 24-hour Buckhead diner. R Thomas’ has been serving up health food since Richard Simmons was sweatin’ to the oldies in the ’80s. When you need to get your greens workout these days, R Thomas’ delivers with a plateful — slow-cooked collards here, lettuce leaves there — along with a mashup of millet corn casserole, dabs of butternut squash and smashed potatoes with shiitake mushroom gravy.
1812 Peachtree St., Atlanta. 404-881-0246, rthomasdeluxegrill.net.
Vegetable Curry of the Day at Bhojanic
If vegetarian fare is what you desire, Indian restaurants are a safe bet. At Bhojanic, located in a Lenox Square outbuilding, they offer a vegetable curry of the day, which equates to a handful of meat-free dishes from the specials sheet. For early fall, go with the bhindi masala of shallow-fried okra, browned to a nicety with caramelized onions. Rounded out with fragrant basmati rice and a smooth, cooling raita that keeps the heat of the garam-masala-seasoned okra halves at bay, it makes for a satisfying autumnal meal.
3400 Around Lenox Road NE, Atlanta. 404-841-8472, bhojanic.com.
Veggie Tuesday at Wrecking Bar Brewpub
292 Moreland Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-221-2600, wreckingbarbrewpub.com.
The lunch menu at Saltyard
Saltyard is 4 years old. But only now has it begun to offer lunch. The debut midday menu, which launches Oct. 3, features what we’ve come to expect from chef Nick Leahy: all things fresh and seasonal. Redolent with soups, salads, sandwiches and shareable boards, this lunch won’t put you to sleep — and veg offerings are aplenty. Start with the Veggie Board, an assembly of raw, pickled and roasted vegetables that will change with the seasons just like the accompanying hummus — currently, field peas are the replacement for traditional chickpeas — and house-made seed crackers. Salad selections include a chopped, a kale and one with charred eggplant (meaty skin still on), mounded with shaved fennel and flecked with crumbled feta, mint, toasted pistachios, lemon zest, Korean red pepper flakes known as gochugaru, and a buttermilk yogurt dressing to unite it all. Saltyard’s panzanella salad tosses bread cubes with watermelon, radishes, red onion, sweet and hot peppers and a spunky watermelon-lemon-chili vinaigrette. Get it before cooler weather nixes it from the menu. Get all the salads when you order the Salad of the Moment, a sampler of four veg compositions.
1820 Peachtree Road NW, Atlanta. 404-382-8088, saltyardatlanta.com.
Vegetarian Sideboard at 4 Rivers Smokehouse
You’re the odd man out at a barbecue joint? Well, the veg-inclined have been known to make a meal out of sides. New 4 Rivers Smokehouse on Atlanta’s Westside acknowledges your need for something other than meat. With the Vegetarian Sideboard, you can load up on a carb-heavy platter that includes a house biscuit and your choice of three sides, five if you order the dinner version. The fried okra is a nice finger nibble. The mac and cheese is creamy. The hefty, foil-wrapped serving of warm, baked cheese grits is a must. (Collards and green beans are staple sides here, but they are flavored with meat.) The sweet potato casserole, seasoned with fall spices and studded with pecans, is dessert.
822 Marietta St. NW, Atlanta. 1-844-474-8377, 4rsmokehouse.com.