Few restaurants, other than those in hotels, serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That degree of service seems daunting if not a tad overly ambitious. Some restaurants, like Serpas for instance, add brunch after a successful year of dinner service.
Not so for Hugh Acheson of Empire State South. Having gained notoriety in Athens for his farm fresh menus at Five and Ten and The National, his much anticipated Atlanta debut kicked off with three squares a day. I joined BB there for lunch on Friday to discuss his upcoming project and share a bit of industry gossip.
Located on the ground floor of the 999 Peachtree building, the space includes a quaint courtyard with bocce ball. Inside, the space is painted a deep shade of blue with wood floors, accented with brown leather banquettes and rustic country-style light fixtures….modern Southern, like the food.
I wasn’t planning to drink at lunch but very little arm-twisting was required before I was inquiring about the character of each red wine offered by the glass. We settled on a glass of the Branham cab and another of the Le Paradou grenache/syrah blend.
A little jar of pork rillette was a good match with the wine, however I found the toast too greasy. All three of the people seated at the table adjacent to ours had ordered “Super-food”, a silly name for a weird combination of hanger steak, beets, pistachios, wheatberries with feta, roasted Winter squash, mixed local beans and peas, and dressed radishes, all served on a bed of local lettuces. My bet was that BB would follow suit.
Initially he was leaning toward the arugula salad but in the end, I won the bet. Predictably, I ordered the crisp duck leg confit under the heading “Meat and Three”. Next to the heading the menu directs diners to pick two sides and a daily bread. The sides of the day were not thrilling. I was hoping for some preparation of sweet potatoes or Brussels sprouts but none were offered. I chose the collards with ham hock and wheatberries with feta-cranberry.
My duck confit and sides arrived with an enormous slab of Texas toast. I had neglected to choose a “daily bread” because there wasn’t a list of breads on the menu, but I assure you I wouldn’t have chosen this one, so dense it was closer to pound cake than bread.
I was quite pleased with my duck leg, its exceedingly tender meat falling off the bone beneath the mostly crispy skin. I love the toothsome quality of wheatberries. These were served warm, dotted with semi-sweet cranberries. Feta was MIA on my plate, but BB’s wheatberries were topped with a good bit of it.
Then there were the collards, perhaps the best I’ve ever had. Having grown up in the South, that is quite a statement. Rich with chunks of ham, there was a subtle smokiness and a distinct tang of vinegar. Just damn perfect.
BB enjoyed his hanger steak, cooked medium, and the accompanying beets in particular. The steak was nice but my favorite thing on his plate were the dressed watermelon radishes, much like the paper-thin sliced assortment at Miller Union.
Other meats on offer were an airline chicken breast, grilled pork loin, and a pan roasted Carolina trout. Fingerling potatoes, field peas with rice and fennel-apple slaw rounded out the selection of sides.
We ordered two more glasses of wine, intentially confusing which was which, sipping each in turn. I requested a dessert menu, despite seeing an unappetizing slice of red velvet cake on a table nearby. You may already know how I feel about cake so suffice it to say I would not order anything who’s flavor is a color. Sure, red velvet cake is as Southern as fried pie but one would think Acheson’s love of natural and organic produce might discourage his pastry chef Chris Marconi from putting a dessert on the menu that relies on unnatural food coloring. Other sweets included bourbon pecan pie and a buttermilk chess tart that might have been good if we had more time.
Empire State South joins Atlanta’s new breed of restaurants who’s menus evolve with the seasons. If you like that trend, you’re gonna like ESS.