H. Harper Station (904 Memorial Drive, 678-732-0415) in Reynoldstown is one of those restaurants, actually close to our home, that beckons and repels at once. It's a cool space — a restored freight train depot built in 1900 — and it's got an appealing menu of mainly Southern food. But its prices are a bit high for regular dining in the 'hood. So we rarely visit it.
The structure was originally renovated by the folks who own Vickery's and Highland Tap, among others. They operated a restaurant, the Depot, there in 2008 for less than a year. The building sadly sat vacant until late 2010 when it was reopened by Jerry Slater, who was formerly the mixologist at One Flew South. Thus, whatever you think of the food, you'll definitely like the cocktails at H. Harper Station, which maintains regular late-night hours.
The restaurant recently hired Evan Cordes, formerly of Cakes & Ale and Serpas True Food, as chef. His mission, according to press materials, is to accent local and sustainable ingredients. In other words, his mission is to do what every chef of note in the city is doing these days.
We visited the restaurant on a Sunday night with Wayne's mother, Anne, who was in town to celebrate her 80th birthday. We dined fairly late and found the restaurant about half full. The Saharan heat made dining on the pleasing multilevel patio out of the question.
Most of the food remains good under Cordes' direction. The restaurant regularly offers a three-course Sunday supper ($18), which I ordered. It started with a single crostini heaped with slivers of pork cheek. I ate it in two bites, prompting Wayne to remark, "Not an appetizer but an amuse bouche." Whatever, yum.
Wayne and his mom ordered a la carte and started with some deviled eggs with filling that was unexpectedly thickened with — try to guess — pimento cheese. Everyone, just stop with the pimento cheese already! No? OK. Need more? Of the three other apps on the menu, one is a plate of ... pimento cheese straight up. I performed a kind of genealogical analysis on the spot. Chef Cordes worked for Billy Allin at Cakes & Ale. Allin worked for Scott Peacock at Watershed, where his pimento cheese became famous — 10 years or more ago!
A chilled cucumber soup exhibited the main problem with the cooking here. Anne took a sip and said, "It's good. It's a bit salty." Wayne's mama is the nicest person alive, seriously, so to hear her even mildly complain set off alarm bells. I took a sip. I nearly spit it out. It was unbearably salty. This burning saltiness showed up a few more times during the meal.
Entrées were best. My Sunday Supper choice was braised pork shoulder, cooked until falling apart, served in its braising juices — juicy but mainly lean. Wayne ordered the two huge slices of house-smoked brisket, served without any sauce but no worse for the lack of it. The meat tugged at the fork and knife, as brisket should, then melted away. If only Texas politicians were like that.
Anne ordered the Linus, a sandwich made with roasted turkey breast, heirloom tomatoes, "early cheddar," salsa verde and local greens. Early cheddar was new to me. Because of its texture, we were sure it was goat cheese. We were wrong. I think I liked the sandwich best of all.
The side dishes available for separate purchase were disappointing. Besides (way salty) braised greens, all that was available was potato salad, slaw, Tater Tots and grits. But entrées — except those on the Sunday Supper — came with sides like butter beans, fried collards, squash, roasted and fried okra and field peas. None of these were available a la carte. Why? And why did I have to eat slaw, watermelon and potatoes on the Sunday Supper?
My meal came with peach shortcake, the only dessert we sampled. Flavors were good, texture was not. Somebody needs to offer a class in the proper way to cook peaches. I've eaten everything from pies and cobblers to scones made with fresh peaches around town and nobody seems to be able to avoid total sliminess.
New burger venue of the week
Another week, another hamburger joint. This time, it's a Denver-based chain called Smashburger (2625 Piedmont Road, 404-237-2374) at the corner of Piedmont Avenue and Sidney Marcus Boulevard. I gotta say, my burger was better than many I've ordered at fancier places.
The restaurant sears Angus beef in butter. The smashing refers simply to smashing a hunk of ground beef on the grill, apparently. You know, like Ann Price at Ann's Snack Bar.
I ordered the Atlanta Burger featuring peach barbecue sauce, grilled jalapeños, coleslaw and — sit down — Wicked Pimina Cheese. Yes, morbid curiosity required that I try this special take on pimento cheese from a Rome, Ga., restaurant. Honestly, I could only vaguely taste the stuff as more than melted cheddar since the burger was topped with so many other ingredients. What counts, the half-pound patty, was good. So were my fries tossed with rosemary, olive oil and garlic.
Wayne ordered the chicken sandwich with Frank's Red Hot Buffalo Sauce, crumbled blue cheese, lettuce and tomato. Chicken sandwiches here are available "grilled or crispy." He chose the latter, which means fried. I asked him if he thought it was as good as Chick-fil-A's. He looked at me blankly. "I've never eaten there," he said, finally shrugging and saying the sandwich was "OK."