I've had a busy eating week. We had five houseguests who had an intense schedule. So our main dining priority was convenience of location. Here's a quick tour of some of the restaurants we visited.
Republic Social House (437-C Memorial Drive, 404-577-3997) is the newest spot to open in Grant Park. It's next door to Six Feet Under and across the street from Tin Lizzy's. The three are competing for the same crowd — young party peeps who want inexpensive food and a place to drink on the roof. Yes, Republic has a rooftop deck like its neighbors.
I've visited Republic twice but it's been way too hot for me to go upstairs. My understanding is that the view isn't as panoramic as that of the other two restaurants, but you can still contemplate death, thanks to the view of Oakland Cemetery.
Speaking of which, when seven of us visited, we were seated at a table made, according to our server, from a tree knocked down in the cemetery by the tornado that ripped through the area two years ago. The walls are likewise paneled with strips of reclaimed wood.
If you want an idea of the overall ambiance, consider this: The owner is Terry Barbu, who was responsible for much of the design of Graveyard Tavern, Top Flr, and the Sound Table.
The food is nothing to get terribly excited about. The novelty is a menu of 14 varieties of picturesquely named grilled cheese sandwiches. There's the Situation (Italian), the Elian (Cuban), and Porky Pig's Nightmare (barbecue).
I've sampled three — the Purple Parm, the Shrimp Po' Boy, and Russian Roulette. The latter is basically a Reuben made with the usual corned beef, sauerkraut and Russian dressing, with Gouda substituting for the usual Swiss. I give it a C+. It would improve with a better grade of corned beef. The Purple Parm tasted like eggplant Parmesan between bread slices, but it includes sun-dried tomato pesto along with the breaded eggplant, grilled tomato and provolone. It gets a B. The po' boy, also made with provolone, was my favorite. It gets a B+.
There are also six burgers on the menu. One of our party tried one featuring a blackened Angus patty with blue cheese. She was happy.
Sides are, for the most part, solidly average. The fries are crispy. The side salad is fresh. But the mac and cheese is eminently avoidable. It's creamy to the point of being liquid and is made with an unidentifiable white cheese. I'd likewise avoid the roasted tomato baby Brie soup, which brought back memories of Campbell's. There was no flavor of roasting and no taste of Brie. But the place is fun.
Deadwood Saloon (66 12th St., 404-671-4290, www.deadwoodatlanta.com) had been open about a week when we visited. Its website says this: "Created in the true spirit of the 1800s gold mining community of Deadwood, South Dakota, we've tried to capture the essence of this piece of Americana with a unique restaurant atmosphere featurin' fresh, fire-grilled foods and good times."
I will leave it to others to identify the 19th century, South Dakota features of the design here — and the fire-grilled foods, for that matter. I assume they are referring to the burgers, but I have no idea. And who knew chicken fingers and fried pickles were favored by gold miners?
Wayne and I both ordered from the Saloon Specialties section of the menu. I ordered the two boneless, batter-fried pork chops with sawmill gravy, garlic mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. Wayne ordered the chicken breast glazed with barbecue sauce spiked with Bulleit Bourbon, served with the same sides.
The dominant part of each plate was the broccoli — virtually half a plate of bright green, crispy broccoli. It's a good thing it's Wayne's favorite vegetable (and my least fave) since his chicken breast, though tasty enough, was embarrassingly small. My two pork chops were sizable and almost inedibly salty. I'm talking lip-burning saltiness. I guess they fry 'em different in South Dakota than we do down South.
It's a very strange place. I hope it improves.
We also visited Baraonda (710 Peachtree St., 404-879-9962, www.baraondaatlanta.com), the Italian café a block from the Fox Theatre. This restaurant is best known for its pizza, but I was the only one of our party of seven who ordered it — the Prosciutto di Parma, featuring tomato, mozzarella, arugula and parmigiano, as well as a generous serving of the prosciutto.
Everyone else ordered pasta or a (delicious) special of mahi mahi over spinach. The unanimous verdict was that, after 10 years, Baraonda still rocks.
Finally, I have to mention Hector Santiago's new venture, Super Pan Latino Sandwich Shop (1057 Blue Ridge Ave., 404-477-0379, www.superpanlatinosandwichshop.com). It's in the rear of the "Top Chef" contestant's restaurant, Pura Vida, on North Highland Avenue and it's open 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday only.
The oversized sandwiches are sinfully good — especially the one made with Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, date-almond butter, arugula and sweet piquillo peppers. I have so far resisted the one made with sweet, smoked Berkshire pork belly in a steamed coconut bun. Nor have I tried the tofu impersonating the pork belly. I'll leave the latter to you, while I go for the former.