A trio of oyster shooters arrived at the table. Wayne ordered them and insisted I try one. I don't typically like anything on a raw oyster but a little lemon. These came in three different flavors. I decided on the vanilla-rosemary-apple one. I threw back the entire shooter, letting the flavors swirl in my mouth before I chomped down on the fat oyster.
But that didn't happen. The vanilla was so hideously cloying, I wanted to spit it out, but instead swallowed everything in a single gulp. I didn't even taste the oyster.
I promptly made a mental note to include the shooter on my list of worst tastes in town. But then I got some good news. The kitchen at H. Harper Station (904 Memorial Drive, 678-732-0415) has taken the vanilla shooter off the menu, along with the one featuring curry, coconut and lime. Only the much better Bloody Mary type is available now.
H. Harper Station's owners are Duane Nutter, Reginald Washington and Jerry Slater. They operate as the Lush Life Group and also own Rolling Bones on Edgewood Avenue and One Flew South at the Atlanta airport. H. Harper Station, named after one of the owners' relatives, is located in an old railroad freight depot in Reynoldstown. It's the second restaurant to give the space a try. It was earlier called the Depot, which lasted less than a year. Honestly, the food was never very good there.
The restaurant's charming appearance has been little changed by the new owners. And, while it calls itself "a modern watering stop," it has much more of the feel of a serious restaurant than the Depot had. The only controversial thing about the new restaurant has been its valet parking service. The valet literally stands in the restaurant's rather large parking lot, offering to spare you the yards-long walk from your car to the door. Owner Jerry Slater explains that the lot fills up now and then, so that the valet's services are necessary.
Aside from the oyster shooter, I have enjoyed most of the "New Southern" cooking here. The menu is divided into four sections, with many small plates. A couple of those would be adequate for most diners and would cost you less than $20 for the most part. Entrée-sized plates are all $22 and less.
Generally, the simpler the dish, the better it is in my experience. My favorite appetizer has been a plate of country ham and dried chorizo with a few hunks of "bacon bread" and some fig jam. Likewise, I enjoyed a small plate of little smoked sausages with mustard greens, barbecue sauce and macaroni and cheese. The influence of Rolling Bones is clear in this dish.
Others I've tried include crawfish hushpuppies (bland and now off the menu), jerk meatballs (taste the rum!) and a Caesar salad with smoked trout and cauliflower (surprisingly good).
My favorite "bigger plate" has been the Louisiana bouillabaisse, a big bowl of mussels, shrimp, crawfish, andouille sausage, okra, rice and sassafras (which the menu notes but I did not detect). All the seafood was perfect. One problem with this dish: the rice in the bowl was too thin. I wanted more. I can understand the need to keep it comparatively sparse but that didn't stop my craving for more.
I've also enjoyed the bacon-and-eggs fettuccine. Besides the obvious ingredients, the pasta was also tossed with mustard greens, peas and carrots. Pure comfort food. Ditto for the Beltline burger — local beef, barbecued pork, grilled onions and arugula with Tater Tots on the side. I probably would have preferred the burger without the pork, but a burger isn't a burger these days if it doesn't have a gimmick.
The one disappointing entrée was the pumpernickel-crusted bass. I loved its accompaniment of gnocchi, cabbage, mustard-braised fennel kraut, butternut squash and white beer broth. Unfortunately, the bass was way overcooked.
The additions to the menu look appealing, especially the small plate of chicken and dumplings, one of my favorites when it's cooked right. Pork belly, crawfish and grits sounds tempting, as does a plate of fried catfish and shrimp with coleslaw and hushpuppies.
The only desserts I've encountered at the restaurant are pies from Sweet Auburn Bakery. The pecan trumped one made with buttermilk custard, although it was sweet comfort itself.
H. Harper Station is a godsend to the Reynoldstown area. It may well become a destination restaurant for the rest of the city, just as Rolling Bones has because of its unique Texas-style barbecue.