Let's note some trends. Menus featuring tapas and other small plates have been deluging us for at least five years. More recently, we've seen a profusion of Euro-style gastro-pubs – watering holes that serve serious cuisine.
What else? Southern cooking, of course. After years of eschewing our own cooking as something to be ashamed of, we've made the connection between sustainable farming, access to seasonal crops and the advantage of our sunny location.
Anything else? Oh, the chef as celebrity, of course. The media have discovered that chefs are performance artists. The passion that, by some mystery, suffuses the food of the best cooks can't be contained by the kitchen alone, we've learned.
Put all these trends together and what do you get?
Holeman and Finch Public House (2277 Peachtree Road, 404-948-1175), the much anticipated gastro-pub featuring small plates of mainly Southern-inspired dishes from Iron Chef contestant Linton Hopkins, along with the magical mixology of much-loved bartender Greg Best. They've hired chef Tony Seichrist, the original chef at the Farmhouse at Serenbe, who left there to spend a year honing his skills in Italy.
The new pub is located in the Aramore, directly across from Restaurant Eugene, which Hopkins operates with his wife, Gina. Best has been bartender there. He and the Hopkinses are joined by bartenders Regan Smith and Andy Minchow as owners of Holeman and Finch. It's named after the maternal grandfathers of Hopkins (Eugene Holeman) and Best (Frederick Finch).
Need more genealogy? They've also been joined by baker Eli Kikov to create H&F Bread Co., also located in the Aramore. The all-organic bakery will open to the public later this summer, selling artisan breads as well as sweet items.
Holeman and Finch is a relatively small place, seating only 60, including generous bar space and a small dining room that features floor-to-ceiling glass and a long communal table. There are also a few booths that seat four and some two-tops. When you enter the pub, you look directly into a window with a view of the kitchen. To your right is a tall refrigeration cabinet filled with meats hung deli-style. Most are cured on the premises.
The pub features what may be the most eccentric menu I've ever encountered in our city. For anyone who grew up in the South, it's an absolute submersion in nostalgia. Seichrist and Hopkins are devoted to cooking "the whole hog," so to speak. There are no chitlins on the menu – maybe in the fall? – but there are crispy-fried pig ears and tails. I used to eat pork-ear sandwiches at a soul-food shack on English Avenue in downtown Atlanta. The softly cartilaginous morsels at Holeman and Finch had good flavor on their own, but they were served with a barbecue sauce that tasted bottled. That's carrying nostalgia too far.
I also couldn't resist a plate of fried bologna with mustard. I used to cook this myself atop a can set over a fire when I was a Cub Scout. Believe me, this is not your average cold cut. I'm not sure what's in the small slices, but its flavor was as good as any cured sausage. Ditto for the unusually tart mustard; I'm betting it's house-made, too.
One of the best dishes was steak tartare, not a Southern dish but something I haven't seen on a menu in a long time. It's topped with raw quail egg and served with crisp fries and whole-grain mustard. The beef is wellborn, from Painted Hills and delicious.
Our favorite dish was griddle-cooked Hen of the Woods mushrooms over Anson Mills polenta and aged Parmesan. These mushrooms were new to me and their flavor was amazing. They were firm, almost brittle at points, delicious over the creamy polenta and strong enough in flavor to complement the Parmesan. Don't miss 'em.
Delicate fried oysters were served with a creole remoulade and a single slice of lemon. Two giant Georges Bank scallops were grilled and glazed with a bit of balsamic, then placed over creamed corn.
Griddled fennel with olive oil was just a tad oily for my taste but, my god, the flavor of the juicy fennel was as clear as a bell. I love that stuff.
Another unusual dish was the "gratin of marrow," a split cow femur served with a too-oniony salad and country bread. The marrow itself was delicious, but it was hell to spread on the bread slices, which had so many large holes in them that the marrow ended up on my hand. I don't understand the profusion of onions, which, even just sitting atop the marrow, communicated more of their flavor than I wanted.
Finally we ordered two desserts. I must say I was tempted by the oddly named "down low Coca Cola float." The pub is working with Coca Cola representatives to serve the "perfect Coke." There's even a video on the Coca Cola website about the restaurant's effort, which I presume extends to the float. (The video leaves you wondering if Coke is a silent partner in the restaurant.)
Instead of the perfect float, we ordered sugar-glazed doughnuts and a warm chocolate brownie with black pepper ice cream, toasted hazelnuts and caramel sauce. Much has been made about the doughnuts – their authenticity, their Krispy Kreme-esqueness – but I found the brownie much more appetizing, especially with the ice cream that faintly stings the back of the throat.
There's much else on the menu here, including many dishes made with eggs – hard-boiled, deviled, poached. There's lots of bacon. There's a pot of chicken liver pate with green tomato pickles. There are sweetbreads and hog jowls, duck confit and glazed turnips.
It's especially good news that the menu is affordable. Prices range all over the place, but the highest price is $15 for house-cured charcuterie. Oh! During our visit, the restaurant was still awaiting its pouring license, so it was strictly bring-your-own-bottle. You should call ahead before going if you want to drink. The pub plans an interesting wine selection, although not as vast nor as expensive as Restaurant Eugene's.