Since opening in 2008, Parish's most consistent attribute has been change. Somewhere between chefs one (Timothy Magee), two (Nick Melvin), and three (Joe Schafer), what began as a New Orleans-style concept rearranged itself into the Southern-inspired, farm-to-table outfit it is today. Four years later, with the recent addition of executive chef Edward Russell, the restaurant has entered yet another, and perhaps its most promising, phase of soul-searching.
Prior to Parish, Russell broke into the culinary scene in Athens, working a seven-year stretch as Hugh Acheson's pastry chef at Five & Ten restaurant, followed by stints at Farm 255, and Athens' Trappeze Pub. Russell also gained notoriety after founding the acclaimed Four Courseman Supper Club in 2006. As his first Atlanta undertaking, Russell took the reins of Parish back in April of this year. Since then his influence has been subtle but distinct. Although the current menu is a balancing act of offerings old and new, the new suggests that Parish may have finally found its groove.
New appetizers like the grilled romaine salad and whole Georgia shrimp with tomato sauce and aïoli mingle with a Parish mainstay, country ham and chicken liver pâté. A charcuterie plate, made with a selection of Pine Street Market's cured meats, and a local cheese plate safely anchor the starters as well. But in the midst of a Georgia heat wave, the addition of a squash salad is evidence of Russell's fondness for simplicity, not to mention an understanding of time and place. Ribbons of delicately shaved summer squash are tangled with wilted chard and lightly coated with citrus vinaigrette. The dressing is far from fussy; a little acid, a little oil, and a little salt go a long way on an oppressively hot summer day. Bits of Marcona almond await discovery beneath the layers of squash and tie each bite together with a buttery crunch.
Another standout, a special that night, was Russell's translation of grilled peaches wrapped with salty prosciutto. At the peak of peach season, the dish oozes summertime. Perfectly grilled peaches are plated alongside a thick swoosh of balsamic reduction. A nearby tuft of arugula is laced with piquant strands of crunchy pickled onions. Specks of creamy, almost cake-like crumbles of sweet Blu di Bufala cheese offset everything salty and bitter on the plate, leaving the dish complex but refreshingly balanced.
As for the mains — and with the exception of steak frites accompanied by a rich, anchovy butter and roasted bone marrow gremolata — Russell has tweaked more than he has replaced. A square of tender pulled pork shoulder is reworked into a tight cube, seared to a crisp, and set atop a nest of deep purple and orange rainbow carrots, supple onions, and fingerling potatoes. The carrots retain their tops and a garnish of roughly chopped green tomatoes succeed as rustic eye candy, but the meat itself could use a dash of salt. The same goes for the puddle of pork jus pooled beneath the vegetables.
According to our server, the seared Georgia trout is another new-old menu collab. On one visit, the trout was served whole over its accompaniments. A delicate fish to begin with, the trout was slightly overcooked. When paired with a smooth cauliflower purée and sautéed spinach, the dish was far too soft and lacked contrasting textures. A latter version fared better when the trout was filleted and the skin seared crispy enough that it curled around the edges; the more to chew, the better.
Over the years, Parish has earned the unfortunate reputation of having bad service. As a former server, I can say without hesitation that great service is getting harder and harder to find in the city. During my recent visits to Parish, service was a mixed bag: not terrible, but not great. On one occasion, I noticed that three new trainees were shadowing both servers and the bartender on duty. A high turnover rate among servers almost guarantees that whoever is taking care of you is relatively inexperienced. As you can imagine, it's difficult to give great service when you're still new, even if you've been waiting tables for years. Hopefully, Parish's new crew will stick around long enough to match the quality of food Russell and his kitchen staff are aiming to provide.