The Grant Park community has been feeling a mixture of sadness and anger since the killing of bartender John Henderson at the Standard on Memorial Drive on Wednesday, Jan. 7.
As has been widely reported, John was closing the bar with fellow bartender Ashley Elder when four young men broke through the front door. They shot John once in one leg and, as they were leaving, fired shots through the door of the office where the two bartenders were left. A bullet struck John in the head. He died a few hours later at Grady Memorial Hospital.
Wayne and I are regular customers at the Standard and John waited on us many times. He was a funny, energetic man. Like many others in the neighborhood, we felt like we were in a nightmare during the few days following the shooting. We were at the Standard last Monday for its regular curry special and the mood of the pub was subdued, but it was good to see it busy. The front room was filled with flowers, candles and notes commemorating John.
Apart from the sheer grief, there's also concern about the increasing crime in Grant Park and the city in general. Wherever we dined in Grant Park last week, people were talking about John and the need for better police and private security. The murder at the Standard was exceptional but the armed robbery was not.
One thing seems certain, though. The event isn't keeping people from dining in the neighborhood's restaurants. In fact, we've had waits at the newest spot to open, Tin Lizzy's Cantina (415 Memorial Drive, 404-554-8220). Tin Lizzy's, the child of a Buckhead restaurant with the same name, is located in the space recently vacated by Six Feet Under, which has moved to a larger space half a block away.
Not much has changed about the space that I noticed. There's still a large and very crowded bar. The interior architecture is unchanged. The restrooms are still too small.
I was prepared to hate Tin Lizzy's. I'm fanatical about Mexican food and I can go for good Tex-Mex, too, but I despise the usual bar food masquerading as either. The food here is mainly Tex-Mex. It's cheap, some of it's good, some of it's not so good. After a few of the restaurant's margaritas, you won't be very picky. Overall, I enjoyed the place, even though I don't drink.
I'll get my main complaint out of the way. The restaurant uses what I think is some generic combination of spices that includes too much cumin. It doesn't show up in everything, but in way too much.
For example, a tortilla soup is a great bargain at $3.99 for a bowl. It's full of stewed chicken breast, tomatoes, onions, cilantro and avocado. But the broth has that funky taste that means "Mexican" to a lot of people. The guacamole has the same flavor, plus too much garlic. I want to taste the avocado.
Tin Lizzy's is certainly not unique in creating this flavor. It used to be especially popular in vegetarian restaurants that wanted to add zing to their otherwise bland food. I don't recall ever tasting the flavor in Mexico, and even in Houston it was rare.
Quesadillas filled with Monterey Jack cheese are offered as starters to which you can add various ingredients. Except for the guac I ordered on the side, my quesadilla was fine. Sour cream also accompanied the dish, along with a cup of a yellow substance neither of us could identify. We thought it was something like aioli. I asked a server and he said it was a chipotle sauce made with ranch dressing. Uh.
Don't count on free chips and salsa here. They'll cost you three bucks. Avoid the "smoky salsa." Ours was too watery to cling to the chips and tasted more like tomatillos than chipotle.
You'll be best off ordering from the menu of soft tacos. My favorite was the spicy cilantro steak, and my least favorite was the Santa Fe chicken, which was heavy on the faux Mexican spices. I also liked the BLT and the fried fish and fried chicken. But I also disliked fried shrimp that was drenched in a bottled-tasting, super-sweet barbecue sauce.
The restaurant also serves "skillets" of rice and queso blanco with your choice of meat and veggies such as grilled peppers and onions, pickled jalapeños, etc. Wayne ordered one topped with Buffalo chicken. The rice was a bit overcooked and crispy. I actually liked it. I also liked that the dish was about 10 times less greasy than the usual Mexican dish on which it's modeled. Wayne didn't like it because it wasn't greasy enough.
BACK TO SOLSTICE
"What would you call this look?" I asked Wayne at Solstice Café (562 Boulevard, 404-622-1976).
"I'd call it retro," he said.
"Huh? It doesn't look retro to me," I said.
"I disagree," he said. "It looks very '90s."
Uh, whatever. The large, added dining room at the café is full of art and hung with red Christmas tree lights. When I asked the owner what look he was going for, he said, "Fabulous."
We really like this place. Before his steak salad, Wayne had a special of tortilla soup whose broth was uniquely rich. My entree, also a special, was a huge lamb shank served with sweet potato gnocchi.
My lone complaint: a very dry hummus served with fried spinach tortillas that were way too limp.
Several Grant Park restaurateurs are attempting to organize a dine-out benefit among restaurants in the area. The plan is to donate 20 percent of sales to Crime Stoppers (404-577-8477) to add to the current $21,870 reward for information leading to the arrest of John's killers.
Consult our dining blog, OmnivoreAtl.com, for emerging details.
Meanwhile, the Grant Park Neighborhood Association has created a memorial fund for donations to John's family. Go to GrantPark.org to contribute.