Some real offensive momentum has Concentrics Restaurants performing as the team to beat this season. And now they've stepped up to the plate with, no, not a sports bar, but a "high-end sports-themed restaurant," STATS. It's a whole new ball game, and with the Georgia Aquarium nearby and multiple new hotels going up in the surrounding downtown blocks, STATS is playing with a sense of urgency.
You have to respect its physicality. The space, located on Marietta Street just west of the CNN Center, is both elegant and brawny. Let's call it warehouse chic: brick walls, wooden beams, and the sports theme manifests itself with many, many plasma screens, and a large ticker (Times Square-style) that wraps around the bar and provides a play-by-play of any sports news you might have missed. Local sports-radio station 790 the Zone (WQXI-AM) has a glass-walled studio adjacent to the main bar, where games are occasionally broadcast live. Servers are dressed in warm-up suits and Adidas sneakers. But don't take the sporty theme too literally; there have been reports of patrons turned away because they were showing too much love for their team in their attire. I guess STATS runs a squeaky-clean program.
Apparently STATS is also hoping to find some offense-minded players in its customers – one of the big draws is the pour-your-own-beer tables, where you can utilize taps that are computerized to keep track of how many beers you pour for yourself. You have to reserve the tables in advance, but on recent evenings they have been riddled with injuries and often out of order.
Chef James Corwell is an impact player, with a menu full of bar classics turned upscale, as well as some more refined entrees and sandwiches. He was recruited from the consulting world, and his aesthetic seems to fit in well with the slightly gimmicky but well-executed feel of the place. For instance, bacon is shredded and deep-fried, resulting in a feathery, greasy substance that tastes more like chicharrones – Mexican fried pork skins – than bacon. This is one of the components of the most disappointing dish I encountered, the burger, which seemed both under- and overwrought. The huge patty lacked flavor, but the sweet potato bun was overly sweet. The sweet potato fries that accompanied the dish were a smart play, though, salty-sweet and just thick enough to allow for a nice creamy interior.
Because of the weirdness of the bacon (and honestly, I'm all for bacon experimentation and overusage, but this stuff really is kind of weird), I suggest ordering the crab cake BLT without the B. You'll be rewarded with a large, light and well-seasoned crab cake sandwich. Candy cane ribs are tender, tasty, come with a mango salsa and are unexpectedly spicy, as is the tuna tataki appetizer, which comes over a salad that seems full of sliced red and green jalapeños. In both cases, the flavors are good but the spice is a tad overwhelming. I love spice, but not if it's not being a team player.
The core unit is the entree section, which is full of heavy hitters. The short rib pot pie is a bit strange: A large bowl full of tender, stewed short rib meat and veggies seems almost totally separate from the puffed-up pie dough that covers the bowl a good three inches above any of the other ingredients. It's also funny to have to cut up your pie contents with a knife – the chunks are much too big to eat otherwise. But the filling is rich, warming, steady comfort food.
Pan-roasted trout with crabmeat and bacon also hit on all cylinders, cooked perfectly and with the mellow flavors of fall playing out in the relationship between the apples, potato and bacon on the plate.
Desserts, by contrast, are searching to gel as a unit. There's no subtlety in their approach, and dishes such as peanut butter chocolate tart are fine, but they taste of the chain-restaurant aesthetic.
So, at the end of the game, STATS is a bit confusing. It's not a place to go to rowdily cheer the game on, unless you don't mind dressing up, or the loud music, and the four other games playing simultaneously on adjacent televisions (with closed captioning available). It's a bit too frenzied for a nice dinner. Perhaps it's a manly place to take clients when you don't want to look as though you play like a girl.
What else can I say? Napkins are designed to stop dribble penetration? OK, OK, enough.
I'd hardly call STATS a rookie sensation, but you can probably bet it will score big this season in one respect at least. As Dick Vitale would say, it's money, baby!