Remember when environmentalism was the sole territory of hippies and earnest college radicals? Now everyone from Pat Robertson to General Electric rallies behind the cause. Green isn't just hot; it's annoyingly ubiquitous. I don't mean to imply that the environment isn't important, but rather that when everyone pays blabbering lip service to something, it tends to lose its meaning.
Likewise, the farm-to-table concept has moved quickly from an uncommon practice utilized by only the most thoughtful chefs to a catch phrase designed to woo consumers with its implied high standards. Demand for locally farmed produce far outweighs supply in Georgia, as more households and restaurants make the connection between health, taste and environmental concerns. This is an undeniably positive turn, but now that locavorism has become part of the mainstream, restaurants that practice farm-to-table cooking are more likely to be mainstream as well.
Farm-to-table is the Shed at Glenwood's mantra from the moment you're seated in its cavernous and attractive, albeit slightly bland, space in Glenwood Park. The restaurant is owned by Cindy Shera, who worked as general manager of Here to Serve's Twist since its opening, and chef Daniel Atwood, who also worked for H.T.S., most recently as chef at Prime. Waiters explain the concept in meticulous detail, emphasizing freshness and the daily changing menu.
It's true; Atwood aims to focus on quality. The menu showcases straightforward American bistro fare and highlights many farm-to-table favorites. Fresh summery tastes of soup provide the beginning to the meal as an amusé – one night, cucumber avocado soup cooled and mellowed the palate; another, watermelon and ginger perked up the senses. Gold and red beets are served in large chunks with goat cheese. An appetizer of lamb is seared and sliced simply, accompanied by fennel relish.
While there's little to fault in such a straightforward approach, I found myself longing for some sort of twist. The kitchen lacks inventiveness apart from a few of the more adventurous dishes. One of the best appetizers, fried squash blossoms stuffed with crab meat and goat cheese, achieves a harmonious balance of crispy fried exterior and creamy interior without eclipsing the blossom's freshness. The combination is hardly revolutionary, but it hints at an artistry – the idea of flavor combinations – that much of the menu lacks.
On the other hand, what one item better argues for the perfection of simplicity than the fresh oyster? The Shed carries a West Coast and an East Coast variety of exemplary quality nightly.
Entrees showcase meats from a number of pedigreed sources: Niman Ranch pork, Amish chickens and Harris Ranch steak. The pork shank sits in all its hulking glory over polenta, but, despite being well-cooked, lacks seasoning and personality. The whole fresh fish of the evening – red snapper the night I had it – was likewise perfectly cooked, and slightly more captivating simply because fish demands less embellishment than pork. But the roast chicken has a uniformity of flavor that is neither unpleasant nor particularly interesting. Steak is arguably the best kind of meat to eat unadorned, and the Shed offers a number of cuts and prices that prove that point.
Sides – garlic greens, fresh asparagus, corn on the cob – are what they say they are; no more, no less. They are fresh, well-cooked and sometimes slightly underseasoned.
Desserts garner more attention, particularly the deliciously cool and creamy glass of goat yogurt topped with dates, pecans and honey. Sometimes decadence is most easily achieved by paring down rather than piling on. A plum crisp tastes tart and fresh, but isn't very crispy and was heated unevenly, possibly in a microwave. I enjoyed a large serving of pot de crème one evening, but haven't been able to forgive the dish for robbing me of a bottle of wine. The menu didn't specify what flavor the creamy custard presented, and I made a wager with my husband that it would be chocolate. "I'll bet you a good bottle of wine it isn't chocolate," he said.
"Is it chocolate pot de crème?" I asked the perky waiter when he came to take our dessert order. "Yes," he said, nodding fervently. I gloated in triumph. But when it arrived, it was white as crème brulée. "Is it vanilla?" I asked the waitress who dropped it off. "Yes," she replied happily. My husband gloated, then took a bite. "Maybe it's white chocolate," he said uneasily. I tried it and detected no chocolate of any kind. "Is it white chocolate?" My husband asked the original waiter when he stopped by. "Yes," he said, a little abashed. "Yes, I thought it was regular chocolate, but now I remember it's white chocolate." I wasn't convinced and neither of us got our bottle of wine.
Despite the pot de crème confusion, the Shed is a good place for a friendly wager or a family meal. High chairs and a kid's menu welcome families in a slightly more refined atmosphere than most places that provide similar amenities. It's less creative and more mainstream than what we've come to expect from farm-to-table endeavors, but for a few fresh oysters, a glass of decent wine, and a naturally raised and simple steak, the Shed at Glenwood embodies straightforward neighborhood dining with a greener pedigree.