The problem is that hardly anyone does it well. Horseradish Grill is an exception and I have high hopes for the new Wisteria. Greenwood's in Roswell is always good but sticks to down-home favorites. Many that have attempted creative Southern cooking, like Edible Art, Twang and Beaufain's, end up closing or, like City Grill, abandoning the effort.
The latest to jump on the New Southern bandwagon is Wildwood (1197 Peachtree St., 404-888-1898). It replaces the Country Place, that longtime favorite of the Peasant Restaurant Group at Colony Square. Once upon a time, it was the place for Sunday brunch and special occasion business lunches in Midtown. But, like most of the Peasant operations, it grew stale.
The space is now owned by entrepreneur Darryl Hill and three others, including two Peasant alumni. The chef is Hector Gomez, a longtime Peasant chef who worked at City Grill and Dailey's.
I lunched there recently with my friend Bette Harrison, who just finished writing her first book. Is it because I secretly hate her for finishing her book that I took her to such a mediocre restaurant? God knows I tried to do the right thing. I mean, I don't spend over $40 on lunch normally and when I do, I expect more than average meat loaf and fried chicken.
Our primary server was fine. But his assistant, an innocent-faced young man who confessed he'd just quit the Red Lobster, couldn't quite get the hang of keeping water filled, forks and knives on the table, etc. He explained at the outset that he was new and training.
"I work under your waiter," he said.
"Lucky you ... and you get paid for it," Bette quipped.
The young man stared at us, confused.
"However it turns out will be OK," he said.
Not so for our lunch, unless yawning is an OK outcome. I went to great lengths to find out if the she-crab soup ($7) was authentic, meaning if it was full of crab roe. I was assured by our waiter that it was ... and it wasn't. Though the roe may have been blended, I encountered none of the stuff, only a few flakes of crabmeat. Its tepid temperature added further insult.
Everybody is serving fried green tomatoes these days ($6). Here, they are adequate but a mite greasy, topped with goat cheese and served with tomato concassee. Supposedly, diced bacon is also on the plate, but I didn't see any.
Bette ordered meat loaf ($9), a super-compacted version of ground beef and pork served over whipped potatoes. She objected to the meat loaf's having been sliced and apparently sauteed before plating, but I actually prefer that, since it adds a bit of crispness and renders excess fat, usually. Like the soup, though, the meat loaf was served tepid. On the side was a pile of green beans turned translucent and yellow by overcooking.
I decided to give the fried chicken a try ($10). Like the meat loaf, it wasn't exactly bad but it was a far cry from the amazing chicken Scott Peacock serves Tuesday evenings at Watershed. I was served a breast and wing over mashed potatoes and some quite tasty collards. The Wildwood menu says the chicken gets a bath in buttermilk and Tabasco before getting dunked in its breading, but I didn't pick up any notes of either.
Other lunch dishes range from sandwiches, such as pulled pork with "mint julep barbecue sauce" and a catfish po'boy, to salads, like smoked trout with fennel, to heavier entrees such as country fried steak and Maryland crab cakes.
Back to the drawing board, folks.
Every Atlanta night owl complains about our city's lack of late-night dining. Make it a late Monday night and you might as well be living in Macon, unless you head out Buford Highway.
There, many of the ethnic restaurants are open late, some of them 24 hours. On a recent Monday around 11 p.m., Wayne and I visited Korea Garden (5181 Buford Highway, 770-454-6200). It's been years since I dined at this restaurant, which was one of the first Korean spots in our city and about the only place you could order scattered sushi and sashimi.
My favorite dish here remains the pancakes -- plate-sized delicacies full of assorted seafood and scallions ($12.95). They make a great appetizer. Ask for some chili sauce for dunking or use some of the sauces that come with your eight little munchies at the meal's start.
For my entree, I chose head-clearing pork with kimchee ($12.95). The pork turned out to be something like streak o'lean, quite delicious but way too fatty to be eaten without guilt. The dish was topped with clouds of creamy white tofu garnished with chopped scallions. Wayne ordered "spicy small octopus with vegetables" ($12.95). Unfortunately, it was mainly rubbery tentacles and onions.
Here and there
A recent lunch at Ria's Bluebird in Grant Park was disappointing. A brisket sandwich was tasty but bordered on soggy. A chicken salad sandwich was inedibly dry. We ordered emergency mayo. ... Eats on Ponce de Leon remains an absolute treasure. The low prices, good food and staff of characters bring in a very mixed group. Pasta and chicken dishes are equally good.
Eight of us went to Houston's in Buckhead, off West Paces, last Saturday night. My roasted chicken with couscous was better than I anticipated but I'm still having nightmares about the ahi tuna salad and the weird bread the restaurant serves with some dishes. It looks like a tortured lobster tail.
Leave Cliff Bostock a voice mail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1504.