Cheap Eats: Octane Grant Park and Little Tart Bakeshop
The new multitasking collaborative coffeehouseWednesday December 21, 2011 09:00 am EST
This is the age of the coffeerestobakerbar. What, you hadn't heard? It's the kind of multitasking, morning to midnight place-to-be that can push espresso, scones, caramel corn, gratin, and cocktails all with equal aplomb. Witness Empire State South, where you can seamlessly segue from excellent coffee to wonderful pastry to satisfying lunch to best-in-city dinner to serious drinks all in the course of 12 hours. Or how about Cakes & Ale, which recently expanded into the coffee/bakery/lunch business. Those two bright stars of the city's dining scene have shone the light, and now a new potential star is coming at it from another angle — from the coffee cup outward. I'm talking about a little place in Grant Park that goes by the name Octane Coffee with the Little Tart Bakeshop. Or is it simply Octane Grant Park? Or Octane at the Jane? Octart? Whatever the name, this place is the epitome of a multitasking ode to good things to drink and eat.
The original Octane is perhaps Atlanta's pre-eminent coffee shop that also happens to have a few excellent beers on tap, wines by the glass, and cocktails for good measure. Food has never been its strong suit, though the original Octane has made some good decisions along the way, such as serving up treats from Sublime Doughnuts. For its new Grant Park location, tucked away behind Six Feet Under just off Memorial Drive, Octane decided to take a serious stab at food to match the drinks. First, it partnered in a major way with the Little Tart Bakeshop for baked goods, desserts, and other food inspirations. Second, it introduced a "food after five" menu of snacks and slightly more substantial plates to make sure there was something to go along with the drinks after hours. Hence, the coffeerestobakerbar.
The space itself is lovely, especially in the morning when sunlight streams in through the large windows and the bakery case is illuminated by what seems to be the heavens themselves. But the general setup of the place and the service so far could use some work — where to order what from whom is not always clear, and, even when it is, the right person is not always ready to be found. You can tell that most of the young staff is eager to do great things, but hasn't quite grasped all that's required to actually deliver. The coffee? On point. The beautiful La Marzocco machine cranks out equally beautiful espresso. The baked goods? The Little Tart Bakeshop half of the operation is a major boon to the coffee business, with treats such as a pitch-perfect almond cake that are simply destined to sit beside a cup of coffee in mutual admiration. A flaky cathedral of a chocolate croissant, its floor decked in a brick of molten dark chocolate, is an exquisite construction of butter and dough. The savory options don't quite measure up to the sweets, though they do still satisfy. The solid (as in hefty) bacon-cheddar scone is reminiscent of a good Southern cheese straw in flavor, with a peppery little kick in the pants. The flaky mini-quiche is perfect in the middle, but an overly thick crust overwhelms that creamy interior.
While good coffee and croissant are basically a given at an Octane/Little Tart operation, it's the "food after five" part — the resto and the bar — where Octane may really surprise you. The menu is short, packed with affordable small plates, and just about everything is worth pursuing. Start with a small bowl of bacon fat caramel corn. It benefits from the pork production with an enticing crispness, though it could use a bit more smoky bacon flavor to balance out the sweetness. The highlight of a trio of deviled eggs is the one that includes a tangy mustard potato salad. A plate of P's — pear, prosciutto, parsley pesto, and Port-Salut cheese — is the perfect kind of bar plate that manages to be light and indulgent at the same time, that rich, warm cheese smeared on toast and topped with the bright burst of green from the parsley. And fried eggs (runny, of course) with crisp pancetta on toasted H&F bread? Holy pig and chicken, this may rival any egg sandwich in town, marred only by an out-of-season tomato that has no place on an Atlanta plate in December. My favorite dish so far, though, is one that does do December proud, a gratin of seasonal vegetables — packed with rich butternut squash and caramelized onions, balanced out with fresh herbs, buttery without being heavy. Follow that with a jarred lavender and local honey panna cotta to wrap things up, and Octane makes a very good case for earning your dining dollars morning to night.
As for the bar at Octane? Six beers, eight wines, nine featured cocktails: pick your poison. My p.m. poison (after an a.m. cortado) is the cocktail menu. From the simple (a spot-on Red Hook with rye, maraschino liqueur, and Punt e Mes) to the complex (a deeply layered Young Heart, Old Soul that blends aged rum, smoky mescal, Batavia Arrack, and Cynar — say what?), this bar more than holds its own versus the coffee side of the shop.
Octane Coffee with the Little Tart Bakeshop is a mouthful to say, but bears mentioning amongst Atlanta's most progressive multitasking purveyors of many things worth eating and drinking. The coffeerestobakerbar is here to stay, and I, for one, am happy to awkwardly shout its name and cheer it on. Amped up on espresso, swimming in sugar, pleased with pancetta, and buzzed on bourbon.