First Look: American Food and Beverage
New Buckhead joint serves local comfort food, exceeds expectationsMonday February 23, 2015 04:00 am EST
Under-promise and over-deliver: It's a business truism that basically means setting, and then dramatically exceeding, consumers' low expectations. The folks behind American Food and Beverage, a restaurant in the new Buckhead Atlanta complex, appear to be familiar with this concept. They named the place American. Food. And Beverage. (Could they have gone with anything more uninspiring?) Luckily for them, the food here makes up for the name.
Open since mid-January, American Food is kin to a similar concept of the same name in Forth Worth, Texas. The menu there reflects its Texan surroundings much in the way that the dishes here reflect Georgia. Despite its upscale locale, American Food has a welcoming vibe. If Houston's started from scratch today, and took heavy cues from the likes of Cakes and Ale and Miller Union, the result would probably look (and taste) a lot like this. The interior features warm wood, inviting booths, and a long bar often packed with patrons. Handcrafted wood doorknobs lend an elegant but rustic cue.
The bar offers more than a dozen domestic beers on tap. Some are interesting, local rarities such as Cherry Street Brewing's Coconut Porter. The wine list is similarly all-American, but alas, nothing closer to ATL than the Finger Lakes. (They couldn't find a Southern wine or two?) If you're in a whiskey mood, go for the Creole cocktail ($11). It's a supremely balanced concoction of rye, vermouth, Benedictine, and Amer liqueur. The smoky, tart mezcal margarita and a gin gimlet packed with cucumber and mint are both refreshing and invigorating.
American Food brought in executive chef Jeremy Miller — one of Creative Loafing's four Chefs to Watch in 2015 — to run the kitchen. The menu offers intriguing starters, an array of soups, salads, and sandwiches, and a diverse set of Americana entrées with a Southern-tinged, locavore bent. To start, the first listing is Sapelo Island oysters, a wild Georgia coast delicacy that warrants sampling wherever and whenever you see them ($16/half dozen). The boiled peanut hummus ($9) is another nod to Georgia. It has the look and feel of liver pâté, but with an unmistakable peanut punch kept lively with green tomato relish and warm, toasted pita. There's also Georgia quail with sorghum hot sauce and a Southeast Family Farms' beef tartare with Georgia buttermilk.
Miller also has a penchant for vegan dishes, which you'll find most prominently among the salads. The vegan winter greens salad ($12) does wonders with an impossibly creamy cashew dressing beneath the greens, plus walnuts, raisins, kale chips, and a light, tart cane vinaigrette on top. The bright persimmon, capers, and lemon vinaigrette in the smoked catfish salad ($14) balance out the hearty fish, while a few pepitas in the mix add some crunch.
An entrée of North Carolina trout offers elegance and value in equal measure — just $23 for an expertly filleted trout served over a bright, chlorophyll-colored mustard green puree, sliced sunchokes, and a bed of firm farro. It's the kind of dish you might expect from any of the top farm-to-table restaurants in town, but less expensive. Just as good, if not better, is the plate of extra crispy (and extra juicy) fried chicken ($20 for a thigh and full breast cut in half). The chicken is served with potent black-pepper biscuits, sweet apple butter, and an intense jalapeño vinegar that adds heat without diminishing the crunch. I may have a new favorite fried chicken in town. The duck pot pie ($18) is packed with root vegetables and greens, but I wish they had warned us that there was no creamy filling beneath the crust — rather, a thin, soupy broth.
Daily specials typically include a fresh catch from the Gulf and grass-fed cuts from Brasstown Beef. A rib-eye — a touch pricey at $45 — was cooked to a perfect medium rare and accented with a thick chimichurri sauce (though that can change) on the side. Can't decide between fries or house-made chips as your side? Ask your server to split it half and half. Expect offerings similar to the dinner menu at lunch and Sunday brunch. Sunday evenings bring a four-course, family style meal ($28) featuring a few different entrée choices that change weekly.
Crème brûlée lovers should not miss American Food's grapefruit-topped version ($7) served with a side of subtle rosemary and ginger-scented shortbread. And doughnut fans will dig the sugar-dusted crème fraîche mini-doughnuts (also $7), served piping hot and with huckleberry compote.
A little more than one month in, American Food is putting out expertly executed food and beverage. Miller and crew manage to convey a sense of place with a menu full of locally driven, comfort-inducing dishes. It's the kind of place that makes an argument for a new truism: Don't judge a restaurant by its name.