First Look: Ticonderoga Club
Deconstructing quirky Ticonderoga Club in Krog Street Market
• Ticonderoga Club claims to be the Atlanta chapter of an organization founded in 1766.
?• The Ticonderoga Club has its own quarterly magazine, the current issue of which includes an ad for Geebz salmon pants (fictional company, fictional pants) and an expository "letter from a President" penned by David Wondrich (noted cocktail historian and real person).
?• On the hostess stand sits a quacking duck phone with blinking red eyes.
?• At the bar you can sit in a captain's chair absconded from a fishing boat (but there's only one of these, so arrive early).
?• At lunch, they serve only one thing — an impressive version of the spiedie sandwich, favorite food of Binghamton, N.Y., with the option to add a bag of Cape Cod chips and bottle of Moxie soda.
?• At supper, they serve a menu that, despite its brevity, includes such seemingly random items as fish sticks, sweetbreads bathed in citrus brown butter, a 72-oz. steak dubbed the Chuck Wagon, and a vegan noodle bowl.
?• At the bar, two of Atlanta's leading bartenders, partners Greg Best and Paul Calvert, turn out intricate cocktails, yet stock just one brand of bourbon and offer Schlitz by the can ... but then also sherry by the bottle, and old vintage Madeira by the glass.
So, yes, Ticonderoga Club seems to suffer from severe dissociative personality disorder. But once you dig in, it's clear that that is exactly the point — Ticonderoga Club is the embodiment of multiple personalities. It is barmen extraordinaire Best (self-described "Yankee by birth and Southerner by choice") and Calvert, whose roots run through New England. It is hostess-with-the-mostest Regan Smith (from Binghamton, N.Y.). It is chef David Bies, formerly of Restaurant Eugene, whose time spent cooking with family in Indonesia is impossible to miss. It's also Bart Sasso, a designer with a knack for artfully conveying quirk, as in that printed quarterly and the strange slogans ("Famous for Nothing") and skeleton-themed graphics employed to craft the Ticonderoga Club aura.
"We talked a lot about what we wanted to do over the past few years," Bies says, "and the main thing is ... we really wanted to do what we wanted to eat, what we wanted to drink." As a guest, once you embrace that notion, that you're there to experience things that the folks running the place simply love, the randomness starts to make sense.
Ticonderoga Club has a cozy and welcoming vibe that manages to instantly detach you from the bustle of Krog Street Market. The intimate bar may be the best seat in the house, but the handful of simple wood tables and booths around it are all basically within sight and earshot (including an upstairs loft that overlooks everything). Bies deserves credit for wrangling the Club's disparate set of inspirations into a concise menu, equal parts fine dining technique and comfort food fun. The fish sticks ($7), for example, hearken back to plates of Gorton's best and look exactly like their muse (though looks belie the lengths to which the kitchen goes in pursuit of optimal crunch). The rest of the menu covers everything from fancy shared appetizers like the sweetbreads mentioned previously, to a simple Cobb salad ($10), to entrées such as an indulgent dry-aged duck ($34).
Bies fully captures the faraway tastes of Asia in unexpected dishes with novel twists. The green papaya salad ($9) comes across as old-school Thai — crisp and salty and sweet and acidic. But the chef adds julienned butternut squash for flavor, pomegranate seeds for pop, and even a bit of maple syrup (Hello, New England!) in place of Thai palm sugar. Bies' time spent cooking with his Indonesian step-grandmother (aka Poh) pays off in a side of coconut-rich eggplant ($8), as well as the Cangrejo el Diablo entrée ($28), devilishly saucy soft-shell crabs served over crispy noodles.
Don't miss the lunchtime spiedie ($8) or the suppertime Ipswich clam roll ($17.66). Both sandwiches come on outstanding breads from baker Rob Alexander of General Muir fame. Also, don't miss Best's and Calvert's nuanced cocktails, like the Bitter Southerner No. 2, which employs Peychaud's bitters in a refreshing (and not too bitter) way. Personally, I wouldn't miss a thing at Ticonderoga Club. There's nothing else like it.