First Look: Nine Mile Station

Ponce City Market's new rooftop restaurant and beer garden pays homage to Atlanta's past

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Located nine stories above the streets of Atlanta, Ponce City Market’s new rooftop restaurant, Nine Mile Station, could easily take its name from the great height and far-reaching views. But much like the menu’s homage to historic European beer garden fare, its moniker is grounded in history.

The name refers to the nine-mile sweep an Atlanta Street Railway trolley would make over a hundred years ago. Riders took the trolley from Downtown to places like the Ponce de Leon amusement park, where PCM stands today. Sharing rooftop real estate with Nine Mile Station is Skyline Park, a reimagining of the old amusement park complete with mini golf, a Heege tower, a slide, and old-timey carnival games. Both businesses are owned and operated by husband and wife team Kelvin and Mandy Slater of Slater Hospitality.

Reaching the roof takes a bit of legwork that may be a turn-off for some. The only way up is a manually operated freight elevator next to PCM’s main entrance. Look for the lit-up “ROOF” signage (and don’t try another elevator; it won’t get you there). A $10 entrance fee gets you into Skyline Park and as a walk-in to Nine Mile Station. Alternatively, you can make a reservation online via TOCK (the same system Staplehouse uses). $15-$25 per person reserves a seat and is subtracted from the final bill.

Upon entry, panoramic views of Atlanta’s skyline set the scene. The main dining room, accommodating about 75, opens to an outdoor patio with almost double the seating. Braving the autumn chill, couples gather outside around two fire pits, snuggled under complimentary blankets. Inside, an open kitchen flanked in vibrant green tile anchors the space. It's airy and fresh with large windows, a long bar, leather stools, warm woods, and two lush fiddlehead fig trees.

No value assignedThe menu is divvied up by size (small, medium, and large), and its offerings range from salads to pressed sandwiches to full entrees and shareable plates. Diners can have a series of standard courses, flit around sampling, or opt for the $115 “picnic basket,” serving four to six. Executive chef Jonathan McDowell, formerly of Barcelona Wine Bar, says even though Nine Mile Station is a beer garden, he doesn’t want people to "just come for the beer” (which may explain the pricey entry deposit). He aims to conjure traditional beer garden food with a modern take influenced by his California upbringing — fresh, bright, and with strong attention to presentation.

A meal can easily be made with small plates. “They evoke family, friends, sharing, a communal experience,” says McDowell. We ordered a smattering of sizes. Courses were staggered nicely, with no more than two plates at a time. Crispy stuffed sweet peppers ($8) came breaded, fried, and filled with large lumps of crabmeat, chevre, and bits of French parsley, at once tangy, sweet, and rich. Smoked trout salad ($9) was generous with gently smoked trout pieces and crispy trout skin chips tossed with kale, tomato, and lime in moist and flavorful pearled barley. A single crispy kale leaf sat on top. I would take the $10 elevator just for a bowl of the hearty cauliflower soup ($6), roasted and blended super smooth with crisp garlic slivers and dots of curry oil on top.

We had a large dish next, a gorgeous meat and cheese board with shavings of sopressata, Serrano ham, pretzel bread from Buckhead Bread, lightly pickled vegetables, house mustard, and three cheeses — including Valdeon, a mild yet full-flavored blue. Bratwurst, merguez, and kielbasa can be ordered for $1.50 an inch, sold in six-, nine-, and 12-inch increments.

From the mediums, the squash galette ($17) lacks slightly in flavor but is certainly the prettiest dish on the menu: fluffy puff pastry filled with roasted squash, gruyere, spinach, and tomato, adorned by toasted hazelnuts and crispy sage. Two slabs of crisp-browned pork belly ($16) arrived on a tray with a poached egg, sweet peppers, and a mound of Brussels sprouts, dressed in a fine chiffonade with bright apple cider dressing. McDowell’s burger, served with fries, is a patty melt ($16) of beef and mortadella griddled with onions and topped with aioli and fontina on buttery marbled rye.

No value assignedRob Merrick, formerly of Cypress St. Pint and Plate, heads the beer program. Drinkers can choose from 12 rotating draughts and nearly two dozen bottled selections, from local IPAs to Belgium wits. Cocktails ($12) have clever names based on Atlanta history and stand up to the hype. West Paces Gent, a bitter and boozy riff on a Manhattan, gets intensity from herbal fernet and depth from Carpano Antica vermouth along with rye. Also solid: three variations on an Old Fashioned, one with bourbon, one with rye, and one with rum.

At Nine Mile Station, beer is celebrated and complemented by a menu that riffs on European classics with a modern American lean. With a beautiful location and a skilled chef at the wheel, crowds will likely flock for more than just the view.

Nine Mile Station, the Roof at Ponce City Market, 675 Ponce de Leon Ave. 770-999-1532. www.9milestation.com

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