|Hugh Acheson |
photo credit: Rinne Allen, designspongeonline.com
The restaurant's decor has a certain masculine hipness - a somewhat vintage big city style without trying to be flashy. I could envision a group of men happily dining there together and not feeling frou frou, but at the same time, it would be wholly date appropriate, too. The entry opens into an outdoor bocce court, the latest must-have restaurant accouterment. I love me some bocce, so this too is a welcome find.
I haven't sampled the restaurant's regular menu yet, but if their party appetizers were any indication, we're in for a treat. I've said before that I'm a wee tired of the whole Southern farm to table schtick, but at Empire State South, it feels authentic rather than trendy. Sure it's regionally influenced, and Acheson is well-known for his respect for local ingredients, but when a Food & Wine Best New Chef and multi-year James Beard nominee comes to town, I want to eat whatever he's serving up even if the trend is a bit ubiquitous for my taste.
Boiled peanuts served as bar snacks remind me of car trips to North Georgia as a child, and they're even more wonderfully salty and juicy than I remember. A lovely selection of cheese, pickles, spreads and breads was also excellent. Their pickles had the homemade freshness I sought in my own recent attempt, and a chicken liver spread lacked the metallic aftertaste I often find in others' versions.
Fried chicken with corn and tomato pepper jelly was so heavenly that Mr. AT and I had not one, not two, but yes, three servings of it. Yes, that makes us appetizer pigs, but they just kept being offered to us, and I simply do not have the willpower to pass up something so divine. The sweet and peppery jelly was a perfect accompaniment to the juicy boneless chicken. Sign me up for more of that anytime.
Always the intrepid eater, I found room for their cute little mini-desserts even after my chicken gluttony. Pecan pies and a German chocolate cupcake were a perfect cap to an evening of cocktailing and noshing. Not sure yet what desserts they'll be dishing up on their regular menu, but my hopes are high!
And that leads me to another pleasant surprise - the service. Of course, you'd expect the new staff to be on good behavior at opening time, but they truly were above and beyond. Time and time again, they attended to our every need with a smile on their faces. When a waiter had just one serving of salmon, Mr. AT gladly snatched it up since I don't like salmon. But not content to leave me even momentarily app-less, the waiter brought me yet another serving of fried chicken. Now that's service!
Everyone seemed genuinely excited to be working there, which speaks highly of Chefs Acheson and Nick Melvin. And has anyone noticed that Hugh Acheson bears an uncanny resemblance to Christian Bale? Thankfully it seems he's like the much, much nicer version!
On the menu posted online, they have a pimento cheese butter served with their ribeye, and I must admit that sounds like something I want to eat on EVERYTHING from now on. And you don't have to wait til dinner time. They're open for breakfast and lunch, too. Poached eggs over brunswick stew sounds right up my alley.
So get your butt over to Empire State South and check out what you've been missing out on in Athens!
Empire State South
999 Peachtree St.