First, a little prologue, if you’d like to skip to the review scroll down a bit. In my life, there have been three restaurants good enough to call my favorite. Growing up, my family always took a couple of trips a year to Daytona Beach, FL., either for a weekend or a week-long family reunion. We always went to the same Hotel, Perry’s (which still stands and will hopefully be visited soon), and we always had one dinner in downtown Daytona, at a little dumpy hole in the wall called Luigi’s. I can still remember the menu. It was heavily influenced by 90′s California, lots of salads and grilled items. Sprouts and avocados littered the menu like paint splatters on a Pollock canvas. The best thing was Key lime pie. We used to order whole pies and finish them off right then and there. I especially remember the macadamia nut crust. Around 1998, the entire family set sail for dinner at Luigi’s. Tragically, some time between visits, they closed, and as you know, back in the late 90′s we didn’t have this internet thing that could give you a reason. That was the first time I ever considered a restaurant to be my favorite.
The second, was Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian in Disney World. If memory serves me right, it was October of 2002. I was trying to impress my wife by giving her a wonderful 1 1/2 year anniversary dinner. One and a half years you say? Yes, it’s alright to celebrate every six months, I give my blessing. The internet was around, but I was at work with nothing but a Nokia, (the phone whose major selling point was the snake game) trying to figure out how to find the best restaurant in town. I can’t say how, but a Zagat guide for every major city miraculously came into my possession, and hands down, Victoria and Albert’s was highest rated. That night, I was introduced to fine dining on my terms. I paid for my own food, I ate whatever I wanted and I tried things I never knew existed. Not to mention being treated like the Duke and Duchess of Kissimmee. It was a special place for me, one that never ceases to amaze as well as drain my wallet. That’s why I’ve been searching for a new favorite. One that equally displays what great food tastes like, but maybe at a price I could regularly afford.
For the third, you have to go back to the spring of 2010 in Atlanta, GA. At that time, a world of up to the minute information was at my fingertips. It was so easy to find opinions (like this one), restaurant reviews, (as you’ll read following these ramblings) and even complete menus on most restaurants websites. This is both a blessing and curse. On one hand, you have infinite information to find, not just a good place to eat, but a place that will deliver an amazing meal. On the other, it’s almost impossible to find an unbiased opinion (except Eat a Duck of course). Also, with all the choices you have available, it makes it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.
After vigorous searching, trying different places with various degrees of success, we decided on Abattoir for our last meal in the dirty South. It was touted as the best gastropub in Atlanta, and it specialized in offal, which was a serious green light for me. I remember first laying eyes on the menu and seeing more nose to tail items than I ever had before. It was the first time my wife and I were equally blown away and she declared then and there that it was her favorite restaurant. As did I. About two years had passed since that night at Abattoir. I still talk about that meal to this day. When asked what our favorite place to eat is, like a proud parent, I unflinchingly respond, “Abattoir”.
I was reunited with Abattoir last week after that long hiatus and it felt like coming home. When you walk in, it’s like no other room you’ve ever seen. It was conceived by Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison. The ceilings are set at a gentle slope, with exposed wood and metal to give that farmhouse feel. It’s a most welcome design for a restaurant and it feels like home. The lighting is dim, aided by a pair of basket enclosed chandeliers, that provide light to the communal table at the center of the dining room. Here, cutlery, glassware and drinks are prepared.
Now, on to the meat of the matter, because at Abattoir, this is where the meal will begin and end. I say that because their most popular dessert has bacon in it. Meat, in all its many manifestations is at the center of Abattoir’s concept of using the entire beast. You will find that the entirety of the menu consists of local produce, and when I say local, I mean the owners have their own farm. Our waitress was proud to fill us in on the process and how much of the produce we ate came from the farm that Anne and Clifford run. Everything else is sourced from local farmers in an attempt to keep everything tight-knit. The menu is 100% seasonal, which has its extreme positives and slight negatives. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to walk into a restaurant I love, and know that I’ll probably order something new every time. The letdown comes when you find something that reigns oe’r, and on the next visit, it’s gone never to be seen again. That last part happened on our last visit. However this does not take away from food we had, because when it comes to quality of product and execution, it can’t be topped.
We decided to order a bunch of dishes and pass them around family style. First the waitress brought us a welcome gift, a bowl of spicy boiled peanuts and fried chickpeas seasoned with cumin and powdered chiles, a great way to get your attention. Good thing I ordered a PBR to cool me off.
We ordered locally raised beef tartare with Asian pear and pine nuts, Korean sticky fries topped with bulgogi, pickled vegetables, and spicy mayo, a farmer salad with root vegetable and creamy ramp vinaigrette, a simple beet salad two ways, roasted and raw, with goat cheese, arugula and Marcona almonds. The dish of the night had to be the spicy veal sweetbreads. If I were to compare myself to a food, maybe Abattoir’s crispy sweetbreads would be the best comparison. Rugged, crispy, cracklin’ goodness outside, and buckle your knees tender and soft inside. They were paired with a perfectly softened red cabbage sauerkraut, beef bacon and a veal stock gastrique. If this is the way people eat in a slaughterhouse…sign me up, I’m ready to slice and dice.
I can’t end without speaking about the desserts. Two desserts were ordered, but if I had room, I would have sampled them all. A Chocolate chess pie, with chunks of peanut brittle and a dollop of crème fraiche. Dense, rich, and savory are the words to describe this pie. The brittle was buttery and fresh while the little touch of crème fraiche was a stroke of genius. The other was Abattoir’s take on Monkey Bread. This is a kids treat, what on earth is it doing on this menu? Well my brain told my mouth to order, so my tongue could crack the case. What I was presented with was a tower of terror for my already full stomach. I mean, I’m still scared at how remarkable it tasted. To be fair it was more like a deconstructed pudding that had just won a gold medal for flavor, but I appreciate the whimsical title. It came with plump golden raisins and rum sabayon. I couldn’t be happier with my choices. As a parting gift we were presented with seven small creme filled shortbread sandwich cookies, no larger than an inch in diameter, as a goodnight bow. You can’t ask for a better send off.
We are already making plans to revisit the revisited, along with a laundry list of other amazing Atlanta institutions. The one thing we missed was the offal selection, which we discussed with the waitress. She kindly assured us that more offal is coming. They are in the process of making a few staff changes as they learn to do things the Abattoir way. I’d also love to have a bigger stomach, or have four stomachs like a cow, but then I’d be a pig, and we don’t want that now do we?
Abattoir – 1170 Howell Mill Road Northwest, Atlanta, GA - (404) 892-3335 • www.starprovisions.com