(Organic mushrooms & grits)
Things have changed a whole lot since I last ate at Parish: There’s a new chef; the apples on tabletops are now red; there’s live entertainment; the food is better. Way better.
All of these changes are welcomed as this chic, yet organic Inman Park restaurant was seemingly hurting to find its culinary voice. When I last ate there, the food was good and the chef was very excited about his New Orleans influence–something still seen in the flare. It worked while it lasted but the restaurant was still lacking a most important element: consistency.
Chef Joe Schafer, a native of Atlanta definitely exhibits his Southern and European-inspired approach to his cuisine through the use of his raw and organic homegrown vegetables. His own garden’s beets can be tasted in the onion ring salad which offers an interesting and unusual juxtaposition of raw and fried.
In contrast to my first visit some 18 months ago, we sat in the dim-lit dining room, though to no smooth melodies. The décor is still rustic and inviting, but with a touch of fancy and glamm’d up cabaret show-styling, with plumes and European male statues in the central dining area. My guest and I were eager to enjoy an evening of new menu options and a reinterpretation of Louisiana and classic Southern cuisine. The menu specials are still handwritten on large chalk boards hanging on the exposed brick walls. Sure you can ask your server for his or her recommendation, but the daily specials are always personally selected by the chef.
(L- R:Onion ring salad, table setting, whole fish with butternut squash)
Unlike my last visit here, I was able to order anything that tickled my hungry fancy. Most everything jumped at me and I’ll admit I was reluctant to forgo my top choices. But, in keeping with coyness and lady-like manners, I kept it simple and went the clean route. I started my dinner with a heavy Georgia staple: mushrooms with logan turnpike grits topped with a sunny side up egg.
The dish was definitely creative and great in flavor. It’s unusual to see grits cooked to damn-near perfection: creamy, not dry, great consistency, flavorful and ground. I wanted more–yes, much more! The poached egg just made them even better. Cracking the egg and having the yolk ooze through was a perfect example of how two basic, everyday foods can instantly become lovely and very attractive. The mushrooms however were over-salted. Salt can be quite subjective. Anthony Bourdain may have agreed with me while Tom Colicchio would have thought it was seasoned to perfection. It was edible and I devoured it to the last bit of runny yolk, so it wasn’t to the point of return. But, I hate to think that I’d have to request for light salt next time. Ultimately, the dish is consistent with the chef’s concept and well worth your bite.
The whole fish I had was enjoyable. You can opt to have the chef chop off the head and filet it for you–which I recommend if you don’t like having eyeballs staring at you while you cut into him. The fish itself was stuffed with herbs and lemon, all which were detectable. It was paired with carmelized butternut squash, pickled raisins, capers and on a bed of roasted lemon sauce. While I love butternut squash, it’s that fall vegetable that’s entirely over-used in restuarants. I’m even guilty of using it as my go-to orange squash. It’s easy to cook, granted. But, at a place like Parish, hailing to be a mix of fine Southern and classic French technique, could do much better in using other wonderful vegetables from the harvest. There is no doubt a lovely plethora of ingredients that pair well with just about every main entrée the menu features. Butternut squash is simply not the most creative or complicated dish to create, especially when it’s cubed and caramelized.
My friend’s mountain trout was juicy and overall better. Whole brussel sprouts is one of those bland (but if done well can be delicious) veggies that will make an ordinary fish stand out. While we both passed on Chef Joe’s popular cured bacon which was originally the basis for the creamed sprouts, the lemon sauce worked well. I suspect there could have been too much competition between the trout and the sought-after bacon. But, I’m only guessing.
(Mountain trout with brussel sprouts)
Dessert was just what I wanted it to be– but always has been. The banana foster bread pudding is a must-have, if nothing else! It’s better than your momma’s version–I promise. I made the god-awful mistake of passing it up last time and learned my lesson real good when I saw my colleagues tear it to pieces as if they’ve never had pudding before. Clearly, I wasn’t going to be the one begging for a bite. The ice cream is made in-house as is the caramel that I could have drank a liter of! It had every bit of sweetness, moisture and size you’d want in a drool-worthy dessert. If you’re tired of bread pudding (though I can’t even imagine what would cause you to pass up on rolling your eyes back!), try the fried sweet potato pie. It was interesting and conceptually creative for sure, but not the best option for a sweets gourmand snob like myself. I’m not even a purist when it comes to pies and cakes, but the purée could have been cooked a bit more. Its saving grace was the roasted pistachio creme and scoop of the same homemade ice cream.
(Bread pudding; fried sweet potato)
Top off dinner with a frothy cappuccino or French-y cocktails sitting on the super broken-in peach leather couch in the front-end corner. Tickle your date with the many peacock feathers perched throughout.
This was my second visit to Parish and will happily be thrown into my revolving repertoire of dining room visits. Though it’s gone through some kitchen makeovers, it’s now in accord with its core concept. Chef understands their vision and allows the food to represent it without losing his own craft. You’ll still get the good ol’ Southern taste, service and love for exploiting locally grown produce. I can only foresee and hope their approach and use of those ingredients will become more daring and distinct as the food culture here expands its palate and interest.
For me, Parish is special. It has an enchanting resemblance to old and war-torn buildings in Havana. The brick walls, the Spanish-esque ceiling moldings and chandeliers are all aesthetic touches still vibrant in poorly-kept private homes on the island. It’s cozy in there and allows me to pretend I’m in a would-be post-Castro restaurant… 😉 I mentioned all this before–a sign of the consistency I was looking for! And, it goes without saying the service is what every diner should always experience: attentive without being disruptive, honest and engaging. It took me a few Ma’ams” to realize I was in the South, no matter how cosmopolitan Atlanta wants to become!
PARISH RESTAURANT & MARKET
|240 North Highland Avenue: Atlanta: GA 30307
P: 404.681.44324 | web:parishatl.com
|Dinner: $12-$27; Dessert:$7
Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.