1205 Johnson Ferry Road, Marietta
I have almost nothing but love for seasonal menus.
Why the almost? Because here I am, writing about the cozy, wintry meal I had at Common Quarter just a few weeks ago, and a good number of the dishes I ate have gone the way of the groundhog. Parsnips with the seared Faroe Island salmon dish have been replaced by spring peas and sugar snaps. The Granny Smith apple salad is out and a jalapeno strawberry salad is in. Instead of spaghetti squash carbonara, you now may order pasta laced with peas, prosciutto and arugula.
Of course, I’m not really complaining about the fact that Executive Chef Jeffrey Gardner is sprightly enough to follow the farmers markets when crafting his spread. Nor surprised. After all, Common Quarter is owned by the same team that’s brought us Muss & Turner’s, where the menu begins with a section called “Squirrel! Our Daily Distractions.”
When such an approach succeeds, it’s not just because the veggies are freshly sprouted in nearby soil, though that always helps. It’s because the new dishes — be they season-long or one-day-only — speak with a cohesive voice, one that’s aimed at a particular customer.
There is an upscale-but-casual, Charlestonian vibe here. There’s a cornhole game in the waiting area, a shelf full of trucker hats featuring the restaurant’s barn light logo, and hurricane shutters angled over the bar, where the sizable wine list includes this folksy note: “Wine is simply fermented grape juice, made by farmers. We’ve never understood why some people choose to be pretentious about the subject.”
The ambiance strikes a fine and fun balance. It’s duskily lit and chicly appointed enough for a date night, but there’s also a happy, chill feeling in the air that’ll suit those who want to saunter in for a beer and burger in their workout clothes, or with their kids.
The food — call it Southern coast-ish — feels right, too. It’s far from fussy, yet with enough quirk and nuance to feel special.
Take the kale and roasted artichoke dip, served with a pile of buttery croutons. Chunky with veg and bound with just a smidge of creamy-gooey cheese, the dip gets a surprisingly and deliciously strong kick from Calabrian chile.
The Frogmore stew, which seems a must in a rustic dining room dominated by a map of the Georgia coast, is an elegant rendition. Shrimp, mussels, kielbasa and fingerlings each shine simply within a light, fruity tomato broth.
The dish has something in common with the Kentucky burgoo special available one night I visited. The burgoo was a warm, thick stew of limas, pork cheeks and duck just begging to be sopped up with its huge wedge of cornbread. The Frogmore was light and sunny. Yet both felt like they’d been cooked long and low to evoke as many flavors as possible without being overworked.
Sadly, the red wine-braised pot roast was overworked to the point that it was dry and tough. The polenta served on the side tasted more like grits. It had a whiff of fresh corn to it, but otherwise the dish was grainy and underseasoned. No matter. The pot roast was one of the many dishes that got sidelined when the weather turned.
Another departed dish that I won’t miss too much is the spaghetti squash carbonara. So often, carbonara goes over the top with the egg yolks and lardons, but this version wasn’t luxurious enough. Though smoked bacon, chives and al dente squash tendrils gave it a nice flavor, it needed more creamy decadence.
There are items that are certain to stay stalwart on Common Quarter’s menu, and one of those should be the Look West Burger. Perhaps you’ve had Muss & Turner’s legendary burger sheathed in white cheddar and topped with a roasted poblano and cilantro aioli. It’s so iconic, it is only called “the burger.” What you’ll get at Common Quarter is vastly different, but just as worthy of obsession.
The Look West Burger’s goodies — sautéed onions and mustard — are griddled into the patties. Then the whole business is drizzled in “secret sauce.” Despite such intrigue, it’s the mustard, and, of course, the juicy delectableness of the grass-fed beef, that makes the burger.
I love that, anytime I go to Common Quarter, this gem probably will be waiting for me. But I also love not knowing what other seasonal surprises I’ll find — some successful, some less so, but all inspired.
Dinner, 5-9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 5-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; brunch, 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Sundays. 1205 Johnson Ferry Road, Marietta. 678-809-4040, commonquarter.com.