On occasion, I have heard some critics claim that chefs do not cook enough Southern food in Atlanta. I’m not sure this is true.
Take, for example, the menu at Southern Bistro, which is full of dishes that any Southerner would recognize as familiar, comforting food.
The drop biscuits that arrived first was seasoned with a mince of mild herbs. The boat of mac and cheese was rich with gooey flavor and sizzling golden brown at the edges. Collard greens were tender and filling and just a touch sweet. You might be surprised to find that they were spiked with the most Atlanta ingredient of all, Coca-Cola, but the bigger surprise is that such a flavor actually works with, rather than distracts from, the collards.
When delivered with care and generosity, as they are at Southern Bistro, one can’t help but be satisfied by dishes like these, even if you can get them at dozens of other restaurants in town.
Southern Bistro is not a stunning place or one that will send you raving to your friends. It is dependable Southern food, well-served and generously plated. It is comfortable and convenient and, if you like classic rock, you can count on a soundtrack of familiar tunes by Clapton, Young and the Band.
This location long has been home to Nancy G’s, a restaurant started by Nancy and Colman Goodrich more than 10 years ago, but recently revamped and renamed by a new chef, Ron Eyester.
Yes, that Ron Eyester. You might know him as the man who rose to brief fame as “the Angry Chef,” a somewhat farcical persona known for venting customer-is-always-wrong tirades. Or, you might know him from the once-beloved neighborhood restaurants Rosebud and the Family Dog. Or, you might know him from the short-lived Diner, a restaurant so perversely cynical and blundering in its approach that it apparently played some role in sinking Eyester’s entire restaurant group.
After his highly publicized implosion in 2015, the story goes, Nancy Goodrich reached out to Eyester, whom she knew as an old friend and former colleague. Together, they were able to combine their decades of restaurant know-how for this latest iteration of the restaurant.
With all of those years of experience, is this a well-polished corporate dining machine? No, not at all. There’s something vaguely ramshackle about the way the restaurant’s different phases have accumulated into a hodgepodge of decorations, the kind that might remind you of a sentimental aunt. There’s something homespun in the service, too.
I’ve noticed Colman Goodrich consistently working the front door, seeing diners to their tables, and doting on their meal. I watched one night as an elderly guest explained to him that he’d forgotten his reading glasses. Goodrich looked, unsuccessfully, for a spare pair of specs in the host stand. Instead, he brought the man a cocktail and helped him read the fine print over his shoulder.
At the bar, I’ve noticed regulars don’t even have to say what they want, because the bartender already knows. The man mixing the drinks will introduce himself as J.D. and, if you like, explain his very strong opinions about the proper construction of an Old Fashioned.
This is Southern hospitality. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Cliché or not, every neighborhood should be glad to have a joint that practices it as Southern Bistro does.
A plate of fried chicken comes loaded with green beans, that sizzling boat of mac and cheese, and an old-school cucumber-dill salad. The chicken is a boneless breast, fried golden brown and ladled with sticky gravy.
A plate of shrimp and grits is similarly classic. The thick, creamy grits are paired with a rich tomato gravy loaded with hunks of andouille sausage. I happily cleaned my plate.
Not all of the menu is middle-of-the-road Southern fare. There are a few familiar Eyester dishes, the goofy combinations that he’s long decorated his menus with. Take, for example, the blue-cheese potato chips, which are something like nachos reimagined with bacon lardons, chopped tomatoes, scallions and funky, crumbly cheese. Is this a completely ill-advised weirdo dish? Yes. Is it also kind of delicious? Sure.
I’ve never been a fan of these Eyester touches, but I can see how they helped find him a following. They’re unpretentious, silly and heavy on the salt and fat. At Southern Bistro, this inclination feels dialed down. The Angry Chef apparently has mellowed, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Just the other night, I stopped in and sat at the bar. J.D. made me an Old Fashioned and told me about the specials. I ordered a salmon croquette and pork osso buco. The croquette arrived dark, golden brown and crispy on a creamy remoulade. The pork shank that arrived later was rich, savory and tender. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was a good meal at a comfortable place.
That’s exactly what I believe Southern Bistro and Eyester are trying to do.
4920 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays. 404-705-8444, southernbistroatl.com.