After visiting Drift Fish House & Oyster Bar, I’m not surprised that restaurateur-chef Doug Turbush has a devoted following for his east Cobb locales. Seed Kitchen & Bar, Stem Wine Bar, now Drift. Add me to the Turbush tribe.
That means I’m willing to make the one-hour trek on a Friday night from intown to Turbush’s newest digs at 4475 Roswell Road in Marietta. That also means that, despite keeping a bumper-to-bumper headache at bay by singing along to mellow Suzanne Vega tunes, by the time I parked the car in the Avenue East Cobb shopping mall, which Drift calls home, I was ready for a drink.
Ah, but Drift’s cocktail team, led by mixologist Jose Pereiro, came to my aid, and that of everyone else in my party. Whether with the balanced but still smoky mezcal-based Oaxaca the Plank, the tiki-oriented Boxing the Compass, a refreshing apple brandy-flavored house punch, or an off-the-menu pomegranate-ginger mocktail, it’s a cocktail program that can go toe-to-toe with most any bar around town.
Batched and tapped cocktails are spot on, subtle touches like affixing a lemon peel to the glass with a mini clothes pin feel creative instead of gimmicky, and ice — from crushed to gigantic house-made cubes such as that in the Smoked Old Fashioned — is treated with care.
Sommelier and General Manager Jason Raymond has curated a delightful wine list, so once that cocktail has calmed your traffic-frenzied nerves, peruse the wine list — ask for recommendations, the staff is quite knowledgeable — but whatever vino you order, pair it with the bourbon-cured salmon. One of the tastiest and prettiest apps at Drift, the house-cured fish comes atop thick, sizable benne crackers and is decorated with jalapeno rings, shavings of radishes, Granny Smith apples and greenery.
Though satisfying, warm seafood starters like wood-roasted oysters with a crusty baked topping of breadcrumbs and Parmesan, flavored with anchovy-garlic butter, as well as barbecued shrimp didn’t bring the same satisfaction as that salmon. And mussels in a San Marzano sauce disappointed for their tinny taste, unfortunate since the elegant footed metal bowl in which they are presented is a delight to the eyes.
Also delicious were the chowder fries, a generous portion of fries and fried clam strips studded with mini cubes of Benton’s bacon. The menu describes the fries as “smothered” in clam chowder. Ours wasn’t smothered, as in poutine fashion, but the deft ladleful was exactly the amount it needed.
Drift has an ample raw menu. Yet, the fresh oysters that I tried from both coasts, while fresh and slurpable (Arrowhead Petites from Little Machipongo Inlet, Va., were wonderfully briny and full of texture, and the Watch House variety from Chesapeake Bay were super clean) are not the reason I will return to Drift.
I will return to Drift for its fresh fish. From branzino to swordfish to salmon to a mahi tuna special, each was grilled to flaky perfection. And the sauces! There was a just-sweet mustard sauce on the mahi-mahi, and an herbaceous chermoula well-matched for the branzino and an accompanying light seven-herb salad. While there was nothing wrong with the caponata for the swordfish, it weighed things down; I’ll come back for it in the fall, though.
But that charred green garlic vinaigrette encircling the picture-worthy sear-marked salmon, I’ll take that all summer long. The vin and sauces were a delight, especially for swiping up with house-made Parker rolls glistening with butter and shimmering with kosher salt. (I’m pausing here to close my eyes and savor again in my head each of these dishes, the preparation gratifyingly simple and unmasked, the execution and composition so superb, and as understated as the muted tones of the dining room.)
I could go on about the nice smoky flavor of a side of tomato grits, little details like apple slivers that made for a visible attempt to elevate an otherwise average coleslaw, an oyster po’boy that wanted for more oysters … but then there wouldn’t be room to tell about sweet endings.
Dessert was good all right, and eye-catching, too. A calorie-busting salted caramel sundae was sky-high with soft-serve vanilla ice cream and showered with caramel popcorn, brownie bits, peanuts and hot fudge; key lime tart was decorated with beautiful clouds of toasted meringue and dots of raspberry sauce.
But the real smile inducer was not the sweet stuff. It was the impeccable service.
Let’s go back to one visit when my party of five ordered a round of appetizers: wood-roasted oysters and the cured salmon. “It comes four to an order, but I can easily add one,” replied the server regarding both dishes. Party sizes don’t always match up to portion sizes. Kudos to this server for offering a solution that left everyone happy and equally fed.
Now, fast-forward to the end of the meal when the server affixed a bag of boxed leftovers to our table using a purse hook imprinted with the Drift logo. (Considering that they make everything in-house, we were this close to asking, “So, do you have a house blacksmith?”). No worries that anyone was going to trip over food sitting on the floor.
And then, upon our departure, a staff person held the door open as he bid us good night. It was the same treatment given to every other customer. And there were plenty of other instances of subtle yet thoughtful service touches.
Drinks, food, service. No wonder the wait time in the main dining room on a Thursday is two hours. Or that the bar and patio are equally packed. Drift is not drifting at all. Turbush and his team — Executive Chef Brendan Keenan has been with Turbush for more than a decade now — are standing on solid ground and they have a netful of nightly customers to show for it.