- By Wendell Brock For the AJC
My handcrafted cherry-and-rosemary soda comes garnished with a dainty purple carnation that’s just a few shades darker than the outside of this restaurant. The Chicken Liver Mousse arrives in a little red tea cup, surrounded by sliced green apples, yellow carrots and watermelon radishes so thin you can almost see through them.
Ooh la la.
This is what Saturday brunch looks like at Petit Chou, a periwinkle building on a stretch of Memorial Drive known for its cluster of quirky breakfast-and-lunch joints that serve originality and spunk, along with eggs, bacon and toast.
Ria’s Bluebird is famous for its sassy attitude and fluffy buttermilk pancakes, Home Grown GA for its vintage charm and Comfy Biscuit. Now comes Petit Chou, a kinda French, kinda Southern place where diners may nibble everything from a Croque Monsieur to something called the “Petit Dejeuner Ville du Chou,” or Cabbagetown Breakfast Bowl.
Petit Chou, as you might have guessed, means “little cabbage” and in some cases “sweetheart.” Either way, the name is appropriate. It’s a darling place, situated on the edge of Cabbagetown,with a trio of owners who have reclaimed and lovingly restored a patch of this vibrant, suddenly in-vogue neighborhood.
At Petit Chou, color is life. Edible flowers and immaculate salads are de rigueur. House-made sodas are bright and sparkling. The chef, manager and servers have cotton-candy-colored hair.
At its heart, it’s a souped-up coffee shop with an urban vibe and above-average food.
The islandlike bar at the center of the cinder-block room was fashioned from recycled materials, the heavy metal-and-wood stools and chairs crafted by the sustainable furniture maker South of Urban.
This makes it a swell perch for sipping a good cortado or iced Americano (served by a barista with a man bun, natch) and quietly drinking in the day. On weekends, you might meet friends here, then ramble about nearby Oakland Cemetery, the Old Fourth Ward or the Beltline.
Perhaps by design, parking can be tight — a beautiful garden covers a space that might have been used for cars — so if you’re smart, you’ll bike.
In a city where gut-busting breakfasts are the norm, it’s refreshing to find a restaurant where animal and vegetable get virtually equal billing. Diana Presson Eller (who cooked under the late Ria Pell at Sauced and Shaun Doty at the late Shaun’s) is the executive chef. Her food is clean, fresh, clever, often delicious.
Let’s start with that Cabbagetown Breakfast Bowl.
With grits, Tillamook sharp cheddar, egg (I prefer poached, but you can get scrambled) and protein (I like the ham, but you can get veggie or chicken sausage, or bacon), it’s a Southern grain bowl of sorts.
It comes with a little nest of arugula and tomato concasse. (That’s just a fancy French way of saying the maters are peeled, seeded and chopped.) Alas, they were a bit over-vinegared, too. Other than that, it was a pleasing and comforting dish.
I liked the Croque Madame (a classic melted cheese and shaved ham sandwich, topped with Gruyere and a poached egg) and the Boursin and Avocado Toast OK but probably wouldn’t order them again.
A pet peeve: Both of these sprouted-grain-bread creations had a pronounced herb-y flavor, and once I got that in my mouth, it’s all I could taste.
Beginning at 11 a.m., a lunch menu is rolled out, with a section headlined “I Take Sandwiches Very Seriously.” There’s Lemony Chicken Breast; a Southern baguette with Brie, shaved ham, fresh fruit and preserves; and a couple of vegetarian options.
I tried the Ratatouille Sandwich — and loved the delicious stuffing: chopped and sauteed eggplant, squash, red bell pepper, onion and tomato, along with boursin, red onion and a generous scattering of arugula. But the little white loaf that housed it? Too soft, squishy, meh. If only the chef would take her bread so seriously. Big hat tip to the kitchen, though, for the gorgeous, gently dressed salad greens that completed the picture.
I had better luck with the aforementioned Chicken Liver Mousse, so delicately nuanced, simple, elegant. Like that breakfast bowl, it was real and easy to love. (And yes, it was garnished with flowers.)
Petit Chou is four minutes by car from my home in Grant Park. I couldn’t be more thrilled. I want to go back for biscuits and strong black coffee. Hell, maybe I’ll even get a bike.
Sure, I have a few quibbles. But the team has created a place that feels wholly organic to the neighborhood and respectful of its history. They have ambitious plans, for dinner service and cocktails. Hopefully this little cabbage will spread its roots and grow fat.