Buckhead Comfort Zone
Art of the Meal
If you live nearby, the Blue Ridge Grill is simply a neighborhood hangout. But when those neighbors include the governor, one of the richest women in the country (Anne Cox Chambers), and varied denizens of Atlanta's well-heeled Tuxedo Road, you begin to understand that the perfume curling through the parking lot is a heady mix of hickory smoke and noblesse oblige.
Other restaurants have copied this faux-lodge ambiance, including middle-brow steakhouse chains like Stoney River. The Blue Ridge Grill does it better, paying as much attention to the integrity of the food as the rough-hewn decor; the carefully chosen steaks are nearly as thick as the exposed beams. Prices reflect the real estate, with steaks, chops and seafood ranging from $18-$30 a la carte, and side orders like mashed potatoes and mushrooms another $6 or $7.
For that, regulars know exactly what they're going to get, and they're glad. Like their own mountain cabins, the Blue Ridge Grill is a luxe-rustic getaway, a challenge-free zone for those times when you don't want to work to understand a menu, and you don't care what a ragout is -- you want something you already know you like. The Grill responds amiably with hearty, Southern-tinged food, robust with red meat and sugar, thoroughly satisfying but unlikely to inflame debate or expand boundaries. If education is what you're after, you can explore the huge wine list or enlist the help of a knowledgeable staffer. Most of the regulars, however, can be spotted nursing that Southern standby, the highball.
The meat cuts are honest -- burly, prime New York strips and fist-sized lamb chops, black-edged and charcoal-perfumed outside and juicy within. An excess of pureeing neuters the lobster bisque, its smooth tomato-tinged cream topped with bits of too-long-refrigerated crab. The Blue Ridge salad sports freshly toasted pecans, crumbled gorgonzola and sliced pears over field greens. You've had this salad a thousand times; but the pecans are still warm, the vinaigrette sharp, the gorgonzola perfect with the crisp, chilled pear. The sourdough loaf is warm, elastic, airy.
The horseradish-crusted halibut is about as far as the kitchen likes to stretch, but the flavors are well-matched: buttery, mild fish and prickly horseradish, with sliced poached fennel and mandarin orange segments mingling in orange-butter sauce. The grill-branded asparagus are, like the lamb chops, perfect; the corn souffle is liquid and sweet, with a caramelized top.
Like some of these classic dishes, many surely enjoyed in the era of staunch Atlanta cooks like Mrs. S.R. Dull, the Grill's atmosphere seems strangely unstuck in time. Maybe it's partly because the neighborhood patrons are monochromatic, while the rest of the city has gone so vibrantly Technicolor; perhaps it has something to do with the staff's ill-fitting and outmoded red jackets, like valets. There's something make-believe, illusory, about this place. As we polish off the ice cream sundae pie (vanilla, chocolate and Heath-bar-crunch ice cream on Oreo crust, dusted with Heath-bar bits), my eyes finally pull the big portrait over the crackling fireplace into focus. That stately, oversized figure in vest, tie and jacket is a rabbit -- a huge, white rabbit, peering down over the crowd. I wonder if, like Jimmy Stewart in the 1950 movie "Harvey," I'm the only one who can see him. That thought is a little unsettling, especially if my friends and family could finally latch on to an excuse to have me committed. That's what happened to Stewart's character, Elwood P. Dowd, just because he liked to have cocktails -- several cocktails -- with an invisible six-foot-three inch pooka at places a lot like this one. Then I remember my favorite line of the film, and relax. "I used to be smart," he tells one friend, "but now I prefer to be pleasant."
The Blue Ridge Grill is made to order for just such a mood.
Blue Ridge Grill
1261 West Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta 404-233-5030
Reservations: Not required, but recommended.
Executive Chef: Shane Touhy
Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. Dinner, 5:30-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; until 11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays.
Brunch (regular menu), 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Parking: Complimentary valet.
Lunch, $11-$33. Dinner entrees, $17-$33, a la carte.
Credit cards: All major.
Attire: Dressy casual. Cashmere sweaters and sport coats for grownups; jeans and sneakers for kids.