Art of The Meal: Going Whole Hog
1170 Howell Mill Road
Atlanta, GA 30318-8636
Parking: Free in nearby garage.
Dress code: Anything from your best jeans and jewelry to business suits.
Adventurous meat eaters and lovers of fine liquors are finding themselves with full plates and glasses these days. The season’s latest trend, featuring lots of exotic, salted and cured beef, pork and other bits, often served with variations on old-school cocktails, is sometimes called “whole animal cuisine,” or less decorously, “snout-to-tail cooking,” or, more factually, “offal.”
Atlanta’s best-known prize-winning chefs, Anne Quatrano and husband Clifford Harrison (Bacchanalia, Quinones, Star Provisions), named their newest enterprise Abattoir – “slaughterhouse.” It’s a cow’s-tongue-in-veal-cheek reference to both the locally raised meats on the menu, and the cooking style of using every part of the animal.
Here in Atlanta, Linton Hopkins (Restaurant Eugene) first introduced the concept at his next-door watering hole, Holeman & Finch. With a Southern drawl as thick as Coca-Cola syrup, Hopkins’ menu offers souse, oysters, farm eggs, chicken liver pâté, steak and a rasher of bacon strewn across an ever-changing list of small dishes, in a sophisticated room laid out like a shotgun shack.
Abattoir is more serious in a number of ways – from the larger, airier dining room to the more formal entrees to the fact that the restaurant accepts reservations, unlike the sometimes chaotic, often-packed Holeman & Finch. Abattoir’s staff is fiercely knowledgeable and imparts a reserved service style that makes this dining concept more relaxed, while retaining all the fun.
The menu is less Southern, and more local, with native fare showing up in all kinds of iterations. Yes, Abattoir’s signature dishes include sweetbreads, lamb liver, charcuterie (house-made sausages and salamis), and steak tartare. But if you’re not up to trying those, unless you’re a vegan or have extreme food issues, you’ll find something to make you happy.
A friendly, entry-level starter might be the ham-and-cheese gougères, a kind of small, light and puffy French ham biscuit with gloriously gooey brie in the center. These go down nicely with such signature libations as the Whiskey Daisey – a sweet, light take on a whiskey sour – or the Sazerac, the signature New Orleans potable. If you’re here to sample the beer (everything from the classic 16-ounce PBR tallboy to Mama’s Little Yellow Pils draft), you might opt for the delicious bite of wood-grilled bratwurst, served in a bowl atop braised sweet onions and grainy mustard.
The entrees are beautifully joined with local produce in such dishes as the monkfish with sunchoke puree, rainbow chard and lemon; and duck meatballs in broth, with royal trumpet mushrooms. You can also dine on a few small plates, and leave feeling sane and sated. I convinced a reluctant colleague to try the potted chicken liver and foie gras, and soon we were fighting to clean out the small jar with the last crusts of Abattoir’s excellent baguettes. A crisp salad of bitter lettuce laden with shredded duck confit and ribbons of al dente butternut squash was the perfect foil. We drained the last drops of our wines – a memorably smoky Powers cab, and a fruit-forward La Linda Malbec – while dipping spoons in the dense chocolate pot de crème. (On another visit, a neighboring table insisted we try their bacon beignets – a diabolical invention that trapped crusty, salty, piggy bits inside inflated, sugar-dusted fried dough.)
After two visits with slightly squeamish companions, I want to go back and venture deeper into the meaty mysteries of Abattoir’s rabbit galantine; the house-ground beef and pork burger with fries; the fried chicken livers; the charcuterie and the always-impressive cheese list. (The boisterous bar is an inviting spot for a solo visit.) With prices for most small plates in the single digits, and entrees topping out at around $20, it’s a budget-friendly way to go whole hog.