D. Morgan's: Confit Comes To Cartersville
Art of the Meal
28 West Main St.
Hours: Dinner Tuesdays-Saturdays.
Credit cards: All major.
Parking: Rear lot (with rear entrance), and plentiful on the street.
Dress code: Sophisticated.
Score another point for small-town resurgence: In downtown Cartersville, chef/co-owner Derek Morgan has (with the help of his contractor father) gutted and rehabbed a former furniture store to open a restaurant that seems out of place only until you go there.
D. Morgan's interior design and heartfelt vibe, from staff and patrons alike, sing in harmony with the chef's vision. The exposed-brick space with Persian runners and provocative portraiture serves as backdrop to white tablecloths appointed with silver plate and full place settings. Saturday night diners, in jackets and silk, were more sharply dressed than I typically see in much pricier Atlanta restaurants. However, despite the energetic, expert service and effortlessly comfortable setting, the food is the center of this enterprise, the hymnbook that serves as the source of patrons' joy and the wait staff's investment in the restaurant's future.
Morgan's timing is perfect. Cartersville is perched along metro Atlanta's restaurant-starved outer ring - close enough for far-flung commuters too pooped to return to town for dinner. The town is also gateway to the North Georgia mountains, where metro vacationers, as well as a new generation of sophisticated retirees, are looking to drop some disposable income on something good to eat.
D. Morgan's can help with that. The upscale-for-Cartersville price range runs no more than mid-$20s for entrees, but the chef still starts you off with an amuse-bouche, the T-tiny tidbit that's a kind of sneak preview of the tastes to come. Our curtain-raiser was an ethereal lemon sole mousse with basil microgreens - an intriguing first bite typical of the simple but sophisticated flavors ahead.
D. Morgan's menu is crafted around just such easy combinations, and familiar ones, such as tomato salad with buffalo mozzarella, or beef tenderloin with potato hash and red wine cabbage (a few summer menu items sound strangely wintry). But look again: The tomatoes are heirloom; the hash features leek and pancetta (Italian bacon). A salad features thin slivers of Asian pear buried in fresh baby greens, slick with oil and vinegar and studded with spiced pecans and Maytag blue cheese.
The most memorable bites, however, are like the amuse- bouche: Creative, uncomplicated pairings and triplings that really work, starting with lobster bisque with porcini mushroom essence and chives. The presentation begins with a squiggle of dark brown porcini liquid at the bottom of the bowl; the creamy bisque is poured over it until the elixir takes on the burnished tone of butterscotch. And like the browned butter and sugar in butterscotch, the gamy taste of wild mushroom edges the sweet lobster, creating a third and entirely welcome dimension.
The menu is big on masculine flavors, with beef tenderloin, rib-eye steak, Colorado lamb, duck confit and grilled pork chop, but the seafood entrees are also adept. Georges Bank scallops surround a smoked bacon potato cake, littered with morels (wild mushrooms) and peas. Best of all was the seared ahi tuna, thankfully without its predictable wasabi-whatever accompaniment. No, no one - except maybe Derek Morgan - might have thought of putting it with scallion hummus, grilled asparagus and thin, chip-like "Indian fry-bread," with a sprinkling of black olive slivers.
Ready for dessert? Along with a full range of dessert wines (and D. Morgan's wine list is well-focused and affordable, but adventurous), the choices range from full-tilt (molten chocolate cake with espresso cream and strawberries) to whimsical. I had to try the "coffee and doughnuts," and you should, too: A cardamom-flecked cruller is dotted with mandarin orange segments and topped with a scoop of coffee ice cream.
Krista Reese is Georgia Trend's restaurant critic. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.