Do You Wahoo?

An architect friend has a theory: Places give people unconscious cues on how to behave. That’s why, he says, abandoned, weedy lots are often graffiti-scrawled and crime-ridden, while a neatly ordered street seems to command you to pick up your gum wrapper.

Interiors can do the same: Even alone, without witnesses, you wouldn’t dream of screaming and waving pom-poms in a grand cathedral, but a cavernous sports arena seems to invite a certain wigginess.

I’ve noticed some similarities when it comes to children. Why is it that some places (big-box discount stores, sit-down chain restaurants) seem to, well, scream with screaming kids? As a crusty, impatient and childless food-lover, I’ve often longed for “baby” and “non-baby” seating sections.

Neighborhood restaurants are especially prone to kid noise – which is why a place like Decatur’s Wahoo! Grill is such a treasure. On the ever-more-interesting stretch between the railroad tracks and Agnes Scott College, Wahoo! manages to balance grown-up tastes and sophistication with the everyday needs of its neighborhood customer base.

What keeps these small fry quiet, sitting up in their chairs and even eating? It’s not chicken fingers and coloring books, but, I suspect, something that interests them more: A peek at a grownup world that tacitly communicates a gentle and overwhelmingly pleasant way to live.

Everything about Wahoo! is easy. Despite the exclamation point (the place actually takes its name from a Hawaiian fish similar to swordfish), this is a calm environment, made for talking. The dining room, with its exposed brick, curving bar and outsize paintings, funnels to a canopied and pebble-floored patio – winning my vote for one of the best in town.

Prices are reasonable, and the drinks (like a tartly delicious blackberry martini) are as creative and accessible as the food. Wines are interesting and varied, with plenty offered by the glass, from a New Zealand sauvignon blanc (Whitehaven, $8) to a California viognier (Renwood, $7).

I like the fact that, even at supper, you can get a simple bite – anything from a cheeseburger ($8) to a salmon BLT on multigrain ($10) or club wrap ($8), served with a side. Salads range from prosaic (iceberg wedge with blue cheese and bacon) to poetic (sliced tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and basil olive oil).

Go upscale with the fried calamari appetizer, ramped up with banana peppers and a hoisin-Mayhaw sauce, and full-scale entrees, such as rare-centered, bourbon-marinated salmon; boneless, herb-flecked parmesan-crusted chicken breast; or Charleston shrimp and grits, smothered in tomato cream sauce and served with rich, fluffy grits (from $13-$16). The house dish, grilled wahoo ($17), served with green salsa, is moister and less dense than swordfish, but carrying the same mildly steak-like flavor.

If you really want to blow it out, Wahoo! it up with angus New York strip, grilled pork chop, Maryland-style lump crab cakes or even filet with demi glace and prawns with drawn butter (low to mid-$20s). Most items come with slender green beans or collards, with comforting starches such as buttermilk mashed potatoes or roasted sweet potatoes. Desserts tilt toward bread pudding and ice cream topped blackberry cobbler.

If that won’t keep your child quiet – inner or outer – nothing will.

WAHOO! Grill

1042 West College Ave., Decatur


Hours: Dinner, nightly. Brunch, Saturday and Sunday.

Credit cards: All major.

Dress code: Neighborhood chic (accessorize with children).

Categories: Art of the Meal