How now, Howell Mill? Atlanta’s once pocked and remote industrial thoroughfare seemed an edgy choice for elegant Bacchanalia when it moved there from its safe and serene Buckhead manse a decade ago. Today Howell Mill, invaded by artsy urban homesteaders, is quickly becoming a restaurant street of dreams, bookended by Bacchanalia, Quinones, Taqueria del Sol and JCT Kitchen at one end, and upstarts Flip, La Parilla and The Social House at the other. They’re all handy destinations for denizens of office parks around Northside Drive and I-75.
The Social House, located in a little converted house next to a small car lot, is easy to miss. On weekends, look for the crowds spilling out the front door, waiting for their turn at the old-fashioned Southern breakfasts, new-fangled fluffy sweet potato or blueberry pancakes, great sandwiches, potent (organic, free-trade) coffee and bottled sparkling fruit juices.
The latest venture by restaurateur Lorenzo Wyche (Harlem Bar, Rare Soul Tapas), it shares several qualities of his other establishments, such as a cool vibe, great music and clever takes on Southern cooking. But while Harlem Bar and Rare Soul (scheduled, at presstime, to reopen, after a long closing due to a fire) are romantic, late-night scenes attracting throngs of young, sophisticated African-Americans, The Social House’s hip but wholesome, family-oriented retro vibe is equal parts Bill Cosby and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. The soundtrack is classic Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington.
The Social House’s sweet spot is the power breakfast – so powerful, in fact, you’ll need either a power workout or a power nap afterward. Think big platters of eggs, salmon croquettes, bacon, sausage, hash browns, grits, biscuits, salmon hash. These cooks aren’t playing around – order the eggs Sardou (with spinach and artichoke hearts) or Benedict, and these poached beauties appear like cumulous clouds hovering over English muffins, their tremulous orange hearts a viscous custard.
In addition to straight-ahead breakfast dishes, you’ll also find eggless classics such as shrimp and grits, crabcakes and that odd pairing, waffles and fried chicken. You can even eat healthily, with the crabcake “beignet” salad. But you won’t go wrong by diving right into an old-school fry-up including country-fried steak with gravy, biscuits, eggs and hash browns, the latter deep-fried and golden as a catcher’s mitt. The country-fried steak is fantastic – all crust without, all melty meat within. (Kinda like my dad, who would have loved it.) Service has steadily improved – the wait staff now seems to handle even chaotic, crowded weekends with cheerful aplomb.
The Social House also is there for you if you don’t really need a breakfast meeting at 7 a.m. – it’s a good lunch place as well. The Reuben, on toasted wheatberry bread with turkey pastrami, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, sauerkraut and homemade sweet pickles, is one of the best I’ve ever had, served with the house potato salad, flecked with rosemary. Try it with a sparkling blackberry juice.
That’s the kind of Social justice we all crave.
The Social House
663 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta
Hours: Weekdays 7am – 3pm; weekends 8am – 4pm
Dress Code: Very casual
Parking: In attached lot
Credit Cards: All major