Art Of The Meal: Ridiculously Sublime
Carver’s Country Kitchen
1118 W. Marietta St. NW
(at Longley Ave.)
When I first visited Carver’s Country Kitchen many years ago, the luncheonette was a small section of this grocery store in working-class Howell Station, west of Mid-town Atlanta. Surrounded by light-industry factories and warehouses, the store’s steam table of Southern favorites drew a hearty mix of blue-collar workers, Georgia Tech students and the occasional management type or beeper-wearing salesman.
All these years later, a few things have changed: West Midtown’s hipster eateries and condos are en-croaching even industrial Howell Station. And now the grocery that once housed the luncheonette has been pushed to the farthest corners to allow that same eclectic, but much larger, clientele the most seating possible.
What’s more important is what has stayed the same: Sharon Carver’s old-school dishes are as wow-in-your-mouth good as they were so many years ago. Tuesdays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., she serves up a varying but always mind-boggling array of choices, including Coca-Cola baked ham, turkey and dressing, fluffy broccoli and cheese casserole, meat loaf, collard greens, biscuits, jalapeño cornbread and the kinds of cakes and pies you might have seen at an old-time family reunion: strawberry cake with the sharp-sugar taste of Jello mix; blackberry cobbler; cherry dump cake (so named because you dump all the ingredients in a pan, then bake them).
If you don’t make it to Carver’s before noon, you’ll likely end up snaking through a long line to point out your selections, which may or may not still include quick-to-sell-out favorites like the Dolly Parton Fried Chicken Breast. One glimpse of this giant, double breast and you understand the name completely.
Sharon Carver’s genius is in making even humble vegetables like rutabagas standout dishes, with little more than margarine, salt and pepper. Her cooking reminds me a little of another enterprising female chef – Savannah’s Mrs. Wilkes, or even jolly Paula Deen – but Carver’s dishes are heartier, a little more country, a little more home-style. (No cream cheese appetizers here!) And for about $10, in-cluding tea and bread, you will un-doubtedly take home at least another meal in leftovers.
When I first found Carver’s, Atlanta had dozens of meat-and-threes. Most of them are gone; the ones that are left struggle to compete with this kind of fiercely tasty cooking. Sharon and husband Robert, who runs the cash register, have recently cut back from five days a week to four.
As it happened, a day after visiting Carver’s, I had a long, leisurely meal at Restaurant Eugene. Chef Linton Hop-kins’ elegant, expensive interpretations of classic Southern flavors – he shares Sharon Carver’s enthusiasm for ham, Coca-Cola and bright tastes from a few elemental ingredients – reminded me how lucky we are to be able to savor both ends of this spectrum of our indigenous cooking. Eating at Carver’s and then dining at Eugene isn’t going from the sublime to the ridiculous, or vice versa. It’s all just ridiculously sublime.