Art Of The Meal: Dude, Where’s My DeLorean?

Local Three Kitchen & Bar

3290 Northside Parkway, Atlanta


Parking: Validated self-parking in nearby garage.

Reservations: Recommended.

Dress code: Anything The Dude would wear.

My car is a time machine. It’s not the gull-winged DeLorean from Back to the Future. It’s a 2006 Japanese import with a navigation system, and to my great amusement, a voice-operated restaurant finder complete with Zagat ratings. If you can’t read while driving, you can allow the car’s robotic voice to intone such phrases as “impeccable service, sexy des-serts.” Aside from being useful when you’re looking for a decent place to eat on the road, it’s also just plain hilarious.

You’re supposed to update your navigation system every few years. I haven’t. So the car’s restaurant database is firmly fixed in 2005. Thus when I set off to drive to Local Three, I asked for Zagat-rated restaurants in the Buckhead area. The list that returned swept me back to an entirely different era of Atlanta dining, now a Valhalla of closed restaurants: Seeger’s. Pano’s and Paul’s. And Local Three’s predecessor, the svelte and Continental Joël.

Like Atlanta’s dining scene, every trace of elitism has been erased from Local Three. Only a long banquette against one wall recalls Joël’s once-sleek space, now whimsically dressed in weathered, reclaimed wood and lots of references to the Jeff Bridges (aka “The Dude”) whacked-out bowling movie The Big Lebowski. “Pretense Loses. Comfort Feels Good,” is one of several pointed statements on the menu, including “You Can’t Argue With Delicious.”

Gone are Joël’s stiff and frosty waitstaff; gone are the velvety sauces and monied diners. Here instead are working people having lunch and dinner – OK, Buckhead working people, including that large table of socialites, probably planning their next charity event – sitting down for a good glass of wine or beer, fun cocktails, recognizable food, all well-made. If there were a bowling alley snack bar version of Joël, this would be it.

Funny, but nearly everyone’s first reaction to Local Three is, “This will work.” It has an experienced team behind it – the owners of Smyrna’s Muss & Turner and Chef Chris Hall – and the concept is popular, of-the-moment meaty-piggy variety, with lots of well-sourced hams, sausages and meats and a few well-selected healthy plates, too. More important, however, is the vibe you get while you’re there. Days after his first trademark rants, we found a “Charlie Sheen’s Tiger Blood” cocktail on the menu, made of blood orange juice and Campari.

Lunches include comfort zone fixtures like The McDowell, a frisky, handmade take on the Big Mac, and a dish I’m suddenly finding all over town, tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich. This delicious version, made with San Marzano tomatoes and a swirl of herbed olive oil, makes you want to stay home from school just one more day. Everything seems to encourage you to enjoy a belly laugh, in more ways than one. It’s not all just funny shtick, either – the menu also features deliciously sophisticated dishes like an entrée salad of crisp duck, smoked bacon and fried egg. The heaping, simple “Lobsta Roll,” with only minced celery, mayo and giant lobster lumps in an authentic split bun, gained my Mainiac husband’s approval. Crisp, thin fries went fast.

At a second lunch, my enthusiasm waned a bit: The chicken pot pie was bland and underseasoned; a barbecued lamb sandwich with feta oddly lacked punch. Still, you want to hang out here – it’s certainly worth it for the chocolate caramel mousse with pear confit and French press coffee. And have I mentioned the lengthy beverage list?

I’ll be back, and I know at least a couple of diners who will want to come with me. Still, as much as I like Local Three, is it wrong to wish a little restaurant elitism could reside somewhere besides my car?

Categories: Art of the Meal