I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist playing with the effects panel on iPhoto when I uploaded this picture taken on the patio at Farmstead 303. It presented such a vignette of country life.
The old Decatur train depot, which limped along as Depeaux for a few years, has reopened as — yep, you guessed it — a Southern farm-to-table restaurant. You have to admire its owner, Teri Rogers, who certainly isn’t afraid of hard work. Rogers, who runs Decatur’s popular Feast across the street, has her work cut out for her with this iconic and enormous structure.
The setting: The former depot has been moved away from the train tracks but left intact. You can imagine the vast dining room filled with commuters waiting on rows of benches. There’s also an upstairs bar and a grand wraparound balcony. We liked sitting outdoors, even as gusting winds turned the shade umbrellas into sails that pulled over their patio tables.
The food: Chef Ryan Stewart (late of Mac McGee’s on Decatur Square) has fashioned an ambitious menu that seems a mashup of small plates, meat-and-three and Southern bistro. There’s lots to choose from and choices to satisfy every budget. Look for meatloaf or fried fish with Southern veggies of your choice, a burger or a trout entree with a spinach, pecans and a beet pancake.
We enjoyed the cucumber gazpacho ($8) with grilled shrimp and little minicubes of watermelon rind pickle adding bursts of crunchy surprise. Had it been colder, it would have been sublime. The smooth and tacky corn chowder ($6) came with a butterbean crouton floating on top of a raft of salty vegetables, and a back flavor of lavender. It’s interesting in a recipe-in-progress kind of way but not something we wanted to finish.
Fried flounder ($10) seems a good deal for a whole lot of fresh-tasting fish. The batter had no discernible seasoning, but a few lemons and shakes of salt helped. By the way — that’s creamed fresh corn for the side dish.
“Sweet Georgia Shrimp” ($18) arrived on a mound of buttery, tomatoey rice with barely cooked whole okra pods alongside. The shrimp were well cleaned and thankfully free of their tails. Again, this is a tweak away from being a craveable dish.
We weren’t totally down with this strip steak ($23), with its Day-Glo “Green Goddess goat cheese” and weirdly battered fries. Still, behind its too-thick fat cap it was a perfect rare.
The service: Very friendly, but everyone gives off that “new restaurant” smell. On the plus side, your iced tea will be refilled 368 times during the course of your meal. On the down side, you may have to chase someone down for a soup spoon or drink your soup right from the bowl. Also, the kitchen seemed a little slow when the room was barely a quarter full. I’d worry about a busy weekend night. This place will need time to get the machinery working.
The crowd: Decaturites, and the people who love them.