Restaurants around town are preparing for the summer doldrums after a year in which it seemed the doldrums never stopped. But come July 4th, business is sure to slow even more, as it always does. Too hot to dine, the reasoning goes. If people venture outside for food, it’s only to the back deck, where they can wear shorts and clutch something very, very cold in a koozie.
It’s a pity because this is the season in which the top restaurants do their best work. The variety of early summer local produce give chefs inspiration, and their cooking becomes nuanced, colorful and surprising in ways it never can be during the height of the pre-holiday dining rush.
Consider Floataway Cafe — one of the first Atlanta restaurants to promote the credo of a cuisine based on local provender. With its soothing setting (it reminds me of a day spa) it feels welcoming any time of year. I’ve visited many times in fall and winter and found the food reliably good but sometimes heavy handed. I usually end up eating too much braised meat, pizza and fried food.
But I stopped in with a few friends (including this one and this one) last weekend looking for a light but satisfying meal, and the few things we ate and drink have been living in my memory ever since. Chef de cuisine Drew Belline is cooking food that couldn’t taste any better on a hot June evening.
Our waitress recommended the savory tomato martini. We really wanted to drink prosecco, but we shared one martini divided into four tiny shots. It was a limpid elixir with a bare blush of color and a flavor like the smell of garden tomato vines on your hands. A barely-there herb and spice crust on the glass rim put the flavors in perspective.
We passed around a salad of peaches, shaved fennel and teeny wild blackberries (so different from cultivated berries) with a few dots of fruity olive oil that brought the anise and tart fruit flavors together. Next, a sweet-meets-salt concoction of juicy summer melon, dollops of sheep’s milk feta and a sliver of velvety country ham.
The meal got a little heft from a blue crab fritter (basically a creamy crab cake disguised as a big hush puppy) and a bowl of the always great shoestring fries.
I see from the current menu that squash blossoms filled with house made ricotta are on the menu, and the peaches are now served with almonds and dandelion greens. I’m going to have to try them — and get a tomato martini all to myself.