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Deckard’s American Tavern review, Midtown

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$-$$

Do you want food with your spirits or spirits with your food? There’s no shame either way, but you will be happiest with your dining choice if you square up to this question first.

For me it comes down to the difference between Saturday and Friday nights. On Saturday, I like to go to restaurants that serve the food I’m craving and have a good glass of wine to wash it down. It’s simple.

Review by John Kessler

Review by John Kessler

But let’s backtrack a day to Friday. To that final push of the work week, to that drive home, to that feeling that I want nothing as much as a cocktail. Or a beer. Or, perhaps, two. No more than that, mind you, because I’m not looking to get ’faced. Plus, I do want to eat — preferably some sort of hand-held tastiness that doesn’t require anything as fancy or labor-intensive as a fork. A burger. A nut-brown hunk of fried fish with some fries and a shake of malt vinegar. A wedge of warm pita dragged through a tasty smear of hummus. TGIF: Thank God It’s Food. If it’s good food, all the better.

Lately we’ve had a rash of new bars, pubs and taverns that cater to this need, but with a gourmet-minded take on both the beer lists and menus. And why not? It’s dining for the times, when we’re all looking for inexpensive comfort in liquid and patty forms. Yet some of these spots are just too foodie-foodie for their own good. By the time you wrap your mind around that complicated fish special, you’re no longer at the corner bar.

The Pig Pen chorizo burger (photos by Becky Stein)

The Pig Pen chorizo burger (photos by Becky Stein)

Deckard’s American Tavern — a new Midtown spot from Taco Mac’s corporate chef Matthew Deckard — strikes a tone that feels just right. Neither too highbrow nor too divey, it’s the Goldilocks of gastropubs. This upstairs aerie (the former Matsuri Japanese Restaurant) has a comfy anywheresville pub vibe with solid booths and flat screens galore. The beer list features 24 choices on draft from a shiny copper dispenser, and another 75 craft ales and lagers in bottles. The menu makes room for everything from nice cheese and cured meat platters to chili, meatloaf and sandwiches. It even has a fun gimmick: a lineup of New England-style steam kettles from which a cook tips various steaming stews and pasta dishes into bowls. But after three visits, I have yet to find as much interest in this food as I do in the beer.

Some of the dishes sound more fun than they taste. A “bag o’ pretzels” ($5) brings a paper sack filled with pretzel rolls and a little ramekin of spicy sumpin-sumpin (“cherry pepper dijonaise”). Fine, but the rolls are so leathery and springy and weirdly steamy in the center that they seem to have been zapped.

So not a biggie. I’m just drinking and noshing and — look! — here comes a Scotch egg ($5) wrapped in house-made sausage. It’s a huge thing, cut in half, dry as a bone. Schlitz-battered onion rings ($7) have done us best in absorption mode. They’re fat, crunchy and satisfyingly greasy if wearing enough batter to qualify as armor.

I’ve liked a couple of the sandwiches quite a lot. The Pig Pen ($9) unites a chorizo patty with queso fresco and a snappy jalapeño-cilantro relish in a soft bun. The pastrami Reuben ($8) is as promised and thankfully not one of those grease-dripping grilled Reubens but one of those fresh ones with a high pile of meat.

Alas, other sandwiches don’t do the trick as well. The pimento cheeseburger ($8) arrives with a thick, hot glaze of the salty cheese spread on an unseasoned patty. You don’t really taste the meat. The salmon BLT ($11), a slippery pile of ingredients on hard-toasted country-style bread, defies jaws. Your only course of attack is knife and fork.

A steam kettle in use

A steam kettle in use

And I don’t know what to say about those steam kettles, other than they make an attractive visual focus between the bar and the open kitchen. The menu dishes up some warm verbiage about New England oyster stews and chowders cooked in these contraptions, and the kitchen follows with watery concoctions dumped over pasta. Both the Sausalito linguine ($16) with garlic sausage and mixed shellfish in tomato sauce and the Thai shrimp and scallops ($15) in a strange soy-sauce-seasoned red curry might’ve worked better had they been tossed with a concentrated sauce in a good old sauté pan.

Little details are off at this tavern. The chips surrounding the otherwise tasty Guinness black bean chili ($6) are rancid. A house salad ($6) that we had requested without bacon turned up a piece. On one visit, a table setting is blanketed in a patina of dust. That thick batter that was acceptable on onion rings kills a hunk of fried flounder ($12). A side of cheddar grits is so lukewarm, lumpy and stiff that even Oliver Twist would take a pass. (“No more for me, sir!”)

One great detail Deckard’s gets right is the beer list. It’s a gorgeously curated list of drafts and bottles from some of the most interesting craft brewers today — Dogfish Head, Lagunitas, Duck Rabbit, Unibroue and, natch, Atlanta’s own Sweetwater. A friend and I splurged on a 25-ounce bottle of Allagash Confluence Ale ($28), a lovely yellow beer with a creamy mousse and a bright citrus flavor following through and enough in the way of malt and hops to keep it from turning into lemon meringue pie.

The service is also on top of things — quick with the tea refills and attuned to issues that may arise. One waiter took my wife’s dish off the check when she returned it mostly uneaten. I would like this guy to wait on my table any time — provided I can find a few more dishes I want to eat here. Even simple pub grub. Something for that lovely beer to wash down.

DECKARD’S AMERICAN TAVERN
650 Ponce de Leon Ave., Midtown, 404-941-3520
FAIRstars5
Food: pub gub with upscale touches
Service: friendly and attentive
Best dishes: Pig Pen chorizo burger, pastrami Reuben
Vegetarian selections: one vegetarian pasta entree, side dishes and salads
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover
Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight daily; Sunday brunch menu 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Children: perfectly fine unless the atmosphere interferes with a lesson on temperance
Parking: in attached lot
Reservations: will accommodate parties on a call-ahead basis
Wheelchair access: yes, via an elevator
Smoking: no
Noise level: moderate
Patio: yes
Takeout: yes
RatingsKey_3

29 comments Add your comment

KoPP

December 17th, 2010
7:56 am

Does it have the typical Taco Mac ‘wall o beer’, or do they keep the lines down to a more manageable list? I hate ordering a beer that’s probably been sitting in the line for a couple of days. Meh.

Jim

December 17th, 2010
10:39 am

Funny how all their employees voted this place Atlanta’s best new restaurant.

Atlantan

December 17th, 2010
2:07 pm

Looks like a cool place and good beer selection. Taco Mac is not known for their food – so what do you expect? In fact his food is probably a step up from Taco Mac’s food – theirs seems to be built on the fact they hope you are to drunk to notice. Good luck to the owner – it is nice inside and cozy inside – he just needs to step it up a bit on his food.

Josh H

December 17th, 2010
3:51 pm

Boom goes the ‘pan-hammer’! Looks like Kessler wanted to remind everyone who’s boss one last time before 2k11. He is obviously not afraid of the big-guns as he casually smacks around Doty and the Taco Mac empire. Sounds like the only thing that saved fancy Taco Mac from an Unsatisfactory was his legacy status. Who will be the first to get panned in 2k11? Will Kessler end the year with a warm, fuzzy 3-star on a ‘fan-favorite’? Will anything OTP ever get panned, or is the AJC only interested in ‘diamonds in the rough’? Will he update us when he finishes that last 5% of his kitchen. Very excited about 2k11……

Midtowner

December 17th, 2010
4:02 pm

I wonder, in all sincerity, if the AJC food critics would have given this place “fair” with no stars if it had been in Duluth or Kennesaw or Snellville. Seems like some recent reviews, in past few months, have given a lot of cushy coverage to eateries in the burbs that were about as good, maybe worse, than this one. I trust Kessler a lot but not his newspaper not at all.

Midtowner

December 17th, 2010
4:02 pm

Enter your comments here

John Kessler

December 17th, 2010
4:10 pm

I really wanted to like this place more, which is why I made three visits and tried so many items on the menu. But when fewer than half the dishes are ones that I feel comfortable recommending, it gets a Fair rating. I don’t ever want to write a negative review. Our dining team uses the same criteria, wherever the restaurant is.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by GOOD FOOD Billy and Japanese Food, Timessquarebomber. Timessquarebomber said: Deckard’s American Tavern review, Midtown – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) http://bit.ly/fcC1Uu #timessquare [...]

Clyde

December 17th, 2010
4:35 pm

Tried it a couple of times. Very poor wine pours for their price. Food good.

Josh

December 17th, 2010
8:58 pm

I doubt any of the dining critics enjoy giving unfavorable reviews. I’m sure the tendency is to err on the side of being charitable. And I still don’t get what difference it makes where a restaurant is located – the comments section sure seems to bring out the conspiracy theorists.

I sense a conspiracy :)

Kev

December 18th, 2010
7:56 am

Bars and food don’t go together too well here. I don’t like eating (and smelling afterward) in any place that smells like an ash tray.

Native Atlantan

December 18th, 2010
9:30 am

Agree with John…great beer….burgers were so bad we couldn’t eat them but management did take them off our check. May go back for a second try….but, based on John’s experience, I don’t think it’ll matter.

Robert

December 18th, 2010
9:54 am

Kev, most “bars” in Atlanta do not permit patrons to smoke in the restaurant – that includes Deckards. I think the review is harsh. Food has been pretty good every time I have been. It’s bar food, not Bones – not sure what Kessler was expecting. Good bar food, great beer and good service – not sure what else you need in a place like this.

Robert

December 18th, 2010
9:59 am

… and how does it not at least get one star??? Based on the stated criteria (worthy addition to the neighborhood, but the food is hit and miss), not sure how it’s possible. Kessler, do you spend much time in that neighborhood – it’s Ponce – not really Midtown, not really VA-HI. It’s more than a worthy addition to that neighborhood – take from me, an actual resident of Poncey-Highland.

If Kessler isn’t going to give it at least one star, then I would put very little value in any of his reviews. Take it with a large grain of salt.

Baltisral

December 18th, 2010
10:57 am

Kev, you can’t smoke in bars anymore. Have not for years. Get out much?

I guess

December 18th, 2010
11:04 am

what has to be kept in mind is that this paper isn’t really about serious journalism and good writing…I mean wtf is this guy thinking? Panning a BAR with zero stars? I’d love a place like this near me.

Haha otp reviews get “cushier” coverage? What!? hahaha

barbara

December 18th, 2010
11:55 am

RE: NO SMOKING IN BARS??

Georgia Smokefree Air Act 2005 Chapter 290-5-61
As adopted by the DHR Board
October 19, 2005
Page 4 of 6
(4) Smoking Area in a Public Place. In a public place where smoking is allowed in an
enclosed area, the building owner, agent, operator, person in charge or proprietor shall
conspicuously post a sign bearing the words ‘Smoking Permitted, No One Under the Age
of 18 Allowed’ on all entrances or in a position clearly visible on entry into the place.

Peter White

December 18th, 2010
12:40 pm

The food is unimpressive at best. As far ar the beer, how hard is it to look at what sells best at Taco Mac and put it on your list. Frankly the “chef”/ Owner Matt Deckart is a total Jerk and has the personality of a lump of coal, he is not happy to see his guests and a very if you dont agree with that it is good the eff off attitude.

Nancy

December 18th, 2010
1:04 pm

Not many decent places in Midtown any more. Too pretentious or too expensive, usually both.

Stick with the Varsity.

Steve

December 18th, 2010
1:18 pm

Enter your comments here

Steve

December 18th, 2010
1:20 pm

@ Baltisral: Yes, you can smoke in bars. As for what defines a bar vs. a restaurant, it depends on what percent of the operation’s revenue comes alcohol vs. food sales. Don’t believe me? Go have a burger at Benchwarmer’s on Clairmont.

Rip

December 18th, 2010
2:41 pm

I tried the vegetarian pasta kettle thing and it was not good. The bar tender recommended it then noticed I was not eating it. I had to ask for the pastrami rubeun which is very solid. The manager came over and he seem interested in my concerns. I like when restaurants do things like this. I will go back for the reuben.

Anna

December 18th, 2010
2:46 pm

I’ve been to Deckard’s twice and I really liked the atmosphere and the food. John, I’m wondering if you tried the mac and cheese. I thought it was to die for – sinfully rich, but oh so good.

LITTLE mama

December 18th, 2010
8:51 pm

We live in the neighborhood and were excited when it opened around the corner from our house. We have visited several times and have always found the food, service and atmosphere to be enjoyable. I have had the pork chops and salmon– both were VERY good. My partner in crime has had several the meatloaf and burgers and was very pleased. The mashed potatoes were off the hook and love the mexi-corn.
With all do respect to the food critic, we love this place!

Andy

December 18th, 2010
9:06 pm

Well, they’ve never erected a statue in honor of a critic. And now that will include me.

Deckard’s is simply a GREAT place to be, eat and drink. I don’t drink, but these burgers, the meatloaf and all sides (especially the mexi-corn, mashed potatoes and grilled zucchini) ROCK! It is also a jewel in the tattered hat of O4W. A wonderfully positive space.

Our service is amazing and after only 2 visits we are on a first name basis with a few of the waitstaff and Matt himself.

“FAIR”? – Not fair.

Mr. Kessler, this is perhaps an odd comparison, but have you ever read the reviews of the day when the Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper’s”?

You’re on the same track here with Deckard’s. You’re wrong.

John Kessler

December 19th, 2010
3:59 pm

Robert — Because of the restaurant’s location west of the tracks and north of Ponce, it is classified as within the city’s Midtown NPU. You can see the information here:
http://www.atlantaga.gov/government/planning/npu_system.aspx
I agree it feels a little more in the spirit of O4W or Virginia-Highland, but that’s what we’re going with.

Anna — I did try the mac and cheese, which did have gobs of cheese and was very stiff and clumpy. The batch I tried I didn’t care for.

I’m glad to hear there is better food to be had here than that I tried. If I go back and find I can recommend at least half of the dishes, I’d be happy to bump up the star rating. I welcome the back-and-forth discussion.

ATL Quebecer

December 20th, 2010
11:28 am

I live nearby and have been twice, my wife and I really thought it was very good overall, both times. Good food, good drinks, good atmostphere and good service. We will definitley go back and will recommend to our friends. I was surprised to see the bad review to be honest….

bb

December 22nd, 2010
1:56 pm

Why can’t people have a different opinion without insulting someone?

Bill

December 22nd, 2010
4:00 pm

Huge fan of the shrimp and grits – not traditional…spicy with peppers. I have not had a bad experience the three times I have been here. Good addition to the neighborhood….