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Watershed Restaurant dining review, Decatur

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Imagine a place that is a neighborhood institution. Imagine that it’s owned by music icon Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls. Imagine that the chef is a graduate of the

Review by Jenny Turknett

Review by Jenny Turknett

Culinary Institute of America and has worked for Daniel Boulud. Imagine that dinner for two can cost upward of $75.

What does that add up to? Expectation.

The place you’re imagining is Decatur’s Watershed Restaurant. Its new chef, Joe Truex, follows on the heels of legendary Southern chef Scott Peacock. Truex notes that the menu retains many “signature classics” believed to be essential to the “Watershed experience.”

Establishing its own expectations, Watershed’s website states that the restaurant “will take you on a fresh culinary journey or bring you back to the comfort and warmth of your grandmother’s kitchen.” Does it succeed?

Juxtaposed against the gas-station-esque exterior, Watershed’s interior glows by candlelight with a decidedly Martha Stewart color palette. An extensive wine collection lines the walls in beautiful blond wood racks.

At times, the service, though not overtly friendly, is thoughtful — instantly switching white linen napkins for black ones for guests wearing black pants. At other times, coffee cups remain unfilled, replacement utensils are forgotten and checks appear after great delay.

Starters are reminiscent of grandmother’s kitchen. The pimento cheese ($8), tasty but with no pizazz, sits on a white plate with celery sticks. The butter bean hummus ($12), one of my favorites, is but another strikingly simple plate. Fortunately, it packs flavor — smooth, creamy and bursting with garlic. Newer to the menu, the fried crawfish pies ($12) exhibit the first hint of inspiration. Perfectly crimped packages, hiding crawfish, cream cheese and a touch of tart remoulade, leave delicious traces of grease on the brown paper square underneath.

Watershed’s renowned fried chicken ($19), served on Tuesday nights, is laden with expectation. It shares a too-small plate with tangy buttermilk-mashed potatoes begging for salt, al dente garlic green beans and a thin-dense biscuit that could have been made with grandmother’s recipe — straight from the White Lily flour bag. The chicken, made using Southern techniques of buttermilk brining and frying in country-ham-infused lard, tastes more like ham than chicken, and some pieces are overcooked.

Watershed's salmon croquettes, roasted tomatoes, sautéed spinach and grits. (Photo by Becky Stein / Special)

Watershed's salmon croquettes, roasted tomatoes, sautéed spinach and grits. (Photo by Becky Stein / Special)

Other Southern favorites grace the menu, including salmon croquettes ($22 dinner) — plump and flavorful with just a touch of heat — and the vegetable plate ($16 dinner), both “signature classics.” The vegetable plate offers an array of traditionally prepared, simple ingredients such as roasted-mashed-sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas and sweet-roasted tomatoes, accompanied by a moist-custardy corn bread muffin. But like many menu items, these are traditional and straightforward in presentation and flavor, lacking the inspiration and interpretation expected from a restaurant where dinner selections range from $16 to $32.

New menu items follow in the same vein. The shrimp and crab burger ($14) has a satisfying texture — no stringiness like a crab cake — with a nice tang from the remoulade, but lacks flair. The creamed spinach with country-ham bits ($11) contains only a thin drizzle of cream and wants for salt — salt that should have been provided by the country ham chopped too finely to taste.

Likewise, the pecan tart ($8), sweet and pleasantly gooey, arrives cold and without adornment. Simply serving it warm or with a dollop of cream might elevate the tart to match the price point. Alternately, the banana fritters ($6), served at Sunday brunch, exceed expectations. Large chunks of lightly battered and fried ripe banana result in a surprisingly decadent bite — sweet, crispy and warm.

Chef Truex has the chops. Let’s turn him loose to reinterpret the “Watershed experience.” We are ready to take the culinary journey — a step beyond grandmother’s kitchen — that is promised and expected.

WATERSHED RESTAURANT
406 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur, 404-378-4900

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Food: Upscale Southern

Service: Hit or miss

Best dishes: Crawfish pies, butter bean hummus, vegetable plate, banana fritters

Vegetarian selections: Vegetable plate, tomato basil soup, salads

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sundays

Children: High chairs available; no kids menu but will do grilled cheese upon request

Parking: Parking lot

Reservations: Yes

Wheelchair access: Yes

Smoking: No

Noise level: Moderate

Patio: No

Takeout: Yes

Website: watershed
restaurant.com

RatingsKey_3

- By Jenny Turknett, Food and More blog

30 comments Add your comment

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Lee Weber

December 23rd, 2010
11:16 am

Excellent review. Never have understood why this place thinks they can charge what they do for food that by and large can so easily be reproduced at home (or any number of “meat and three’s”) in town,

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Ben

December 23rd, 2010
1:11 pm

This seems to be a fair (if not generous) review of Watershed. We went there recently for a dinner, and the highlight of the evening was the service. My pork chop so overcooked that it was extremely difficult to cut, even with a steak knife. All of the food was underwhelming, from starters through dessert. We all agreed that there wasn’t much wrong (aside from the baseball matt pork chop) but there wasn’t much right with the food either. The pricing is set near Miller Union and Rathbun’s, but the quality is closer to Eats. We did enjoy the service and the interior is interesting. The dining furniture doesn’t pair well with the entree prices though.

PJ

December 23rd, 2010
2:22 pm

Right on. A recent dining experience at Watershed was pleasant, but certainly not wowing. Service seemed scattered, especially due to the fact that there were only 3 tables seated and the other 2 came in half-way through our meal. In fact, besides forgetting requests made multiple times, our server brought the check without asking if we wanted anything else, like coffee or dessert. I may have gone for coffee. I agree that the butterbean hummus was a star. The unusual variety of accompanying veggies made for a fun and tasty plate. The cornbread was the star of the veggie plate. It was almost creamy tasting – not sure how to get that texture, but I wish I could imitate it at home. The brisket sloppy joe on the other hand was just OK. It was way oversauced. Understanding that a sloppy joe is sloppy, this one had enough extra sauce poured onto the plate to make 12 sloppy joes. The bread almost instantly disintegrated into all the extra sauce. It was a knife & fork sandwich either way, but would have been nice to have some of the bread on the fork with the meat. If I lived closer, I would probably consider giving Watershed another shot or two. For someone a bit farther out, I don’t think it is worth the drive.

Kirk

December 23rd, 2010
4:21 pm

I’ll keep up the cooking at home. I see nothing there that I don’t do as well or better.

1164mgc

December 23rd, 2010
4:38 pm

Thanks for the review – I was wondering how the food was since they changed chefs. Not sure I’ll go back on one of my trips to Atlanta, but maybe will try another restaurant instead. At least, Watershed has moved down the list a bit!

Bunnie

December 23rd, 2010
9:18 pm

So tired of restaurants that charge 4-star prices for home cooking. Atlanta is a small town, not a huge international city, no matter how much folks want to hype it up.

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Andrew Moyer

December 23rd, 2010
10:19 pm

I could not agree more with your review. A dining establishment with mediocre food and a Napoleon complex. Let it be known-just because you charge $18 for chicken, doesn’t make it worthy.

Jeff

December 23rd, 2010
11:39 pm

Excellent and fair review. I enjoy Watershed, butI have never had overtly friendly service either (glad to know it’s not just me). The drinks and appetizers seem to be better than their entrees, but I do love their butter bean hummus and pimiento cheese. My grandmother could make some amazing fried chicken and biscuits. I just can’t imagine her reaction if she knew people were paying $19 for a plate of it from standoffish waiters.

atshep1

December 24th, 2010
12:06 am

WATERSHEAD DOES NOT APPRECIATE ITS CUSTOMERS ! i visited Watershed years ago for a very early dinner – about 5:00 or so – arriving before my husband as we were in separate vehicles. Despite the fact the entire establishment was empty, the staff refused to seat me until my husband arrived – even after I pointed out to them I was the only customer. This policy was so incredibly absurd my husband and I left without eating. Anyway, I wrote the owners, who called me and gave me some lame commentary on the policy & never offered to do anything to make the situation right. Never went back and never will.

Lou

December 24th, 2010
12:31 am

I must have had the same waiter–a fortyish Middle Eastern man. He was incredibly indifferent to me and my husband, as if it were a burden to wait on us. We were well dressed and have eaten in some of the best dining rooms in this country and Europe and always tip at least 20%. This was our sixth or more visit to Watershed and our last. Whatever happened to Southern hospitality in a Southern-oriented restaurant? Watershed, how about hiring wait people with Southern manners even if they aren’t from the South?? Ms. Saliers, do you know what some of the people you hired are doing to your business?

Miller

December 24th, 2010
6:26 am

We had an OK meal there, and experienced the same lack of service detailed by other posters. It wasn’t worth the drive there, and it is surrounded by other restaurants with better food at lower prices. The dishes didn’t strike me as that innovative in any instance. My advice to others would be to take a pass.

Watershed fan

December 24th, 2010
7:38 am

I’ve been to Watershed several times since the new chef came on board and I think he’s done so much to freshen up the menu and make this restaurant destination worthy again. Love his specials like rabbit and grits. I think the trick is to order the specials.

Mary

December 24th, 2010
8:26 am

Is that wonderful chocolate cake still on the menu? That and the garlic beans served with the fried chicken were the only reasons to go there. I’ve recommended Watershed based on that cake, but will have to find another place, it seems.

Anthony

December 24th, 2010
8:45 am

I’ve always really enjoyed their brunch. I’m not a regular dinnertime visitor so can’t comment on the during-the-week cuisine. What I will say say is that sometimes it feels like it’s not so much like going to grandma’s house as it is going to a house party with a bunch of crunchy hipsters who seat you and take your order but don’t exactly make you feel welcome. It’s their clique and their party, and you’re just there to watch. So try not to make too much of a fuss and get in the way, and you’ll be fine.

Atlantan

December 24th, 2010
7:05 pm

I must be odd because the staff is always extremely friendly to my family and me as they have been for the 8 years I’ve been dining there. We generally go for brunch or Saturday lunch and always enjoy the food and service. I like the new additions that the chef has made. I agree with other their hummus is some of the best in the city.

WOFOC

December 25th, 2010
7:12 pm

I have heard that Chef Joe was brought on to change the menu, then the owners decieded they wanted things to stay the same. Customers ( blogs) were saying ” don’t take this…don’t take that off the menu.
We never really cared for the food, when Scott was there ( Fried Chicken is much better at Wisteria ) .
I think the owners & the chef need to move it forward, like the review said, let Joe “show his chops”. As far as service, we have always had good service….but if so many people here have mentioned it, then it needs to be revisited .

babs

December 25th, 2010
9:12 pm

yes, the wonderful chocolate cake is on the menu! and we went at an odd hour, befor catching a plane, and had a relaxed, unrushed, delicious meal from an abbreviated meal. Waiters were perfect, maybe they had some down time. Loved it but were too late to sign up for Fried chicken night, even though it was a Tuesday and we called to try to reserve. NOTE TO SELF: plan accordingly. we will go back; we always do!

Lance Blair

December 25th, 2010
11:19 pm

I don’t understand this review. The service did one thing right and several things wrong. Half the food was good to very good (but not outstanding) and half of it was poor to mediocre. How does this performance warrant two stars? By the AJC’s rating system, it is “hit or miss”: this is a one star restaurant, and nothing more.

John

December 25th, 2010
11:32 pm

Who in their right mind would pay $19 for fried chicken?

babs

December 26th, 2010
4:17 pm

OOPS
“delicious meal from an abbreviated meal……….” I meant “menu.” we love it there!

Paul

December 28th, 2010
5:19 pm

Last week, I hosted a holiday dinner at Watershed for friends. As a result of the appallingly poor service and the embarrassingly unprofessional and dismissive attitude displayed by the manager, I will never ever dine there again. I enjoy dining frequently at the higher rated eating establishments in the Atlanta market and I have no problem at all opining that at this point in time, Watershed has to be the most overrated restaurant. Two stars is a generous rating, but perhaps it will serve to wake this crowd from their slumber and cause whomever is really in charge at Watershed to take the required emergency measures.

Bride of Puerquito

December 29th, 2010
11:19 am

@ Paul: you are such a crybaby. you clearly don’t go out as often as you claim…

donny

December 29th, 2010
12:23 pm

This place was always average. Nothing more. Nothing less. Never understood the hype. Had a vague pork dish there about a year ago. Tasted like the prepackaged Hormel pork tenderloin you get at the grocery store. Those are good, too. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Hayseed Dixie

December 30th, 2010
9:07 am

I’m glad I saw this updated, Truex-era review. I’m sad, however, that it’s echoed my thoughts completely.

Service that’s alternately pleasantly satisfying or quizzically infuriating. A menu that hides bits of inspiration amongst bland, disappointing items. All under the spectre of, as you say: expectation. Oh, and $100+ tab for a decent date night.

It’s telling that the best part of my last couple of visits to Watershed has been the jaunt up to Brickstore’s Belgian bar for dessert. Now, talk about a place that has every excuse to be too busy to care. Incredibly, they still *do* care, years later. Watershed would do well to find out what the hell Brickstore is doing.

Gary

December 30th, 2010
9:39 am

Friends took my wife and me there once while we were visiting them in Atlanta. If I ever have a craving for banana fritters I may go back…..