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
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.
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
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
Wheelchair access: Yes
Noise level: Moderate
Website: watershed restaurant.com
- By Jenny Turknett, Food and More blog