accessAtlanta

City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Local Three dining review, Buckhead

$$$

$$$

The arched doorways and grand expanses of marble flooring of the Piazza at Paces — an Atlanta office park that fancies itself a Tuscan villa — once led diners to the swank, Euro-smart Joël Brasserie.

Now the serene, moneyed space takes you to a new restaurant — one that thrums with audible excitement behind a rustic, wide-planked wooden door. You crack it open to raucous chatter and country music, to walls of bourbon and heaping bowls of boiled peanuts, to velvet Elvises and grand images of pig butchery from local artist Tracy Hartley. It’s like “The Beverly Hillbillies” have moved in.

Review by John Kessler

Review by John Kessler

The new tenants are, in fact, the Local Three: Todd Mussman and Ryan Turner from Vinings’ terrifically overachieving deli, Muss & Turner’s, and their new partner, chef Chris Hall, the former chef de cuisine from Old Fourth Ward bistro 4th & Swift.

After speaking with Hall, I don’t think he’d mind the comparison to Jed Clampett at all. In fact, he peppers his far-reaching Southern menu with pop culture references. His Big Mac doppelgänger is called the “McDowell” after a McRipoff burger in the Eddie Murphy movie “Coming to America.” On the drinks side you’ll find the “Caucasian,” made with Kahlúa, vodka and, ahem, nondairy creamer. You got that “The Big Lebowski” reference, didn’t you?

Such is Local Three — a jokey, warmhearted, sloppy, jamming, down-to-earth spot that’s still trying to squeeze its all-over-the-place personality into a cohesive vision of good dining. Unlike Muss & Turner’s, which grew slowly and organically from a deli and gourmet shop, Local Three hits the scene with far grander ambitions from the start. I suspect it will realize them with time. For now, it’s a lovable mess, emphasis on the lovable.

All photos by Becky Stein

All photos by Becky Stein

Hall cooks with the giddy freedom of a longtime second-in-command who’s finally in charge. He wants to do it all, from sloppy sandwiches to trash-chic Southern revival to $24 scallop entrees. The menu offers so many fun directions that you smile broadly and search out the items that work.

A good place to start is with something off the well-annotated drinks list assembled by beverage director Matt Lathan. Those bourbons bear exploring, as do the wide-ranging craft beers and wines. There are cocktails from classic to silly, though I’m sorry to report I wouldn’t go near the Causasian. Love me some Big Lebowski, but nondairy creamer? Seriously? Let’s all hope that Hall isn’t into “American Pie” because I’d hate to imagine his homage cocktail called “the Stifler.”

Drink what you will, but be sure to nosh on little things because Hall gets them just right. His boiled peanuts ($3) will make you, my fellow Yankees, believe. Flavors of garlic, chile, clove and bay leaf dance about in each creamy legume. Ditto his freshly fried chicharrones (pork skins, $3), zingy with seasoning and cut to irresistible bite-sized pieces. Beef jerky ($4) has a fine flavor, but Hall may want to rethink the texture, which hovers somewhere between rawhide and tungsten carbide.

From there you can go in any number of directions on this menu, one of which is deep into the heart of today’s porcine zeitgeist. Mussman prepares a banging charcuterie platter called “The Notorious P.I.G.” ($14) that goes far, far beyond the rounds of cold salami favored elsewhere. It changes nightly: On our night it holds wonderful slivers of corned tongue, a rich and gooey slab of head cheese, smoked bologna and super-freaky pickled red hots that I enjoyed more for their audacity than their flavor.

Or you might try a more restaurant-y appetizer. Hall does well when the flavors are earthy, rich and layered. A shallow bowl of oven-roasted mushrooms over creamy polenta and truffle jus ($9) surprises you with its balance and nuance. A special of rosy lamb tenderloin ($11) pairs with a juicy house merguez sausage in a cast-iron dish. It gets better: Fried chickpea crunch bombs are scattered about the dish, soaking up a terrific anchovy-garlic sauce. Your fork will dart madly as you assemble a bit of everything for that ahhh bite.

Chicken pot pie

Chicken pot pie

And Hall makes the chicken pot pie ($15) I’ve been waiting for. Under its round of tender biscuit crust lurk loose, ropy lengths of pulled white meat and cut vegetables bound in equal measures of cream and stock. As a dish like this must be, it is perfectly salted.

Hall layers seasonings better than salad greens, which always seem limp and overdressed on the plate. Some greens anchor a listless plate of tuna crudo ($13) that look so out of place in this hipster hootenanny. Others sag under the weight of a tarragon buttermilk dressing in a special featuring wiggly, undercooked local shrimp ($14).

The two pastas I try come as vehicles for extraordinarily buttery sauces as well as all kinds of pop-pop-pop ingredients. Dude likes big flavors. Spicy crab spaghettini ($20) is intriguing at first bite and scarily rich by the third. The handmade folded pasta envelopes called fazzoletti ($11 at lunch) are undercooked (you can see the raw insides when you slice through) and so richly sauced that it’s hard to appreciate the otherwise appealing garnishes of kale, peppers, cannellini beans and sausage.

And what of that McDowell ($12) with its two grass-fed patties, special sauce, American cheese and tomatoes? I don’t have a Big Mac-shaped spot in my heart, so that excess of pink ooze and slices of cheese-like plastic don’t do it for me. The fries are good.

Pastry chef Gary Scarborough, the longtime sweets-master for Fifth Group restaurants (La Tavola, South City Kitchen, et al) isn’t yet doing his best work. He’s trying to get with the program (playful, Southern) but has yet to find his signature. A warm chocolate pudding cake (all desserts $6) with Cap’n Crunch peanut butter ice cream doesn’t deliver the wit it promises (the cereal pieces simply pock a watery scoop of ice cream). A passion fruit and coconut float with ginger ale is all sugar, no tropics. Best is a silky butternut squash flan with candied walnuts and maple syrup.

A big part of Local Three’s appeal is in the front of the house. Not only is it one of the warmest new spaces in town, but everyone in the staff gives off a relaxed, happy-to-be-there vibe that becomes infectious. You do want to linger over a French press coffee or an after-dinner drink. You want to shoot the breeze with your server. You don’t want to leave.

Which is why I consider Local Three a destination-worthy restaurant. That, and the real potential in the kitchen. Chris Hall is a talented chef who just needs to focus and figure out where he’s going. A good menu should be like a well-furnished room; you need a chair, a sofa, a table — and, of course, a rug to tie it all together.

LOCAL THREE
3290 Northside Parkway, Atlanta, 404-968-2700
3stars5Food: Contemporary Southern defined to include everything from pork rinds to tuna crudo
Service: Strikes the right easy-going, low-key tone
Best dishes: Boiled peanuts, chicken pot pie, the “Notorious P.I.G.”
Vegetarian selections: Some pastas, salads, sides and soups
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5:30-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5:30-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 5:30-9 p.m. Sunday; brunch 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday
Children: Fine for older kids who are comfortable in a noisy, adult atmosphere
Parking: In attached lot
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair access: Yes
Smoking: No
Noise level: Moderate to high; you’ll shout to start, then adjust
Patio: Yes
Takeout: Yes
RatingsKey_3

29 comments Add your comment

Steve

January 21st, 2011
9:39 am

Good review John. I’ve been twice since they opened and have really enjoyed it. I too was a little underwhelmed by the burger (but I on the other hand love the Big Mac)…just thought that it lacked flavor from being cooked more done than med-rare. Outside of that though, i’ve had 2 exceptional meals. The celery root soup was a homerun, the P.I.G. had a great selection and was delicious, boiled peanuts were good as was the “Breakfast for Dinner” (i’m a sucker for eggs and bacon). My favorite thing on the menu though has to be the crispy brussel sprout side which we got both times. It had a great texture and a nice accidity to it.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by J. Hugh McEvoy, Colin Brown, Hungry Southerner, Hungry Southerner, Ryan Thompson and others. Ryan Thompson said: RT @AJCFoodandMore: Local Three dining review, Buckhead http://bit.ly/e9q4N0 [...]

[...] my review today of Local Three, I mentioned that chef Chris Hall prepares an excellent rendition of boiled peanuts — cooked [...]

Faye

January 21st, 2011
10:42 am

John, do you remember what you just wrote? The guys at Local Three are doing something different, with their own “POV”, they are offering sustainable products, they are creating unique dishes and all with a sense of humility rather than with pomp and circumstance. Yes, they may miss at times with some seasoning and even have a questionable drink, but to constant refer to them as “sloppy” and a “mess” not only shows that you missed the point again, but that you do not truly support those restaurants that are trying to cut their swath. To that end, I would suggest that with new restaurants, it would be far more responsible to visit them more than once with at least a month in between to better judge how they are coming into their own

[...] unknown wrote an interesting post today Here’s a quick excerpt A lovable new restaurant takes over the Joel Brasserie space. … About Food and More with John Kessler. Discuss Atlanta restaurant reviews and food news with John and the AJC’s dining team. Food and More with John Kessler RSS feed … [...]

Lisa

January 21st, 2011
11:46 am

I’ve dined here twice and have really enjoyed it both times.
I think they need to change the restaurant entry – challenging to find the first time there.
The pimento cheese dip and hummus with carrots, olives and celery were delicious at lunch as was the cheese board at dinner.
I too found the chocolate pudding cake to be a let down, but all the other dishes that our group tried were spot on.

Westside Foodie

January 21st, 2011
12:57 pm

John – This place definitely has potential with it’s every changing menu. We had the mushrooms which were great, the hushpuppies were good but a little boring. The surprise was the simple Truffle flavored popcorn snack. The trout with crispy brussel sprouts was great. Reminded me very much of Canoe. I am glad we did not order desert, because looking at the menu, it did not impress and your review of them was what I was expecting. But with the craft beer list and new dishes always showing up, we will be back many more times. Also, our waitress was perfect. She brought bread to the table to help soak up the left over “sauce” from the mushrooms without being asked. She never hovered, but was always there at the right moment. She recommended the popcorn and the beer pairings and was spot on.

Smirkin

January 21st, 2011
3:30 pm

@Faye- are you serious? Did you read the review or just focus on the few negative comments in order to make a point? He gave them three stars and said it was a destination worthy restaurant. The review was overwhelmingly positive. If the team at Local Three agreed with you, why did they post this review on their Facebook page this morning??

RK

January 21st, 2011
4:07 pm

Faye, you flunked reading comprehension today.

Betty Guffin

January 21st, 2011
9:30 pm

I tried to e-mail this review and kept getting a “enter a valid recipient ” message. The addresses WERE valid. Don;t know why it wouldn’t go through.

kendall

January 22nd, 2011
4:46 pm

I have had lunch here 3 times and I thought it was just ok. I agree the fries are great. Crispy duck leg salad was not crispy and was missing promised croutons. Otherwise it was nice. When I asked for bread I was told there was only flatbread. It might be the worst flatbread I have ever encountered. Best thing I have tried so far is the chicken sandwich. I worked next door, but now that I don’t i doubt the food would bring me back.

Diego

January 23rd, 2011
8:35 am

Sorry, my experience at Local Three: Overpriced, small portions, loud, service OK, not my idea of fine dining, not for me!

Out of town three

January 24th, 2011
9:28 am

STEVE – They took the “Breakfast for Dinner” off the menu – the lentils w/lamb shank meat was tasty and the lobster w/gnochi was too. The rest was sort of “hit-or-miss” for the others in our dining group of 4

Mr. Squiggles

January 24th, 2011
12:59 pm

Faye, you forgot to read 8 of the paragraphs….and your breath stinks.

Billy Ray Valentine....Capricorn

January 24th, 2011
1:27 pm

Sounds like a great place to eat. However, shouldn’t the McDowell be named the “Big Mc?” As in “They have the Golden Arches, we have the Golden Arcs. They have the Big Mac, I have the Big Mc.”

KBG

January 24th, 2011
1:51 pm

Good catch Billy Ray!!!!

CCLD

January 24th, 2011
1:52 pm

I am not excited to return because I had two hard popcorn kernels in my salad that nearly broke my teeth. When we entered the restaurant I thought that it was going to be a favorite but unfortunately it did not prove to turn out that way.

foodfight

January 24th, 2011
1:59 pm

We tried Local Three Wednesday night and were knocked out.The folks that we were with went back for lunch the next day. Been going to M&T for several and these guys have got it right again. Good crowd, great food and best list of small batch Bourbon south of Lexington.We will be back soon.

indigo

January 24th, 2011
3:01 pm

Highly recommend the Sunday Brunch, a most enjoyable experience. A reasonable selection, for sure, for the price. And the time I went it included that chicken pot pie Kessler raved about- as well as beef roast, trout, and a number of breakfast items. The french toast made a great dessert.

John Kessler

January 24th, 2011
3:02 pm

Foodfight – That bourbon list is key. CCLD – Please, please, please tell them about the popcorn. They need to know. That’s sloppy execution, and it’s fixable.

Queen Nerfballteedi

January 24th, 2011
3:21 pm

$15 for a chicken pot pie? Spaghetti with crab meat? Just stop it.
When I go out, I want good food with a good value, not an episode of Weird Stuff that Fat Guy Eats on Travel Channel. But have bless day anyway, my white weirdo friends.

Niklas

January 24th, 2011
3:38 pm

Are people really STILL having trouble finding L3? I can understand the confusion in the opening weeks before they added about 10 signs throughout the complex, but a reasonably alert diner should not have any trouble. Get your head in the game!

As Kessler noted above, what’s the deal with people encountering an execution mishap (e.g., errant popcorn kernels) and, presumably, not saying anything until they post a comment on an online review? Are people afraid to engage their server in a discussion? This applies to many comments on a variety of reviews on this blog and others. The “this place was pretty good, but X happened, and I doubt I’ll be back.” Odd.

Niklas

January 24th, 2011
3:48 pm

Re: Queenie’s comment suggesting, perhaps trollingly so, that a $15 Spicy Crab Spaghettini is more suited to Andrew Zimmern than the dining public at large, I’ll just say that I had this dish and thought it was a tasty, satisfying dish. An entree portion of house-made pasta with crab is a good value by any reasonable standard, I think.

Gayle

January 24th, 2011
9:48 pm

Been an M&T fan for years and have been looking forward to Local 3. Will definitely make it there soon. I know I can expect an unexpected turn of seasoning, flavor and texture that I won’t get anywhere else. AND… servers who know their food and drinks and know how to anticipate without hovering – what a concept Can’t wait to check it out!

david c

January 25th, 2011
8:42 am

Another “hipster” joint for people who don’t really like southern cooking, but have to eat something with their PBR’s. And that chicken “pot pie”? Looked like creamed chicken and a biscuit to me.

Niklas

January 25th, 2011
9:57 am

David C, perhaps you are confusing Local Three with The Earl. Get real.

Pamela

January 25th, 2011
2:31 pm

This place serves up a mean brunch, unlike any I have seen in this city. Gary is doing great work according to my taste buds. He makes the best blueberry muffins and apple pie I have ever put in my mouth and believe me I have had my share.

Mike

January 25th, 2011
3:43 pm

I’m a big fan of what they’re doing at Local Three. Sure, they have a few things still to sort out here and there but they acknowledge this, plus they’ll surely get there. Besides, which restaurant has ever achieved consistent perfection coming out of the gate? Local Three is still working out the kinks, trying new menu items, and fine-tuning the entire operation, and they’re doing better than lots of places that have been trying to figure things out for years. I’ve been there for lunch, dinner, and drinks and despite being busier than average, they’ve done most things very well, smiling the entire time. And they really do listen to customer feedback and take it to heart.

And no, they really don’t need to do anything with the entrance. It may be a minor challenge to find the door but it’s also the only restaurant in the building, and I’d be shocked if they lose business because someone drove to the building, parked, and then couldn’t figure out the signs (which are everywhere), ignored the security guards (who will point out the way), and had to leave without eating.

Bill Ray: My guess is that the name “Big Mc” is too close for comfort, legally speaking, but that the “McDowell” is not.

Local Three Kitchen & Bar | First Bite

January 25th, 2011
11:07 pm

[...] Three Kitchen & Bar Jessica | January 26, 2011 On the heels of John Kessler’s glowing review of newcomer Local Three Kitchen & Bar in the AJC is my equally glowing review. Luckily I [...]