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Sprig dining review, Oak Grove

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For nearly as long as I’ve lived in Atlanta, I’ve been driving my daughter to her best friend’s house in Oak Grove — an East side neighborhood with a Decatur mailing address and a whole lot of big, new homes.

Review by John Kessler

Review by John Kessler

At first there weren’t many restaurants of note in the strip shopping centers by the main intersection. I recall a nice-enough meat and three. But soon came a local market with good sandwiches, and then a sweet Middle Eastern spot that kept getting better and better, and then one fun pub, and then another. But with the opening of Sprig, the neighborhood finally has the restaurant it has long wanted — a Southern bistro to call its own.

Owner Daniel Morrison — the longtime manager and friendly face behind the bar at Decatur’s Watershed — unveiled Sprig in October, and it has been slammed with business from Day One. I know this because Oak Grovers of every persuasion immediately started peppering me with notes and comments about Sprig. Some loved it, some complained of long waits for tables and slow service — problems that any overwhelmed new restaurant faces. I decided to give it some time.

Over two recent visits, I found Sprig to be a happy place with that kind of great, crackling energy you can feel. Busy but not straining, loud but not braying. Customers of every age looked as if they were settling into a favorite hangout — having a thoughtful cocktail at the bar or enjoying a plate of clean, proudly Southern food. Chef Robert Elliott, a former Watershed cook, keeps things simple and ingredient-driven. He cooks with comfort in mind and an occasional sparkle of distinction. This will be a restaurant to watch.

Cornmeal-fried chicken livers with endive and arugula (Photos by Becky Stein)

Cornmeal-fried chicken livers with endive and arugula (Photos by Becky Stein)

If you can secure a table toward the back, wood-paneled area of the long room then all the better. You are closer to the kitchen with the appetizing smell of its wood-fired grill — one that hits you first as you enter the area and then again as your food arrives.

That smoke hovers like a friendly spirit over the Sprig burger ($11) — a fat and juicy thing that comes with a cap of melted cheddar, lettuce, tomato, raw onion and mayo on a great potato bun from Midtown’s Bakeshop.

Local purveyors listed on chalkboard behind the bar

Local purveyors listed on chalkboard behind the bar

But star-sandwich status really belongs to the bratwurst ($13) — a fantastic link from Pine Street Market in Avondale Estates that arrives under a purple heap of sweet-and-sour cabbage and apple. Yes, there’s a bun, but, no, you will never be able to pick this behemoth up, so start slicing away with fork and knife. While I hesitate to recommend a $13 brat, I think the pleasure makes up for the price.

Elliott, I think, finds his sweet spot with dishes that goose comfort classics, just a little. A cream of parsnip soup ($5) is nearly as thick as frosting and just as irresistible, while lamb stroganoff ($14) brings its beef progenitor to mind, but is a lot more fun. Tender cubes of meat arrive in a lively sauce of crème fraîche and ancho chile powder over a huge serving of penne pasta.

Best are the huge chicken livers ($6) from Springer Mountain Farms — sheathed in a peppery, crispy batter and ringing a mound of arugula and endive in a buttermilk/blue cheese dressing. It’s kind of a glop salad, but perfect as a smooshy counterpart to those creamy, mild livers. This dish was responsible for turning two teenage girls on to the pleasures of offal.

And a special shout-out goes to the mozzarella grit cakes ($9) — fat, fried patties with a sweet roma tomato sauce and sauteed spinach. This dish is a calling card for the kitchen’s potential.

Desserts also follow the updated comfort-food model to fine effect. Elliott, working with pastry chef Renita Moore, offer a small nightly selection of winners. Fried pies ($4) currently come with a tart quince filling and a side dish of quince syrup to sweeten things up. A classic shortcake ($5) arrives split, filled with soft apple slices and lavished with whipped cream and caramel. The signature dessert, however, is something called the chocolate gooey butter cake ($6) — a double-layer deal with firm chocolate ganache on the bottom and a puffy, cream-cheese-enhanced goo on top.

This restaurant loves its vegetables, and lists the farmers on a blackboard behind the bar in a heart-on-its-sleeve gesture. But the kitchen sometimes treats them with more respect than insight. I would order the aggressively plain vegetable plate ($11) again, for I’m happy enough to sate my appetite with its piles of carrots, collards, grits, pinto beans and — hello — crunchy beet cubes. It does the job but is no love song to Dixie.

Pan-fried chicken with country ham polenta

Pan-fried chicken with country ham polenta

Crunch also insinuates its way into a “winter gratin” of turnips, parsnips butternut squash and rutabaga that accompanies gorgeously slices of crisp-skinned duck breast ($19). Arctic char ($21), one night’s fish special, arrives over minicubes of roasted turnip and a perfectly fine pile of braised greens. I hope I don’t sound like a complete hypocrite when I comment that it would be a perfect neighborhood dinner — healthy and clean — if it cost, say, $14. But for $21 I want a bit of seasoning to tie the flavors together. I want a little aha on my palate.

I find it on a plate of pan-seared chicken breast ($14), sliced to reveal beading-with-juices meat under crackling skin. It straddles a pile of soft polenta shot through with cubes of tasso ham and comes with a pan sauce to tie everything together.

There’s more wit on the drinks list. After much deliberation, I tried the King’s Evil ($9) — a concoction that features Scotch whisky and Fernet Branca, an Italian liqueur that’s as bitter as a scorned blog troll. My wife said it tasted like medicine. I thought it grew progressively more awesome with each sip.

For now, Sprig is a great addition to its neighborhood. But I hope to stop by from time to time, try a cocktail and order a plate or two. I suspect as Robert Elliott, a promising chef, grows into the top, this restaurant will extend its reach far beyond Oak Grove.

SPRIG
28060 Lavista Road, Decatur, 404-248-9700
2stars5
Food: Southern farm-to-table, with shout-outs to local growers and producers
Service: Low-key and friendly style, though timing seems to go off a bit when the place is busy
Best dishes: Chicken liver salad, mozzarella grit cakes, grilled bratwurst, sprig burger, pan-seared chicken breast, fried pies
Vegetarian selections: Several appetizers as well as a nice vegetable plate
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday; Dinner 5-10 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
Children: Fine for older and well-behaved kids, but there are likely people here who got their own babysitter
Parking: Street parking
Reservations: Only for parties of 10 or more
Wheelchair access: Yes
Smoking: No
Noise level: Moderate to high
Patio: Yes
Takeout: Yes
RatingsKey_3

12 comments Add your comment

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Charley Beans, John Kessler. John Kessler said: Sprig dining review, Oak Grove http://bit.ly/hZoGzv [...]

Fiddlehead forager

January 28th, 2011
8:02 am

Sally

January 28th, 2011
8:09 am

My husband and I absolutely love this restaurant and frequent it often. The lamb stroganoff is a dish we crave weekly. We are thrilled that you gave Sprig such a wonderful review and find it a worthy contender also. But why only 2 stars? The review reads like a 3 and we would recommend it to anyone living outside of Oak Grove. By AJC ratings, don’t you agree it should merit a 3rd star?

[...] Sprig dining review, Oak Grove [...]

health inspection

January 28th, 2011
8:37 am

Please note that the latest county health inspection rating for this restaurant is 74.

[...] is the original post: The AJC’s John Kessler reviews Sprig, Oak Grove | Food and More w… Related Posts:The AJC’s John Kessler reviews Local Three, Buckhead | Food and M… Local [...]

JRC

January 28th, 2011
9:17 am

Don’t worry worry about that post Sprig, the Health Inspector is a “scorned blog troll”. Keep cooking brother.

John, I am not sure how I feel about you being the most obvious food critic in history, but I must give you credit for goosing the cognoscenti and the laymen into thoughtful(and thoughtless) discussion. I haven’t seen this much liveliness in years. Keep it coming.

karenp

January 28th, 2011
9:34 am

Did I have the misfortune of going to a different Sprig in Oak Grove yesterday for lunch? Because I certainly did not have the same experience or the same food. The restaurant was dark and boringly trendy in decor, the music loud and obnoxious (there were only a couple of people there) and the service lacksadaisical. No ice in the water. Do you have to ask for ice now?
True, the hamburger was excellent, but so what? Good hamburgers are everywhere these days. The slaw was tasteless, like chewing shredded styrofoam. The grilled grouper was almost inedible due to a very “fishy” taste and odor, and almost overwhelmed by a ginormous bun. Two of us (we ate the chicken salad and hamburger) had upset tummies by the time we got home – thank goodness the other didn’t eat the grouper. I may be on the cheapskate end of the spectrum, but I thought the menu prices were outrageous for lunch and for the quality (?) of food. You can get a better meal at a better price at the other end of the shopping center. Never again.

[...] unknown wrote an interesting post today Here’s a quick excerpt Good food and crackling energy are just what the neighbors love. [...]

papasan

January 28th, 2011
10:45 am

karenp: we’ve eaten at SPRIG 12 times since it opened in october. never been for lunch, just dinner, so i can’t really comment on the lighting or the lunchtime fare. personally, i find the decor to be in very good taste and i like it. but hey, karenp, we all have opinions and are entitled to them. even though you seem to have had a bad experience at lunch, you would be doing yourself an injustice if you didn’t give the dinner scene a try. keep in mind, that when visiting any restaurant,YOUR THE BOSS. if you receive a dish that doesn’t seem right to you, SPEAK UP. no need to do it loudly or in a obnoxious manner, just tell your server that his fare doesn’t meet your tastebuds desire and you would like it redone or replaced by another menu item. maybe ive been lucky and rarely have had to do that but on that rare occasion the mgr has bent over backwords to make me happy and im no-one in particular. just someone who’s not afraid to open his mouth (nicely) if im not satisfied with an entree. it’s really no big deal. if you do decide to give dinner a try, you can’t go wrong with the following. my latest dining experience that ive felt compelled to write about.

I woke up this morning still chuckling about last night’s dinner at SPRIG restaurant. Why the chuckle? Because my dinner made me feel like a king hosting a banquet at a Knights of the Round Table extravaganza. Ya, I know, I have a vivid imagination. Hey! I have an excuse. I’m getting old you know. All kidding aside, my big plate entree was magnificently, LARGE. The slow roasted pork shank I ordered was fit for a king in both size and flavor.
Slowwww cooked in an oven allowed the meat to cook to perfection. Literally melting in your mouth and unbelievably juicy. This entree is part of the new winter menu at SPRIG and I’m sure it will become one of the all time favorites. Served with black eyed peas that are probably great if you are an aficionado of the little bean. I have to admit I have never been but gave them a try. Being a meat and potatoes kind of guy I think I will ask to have mashed potatoes and gravy as a substitute next time, but that’s just me.
To top off the evening fare, a new entree on the sweet treats menu was ordered. We had a slice of chocolate gooey butter cake that was simply scrumpdillyisous. Hopefully the management will forgive my OMG’s after tasting the first bite. Especially after the couples at tables around us ordered the same and actually thanked me for being so graphic in my appreciation. Having never tasted chocolate gooey butter cake, they too were thoroughly delighted with the new addition. I have it on good authority, (our lovely waitress Sarah) that this cake has become one of SPRIG patrons’ favorite desert items. If you plan on ordering it I would suggest having your waiter reserve a piece for you as the demand has been sometimes exceeding the supply. Not to worry though, the new sweet treats menu has a fried pie entree that owner Daniel Morrison raves about and he always tells the truth about food.

Bon appetit

[...] I suspect that’s why the chicken livers at Sprig — reviewed in today’s paper — were so fantastic. Chef Robert Elliott uses large livers from Springer Mountain chickens [...]

papasan

January 30th, 2011
10:00 pm

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