Remember the good old days of stopping in Huey’s for an order of beignets and a cafe au lait? Ever wish you could round up its entire staff and implore it to open a new beignet dive just to indulge your sweet tooth?
If you weren’t around in those days and missed the beignets, don’t lament. The Beignet Connection, which opened in March, aims to re-create the Huey’s experience.
Tony Morgan, co-owner of the Beignet Connection, managed the Huey’s in Savannah before moving here to save the Atlanta location from its impending decline. Although Morgan didn’t prevent the beignet joint from closing, he did maintain contact with its sous chef and kitchen staffers as they scattered to kitchens across the city. He recruited many of them to join his new team.
When it came to creating his restaurant, Morgan chose to stick with the New Orleans theme because he says, “It seems popular.” Though N’awlins is known for big personality, the Beignet Connection’s persona feels restrained with a neutral color palette and sparse decorations. Only a couple of hanging feathered masks evoke the Big Easy flair.
The menu showcases Bayou classics, much like Huey’s. But here you’ll find heartier additions such as étouffée and jambalaya. Just don’t expect the smack of Cajun spice in these dishes. Rather, linger in the subtler flavors for which Creole fare is known.
A prime example, the seafood gumbo ($4.95 cup) with shrimp and meaty crab won’t set your mouth ablaze but still warms with richness and depth. You’ll want to dive into this sumptuous gumbo, layered with flavors from a hearty bouillabaisse and nutty dark roux. Skip the accompanying slices of crumbly dry French bread doused with parsley and dig deep into your dish for the soft steamed rice to sop up the gravy-thick goodness.
The creole-style jambalaya ($13.95) ratchets the heat level up just a notch, though still mild in comparison to its Cajun cousin. The molded round of rice-dominant jambalaya is sweetened by a chunky tomato-garlic base. Yet it fails to achieve the same long-cooked, layered-flavor soulfulness of the gumbo. The angled slices of greasy andouille sausage mixed with shredded chicken and shrimp buoy the dish.
Another New Orleans specialty misses the parade entirely. The muffuletta ($8.95 for a quarter), on a seeded wedge, doesn’t dress for the festivities with its singular slices of provolone and ham and sliced green and black olives. Missing is the typical mountain of meats and the vinegary giardiniera (pickled Italian vegetables) used to compose an olive salad. Morgan admits that the restaurant is now “trying to beef up the sandwiches.”
The party becomes livelier at breakfast, the Beignet Connection’s busiest meal, and for good reason. The shrimp and grits ($10.95), deliciously smooth and creamy from heavy cream, tempt me to give the bowl a surreptitious lick. The grits earn their star power from the lobster base added to the broth, which makes them robust and complements the whole Gulf shrimp hidden inside.
You may wish to cut the richness of your grits with a side of sweet. Order one of my favorites, the enormous plate of pain perdu ($8.25), for the table to share. This French toast, made with seeded muffuletta bread, takes a swim in a silken cinnamon custard before crisping. The toast, moist and lusciously crème-brûlée-like, receives an indulgently sweet kiss of pecan-praline syrup.
After your meal, it’s finally time to move on to the reason you came — the beignets ($4.95 for three), of course. These fragrant puffed pillows of fried yeast dough are typically the life of the party at the Beignet Connection, though on occasion, you might find them flat and doughy in the center. Ask for a cup of the dipping sauce ($.55) you remember from Huey’s. Choose from a variety of exceedingly sweet flavors, including homemade-strawberry, whiskey-vanilla — heavy on the whiskey — or pecan-praline.
Although the Beignet Connection parades a few of the old Huey’s recipes, only some, such as the beignets, are worth celebrating. Attempting to duplicate the menu and theme of another restaurant seems to hamper this one from developing its own personality. I hope the Beignet Connection will soon drop the Huey’s mask and don a costume of its own design.THE BEIGNET CONNECTION 349 Decatur St. S.E., Atlanta, 404-525-5295 Food: casual bistro serving creole fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner Service: eager but seemingly inexperienced and untrained Best dishes: seafood gumbo, shrimp and grits, pain perdu and beignets Vegetarian selections: pancakes, pain perdu and assorted side salads Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturdays, 9 a.m.- 6 p.m. Sundays Children: yes Parking: yes, free parking in garage Reservations: only for large groups Wheelchair access: yes Smoking: no Noise level: low to moderate Patio: no Takeout: yes