My grandmother grew wisteria in her front yard. Through meticulous care and attention, she trained this beautiful purple-flowering vine to develop into a tree. Her highly prized ornamental became the symbol of our extended family’s weekly Sunday suppers.
While the kids invented chasing games around the wisteria tree and the adults swayed on the porch swing watching, my grandmother assembled a large spread to fill her 20-seat kitchen table. The meal was always an eclectic mix of the week’s garden harvest and a smattering of requested family favorites. As numerous dishes loaded with Southern specialties traveled the length of the table, everyone was sure to find something to their taste.
I’m reminded of these weekly reunions while at Wisteria Restaurant in Inman Park. When the restaurant opened 10 years ago, chef Jason Hill hoped to create a place that appealed to everyone from his grandmother to his girlfriend. He succeeded. The glow of the lights set against the singular bricked wall warms the cozy space, enveloping and comforting with a sense of home. The wait staff, described as family on the restaurant’s website, welcome you without a trace of pretension.
Just as in my grandmother’s home, Wisteria’s menu incorporates a mixture of seasonal offerings and family favorites. Both the Southern contemporary fare and the beverage program play to a range of tastes. The bar offers both classic and craft cocktails and an approachable wine list serving numerous wines by the glass and custom flights.
As the family gathers together to break bread, family food quirks emerge. Only Uncle Clive would pass up the chilled organic carrot soup ($6.50). This refreshingly cold textured carrot soup adorned with a zippy sweet radish granita and bold bits of peanut brittle would be too avant garde for him but perfect for cousin Lulu, who is a vegetarian and craves that playfulness. No, the icy embodiment of radish alone would be too foreign for Clive.
He would prefer the iron-skillet fried chicken ($17), dipped in buttermilk and dredged in a flour mixture containing ancho powder, white pepper, cayenne and paprika. That sounds more like it. The chicken’s crispy, well-seasoned batter yields its perfect crunch to the mushroom-herb broth lining the plate, making it all the more homey. Throw in the slightly sweet bacon-braised collards with dashes of champagne and apple cider vinegars for the home run.
And what family gathering would be complete without deviled eggs ($6)? Wisteria blends traditional versions of deviled eggs and pimento cheese together for an ultra-smooth sharp-cheddar-and-egg filling. A helping of brassy pickled okra cuts the eggy richness and provides a crisp, textural contrast.
Our slightly more adventuresome eaters savor the Kobe beef carpaccio ($9), sourced from Buckhead Beef and Halperns’. Though carpaccio may be too exotic for some in the family, the version at Wisteria combines the classic flavors of well-marbled beef, nutty aged Parmesan and a piquant arugula salad. Crunchy fried capers strewn over the chilled beef add a shiny brininess.
The meat-and-potatoes set will devour the moist and perfectly cooked herb-crusted rack of lamb ($28, two chops) or the sweet molasses-rubbed pork tenderloin served with smooth sweet potatoes ($18). The pork, so juicy and tender from a salt-and-sugar brine, will surely become a treasured family recipe.
As for me, I’ll take the trout ($20). I relish the surprise crunch from bits of panko mixed into the fragrant toasted almonds and the sweet-but-light bacon vinaigrette that marries the trout to the dance of soft fingerling potatoes, sweet corn and tart tomatoes beneath.
To end the meal in family potluck style, Wisteria offers samplings of decadent Southern-inspired desserts (three for $10). Chocoholics will salivate over the fudgy chocolate tart and chocolate orange ice cream with surprise chunks of candied orange peel. For everyone else, there’s the soft sweet potato praline cheesecake and the moist spiced carrot cake with sweet coconut-pecan filling. You must try them all to avoid hurt feelings, right?
Gather the family, young and old, adventuresome and safe, to reconnect at Wisteria. Hill and the staff will welcome your family as part of theirs. Intelligent menu development and skillful execution ensure that no one will leave disappointed. Over its 10-year evolution, Wisteria has blossomed into a treasured component of our culinary landscape.WISTERIA RESTAURANT