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Chicken and the Egg restaurant review, Marietta

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You know the question. Here is your choice of answers:

a) The chicken.

b) The egg.

c) The demiurge willed both into existence at the same precise moment of avian creation.

d) Some kind of proto-poultry crawled forth from the seas eons ago and, once on land, began incubating its young outside of its body. Over many millennia, both entities evolved into the creatures we know today, so the question becomes moot.

Review by John Kessler

Review by John Kessler

Now let me tell you the answer, which is b), the egg came first. It was cooked to a precise 63 degrees just to that point where both the white and yolk had turned from liquid to the most tremulous of solids. It came as the centerpiece of a Lyonnaise salad ($6.50) composed of frisée greens, chunks of Nueske’s bacon and many buttery bread crumbs. Next came the chicken ($15) in a bowl of herb-flecked sauce with potato dumplings and small poached vegetables. Neither is quite what I expect of these two well-known preparations, yet both show off the perspective of chef/owner Marc Taft, who likes to put his own gentle spin on classic dishes.

Chicken and the Egg, with its “modern farmstead fare,” seems to be the restaurant Marietta has long needed. Set in a shopping center a mile and a half from the town square, it sends a smartly pitched message to thrilled locals that they needn’t drive to Midtown for an up-to-the-moment dining experience.

I hate to laud a place as grounded and honest as this one for copping to “dining trends,” so let’s just say Chicken and the Egg captures the contemporary Atlanta restaurant aesthetic with real aplomb. I think you will love its vision, which brings to mind such restaurants as Miller Union and Empire State South. And I think you will like its food well enough. Many dishes here have a clean presentation and taste of carefully sourced ingredients, but they also needs some tweaks and a stronger point of view to really sing.

With its soothing gray/pale green color scheme, reclaimed wood tables and judicious use of homespun chicken art, the look (by Seiber Design, Inc.), the 8,500-square-foot space seems remarkably cozy, both during the day when natural light floods its bank of plate windows and in the evening when canny spot lighting plays off the warm textures. Tables and booths are well-spaced, making conversation easy while you dine. But if you want more buzz, then stay in the darker, more crowded bar, where the mixologists prepare grilled apple Manhattans and poached pear Margaritas.

Hanger steak with creamed collards and smashed/fried potatoes (photos by Becky Stein)

Hanger steak with creamed collards and smashed/fried potatoes (photos by Becky Stein)

There’s also something called “Dirty South” ($9) that manages to figure pickled okra juice and pimento-cheese-stuffed okra into a dirty martini. I know, dear reader, that I should have tried this drink to report on it, but I didn’t have it in me. Not when the great Chateau D’Esclans rose called “Whispering Angel” comes by the glass ($6). The wine list travels enough ground to keep me interested, from Tuscany, to South Africa’s Stellenbosch to Paso Robles.

Black-Eyed Pea Hummus

Black-Eyed Pea Hummus

And, if you want to bring a bit of that bar vibe into the dining room, get a round of cocktails and a jar of excellent black-eyed pea hummus ($6) to spread on toasts with some briny tapenade (seasoned olive paste) to kick it up a notch. Pimento cheese ($6) in another jar would be better if it weren’t cold and rock solid from the fridge. Fried green tomatoes ($7.50) tricked out with pimento cheese fondue, country ham and tomato jam come to the table lukewarm and artless, with the breading flaking off the hard slices.

A lot of dishes, while basically sound in conception, suffer from minor, fixable execution glitches. We love the butter lettuce salad ($6.50) for its creamy blue cheese and crisp candied pecans, but mere forks are helpless against the wine-poached rock of a pear hogging the plate. Ripe pear or bust, wouldn’t you think? I love smoky Nueske’s bacon, but those lardons of it in the otherwise great Lyonnaise salad mentioned above are like jerky nuggets. A Cobb salad ($12) with wispy greens in a creamy dressing, slices of luncheon meat and halved cherry tomatoes just isn’t a Cobb salad. You need angular chunks of yumminess to fold with the blue cheese crumbles to get that Cobb goodness.

Taft’s kitchen can also go too gently on seasoning. That chicken with potato dumplings so needed salt and pepper to distinguish it from its soupy base; same goes for a fat “farm house burger” ($10), lost and mushy in bun with a bleeding, unseasoned egg and strips of bacon. A harder sear on that burger and a little salt in the right places would do wonders.

110411KesslerThat said, Taft and his kitchen can always be counted on to treat their ingredients with respect. I really like his gently seared redfish ($17) topped with crayfish and set over a “Louisiana hash” with small cubes of tasso ham contributing pops of flavor. Also great is a hanger steak ($19) served with creamer potatoes that were steamed, smashed and then fried to a surface crisp. With creamed collards sharing the plate, this dish projected real personality.

I actually like lunch better, where the bistro format gives way to a modified meat-and-two. The house rolls – a warm, yeasty bun that seems like equal parts biscuit, Parker House roll and cornbread — turn hugely addictive in context, particularly when you smear them with sweet sorghum/molasses whipped butter. There’s both a daily changing menu of Southern faves and a standing menu of burgers, salads and sandwiches. Depending on the day, your choices might include fried chicken livers (mild, not bitter, super crispy), turkey and dressing, country fried steak and – well – hungry yet?

The kitchen puts out some seriously good vegetables, including green beans cooked to pork-soaked submission, great braised greens and the kind of mac and cheese that seems cheesier than, well, cheese. This plainspoken food has the kind of gutsiness that sometimes lacks elsewhere on the menu.

110411KesslerThe ace in the hole here is pastry chef Karie Brown, a young lady whom I suspect we’ll be hearing more about with time. Her banana pudding in a mason jar ($6) tastes of real old-fashioned boiled custard and will put you at your grandma’s table until you taste the buried wafers soaked in Woodford Reserve bourbon. Her pumpkin creme brulee comes just barely warm, and sweetened with a cautious hand. You taste spice, cream, egg and pumpkin, not sugar. Her flavors are truly dynamic.

If a little more of this dynamism can find its way to the savory menus and energize the dishes that seem like placeholders, the Chicken and the Egg will deserve a higher spot in the pecking order of Southern farm-to-table restaurants. Taft cooks with real care; when he finds a stronger vein of passion, this Chicken will be worth crossing the road and the city for.

CHICKEN AND THE EGG
800 Whitlock Ave., Marietta, 678-388-8813
2stars5Food: contemporary Southern farmstead fare, prepared with care
Service: Very good, but sometimes a little too earnest in checking up and topping off water. If you’re telling a raunchy story, you’ll be biting your tongue a lot.
Best dishes: black-eyed pea hummus, hanger steak, Lyonnaise salad, all desserts
Vegetarian selections: yes, including entrees
Credit cards: all major
Hours: Lunch and brunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m., Sunday; Dinner: 5-9 p.m., Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday, 5-8 p.m., Sunday.
Children: a fine place for kids at lunch and early in the evening
Parking: self parking in large lot
Reservations: yes
Wheelchair access: full
Smoking: no
Noise level: moderate
Patio: no
Takeout: yes

ratings_key_febUSE

19 comments Add your comment

Hold the meat

November 3rd, 2011
8:49 am

Other than one lone sandwich, I saw no vegetarian entrees on the menu.

Art

November 3rd, 2011
9:25 am

I can’t stand it when my raunchy story telling is interrupted. I’ll give the dirty okra pimiento martini a try and let you know how it is…

John Kessler

November 3rd, 2011
9:28 am

They don’t do a good job at updating the menu online, but the current one is more veg-friendly.

Two Stars?

November 3rd, 2011
9:30 am

@John. I think you tried the wrong entries, oh culinary critic. But, tt’s interesting that the first meal I had there was way over spiced while you felt the food you had needed more. Then again, it’s probably entre-specific. My FGTs were hot and perfect and the fried chicken the best I’ve had in years. All in all, I would have rated it closer to four and well worth the drive.

@Hold the meat. It’s called “CHICKEN AND THE EGG”. What did you expect? LOL!

Melissa

November 3rd, 2011
10:27 am

I think you were generous with review. West Cobb area foodies make the drive to a better option. Staff does not understand seating & reservation system. 4 items were missing from our table of three. Chicken on my salad amounted to 2 nuggets. McDonald’s & Chicklfila have better salads.

RK

November 3rd, 2011
10:31 am

Those seem like really good prices…

just a thought

November 3rd, 2011
12:49 pm

I agree with Melissa on the staff not understanding seating & reservations. I made reservations a couple of weeks in advance for a large group and was sat in the bar area instead of the real dining room. When I kindly pointed this out the staff and manager were extremely rude. I also know of other patrons who the manager has been rude too. While the food may be pretty good if this guy can’t get his attitude in check it just won’t make it in Marietta.

T

November 3rd, 2011
12:56 pm

I love this place! The fried chicken is the best I have ever had. I don’t agree with the review and think everyone should try it for themselves to decide.

John Kessler

November 3rd, 2011
1:25 pm

T- Major agreement on the “everyone would try it for themselves” comment. But you make me wonder if the fried chicken varies a lot. Though I didn’t mention it in the review, I did try it and found it had a very thick, crispy crust that kind of came off like a helmet. Is it usually different?

Scribe

November 3rd, 2011
6:42 pm

That’s how the chicken was when we were there. Maybe some people like it that way. My husband didn’t enjoy having to de-stem and cut up his own veggies in the “pot pie”. It looked pretty though…

Two Stars?

November 3rd, 2011
10:07 pm

@John. re: “helmet’. Now that you mention it, it did. BUT, it’s the first time I’ve ever pulled off and eaten every piece of crust I could find because it tasted so good.

Given the wide range of comments, I’m wondering about the consistency of the food coming out of the kitchen. Some people’s opinions are so opposite mine I wonder if we’re talking about the same restaurant. :)

That said, West Cobb is really hungry (sorry) for a restaurant at the level that CaE is striving for and I hope they make a success of it. You can only eat at Chili’s, Hidalgo’s, and even Marietta Diner for so long before getting tired of it.

ganners

November 4th, 2011
9:48 am

I have been to C&E several times. Gave up on table service. Brandon, the mixologist, and his crew know what they are doing. The bar staff is always pleasant. I am a vegetarian also. The first menu roll out was limited. The new one is better. The bar program is what brings me back. I know I am not alone in my thought because the bar is always crowded now. My hope is that we get other establishments in our area with the same forward thought. If Simpatico on the square could get a bar program together I would be over the moon!

Kristen

November 4th, 2011
10:07 am

I’ve been to C&E about five times now, and I don’t think I’ll be back. It’s just too inconsistent. I will agree that the reasonably-priced lunches are far better than the dinners, but with the turtle-slow service at lunch, it’s just not an option. I will say that the potatoes au gratin were some of the best I’ve ever had; however, the meats I’ve had have been absolutely terrible – poorly seasoned, chewy and dry. The chicken and dumplings were…well, just weird. You just don’t deconstruct something like that. My dish had two dumplings. Gee, thanks. While the service we’ve had was polite, it’s always been terribly slow and disjointed, and I will agree that the management does seem to have some issues with their reservation system. Too bad.

carla roqs

November 4th, 2011
10:24 am

john, wondering if you are being conservative here because of the uproar re your last review.

Cobb Native

November 4th, 2011
10:54 am

I happened to be in the area last night & me & a girlfriend stopped by. We actually sat at the bar & had impeccable service! Our bartender was very polite & helpful. I tried the braised short rib w/potatoes au gratin & carrots & a side of the creamed collards. I took one bit of the potatoes and said “this is an orgasm in my mouth”. My dining partner said the same! We shared this plate as it was just a “bite” for us & thoroughly enjoyed it. The spare rib was cooked perfectly and the carrots were awesome just the same. I brought home the leftovers to my dear boyfriend & I must say he was equally impressed. We look forward to heading over there in a week or so & I can’t wait to try other items on the menu, I hope that the comments of inconsistency don’t ring true.

John Kessler

November 4th, 2011
1:25 pm

Carla – Not whatsoever. C&E seems a very good, if sometimes inconsistent, restaurant for its neighborhood. If I try some dishes that really seem destination worthy, then it would surely earn another star in my book. But, as I always stress, that’s just me. Love to see the discussion and divergent opinions…that’s what makes things interesting!

Caron

November 4th, 2011
8:34 pm

By the way, all of that design work you metion – the tables, the artwork, etc. – was done by Designer Antiques of West Cobb.

connie hijar

November 4th, 2011
9:32 pm

I love the food at the Chicken and the Egg! I enjoyed the new beet martini with the short rib! The desserts are yummy too! Go try it out!

Kevin Killian

November 7th, 2011
9:11 am

John~ Seed Kitchen and Bar opened this past weekend in East Cobb Merchants Walk center. Chef owner Doug Turbush has brought something exciting to the area. Check it out please.