Every restaurant has a story. But few have one as long and rich as Horseradish Grill.
Its story starts early in the 20th century when the property held little more than a country farm stand. Slowly over several decades, the stand transformed into a restaurant, which saw multiple incarnations over the second half of the century.
Our story focuses on the last two decades when the restaurant called the Red Barn Inn became what is now known as Horseradish Grill. In 1994, Steve Alterman, formerly of Rio Bravo and Ray’s Restaurants, purchased the restaurant, transforming it into the genteel yet rustic space that we enjoy today.
The restaurant boasts a rich culinary history. Gerry Klaskala of Aria consulted on Horseradish Grill’s concept development and famed Southern chef Scott Peacock opened the restaurant, bringing it early success. Other chefs including Tom McEachern, most recently at Ray’s on the River, and Dave Berry led the kitchen after Peacock left for Watershed. And, until four months ago, Alterman’s son Daniel led the culinary team after moving up through the ranks in the kitchen since he was 13 years old. Now the restaurant runs under the direction of Daniel’s two sous chefs.
Horseradish Grill’s website explains that it offers “guests a glimpse of yesteryear.” That it does — sometimes too literally. The restaurant changes its menu twice yearly, with many items developed by former chefs. According to Alterman, “We reached back in our history for recipes.”
The she crab soup ($8), for example, an oversize bowl of clunky flavored cream, is attributed to McEachern. He also receives credit for the tempura fried okra ($9), which has a refreshingly light and crispy batter — a nice contrast to greasy cornmeal versions. Yet, battered and fried whole, the Achilles’ heel of okra emerges: the sticky, mucousy interior best known as okra slime.
Another holdover, North Carolina barbecue pulled pork appetizer ($10), has also long occupied the menu. This dish, developed by Dave Berry, pairs sweet and tangy pork with a buttery and fluffy cornmeal-green onion pancake. The pancake and milky fresh coleslaw offset the slow burn of the spicy sauce. This sophisticated cousin to the sloppy joe deserves to remain on the menu.
Horseradish Grill’s signature North Georgia mountain trout ($24) with two rotating seasonal versions also has a permanent place in the lineup. In the spring and summer, the trout is grilled whole. In the winter months, it is served filleted and pecan- encrusted. I might prefer the summery version because on the winter offering, the overground and mealy pecans tank under the weight of a decidedly yesteryear oily butter sauce.
Similarly, the vegetable sampler ($20), which originated with Peacock’s early farm-to-table initiatives, presents a plate of vegetables including bok choy, squash, zucchini and mushrooms slathered in butter, masking any natural flavor of the vegetables so carefully grown in the garden out back. To further the demise of these veggies, they suffer from the long overcooking that you can only forgive of your elderly grandmother.
A time-tested family recipe restores confidence for dessert. The Kentucky oatmeal spice cake ($9) from the restaurant’s original menu stood in for chocolate desserts such as Peacock’s delightfully moist and — true to its name — chocolately chocolate chocolate cake ($9) that kept melting in the summer heat during the restaurant’s first year. The recipe for the warm and aromatic spice cake belonged to an employee’s Kentucky grandmother and it tastes of a solid home-cooked favorite.
Like the details of a family tale that become more muddled with each telling, the recipes of yesteryear may have lost some of the nuances that once made them sing.
Instead of simply rehashing the past, it might be time for Horseradish Grill to advance its story.HORSERADISH GRILL 4320 Powers Ferry Road, Atlanta; 404-255-7277 Food: upscale Southern Service: Knowledgeable about the menu. Many servers have worked there a number of years. Best dishes: barbecue pulled pork, oatmeal spice cake Vegetarian selections: salads, vegetable sampler Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover Hours: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Sundays, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:30-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Saturdays. Children: yes, well-behaved ones Parking: valet Reservations: yes Wheelchair access: yes Smoking: no Noise level: moderate Patio: yes, a lovely outdoor space Takeout: yes