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Buckhead Diner restaurant review, Buckhead

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“Is that Jane Fonda at the next table?”

We steal surreptitious glances at the neighboring group, examining the woman in the black hat pulled low over a pair of glasses. It wouldn’t be unusual to spot celebrities at Buckhead Diner — a place where the walls are lined with framed photos of visiting stars like Steve Martin, Henry Winkler and Kathy Bates.

Review by Jenny Turknett

Review by Jenny Turknett

This is not your typical greasy spoon. I learned this when my boyfriend (now husband) and I first ate at Buckhead Diner many years ago, with only wads of leftover gas money from our parents stuffed in our pockets. After seeing the non-diner prices, we quickly altered our plans and ordered an appetizer and a couple of drinks. We may have been fooled by the cool polished steel exterior, but the luxurious interior modeled after an Orient Express rail car clued us in.

The food, pricing and guest list set this diner apart from its counterparts, as does the level of service, which is customary for the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group. White-jacketed waiters anticipate needs without a trace of pretense. On one visit, our waiter, Michael, with his smooth Southern drawl, seems as if he could easily glide between fine dining and a country kitchen.

Truffled deviled eggs over a bright salad (photos by Becky Stein)

Truffled deviled eggs over a bright salad (photos by Becky Stein)

The diner carefully — and successfully — skirts the lines between casual and upscale, and classic and dated. Open since 1987, Buckhead Diner’s menu has been shaped by celebrated Atlanta chefs including Kevin Rathbun, Gerry Klaskala and Joey Riley. A handful of the original menu items such as the finger-licking-good warm Maytag blue cheese chips ($8.75) and the super sweet “James Beard award-winning white chocolate banana cream pie” ($7.50) remain on the menu, now the diner’s iconic dishes.

The menu has recently been updated under the direction of chef Charles Schwab. In true diner form, it features a range of entrees, burgers and sandwiches like the sliced herb roast beef ($15.50). This not-so-average sandwich contains layers of beef that meld with the flavors of the heady port balsamic glaze, sweet caramelized onions and triple cream blue cheese. What seals the deal is the kicky horseradish creme fraiche slathered on a crackly-crusted ciabatta bread — bread that is made across the street at the diner’s sister restaurant, Buckhead Bread Company.

Juices from this pork chop seep into a decadent parmesan risotto

Juices from this pork chop seep into a creamy parmesan risotto

Like the roast beef sandwich, the Niman Ranch pork chop typifies the high level of execution at the Buckhead Diner. The simple grilled pork chop stands on its own merit — perfectly seasoned and prepared with juices that ooze out of the tender chop with each cut. Those juices seep into the creamy parmesan risotto studded with sharp bursts of pickled red onion ($19.95).

Other new items, like the flaky chili-spiced mahi mahi ($19.50), represent a company-wide trend to offer gluten-free choices. An adobo rub on the mahi mahi delivers a delicate heat that complements the natural sweetness of the fish. This chili-spice blend was originally developed by Sidney’s Spices for Nava, another of Buckhead Life’s restaurants.

The white-truffle deviled eggs ($5.95), another of the many gluten-free options, should appear on everyone’s tab. These luxurious eggs with a yolk-and-shallot mayonnaise filling receive a hefty pour of white truffle oil to finish. Three fat eggs sit atop a Bibb salad dressed with a refreshingly tart lemon vinaigrette that balances the richness of the truffle filling.

I prefer the deviled eggs to the pimento cheese fritters ($7.95), substantial hush-puppy-like balls lolling in a puddle of sweet and spicy pimento pepper jelly. Because the fritters are so thick, a layer of raw batter surrounds the small gush of pimento cheese in the center. They do, however, suffice as a vehicle for the addictive spice of the pepper jelly.

Wrap it all up diner-style with one of the soda fountain treats. You could go for the carrot cake or peach bread pudding (both $6.95), but my advice is to stick with the milkshakes. Try the thick chocolate-hazelnut-caramel one ($5.50) with decadent slips of chocolate-hazelnut spread. Or, if you didn’t overdo it with the diner’s specialty cocktails, beer, or wine (all served by the glass or quartino), indulge in one of the “I.D.” cocktail shakes ($9).

After so many years, this iconic Atlanta diner retains its polish. That’s why celebrities zero in on Buckhead Diner, just like our table neighbor, Jane Fonda.

BUCKHEAD DINER
3073 Piedmont Road, Atlanta. 404-262-3336
3stars5Food: Upscale diner serving American fare with Southern touches
Service: Polished and professional
Best dishes: Niman Ranch pork chop, Chili-spiced mahi mahi, white truffle deviled eggs
Vegetarian selections: Grilled cheese, salads, appetizers and sides
Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover
Hours: 11 a.m. — midnight Mondays-Saturdays, 10 a.m — 10 p.m. Sundays
Children: Yes
Parking: A small row of self-park spots and valet, which costs $2
Reservations: Priority seating available
Wheelchair access: Yes
Smoking: No
Noise level: Medium
Patio: No
Takeout: Yes

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39 comments Add your comment

Steve

February 9th, 2012
11:16 am

This restaurant company is a joke, Pano is an absolute idiot and thinks he is better than everyone else. Nico, his son, is no better, actually worse. The fact that so many people patronize these restaurants is sickening, if they really knew what these guys were all about they would go out of business.

Steve's new friend

February 9th, 2012
11:36 am

Crunch Hardtack

February 9th, 2012
11:47 am

Have to agree with Steve and his new friend. Caught the BLG passing off something for what it wasn’t, wrote a letter to Pano. Never heard a peep. Besides, there are literally hundreds of better choices in this town at which to dine.

enough of steve!

February 9th, 2012
11:54 am

Apparently idiots can run great restaurants, then. Dined at Buckhead Diner many times, never disappointed.

Let’s stick to the food and leave personal grievances aside. So no more disgruntled former BLG employees, please! :)

Edward

February 9th, 2012
11:58 am

I’ve never had a bad experience at a Buckhead Life restaurant. Instead, some very good memories have been made there. I can’t afford them regularly, but as a special treat they are not to be missed.

Mighty Joe Young

February 9th, 2012
11:58 am

Although not in Buckhead, The Pickrick had the best food in the Atlanta area.

Rick W

February 9th, 2012
12:00 pm

Can someone explain to me why people hate Buckhead Life places so much? I think Buckhead Diner is more of a two star, but I’ve had great meals at Bistro Niko and better than great at Kyma.

Frank

February 9th, 2012
12:06 pm

This place is a ripoff. The food is ok but the prices are not worth it considering there are better diners and restaurants.

Also, Buckhead Life is one step above Darden, although Darden has a name that isn’t cringe-worthy.

Rex Dogma

February 9th, 2012
12:33 pm

Some of the best food I have ever had. Buckhead is a great group.

James

February 9th, 2012
12:34 pm

@Rick – not sure either why they don’t get more love – seems to me part of it is because some folks equate “restaurant groups” with chains, and maybe partly because they seem deliberately cater to an older crowd. And I suppose it all depends on who you ask, since in my experience they’re always crowded. They’ve also been around a while, so they don’t [thankfully] attract the crowd that’s looking for a “scene.”

As it turns out, Buckhead Diner is my favorite of all the BLG restaurants. Their current menu is solid top to bottom. I also disagree with Frank – it’s one of the better values in fine dining in the city (even amongst other BLG restos..)

Wes

February 9th, 2012
1:14 pm

GREAT REVIEW! Buckhead Diner has been one of my favorites for twenty years. I’m glad to see they got their due.

Anyone who thinks Buckhead Life restaurants are comparable to darden obviously has not eaten in them and is upset about it.

Hey Steve, can’t get a job since they canned you?!?

Keep it up Buckhead Diner!!

PJ

February 9th, 2012
1:32 pm

I’m a big fan of Buckhead Life restaurants in general – only one negative experience at one place, which I would never hold against the others. As a native Atlantan, I’ve dined at all of them over the years. Buckhead Diner is, and has always been, a fantastic place to eat. On my most recent visit, I tried the flatbread with housemade sausage – super yum! Definitely my new favorite there. The milkshake cocktails Jenny referenced are also amazing. They are served as 4-5oz glasses – the perfect amount of sweet I want at the end of my meal. Of course, the service is top notch. From the time we walked in to the time we left, we never wanted for anything. The only notable downfall of my most recent visit was the carrot cake. The cake itself was good, but the icing tasted like straight-up cream cheese – not sweetened, not made into icing, but spread straight from the container. After seeing that photo above, next time I’m getting that pork chop.

Tyree

February 9th, 2012
2:11 pm

I love the Buckhead Diner. I met my wife there on a Thursday night. I had the buttermilk fried quail with blue cheese chips and she had the chili spiced fish. We liked it so much we made it a tradition to eat there every Thursday. We used to always get the same thing, but after awhile, we had to vary it. Love the whole menu. The trout and pork chops are delicious. I just recently started going back on Thursdays. It’s been tough since my wife left me. Sometimes I sit there and think she’ll come through the door, but she never does. Maybe someday, right?

Nicholas

February 9th, 2012
2:28 pm

Sounds personal to me Steve. What happened? Did you work for Pano at some point and just couldn’t cut it? now you hide behind the keyboard and want to see if people will listen to you? What their about? How about working 90 hours a week to stand behind their legacy of outstanding food and service? How many hours do you work to take care of your customers? i would like to know where you go to get a good meal !

Edward

February 9th, 2012
3:42 pm

James: “…so they don’t [thankfully] attract the crowd that’s looking for a ’scene.’” Amen! And that is a big plus in my opinion.

Dave

February 9th, 2012
3:58 pm

You go Stevie boys! BLG is sooooo over rated.

FoodFan

February 9th, 2012
5:51 pm

I do think it’s pricey there, but man, do I love that Veal Meatloaf. All of the BLG restauarants (minus recently-opened Bistro Niko) could use a bit of a freshening-up. I sat on a chair at Fish Market last time that was like something out of an elementary school library.

For cheaper eats of somewhat-similar fare, I’d reccomend checking out Joey Riley’s place Kaleidoscope over in Brookhaven. Mr. Kessler, I know that you reviewed it after they had somewhat-recently opened, but now that they’ve been opened a year I think that it could warrant a revisit. The food has gotten much better over the past year as they’ve really hit their stride.

Joe Somerville

February 9th, 2012
7:37 pm

I am not a Buckhead Life Group fan only because they are “tough” business folks – their restaurants have always been some of my favorites – Buckhead Diner is a must for anyone new to Atlanta or visiting – or maybe when I take my daughter to Phipps or Lenox – it’s an enjoy a drink – people watch – take in Buckhead and enjoy some pretty fine food – yes a little pricey – but considering the entire experience is well worth my money -

Giles

February 9th, 2012
8:03 pm

Love you Buckhead! We love Pricci’s as well, always have a great time there! Food is second to none and Maureen is the best <3

Kirk

February 9th, 2012
9:48 pm

Put me somewhere in the middle. I used to really like Buckhead Diner, but the last time I was there (4 or 5 years ago now) I had a pretty bad meal (it was a horribly cooked tuna – I actually sent it back, which I almost never do. I eat out a lot, and I’ve sent at most 5 dishes back). I haven’t been back since, although I’d be open to giving it a try. All of the others I tried always fell into the good but not great range (never been to Kyma, though, which I hear is the best).

james white

February 9th, 2012
11:39 pm

Put the emotions aside. The food and service is good. This company has produced the likes of Rathbuns and The Hil. There is a lot to eat out these days. Think before you eat and speak there are Real people involved.

Jersey Mike

February 10th, 2012
2:40 am

@Tyree buddy I feel your pain…here’s praying that wife of yours comes back one day! As for the food at the Diner I’ve only eaten there once but it was very good.

1164mgc

February 10th, 2012
9:43 am

I go to Buckhead Diner every time I’m in Atlanta for the past 20 years or so and have never had a bad meal. Can’t wait to go next time I’m in town to check out the new menu. The only thing I don’t like is the valet parking.

JAMMIEPIE

February 10th, 2012
10:18 am

Steve, what you accuse others off is what you are guilty of yourself.
You need to stop being bitter. You can choose to be happy or sad. Sounds like you decided to be a sad sack and that is sad. The place is general good not bad as you say.

Lorenzo

February 10th, 2012
11:13 am

The fact that this place is apparently still profitable, more than 25 years after the “upscale diner” trend was hot, is a testament to something, though I’m not sure what. Say what you will about BLG, but they apparently deliver what the people want.

M Long

February 10th, 2012
2:56 pm

Hahahaahahah @ James White the Shill for The Hil………….can’t stand you brah.

Academic Socialite

February 10th, 2012
4:40 pm

As a lifelong Atlantan, I have to agree that BLG’s restaurants are just not that great. There are MANY better options and MUCH more creative fare to be found around town. 4th & Swift, Bacchanalia and its many sisters, Woodfire, Miller Union, Empire State South, I could go on and on. BLG is fine if you don’t mind inconsistency and you hate creativity. They’ll serve you an okay meal every once in awhile, but it will be totally devoid of any personality. And don’t get me started on the BLG wait staff. @Steve – I’m not surprised at the wrath that decended on you. This town couldn’t support Seegers (and many others) so they don’t stand a chance recognizing BLG as the tired and over-hyped group that they are. And BTW everyone, I don’t even think Steve is a disgruntled BLG employee, I’ll bet he’s just an honest Atlantan tired of the same ol’ same ol’. @james, Serenbe?? Really? Oh good Lord…

Hank

February 10th, 2012
4:54 pm

I think the BLG restaurants are hit or miss. Sometimes great, sometimes not so great. Ive had good experiences at the Buckhead Diner but frankly, Bistro Niko has not been good. Beautiful place and great for a drink but the food has just not been very good.
I will miss Tierra. Too bad there are not more places like that.

Edward

February 10th, 2012
5:52 pm

Why do people like Academic Socialite make me laugh… at them, not with them? Pomposity in its most humorous form.

Graham

February 11th, 2012
9:12 am

I refuse to dine anywhere popular. If a place is popular it can’t be any good. I only dine at places I and a few other ‘in the know’ people frequent. This helps feed my pathological need to feel elite and superior.

Bob from Accounttemps

February 11th, 2012
3:02 pm

I remember eating here for the first time in the early ’90’s. I hate to admit it (for some reason), but it’s still really good. We don’t go often, but when we do, the meal is always terrific. An Atlanta staple that has managed to stay on top of its game for many years, and hopefully many more to come.

Bob from Accounttemps

February 11th, 2012
3:07 pm

@Academic Socialite: I guess you point out why I, “hate to admit” that I like Buckhead Diner. I’m not a fan of BLG and have had really bad experiences at Pricci and Bistro Niko – not with the food, but with the “holier than thou” attitude that I should feel privileged to set foot in the place. I have not felt that way at Buckhead Diner, but admittedly don’t eat there very often due to, as you point out, other great options in the City, including those you mention. But when I pay what I do for a nice night out, I like to at least be appreciated, starting with not having to wait nearly 60 minutes for my reserved table to become available.

marlon from memphis

February 11th, 2012
3:42 pm

micheal was my watier as well he always give perfect service with his life experiences buck head greatest secret!!!

Rachael Ray

February 11th, 2012
3:48 pm

its yumm-o I hope they use EVOO

sean bateman

February 12th, 2012
11:53 am

Middle of the road conceptualization. Solid execution. Dated service style. Stuffy atmosphere for a diner.

BLG needs to change with the times. I don’t want to go to a diner and have some white coated waiter address my by “Mr. Bateman”. Great touch for a fine dining restaurant, but is this a diner or…?

“The diner carefully — and successfully — skirts the lines between casual and upscale, and classic and dated.” Sorry Jenny. Can’t agree with you on that at all.

Like most BLG restaurants the Diner needs a major reworking and facelift. It’s 2012, not 1992.

Edward

February 12th, 2012
1:01 pm

Why would you want every restaurant to be the loud, flashy, soul-less, “I’m so hot, look at me! Me! Me!” place, when there are already plenty of those around? Obviously, BLG does what they do very well, they are packed every evening. There is something to be said for having a sedate and well-executed meal in a dignified environment. Thus, there is always a need for places like BLG restaurants, La Grotta, etc. They just work.

Academic Socialite

February 13th, 2012
12:24 pm

Hey, @Edward – it’s not “obvious” to me that BLG “does what they do very well” otherwise, I wouldn’t have said what I did. I don’t think what I wrote is pompous, it’s just my honest opinion that BLG’s restaurants are not all that good. To quote you, I agree that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a “…well-executed meal in a dignified environment,” but my problem continues to be that for ME, BLG’s restaurants don’t offer that. They give me at times a semi-decent, yet often inconsistent meal in a tired, 1990’s (not particularly dignified) environment. In Atlanta, where we DO have so many better options, I just can’t do the BLG thing. The restaurants aren’t always “packed” either – especially VVV and Nava. Visited both last year for business dinners (not my idea, mind you) and we could have walked right in without a reservation. @John Kessler, do you have any way of checking to see whether or not @Edward works for BLG or reps PR for them? Given the events on your now famous Ocean Prime blog, that turn of events would be really entertaining…

Edward

February 14th, 2012
3:43 pm

LOL, I’m a retired computer specialist who worked for a large local telecommunications company. I just happen to enjoy good food and when I can afford it, I do enjoy a BLG restaurant on occasion. Your pompousness is self-evident. Could you list some of the other places you don’t like, I’d enjoy patronizing those places since I would know in advance I wouldn’t have to accommodate your ego.

Diego

February 14th, 2012
5:31 pm

Buckhead, Buckhead, Buckhead, Highland Ave, Highland Ave, Highland Ave, Midtown, Midtown, Midtown. The majority of your readers live and dine outside Atlanta City Limits and beyond the perimeter. There are so many great restaurants in areas other than downtown Atlanta that offer fine quality dining as good or better at modest pricing unlike Buckhead, etc. Same thing with local Atlanta news stations, they focus on the plight of Atlanta residents when their viewers are mostly outside Atlanta and are tired of hearing the same criminal news stories every night. Think outside the Atlanta box and get out of your comfort zone when it comes to dining reviews more often and you will be enlighten! I’m sick of high priced mediocre food and service in downtown Atlanta!!!!.