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The French Market & Tavern restaurant review, Locust Grove

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“We wanted to be a high-end Cracker Barrel.”

The French Market & Tavern in Locust Grove, one part restaurant, one part home decor and gift store, does, in many ways, resemble the well-known chain country store and homestyle eatery.

Review by Jenny Turknett

Review by Jenny Turknett

Owners Rick and Lauren Weaver originally purchased the old Gardner Hardware store in Locust Grove as an investment property. Lauren Weaver, with a passion for decorating, hoped to convert the 1906 building into a home and garden design boutique, while her husband envisioned it as a po’ boy shop. During the renovation, the two reached a compromise, and the French Market & Tavern was born, a handsomely decorated 5,000-square-foot space with tables made from the building’s original heart-of-pine flooring.

As the vision for the building expanded, so did the menu, venturing well beyond po’ boys. Rick Weaver, a New Orleans native and now full-time employee of a software company, comes from a line of chefs. He drew upon his experiences growing up in the restaurant industry to write recipes for what the restaurant’s website calls “authentic New Orleans cuisine.”

Catfish po' boy - drippy and delicious (photos by Becky Stein)

Catfish po' boy - drippy and delicious (photos by Becky Stein)

According to Rick Weaver, after having several bigger-name chefs run the kitchen, he switched tactics and promoted his line cook to kitchen manager to oversee operations and execution. He didn’t want the chef to be the focal point of the restaurant. He says, “It’s not about this guy. It’s about the ambience and the experience.” Weaver mentored his new kitchen manager, taking him on his first trip to New Orleans for a 36-hour food-fest to experience the food he would cook.

Weaver confessed that it was “a huge risk to open a restaurant in Locust Grove with specialty cuisine.” He’s had to alter his original vision based on the target market (locals), dialing back the spice level and adding other Southern staples to the menu.

Despite the 36 hours of research, some dishes don’t resonate with traditional New Orleans-inspired fare. Friends who joined us on one visit, both native New Orleanians, bristled at the pulled chicken and andouille gumbo ($5). Thin and bitter like strong coffee, the pitch-black gumbo tastes (and looks) like the Jailhouse Breakout Stout ($5) we drank in the absence of Abita beer, the New Orleans classic. We pined for the layered flavors and depth of more traditional gumbos.

Crawfish etouffee

Crawfish etouffee

The gumbo makes up one-third of the Trinity ($17). Weaver’s version of etouffee, which he says is creamier than most, and unseasoned red beans and rice share the cafeteria-style tin tray lined in black-and-white checkered paper with the gumbo. Pea-size lumps of the blond roux used for the crawfish (a loose term, we had to hunt for those tiny tails) etouffee sit suspended in a pasty glue, the French Market & Tavern’s rendition of yet another dish on which many New Orleans chefs hang their toques.

As can be the case in restaurants with menus executed by folks who didn’t write them, I suspect a disconnect between the recipes and the execution. Weaver admits this is true for the beignets ($4.95), acknowledging their dense gummy interior. He says, “The only way we can pull those off is when I’m here.”

The kitchen has more luck (hallelujah!) with its spin on a catfish po’ boy ($10.95). A large, well-seasoned cornmeal-battered fillet sits on an open-faced Leidenheimer French bread bun. The restaurant’s signature spicy jalapeno coleslaw brings a sweet heat to the salty-battered fish. Granted, you might struggle to fold the bulging sandwich halves together, but go for it, trailing creamy coleslaw juice and all.

While the French Market & Tavern has some recipes to work through, it’s clear that it knows its market. On each of my visits, locals filled the restaurant, once sandwiching my table between a group of 20-plus office workers celebrating a birthday and a ten-top engaged in a Bible study session.

Chef-driven restaurants may be the trend these days, but Rick Weaver wanted to shift the focus to the ambience and experience. He’s created a place where folks enjoy whole-restaurant serenades to those celebrating birthdays or Saturday-night singalongs to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” He clearly knows his market in Locust Grove, a place that appreciates a high-end Cracker Barrel.

French Market & Tavern
3840 Ga. 42, Locust Grove. 770-914-9312
1stars5Food: Restaurant/gift boutique serving New Orleans-inspired cuisine
Service: Friendly enough, but untrained and unlikely to refill beverages
Best dishes: Catfish po’ boy
Vegetarian selections: Appetizers, salads, pasta
Credit cards: All major
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays
Children: Yes
Parking: A few parallel parking spots outside restaurant, a gravel lot across a busy street or spots behind the building
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair access: Yes
Smoking: No
Noise level: Moderate to high
Patio: Yes, in the rear
Takeout: Yes

ratings_key_febUSE

21 comments Add your comment

Baltisraul

May 24th, 2012
7:29 am

Great idea! I believe he will work out the iffy recipes in do time. I wish them all the luck in the world

Edgewood Adam

May 24th, 2012
9:28 am

Really? Locust Grove? I love Bulldogs in Midtown.

Frank

May 24th, 2012
10:17 am

The rating system is dumb. How can the lowest rating be one that still calls it a worth addition? That doesn’t make any sense.

AC

May 24th, 2012
12:50 pm

because it doesn’t get any stars if it’s not good at all, try reading the entire thing.

HotlantaHobo

May 24th, 2012
12:54 pm

Why is decent New Orleans food so rare and unpopular in Atlanta? The few places that seem to be successful are in the distant exurbs of the city. In general old-fashioned Southern seafood is pretty rare and few places specialize in it. It’s not a hip cuisine so maybe that something to do with it.

Jenny is right on in suspecting that the cooks producing the food didn’t write the menu, much less know and understand the cuisine. This problem extends to many restaurants, not just this one.

Frank

May 24th, 2012
2:09 pm

@AC Still doesn’t make any sense. It is like the typical self-esteem boosting crap that comes out of Atlanta. Everybody gets a star!

Deana

May 24th, 2012
2:16 pm

We stopped here last week – most of the food was inedible. We had the fried shrimp basket and it was hard to even find a shrimp other food was also bad including salads. This restaurant is probably full all the time because there isn’t any other restaurant in Locust Grove! The interior is pretty though and the cupcakes looked good but we didn’t try them.

Larry M

May 24th, 2012
2:42 pm

Is the author complaining that she had to drink the Jailhouse beer instead of an Abita? Does she even know that Jailhouse is brewed down the road in Hampton, Georgia, and is therefore a LOCAL product? And much better than most Abita products to boot? Sheezus.

The JM

May 24th, 2012
3:27 pm

When they first opened they had a beer and wine night because they were not ready to do food service yet. I met the chef and he talked with us about the menu and encouraged us to come back in a few weeks and we did. I am sad to hear that they let him ago. A restaurant IS about the chef and his creations. The chef told us things might cost a little more but when you get a hamburger you are getting grass fed beef. I wonder if they are still holding true to that or if they are now taking short cuts.

Gomulet

May 24th, 2012
3:37 pm

LOCAL /= BETTER!!!

FM Fats

May 24th, 2012
4:05 pm

Didn’t this place ballot-stuff a “Best of Atlanta” thread recently?

ONE STAR....

May 24th, 2012
4:13 pm

is still a worthy addition?! AJC is such a joke. At least thanks for providing me with a laugh:

““We wanted to be a high-end Cracker Barrel.”

This, along with buying stock in Facebook, are obviously BAD IDEAS.

MekongDelta

May 24th, 2012
4:19 pm

Wasnt this the restaurant that 200 people shilled for a best of poll a few months ago????? lol

Jenny Turknett

May 24th, 2012
6:22 pm

Clarification on the beer: I very much enjoy Jailhouse. It would, however, be unusual for a restaurant serving this type of cuisine and going to the trouble of getting Leidenheimer bread from N.O. to not also serve Abita. I just spoke with the restaurant’s publicist who informed me that they do, in fact, serve Abita by the bottle and confirmed that there may be a training issue since our waitress told us they didn’t serve it.

Baltisraul

May 24th, 2012
6:41 pm

Jen……..how can the wait staff not know what beer the resturant serves? That is almost an unbelieveable admission!

justsayin'

May 25th, 2012
1:26 pm

I’ve dined at FM with chef and post chef….BIG difference!!! Post chef was for the Mother’s Day brunch… ordered the special ham and swiss omelet….it came out ham and velveeta! One person in our party had to send her omelet back 4 times!!!! before they got it right…and all she wanted was an omelet with NO cheese…..excuse from waitress…”we’re so busy, and omelets are hard to make, not everybody can make an omelet”…in my mind I was thinking, “everybody at Waffle House can”…PLEASE FM…GET A CHEF!!!

Baltisraul

May 25th, 2012
5:13 pm

justsayin……now thats funny. Omlets are hard to make. My question to the waitress, “then why are they on the menu”?

Dogmatic

May 25th, 2012
11:51 pm

I think you have to appreciate the attempt of small local business instead of chain crap every one in a while. I think if the owner actually ate his food, he would have to say it is a far cry from what you will find in New Orleans. I had no problems with the appetizers, but the main course was ok at best. I wanted some real red beand and rice for a long time and was disappointed. This is a easy dish they should be able to get right.

Baltisraul

May 27th, 2012
8:32 am

Dogmatic……..red beans & rice must be just as hard for them as an omelet? I still hope they work it out. But what genius came up with the marketing plan of an “upscale Cracker Barrel”? “Eat at Joe’s” would have been a better slogan!

Edgewood Adam

May 29th, 2012
9:29 am

Have not been on here in a while to see what the dweebs of suburbia are up to but I see its using my avatar to make homophobic jokes. Not suprising at all. But I will bite, LOCUST GROVE???? I do not even have the vaguest idea where that is. It sounds lovely though. It has the word LOCUST in its title.

Baltisraul

May 29th, 2012
1:19 pm

Edgewood Adam…..Locust Grove is just a piece past Gnat Lake!