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Watershed on Peachtree restaurant review

$-$$

$-$$

Every restaurant has a story. But Watershed has a whopper of a tale that includes celebrities, ghosts of culinary icons past and a twist — a story 14 years in the making.

In its original Decatur location, Watershed cultivated a following for its Edna Lewis/Scott Peacock brand of Southern cooking. Watershed carved out a niche as an upscale Southern farm-to-table restaurant before such spots were trendy. Throw in the celebrity status of co-owner Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls and Watershed quickly cemented its place in the hearts of Atlanta diners.

Review by Jenny Turknett

Review by Jenny Turknett

When Peacock resigned his post after 11 years in favor of other pursuits, the restaurant was faced with replacing a chef who had become a Southern culinary icon. It had the challenge of preserving a brand and a proven formula for success.

Watershed hired Joe Truex, a Lousiana-born chef who trained with culinary legend Daniel Boulud and who was making a name for himself at his own local restaurant, Repast. Yet, marrying Truex’s French- and Japanese-influenced style with Peacock’s traditional Southern menu proved to be a puzzle. Truex says, “We were unprepared for the response we received.” Watershed regulars expected its traditional menu. Repast fans pined for fare that reflected Truex’s style.

In a bold move, Watershed permanently closed its Decatur location last summer, shutting the door on Watershed as we knew it. When the restaurant reopened in May, with it came a new name: Watershed on Peachtree. New name, new vibe, new menu, new chapter.

This restaurant, now located in Brookwood Hills, is decidedly different from the original. Large wooden doors open into a room dominated by a four-sided bar just ahead of the smaller dining rooms. The Smith-Hanes designed decor still feels like Watershed with its soft and neutral color palette and Martha Stewart-style touches like the bell-jar lighting. The difference here is the vibe. On busy evenings, the restaurant hums with an energy (and a din) unique to this location.

Joe's Jambalaya (photos by Becky Stein)

Joe's Jambalaya (photos by Becky Stein)

I’m drawn to the bar, as inviting as any around (maybe more so) and I’m not the only one. The younger set crowds three and four people deep to sip signature cocktails like the organic cuke ($11), a summery fresh concoction of Journeyman organic vodka, Uncle Val’s Botanical gin, cucumber, lime and house-made bitters.

I’m also drawn to the bar snacks, which, like many menu items, whisper the tale of their creator. Take the goujonettes of catfish with the could-be-hotter pepper slaw ($6.50), a play on the goujonettes of sole Truex prepared at Le Cirque in the late ’80s. These salty fried fingers of North Carolina catfish, so tender and clean-tasting with none of the catfish muddiness leave not a speck of grease on my fingers as I greedily snatch more than my share. Watershed on Peachtree, you had me at goujonettes.

Gougonettes of catfish

Goujonettes of catfish

If you actually want to converse with your dining partners, you’ll have to vacate your coveted seat at the bar. Heavy curtain panels and carpet tiles in the rear dining room absorb some of the energy radiating from the front, making it possible to hear your companions as you discuss the widely appealing menu.

Here’s where you’ll see the new Watershed. No longer cooking under the shadow of his predecessor (except maybe on Wednesday fried chicken nights) Truex strays from the traditional by presenting fresh takes on classics and infusing international influences. For example, he gives us another look at the jambalaya of his home state with his deconstructed rendition ($25). Why deconstructed? Of traditional jambalaya, he says, “After the third bite you’ve seen the whole show and you’re left with more… show.”

To keep it interesting, each ingredient receives a different treatment. The smoky rich andouille gets grilled, plump oysters fried, shrimp butter poached all layered over a puddle of soulful etouffee with crab and crawfish tails. It’s a create-your-own-jambalaya experience.

You can also create your own pork belly wrap ($10) — another opportunity to play with your food. Roll up the sumptuous pork belly swathed in a zingy dijon mustard with the vinegary pepper slaw with strips of pickled daikon radish, perfect counterpoints to the deliciously fatty pork.

If you’re yearning for the Watershed of old, you can still order the seasonal vegetable plate ($18) with five veggies, each prepared using a different cooking technique. The vegetable plate, however, is now truly vegetarian with nary a ham hock in sight. Instead of meat, for example, the lady peas receive a flavor boost from mushroom broth, cream and smoked paprika. The peas are a dead ringer for mac and cheese and perfectly gluten free. The vegetable plate also comes with a cakey (but not sweet!) pimento-cheese crusted cornbread, made with cornmeal and rice flour, which also happens to be gluten free.

Another dish reminiscent of the original Watershed is the chicken-fried steak ($24) of Truex’s youth, his mom’s Sunday specialty. He uses the well-marbled spinalis dorsi (cap of ribeye) and pounds it out with a rolling pin. From there, it gets the Watershed-fried-chicken treatment: buttermilk bath, seasoned-flour dip and a swim in the country ham-infused lard. My friend found the meat too chewy, but I was smitten enough with the meaty-rich breading to continue spearing bite after bite until the steak disappeared.

I am equally smitten with Watershed on Peachtree, so much so that I want to sample every morsel issued from the kitchen. Yet, some dishes might benefit from a little editing like the fresh heart of palm salad ($11.25), which has an earthy black-speckled truffle vinaigrette paired with a paper-thin slice of salt-lick-worthy country ham (yes!) and a chunky egg salad. While each ingredient stands on its own merit, put them all together and the effect is less than harmonious. Several dishes had this feel — too many components without a unifier. Granted, I have no quarrel with this in the choose-your-own-adventure style dishes.

The mess

The mess

Nor do I have a quarrel with “the mess” ($8), a dessert with an endearing name. The mess turns out to be a miniature trifle-style dessert with brandy-soaked cherries that burst with flavor, red-wine marinated sponge cake, pecans and little meringue crunchies all layered with a custard cream. That’s some mess of good, is all I can say. Admittedly, it was hard to pass up Watershed’s very good chocolate cake ($8), now served in a jar (to improve the icing-to-cake ratio, I’m told).

When Watershed shut its doors last August, many feared the restaurant’s story had reached its conclusion. Fret not, it appears that Watershed on Peachtree and Truex have many more tales to tell. And, I’d be willing to bet my goujonettes the best are yet to come.

Watershed on Peachtree
1820 Peachtree Road N.W., Atlanta
$-$$Food: Southern fare with French and Asian influences
Service: An improvement over the original location, but still somewhat dependent on which server you get. (If you’re seated in Heather’s section, expect the service to be flawless.)
Best dishes: Goujonettes of catfish, pork belly wraps, jambalaya, vegetable plate, fried pimento cheese sandwich with Medjool date chutney
Vegetarian selections: Vegetable plate (all veggies on this made without meat flavorings)
Credit cards: All major credit cards
Hours: 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 5-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sundays.
Children: Yes, if well-behaved
Parking: Yes, valet available
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair access: Yes
Smoking: No
Noise level: Moderate to high, depending on where you sit
Patio: Large patio overlooking Peachtree
Takeout: Yes
ratings_key_febUSE

35 comments Add your comment

Steve

August 2nd, 2012
8:50 am

You left out the most important part… hows the fried chicken?

Hipster

August 2nd, 2012
9:26 am

No mention of that hot ‘lil number Julia LeRoy? Tsk, tsk.

M.Johnson

August 2nd, 2012
9:30 am

Great review, Jenny. I went there for a birthday dinner on a Wednesday (aka fried chicken night) and had a lovely time. The dining area was a bit loud for my taste but I enjoyed the meal and will try the jambalaya. The Mess was to die for and I would have loved to take a few meringue crunchies home.

@Steve, I’m pretty sure they are using the same fried chicken recipe and the place was packed. Rest assured, the bird is fine.

Jenny Turknett

August 2nd, 2012
9:44 am

Thanks, M.Johnson. And, you’re right. The fried chicken is the same recipe, just served on Wednesday nights now!

Mark

August 2nd, 2012
11:32 am

Disappointed to see no mention of the wine program. We were regular customers at the old WS, often just to grab a glass of wine at the bar, and they were one of the first ATL restaurants to really push an eclectic, high quality wine list, back in the day where many places were still serving the same old tired Cali cabs and chards. Doubt we’ll get over there much purely due to location, but a great wine list might convince me.

toml

August 2nd, 2012
11:56 am

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Andy

August 2nd, 2012
2:39 pm

My half-dozen experiences here have been far less than 3 stars. We live a block away and wanted to support this new restaurant. The food here generally has been acceptable but not much more. The service in the dining room on several evening meals was abysmal. For instance, on our last trip the waitress basically ignored us or grudgingly responded to our requests for the entire evening after making a snide comment about us bringing a nice bottle of wine in for a celebration. Despite the fact that our party ordered several rounds of cocktails, appetizers, mains and desserts (more than enough to cover the cost of a bottle of wine). I ALWAYS factor in $75 or so additional dollars into a meals price for tip purposes when I bring my own bottle because I know servers count on alcohol sales for a substantial portion of their livelihoods. The way that particular server treated us made us rethink that. The brunch service was better. The Hot Milk Cake is absolutely amazing though. And I have really enjoyed my time in the bar area there; a few weeks back one of the bartenders helped us work our way through different concotions from the Buggy Whip line of organic booze. An entire bottle of bourbon later, it was one of the more enjoyable nights I’ve had in a restaurant. I hope this place improves because it has tons of potential.

Grasshopper

August 2nd, 2012
2:52 pm

So how much is chicken night in the new digs?

Bill

August 2nd, 2012
2:56 pm

A little full of themselves and too expensive for what you get.

James

August 2nd, 2012
3:38 pm

@Andy – surprised by the comments about service. Thus far, it’s been a huge improvement over what it was in the previous location. Of course all it takes is one bad apple…

Scott Johnson

August 2nd, 2012
3:58 pm

How someone would rate them 3-stars is beyond me. My experience at Watershed was disappointing at best. I ordered the Joe’s Jambalaya and asked the waiter how could they serve jambalya without rice. I sent it back… I also agree with the comment above…The service in the dining room was abysmal. We had an 8:30 reservation and we were seated at 9:30. That’s the other reason we’ll never go back.

joe in tucker

August 2nd, 2012
4:00 pm

after they way they abandoned the location in Decatur because some fry cook got his panties in a wad, i’ll not be spending my dollars at the new location…

Ahmad

August 2nd, 2012
4:11 pm

Glad to hear good things. I also live in the neighborhood and we were thrilled to see this place open considering the reputation of the decatur location. I had lunch there and my wife and I were pretty dissapointed in the lunch menu but the service i experienced was great. We’ll definitely have a redo for dinner now.

By the way, has anyone heard anything about cafe intermezzo moving? That would be dissapointing. hope it’s not true.

Jack Sprat

August 2nd, 2012
6:12 pm

Jenny, you obviously drank the Kool-Aid. Too much attitude and too little food for the money. I left aggravated and HUNGRY after spending $100 for me and my companion. Asked for bread and got attitude. Asked for Grey Goose and was told that they served something better. I want what I want NOT what they tell me I want. We went twice…The 1st and last time.

Sharon Mathis

August 2nd, 2012
6:36 pm

I frequent the restaurant and recommend it to friends, family, and others I run into that may need to meet someone for a business luncheon or dinner. I took some out of state company representatives there for dinner and they enjoyed it and said when they are back in town would take clients there for dinner. I have been for lunch and dinner and not experienced any problems. I have also referred others and they gave me great reports about service and food. Yes, they are known for their fine wines and great chicken. I suggest you try it for yourself.

Hayseed Dixie

August 2nd, 2012
6:47 pm

I can’t wait to give this place a try. I’ve had Watershed with Truex at the helm twice and I thought it had tons of potential.

But- it remains the million dollar question of the restaurant world- how do you get your staff to give a crud?

Repeat visits to Empire State South, Ecco and the old Watershed were easily ruined by petulant staff. These are solid food places that I think twice about going to and usually don’t return.

Yet, some impossibly busy places, like Brickstore’s Belgian Bar and Woodfire Grill manage to consistently have staff that care about the customer experience.

Lisa

August 3rd, 2012
9:27 am

My overall experience was mediocre. It’s very loud and overpriced for what you get. I agree with the negative comments about the jambalaya. Being from Louisiana, it’s not jambalaya without rice…it’s that simple. I had the pasta dish and found it very average, but I do take some responsibility for ordering pasta at a non-italian restaurant, which I normally wouldn’t do.

Mark

August 3rd, 2012
9:50 am

@ScottJ, JSprat, Lisa: I wonder if you’re missing the essence of the restaurant experience. In my perhaps not humble enough opinion, you send food back when it’s done wrong–cold, burned, spoiled, overdone. You don’t send food back because it doesn’t fit your personal stereotype of what it should be. You want predictable food, try Chili’s–they’ll serve you the exact same food in every restaurant across America. You go to a talented, innovative chef to try something new and different. And it’s the same for liquor. OK, I get that you like Grey Goose. But is it not conceivable that you might have found another one you liked? You don’t think you could possibly enjoy drinking, say, Hangar One? Or Boyd & Blair? Come on, loosen up, live a little!

Moscowjoe

August 3rd, 2012
10:00 am

Sometimes newby restaurants are not as trendy as they think they are, especially on a “reinvent”. Will try it objectively now and then again in a year and compare of course. But messin with a former good thing hopefully will pan out for this new edition. Just don’t get cutsy with the fried chicken.

Jack Sprat

August 3rd, 2012
12:11 pm

Mark, I totally agree that the food preparation should be at the sole discretion of the chef. That’s how he makes his or her reputation and should be allowed creative license in that regard. I, however, totally disagree with your suggestion that a lifelong spirits drinker should be told by a haughty restaurant owner that their affinity for their favorite brand is all wrong. I have been in the hospitality industry for over fifty years and have built a very successful career and reputation attempting to make every guest happy with their experience.

Jack Sprat

August 3rd, 2012
12:32 pm

I’ll be the first to tell you that Joe Truex is VERY talented and I loved Repast…NO QUESTION. Mark, have it your way. Keep going there, overspending, getting the attitude and paying the high price. My friends and I will let you have our seats. We’re going to continue to patronize the locally owned, chef driven restaurants that bend over backwards to make us happy. We are experienced enough to know what we like and don’t require guidance from a smartass restaurant owner. Can’t wait for Truex to see the light and open his own venue again.

Edward

August 4th, 2012
3:11 am

@Jack Sprat, you don’t want a restauranteur telling you what you should have, yet here you are telling others that their enjoyment of a place is all wrong because you know better than they what they should like. If you present the same attitude in real life as you do here, it is indeed remarkable that you get good service and food any place. Those staff must truly be patient and forgiving to accommodate such an ego.

In the meantime, I look forward to enjoying a nice time at Watershed and welcome it to the neighborhood.

Baltisraul

August 4th, 2012
8:57 am

Edward…….I see that you are at it again. What a tool! Bet you would be great fun at a backyard Bar-B-Que?

Tiasha

August 4th, 2012
10:11 am

The Fried Chicken… is just OKAY! I’ve had better…

angrymeatballl

August 4th, 2012
11:50 am

Chef is great. Food is pretty good. Service is horrible — rude, short on temper. Get a clue, you little snots. Crappy attitudes and less than desireable service = no tip, no patronizing, out of business. How’s that working for you?

Mary

August 4th, 2012
12:38 pm

Jenny, do you know if Watershed will still have tea offerings? I loved that.

Baltisraul

August 4th, 2012
4:37 pm

angrymeatball…..the chef is great and the food is pretty good. How is that possible?

Edward

August 5th, 2012
2:41 am

Balt: I wouldn’t go to someone’s backyard BBQ and begin berating them on how they prepare it or tell them I know better than them, which seems to be what Mr. Sprat would do. If that is how you and your friends roll, then please, send my invitation elsewhere. ;-)

Jenny Turknett

August 5th, 2012
6:19 am

Mary, let me see if I can find out. I haven’t heard anything about it at the new location. I know they will no longer have the wine club.

Mark

August 5th, 2012
8:46 am

@Jack: I understand your points, and agree with you on most. Bad service and attitude can clearly trump good food.

However, regarding the liquor question, I still thinkyou’re still off-base. I’ll give you a wine analogy that I think illustrates the attitude. Guy hits a new restaurant. Asks the server for a bottle of Silverado cab. She says we don’t have that but let me bring the sommelier over. She arrives and says that they built a list of wines that they think are really fun, off the beaten path and great values. “We don’t carry a lot of mainstream domestic cabs, but what about a Super Tuscan? Or maybe, for something a bit different, a Chateauneuf du Pape? We have tons of great reds!” He angrily refuses, says “I only drink California Cabs,” orders a beer, and goes home later and posts an angry review.

Come on! Have some fun! There are some great vodkas out there, other than Gray Goose.

Baltisraul

August 6th, 2012
7:30 am

Edward…..consider it done. But I don’t recall ever mailing invites to a Bar-B-Que. I just put out a tub of Bud on the porch and they show up.

Jed

August 6th, 2012
2:08 pm

I miss Repast.

PJ

August 6th, 2012
3:54 pm

I’m very excited to try the new Watershed now that Truex has been let loose to do his thing. Personally, I think it was brilliant for Watershed to renew itself after losing Peacock. It is obvious the owners wanted another high-profile chef at the helm. And, as should have been the case from the beginning, Truex has finally been able to put his signature on this restaurant.

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