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Graft restaurant review, Grayson

$-$$

$-$$

Some of my close family members now live in the far reaches of Gwinnett County and just over the line in Walton County. When I visit, I bring my knives and do the cooking. Restaurant choices include national chains A, B and C.

Not anymore. A new restaurant opened in the charming 100-year-old Grayson home that once housed the Jenny-Turknett-ReviewGrayson House restaurant and later Stillwater, a barbecue joint. It was under renovation for the better part of a year as family members watched in anticipation. Over the summer, Graft, a unique-for-the-area farm-to-table restaurant, opened, satisfying our curiosity.

The renovation preserved the character of the former home, with layers peeled back to reveal original wood and a free-standing fireplace that forms a quaint niche in the dining room. The interior, once sectioned into the tiny rooms of an old country home, now boasts an open floor plan with a rustic-looking bar made from reclaimed wood.

If the romantic character of the building and protesting creaks of the hardwood floors don’t signal a departure from local alternatives, the edible landscaping and organic garden will. A seat on the spacious side patio flanked with muscadine vines will afford a glimpse of the rear garden’s tallest stalks of okra and surprise with an occasional shower of pecans from overhead trees.

Pan-seared grouper topped with fried leeks. All photos by Becky Stein

Pan-seared grouper topped with fried leeks. All photos by Becky Stein.

In addition to herbs, Graft grows many different vegetable varieties, now transitioning from eggplants, peppers and tomatoes to fall crops including arugula, chard and golden beets. What it doesn’t grow on site, Graft sources from local farms, such as Dillwood Farms in Loganville.

Graft’s jagged hand-torn menu changes about once a month, with items reflecting the season’s bounty. Owner Ashley Clemence, whose grandfather was a restaurateur, develops salads and small plates while chef Blake Hargroder tackles the entrees. Hargroder brings experience from the kitchens of Two Urban Licks, Emeril’s and Vinny’s on Windward.

As with many neighborhood spots, you’ll need to learn how to best use this one. Grab a buddy and share a few of the five different food and wine pairing options ($13), each including two 3-ounce wine samples and two small plates. Wine categories include crisp and tangy whites, chardonnays, French reds, Spanish reds and bold red blends.

The "Spaniard's Choice" food and wine pairing. All photos by Becky Stein.

The "Spaniard's Choice" food and wine pairing.

The “Spaniard’s Choice” was the most successful food and wine pairing we tried. Housemade chorizo highlights the spicy notes of the Garnacha (Castillo de Monseran, 2009), although the dried cranberries tucked in Bibb lettuce may mute its fruitiness. To the contrary, the blueberry and cranberry preserves served with mild goat cheese on nearly dehydrated baguettes complement the fruit-forward flavors of the Tempranillo (Flaco, 2010).

These small tapas-style dishes, while somewhat imperfect and light on protein as a whole, offer a unique dining experience for the area. Despite what your waitress may suggest, one food and wine pairing is not an entree stand-in. Add a salad and maybe split an entree.

We added an arugula salad ($10), a fun rendition with blue cheese, toasted pepitas with a kick (cayenne, paprika, turmeric and sugar) and pickled pears. Those pears, pickled in rice wine vinegar-based brine, add the acid missing from the salad’s vinaigrette. My husband still reminisces about those puckery pears.

Skip the flabby honey-Tabasco wings with blue cheese foam ($8) in favor of an entree. We tried the tender brisket ($17), brined for a week and smoked out back. It is topped with an oddly matched pico de gallo and a redeeming creamy but toothsome stone-ground grits with Gouda.

I’d also recommend the pan-seared scamp grouper ($24), plump with sweet white flesh. Pass on the garnishes: haylike fried leeks and bitter balsamic reduction. The grouper pairs well with the silky risotto dotted with tiny specks of butternut squash.

If you’re in the mood for a homey dish, it’s the heaping portion of fresno pepper-topped chicken ($16) for you. This moist bone-in version flecked with herbs and loads of pepper sits atop a mound of chunky mashed potatoes with roasted fennel. A bite of each swirled in chicken jus equals pure comfort.

As far as neighborhood restaurants go, Graft is one to watch — one that is sourcing locally, making its own stocks and ricotta, pickling its own fruits and curing its own meats. One that serves wines beyond those available at the corner grocer and local beers from Wild Heaven ($7) and Red Brick ($4) breweries. All in all, it’s an ambitious — and admirable — undertaking for this ZIP code.

Could I recommend the drive here from intown? Not yet. But anyone within a 10- to 12-mile radius? You betcha.

GRAFT
516 Grayson Parkway, Grayson. 770-338-9001
2stars5Food: Farm-to-table American fare
Service: Well-meaning and somewhat inexperienced
Best dishes: Pan-seared scamp grouper, arugula salad
Vegetarian selections: Arugula salad, vegetable plate
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Price range: $$-$$$
Credit cards: All major credit cards
Hours: 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays, 4:30-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 4:30-11 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturdays
Children: Fine
Parking: Gravel lot behind restaurant
Reservations: For parties of six or more
Wheelchair access: Yes
Smoking: No
Noise level: Low
Patio: Yes
Takeout: Yes
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10 comments Add your comment

[...] here: The AJC reviews Graft restaurant, Grayson | Food and More with … This entry was posted in Restaurant and tagged farm, raising, restaurant, stakes, suburbs, table [...]

FM Fats

October 11th, 2012
9:05 am

Are they doing a decent business?

GraysonLocal

October 11th, 2012
11:06 am

We have eaten there twice since it opened and have enjoyed the food both times very much. The first time we visited, the wait staff was young and not knowledgeable at all about the food or drink offerings. On our second visit, the wait staff was attentive, knowledgeable and informative about all aspects of the restaurant, menu and drink offerings. The atmosphere is relaxing, especially on the patio. We look forward to visiting again and again!

[...] Graft restaurant review, Grayson [...]

Curly Copple

October 11th, 2012
12:11 pm

Glad to hear this miserable area finally has something promising.

wino

October 11th, 2012
7:40 pm

I have been twice.. I saw a really good improvement from visit one to visit two, both in service execution as well as a tighter presentation on the plate. Really nice renovation, comfy, with a bar that has enough seats to accomodate dining, always a plus in my book. The wine list and pairings way above par for the area. Kudos so far, I hope they keep it on an upward spiral.

Grasshopper

October 11th, 2012
10:06 pm

Terrible name…skin graft anyone?

FM Fats

October 12th, 2012
8:50 am

Probably refers to what they had to pay to get permits.

*SMH*

October 12th, 2012
4:49 pm

http://www.graftrestaurant.com/who_we_are.html for the explanation of the name.

Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. Oh my! Several of the posters disappeared. Such a shame.

GraysonBird

October 16th, 2012
1:30 pm

Seriously. What did I say that was sooooo bad?