“So we went to that place in Alpharetta that they say has such good bagels?” says/asks my friend, with an interrogative uptick at end of the sentence.
He pauses for effect; I wait for the answer.
“Not such good bagels,” he insists. “Too big. Too bready. Meh.”
My friend is a Jewish New Yorker, and he’d probably drive to Alabama if he got some intel on a good bagel. Not that he’s found one here, there or anywhere in these environs. He counts among the many transplants (and more than a few native Atlantans) who flat-out kvetch about the lack of good Jewish food hereabouts.
I think my friend and everyone else would like the bagels at The General Muir. Head baker and pastry maven Lauren Raymond makes small, dense, shiny bagels with a crusty surface that I find both crisp and leathery in all the right ways. But what do I know? I’m no New Yorker.
Nonetheless, I’m pretty intrigued by the General Muir, the deli and appetizing shop that recently opened in Emory Point, a new retail and residential complex across from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Appetizing, you ask? That’s the smoked fish and such that you heap on bagels. Deli? That’s the pastrami and corned beef you pile on rye bread. (If you follow the dietary laws of Kashrut, you keep them separate.) There is plenty of both at the General Muir and much, much more. Think great espresso drinks, a brimming pastry case, an up-to-date bar and a full-service restaurant that already ranks among the most interesting in northeast Atlanta. It takes chutzpah to attempt all this; it takes unusual skill sets and teamwork to carry it off.
The principal partners at the General Muir are Ben and Jennifer Johnson, who run the always slamming West Egg Cafe across town. (The General Muir is named for the ship that brought Jennifer’s mother and grandparents, Holocaust survivors, from Europe.) Joining them are Shelley Sweet, the former general manager at West Egg, and their ace in the hole: chef Todd Ginsberg.
Atlantans know Ginsberg best from Bocado, where his double-stack burger was an object of idolatry. But he is also a classically trained chef with a serious resume and a transplanted New Jersey boy who can refer to cream cheese as “a schmear” with conviction.
Not only that, Ginsberg is the kind of do-it-yourself chef who cures his own pickles ($5 for a colorful plate) and cures his own pastrami (a piled-high sandwich costs $18 for an orgy of fatty goodness). Maybe the pastrami isn’t quite smoky and spicy enough on one visit? Try it the next; Ginsberg is nailing the recipe.
I think I’m more of an appetizing than deli guy, so I’m all about the Maven platter ($21) of nicely oily house-cured lox, gorgeous sable, lemony salmon salad and milder Nova salmon. (Again, I’m no New Yorker but I think the nova is better at Bagel Palace.) It comes with a bagel, a schmear and all the garnishes you could ask for. Get a second bagel, and you’ve got a feast for two. Add in a pitch perfect cortado (a short espresso and milk drink, $3) and you’ve got one of those best-of-both-worlds things going on.
The Johnsons understand the energy a morning restaurant needs. The General Muir is sunny and bright, all subway tile and brass railing, marble counters and wooden chairs. Plates clatter; the espresso machine goes pffffffft; you feel happy.
Ginsberg, for his part, understands that restaurants are a whole lot more fun if they are both familiar and unpredictable. Come dinner time, he finds delightful ways to tweak the menu. His veal tongue ($10) comes with fat, creamy beans in a warm vinaigrette.
The sun sets, the lights go up, and the room begins to feel less like a deli and more like a French bistro. Ginsberg sets the mood with terrific skillet-crisped trout ($19) with a gentle crunch from hazelnuts, toasted farro salad and a smooth squash puree. His marshmallow-soft gnocchi in oxtail ragu ($22) looks perfectly familiar to anyone who eats out a lot. Then you bite into thumb-sized marvels and find a bit of sweet prune puree hiding in the center of each. Just that little touch introduces the flavor profile of Eastern European Jewish cooking to remind you where you are. Brilliant.
By the way, I did take my friend to the General Muir to see if it would get his mitzvah. He loved the smooth, mild chopped liver ($7) served with toasted onion pletzel bread and the hilariously deli-fied poutine ($11) — crisp fries rapidly turning soggy under a torrent of gravy, stringy cheese curds and diced pastrami.
But we forgot to get bagels. Maybe next time, though while I like the bagels here a lot, he may not because it seems to me New Yorkers never like bagels outside of the city. Who knows?THE GENERAL MUIR Address, phone: 1540 Avenue Place B-230, Atlanta. 678-927-9131 Hours: breakfast: 7-10:30 a.m. Mondays-Fridays; lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; dinner: 5:30-9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 5:30-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; brunch: 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays. Price range: $-$$$ Credit cards: all major Children: fine Noise level: lively but not as loud as you might expect with so much tile Reservations: for dinner only