Here’s a most excellent Southside tip. When you find yourself hungry and driving up I-75 with too many miles between you and Atlanta, consider the three-minute detour to downtown Locust Grove and the French Market & Tavern.
This smartly rehabbed 1906 hardware store features a houseware/garden shop to appeal to the roadside knickknackologist in you. Then, when you keep walking through the shop towards the back room, you’ll find a lively New Orleans style cafe. With its tables made from the building’s recovered heart-of-pine flooring, comfortable sling-back chairs, ample natural light, a solid crowd and a happy sense of contained clutter, this restaurant gives off a warm vibe.
We visited at lunch when the menu focuses on sandwiches, salads and burgers. It goes a bit more upscale at night. We found the food solid — maybe not worth the drive from Atlanta in and of itself, but a lot better than many of the local attempts at Cajun and Creole cooking. For instance, the house chicken and andouille gumbo gets a nice layering of flavors from its chocolate roux. It’s real gumbo. And yet it isn’t one of those treasure-trove gumbos where each spoonful reveals a nugget of surprise. I would have liked at least one coin of andouille.
The po’ boys are classics — dressed with care, easy to assembled and eat. But I do have a couple of complaints. 1) Our oysters were perfectly juiceless. 2) The Leidenheimer bread imported from New Orleans hadn’t been warmed enough to crisp the crust. That crispness makes it for me. Still, I found the sandwich enjoyable, aided by its tasty side of red beans and rice.
There’s a big display of layer cakes, which we found too hard to resist. Both the lemonade cake and the salted caramel crunch cake hit the spot. Owner Rick Weaver told me they bring these cakes in, but that his wife, Laura, often makes the breakfast pastries.
I like this restaurant. It really seems like an important part of its community.
But after dining at French Market Tavern I had po’ boys on the brain, so I decided it was time for a revisit to Crawfish Shack Seafood on Buford Highway.
Some New Orleanians might take exception to this rendition:
For starters, the restaurant uses Amoroso bread rolls from Philadelphia, and they slice them down rather than across. The oysters come slathered with remoulade sauce rather than dressed with mayonnaise. But the kick of spice from the sauce, the red ripe tomatoes and the burstlingly juicy oysters win my heart.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog