It’s a wrap.
My 30th and final restaurant for this project is Table 1280 – the dining room for the Woodruff Arts Center.
“That place?” you ask. “Why?”
Because my main takeaway from this exercise — one that has taken me to a number of restaurants I wouldn’t normally consider subjects for review — is that utility matters more than most food writers acknowledge.We often choose where we go to eat not because the deliciousness of its food makes us see the face of the deity, but because the restaurant is close, convenient, priced right or suitable for our purposes.
Table 1280 has long been a prominent and gourmet-minded restaurant, but it has only lately become a useful one.
If you recall, the space opened with a bang in 2005 as part of the High Museum expansion designed by architect Renzo Piano. With celebrity chef Shaun Doty at the helm, it featured a high-end bistro menu in its two austere, hard-edged dining rooms as well as a more casual selection of small plates in the lounge that juts into the central courtyard. (Or, in Piano’s parlance, the “piazza,” a crossroads for foot traffic that was lacking in Midtown’s urban structure.)
Atlanta didn’t really want another pricey bistro even if the fashion-forward space seemed to demand it. Woodruff management ignored the message for the first five years, and subsequent chefs continued preparing foofy, expensive fare for a dwindling customer base. Finally, management wised up. In 2010, they brought in Tony Conway of the catering firm A Legendary Event to revamp the menu.
Revamp he did, trading in the various gourmet oddities and three-course tasting menus for straightaway sandwiches, burgers, steaks and chicken. The shift seems to have struck a chord. At lunch the other day, the main dining room was packed with groups of business folk and assorted aesthetes in ferociously hip eyewear. The restaurant was serving as a draw, bringing Midtown into the courtyard as Piano intended.
And the food? Well, it certainly was a value, with sandwiches starting at $6.50 and sides at $2. It wasn’t quite what I’d consider good.
Let’s get through this quickly. That sandwich of desiccated house-roasted turkey, chopped lettuce and sliced roma tomato pictured on top came together without any of the pride or handicraft that a good deli guy would summon for Boar’s Head. On the side, this sad little pile of droopy arugula.
Guess you need something as a placeholder on the stylish rectangular plate.
The daily specials included a tuna burger — the weirdest tuna burger I’ve ever had, with a hot-dog-smooth texture and springy bounce. The fries were good.
Below is the odd caprese salad I chose for a side. Again with the roma tomatoes? On the plus side, it’s only $2!
Which brings us to this barbecued pork flatbread. The thin, floppy base is (I believe) commercial lavash stuccoed with a minced meat/sauce paste. Really?
In all fairness, the salads at the next table looked a lot better than anything at ours. Were I to review this restaurant, I’d surely go three times and try to find the kitchen’s relative strengths as I pointed out its evident limitations.
For now, for this, I’m happy to report that the price is right, the room has great energy, and this restaurant seems to have finally connected to Midtown. Find something here you don’t hate. Appreciate the endorphin release you will get from the ample natural light in this space. This is a supremely useful restaurant.
30 restaurants over and out.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog