Photo Credit: Randy Schafer
PITH: If I have one piece of advice to folks whose dream is to open a restaurant, it’s “don’t.” Just because you love food and cooking and have great ideas does not mean you won’t be crushed by reality. The industry is an incredibly difficult one, even if you do everything right.
That said, if people listened to me, we’d never get sweet little gems like Preserve (1660 W. Broad St., 706-608-4026), which is doing a bang-up job in the itty-bitty building at Broad and Hancock most recently home to Broad Street Coffee.
Lenny Miller and Ella Sternberg, better known for their musical careers, have maintained and even upped the cute factor of the restaurant, which seats about 10 people but does take-out and plans on adding delivery.
Even more important, they can flat-out cook. Not everything is perfect, but some things are. The menu, like the space, is small but manages to encompass a lot; daily specials are posted on the big chalkboard. The name conveys the focus on cured meats, jams, pickles and the like, which add zing to many a dish. For example, the grilled-cheese sandwich includes house-made pickles, beer mustard and a wonderful, vinegary purple coleslaw. The shells and cheese, available as a side, could be more exciting, but mix it with the same slaw and it turns into something great.
The stuffed French toast, filled with a mix of cream cheese and blackberries and topped with a whiskey-honey reduction, is intensely sweet and a bit sour. The egg and cheese sandwich doesn’t quite come together, although the egg is well cooked and the ingredients smart; it’s possible the proportions are off. The beet salad, made with frisee, mint and queso fresco, is a touch too sweet but, again, its components are well chosen. The chicken-salad club sandwich incorporates bits of nice bacon, which, really, is a game changer. Why can’t all chicken salad have bacon in it?
Make it to dinner, which starts at 4 p.m., and you’re in for even better stuff. The Georgia rainbow trout over three-colored pearl couscous dressed with bacon, cream and greens, has sophisticated hints of citrus. The lamb burger, which comes topped with a mint-yogurt sauce, is perfectly cooked, the patty flattened on the grill to promote the Maillard reaction, and paired with a nice little pickled cucumber salad. The bolognese, although it sounds like just another pasta dish, is the best in town. Don’t just bolt it down; think about the ingredients as you chew and different flavors slowly present themselves.
Its only competitor on the same level as a dish is the Nanaimo pie, a shmancy version of the classic Canadian no-bake bar cookie, made with a crumbly graham-cracker crust, a layer of custard and a marvelous chocolate ganache on the top, and presented with a side of real whipped cream. Dessert is almost always a waste of time, calories and money; this one is not.
Preserve is open 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It serves good coffee but no booze (BYOB), posts specials on Instagram and takes credit cards with Square.
VINEGAR: Considering its more polished and professional background, The Pine (1235 S. Milledge Ave., 706-208-0059) is not quite as successful as Preserve, although its price point and focus are similar. Brought to you by the same folks as Aromas, which it replaced, it features Jackie Burton in the kitchen and a fancy wood oven used to create or finish many a dish.
Burton clearly has a taste for hot and spicy stuff, and if you do, too, and you direct your attentions to those offerings, you will be happy. For example, the fire-roasted pimento cheese will kick your taste buds in the pants. The pommes Imbruglia—a baked potato that’s been torn (joke!) apart and seared—comes with an addictive sriracha mayo. The cauliflower “hot wings” (sliced cauliflower dressed with a hot house-made sauce) are a fun snack but could use more vinegar or perhaps the time-old pairing of blue cheese and celery.
Burton has a fine ability with sauces, such as the chimichurri that comes with the lamb meatballs, or the mint-jalapeno pesto zigzagged across the flatbread with lamb and mango, and the condiments can make up for some weaknesses in the dishes. The flatbreads can be under-baked or—in the case of the Napoleon, which is topped with pickled peaches, pork belly and charred onion jam—unbalanced.
The spices used with the peaches, in combination with the sweetness of the jam, makes the result smell like potpourri, although the flavors mingle decently. The Athens cheesesteak, with roasted onion and poblano peppers, is just that, a surprisingly classic cheesesteak, wiz and all, and although it’s well executed, it’s symptomatic of the restaurant’s weaknesses: namely, a need to see a stronger presence from the chef in the dishes and a focus on better-quality ingredients.
The Pine is open 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, does brunch and lunch specials, has a full bar and takes credit cards.