Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones
The thing about Mimi Maumus as a chef and a business owner is that she’s going to be really annoyed with the fact that I don’t like her cornbread. Put aside the fact that nearly everything at her restaurant and catering operation, home.made (1072 Baxter St., 706-206-9216), which recently expanded to offer dinner as well as Saturday lunch, is perfect or close to it. She cares about the details, which is both why she’ll be annoyed and what makes her good at what she does.
Most catering businesses can’t make the leap to a full-service sit-down operation. It’s a different kind of thing. But Maumus worked at Five & Ten for a long time, so she has a well-honed grasp of fine dining and how to blend its characteristics with a quieter, homier operation. There are probably three times as many seats as there were previously, so the fact that the new servers seem as if they’ve been working their jobs forever (in a good way, not a bad one) is incredibly impressive. They are friendly and unobtrusive in the best combination, capable of pulling a check from the table with graceful stealth but always there when you want them. It’s all the more laudable when you consider the fact that the place is packed; more than likely, you’ll have to park across the street, even if you arrive early.
The lunch menu is familiar but no less well-executed than ever, with Maumus’ famed pickled deviled eggs, pepper-jelly-seasoned candied pecans, Swanee Bites (cheese straws sandwiching pimento cheese and rolled in pecans), housemade pickles and dates stuffed with pimento cheese for little bites to whet your appetite at the top of the list. A sandwich like the Gringo (cumin and chile-rubbed Ashley Farms chicken with pimento mayo, pickled jalapeños, fermented salsa, lettuce, avocado and queso dip) sounds like a punch in the mouth but is much more refined than that (more like a slap with a fancy glove). You should, however, leave the fat wooden toothpick that holds it together in place as long as you can.
A hot vegetable plate (two choices for $7 or three for $10) comes with each dish in its own ramekin, grouped on a plate that will test your wrist strength. Classics are admirable for how classic they remain. There’s nothing weird about the squash casserole, but there’s also nothing pre-packaged or shortcut about it. It’s just straightforward cooking that appreciates its ingredients. The mac and cheese may use penne, but it, too, is simple and confident, topped with a heavy dusting of excellent breadcrumbs. The cornbread (sorry!) is too fine and a little too sweet, which is not to say it is full of sugar and more just that it is sweet at all. The tomato pie is a big old burst of flavor.
But most of that was already true. Dinner is the real step forward. I had just about given up on ever having a decent risotto in a restaurant—the dish is almost impossible to make ahead of time and in large enough quantities without suffering mightily in comparison with the labor-intensive version from one’s own kitchen—but damn if the leek version made with rice middlins that comes underneath home.made’s griddled North Carolina trout didn’t prove me wrong. The whole dish is essentially an excuse to eat a whole lot of very good butter, with the trout’s skin crisp and hot with fat, the rice having absorbed a bunch more and a subtle pecan brown butter infusing it all. A tiny garnish of radishes and pickled magnolia pods adds a pop of acidity.
The grilled pork chop with barbecue boiled peanuts, kimchi greens, ham hock jus and grilled peaches is like a narrative about the history of Georgia, from pig production to modern tourism to the influence of Korean culture in the modern era. Funky, earthy and sweet, it’s a gutsy and interesting dish. The New Orleans hot chicken (a beignet topped with spicy fried chicken, hot sauce and shaved pickled okra) is perhaps slightly better conceptually than in execution (the beignet is a little dense; the chicken could be hotter), but the ham hock terrine that comes with pistachio Green Goddess dressing and pea shoots is a porky, clean marvel.
Portions are not enormous, which means dessert is very much a possibility, and one that will not leave you feeling overindulgent. If the peach icebox pie with ginger cream, dulce de leche and bronze fennel is on the menu, you dang well better order it. Not only does it sound like the best dessert on the menu, there’s no way it isn’t, with firm, thin slices of peaches overlapped on top of a sleek custard filling that isn’t overly sweet and a crust yielding but not soggy.
All of these options may change—Maumus follows the seasons and tweaks her menu frequently, not content to repeat herself—but the underlying quality seems unlikely to. Home.made is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday–Saturday, with a nice beer and wine list. It still does catering, too.