Neighborhood restaurants are the modern-day Mead Hall, a tradition in ancient Scandinavia that once united Vikings and their king under one roof with food and alcohol. While there is less need these days for community collaboration on how best to pillage a nearby neighborhood, the ability to order “the usual,” seat yourself and talk to the people behind you continues to be a valued privilege.
When owners Bob Amick and Todd Rushing joined Concentrics Restaurants Group to open Parish Restaurant in Inman Park’s Old Fourth Ward, this was undoubtedly their aspiration. Couches by the front door replace the traditional hostess stand and are the first of many attempts to encourage customers to relax, sit down and have a chat. The vibe is come-as-you-please, and the hodgepodge New Orleans-inspired decor is disarming and friendly. Its cracked warehouse floor and rundown redbrick walls accentuate the historical building’s age and in the center of the restaurant is a long bar lit up with ruby-red lamps. Down a flight of stairs are Parish’s open kitchen, a small marketplace and a group of tables overlooked by a coffee bar where people study or lounge outside on the patio.
But for all the effort put into encouraging good times, the food is not so refined. Out of fairness to Parish, a party of 16 wrecks havoc on a kitchen’s timing and on a server’s sanity, but such scenarios come with owning a restaurant. That night the pace was sluggish: 10 minutes before drinks were delivered, 30 minutes before our orders were taken, one hour before bread and appetizers hit the table. Considering that the appetizers ordered were either soup, which I assume was already made before we walked through the front door, or a salad, a one-hour wait time would have been acceptable only if the kitchen were taking the farm-to-table concept literally. I doubt this.
When the food was served, Parish was often too much into the extremes, lacking the balance and comfort for which Southern food is known. The tomato-basil soup, while warming and plentiful, was uncomfortably salty. The pan-seared Georgia trout was overcooked, and while Chef Schafer is all for letting fresh fish speak for itself, this underseasoned fish ultimately had nothing to say. Although the accompanying spoon bread was soft and buttery in the middle, the aftertaste was sadly and mysteriously bitter. The worst side dish, though, would have to be the collard greens — greens so sour not even the Grinch would steal them. For dessert, an apple pie was smothered in cinnamon, and a fried blueberry pie was overwhelmingly tart, even with cornbread ice cream, an awkward idea the world could do without.
Parish, though, has potential. The house-made sourdough, when it was finally served, was crunchy and flaky. A salad of local greens, roasted carrots and red onions was nearly spot-on; the greens were robust and crisp, and the buttermilk vinaigrette balanced acidity and sourness. The batter on Parish’s giant piece of fried chicken had perfect crunch without being too greasy, and the side of grits was wonderfully buttery and creamy. For those looking for a hunk of meat, the hanger steak with fries sufficed, albeit lacking a more serious sauce than onion gravy for an added kick. And for dessert, there was the dense, dense chocolate tart with a superb mint chocolate ice cream that had all the freshness of the herb backed by cubes of chocolate chunks.
By the end of the three-hour, three-course ordeal, several facets of Parish were evident. Tables around us clearly were having a good time, Amick and Rushing seemed to enjoy working the floor, and the menu had sparks of imagination, which suggests the kitchen isn’t afraid to be more creative than southern cuisine lends itself. Thus the qualities of a great Southern restaurant do exist in Parish but are out of sync with one another. Timing and execution need work, and if, by chance, Parish thinks its pace fosters a carefree vibe, they should know that there are limits to levels of informality because, believe it or not, some neighbors just want their food.
Parish Foods & Goods
Inman Park 240 N Highland Ave NE
Atlanta, GA 30307