saltyard – atlanta, ga

ah, so good to be back for the first official new restaurant wednesday experience of 2015!  some friends tried out naanstop a couple weeks ago (much to my dismay since i was out of town), so tonight we bring you the review of saltyard, a small-plate dining experience that is casual and ambient, luring yet not pretentious.  with its globally-inspired menu and perfectly-paired beverage selection, it sounded like a flavor odyssey that we couldn’t miss.

i arrived at saltyard with my friend gregory in tow, finding that nathan, alison, vinh, and stephen were patiently awaiting our arrival at the table.  i think the reservation was a tad unnecessary, as the place didn’t seem busy at all.  some kind of sign?  i mean, it was a wednesday night, and this place did come highly recommended by my friend drew, so i put those uneasy worries away and helped myself to a chair.

to describe saltyard’s feel might be a challenge.  i didn’t take as much time taking it in (i had some catching up to do with my amigos), but to me it was unexpected in a good way.  the ceilings are nice and high.  the wooden/metal bar tables and stools look very industrial and work well with the very warm tones throughout the space.  even though it’s pretty wide open, you don’t feel exposed to all the other diners.  it still feels like it’s just you and your crew, which i appreciate for a more intimate and close-knit night.

after filling our water glasses, our waitress tramaine gave us the run-down on what to expect for the evening.  although there are personal entree options, saltyard focuses on small plates that are easily shared among friends.  the dishes come out as they’re ready, which might not be terribly orderly, but you’re getting your food right at its best timing.

with that, she took our drink orders first.  most stuck with water, but stephen and gregory both had the sweetwater georgia brown.  i myself tried the nobilissima pinot grigio.  i mean, with a name like that it practically jumped out at me!  after taking a few sips, though, i sadly realized it was nothing special, but who wastes wine?  not me, so by the end of the night i finished that glass like a champ.

things of varying heights.

things of varying heights.

after several “we’ll be ready in a moment” moments, we finally were ready to get to some eatin’.  i’m going to try my damnedest to remember what came out and when, but forgive me if i mix up anything.

first came out the smoked salmon hushpuppies with scallion crema and chili honey, possibly one of the best selections all night.  i took one bite and had only one word:  outstanding.  seriously, i could have eaten about 20 of them.  i would have easily ordered a plate for myself, but with so many other things on the way, i didn’t want to get too full too quickly.  these hushpuppies are a great choice and i would easily recommend them to your group.  i mean it.  you better order some when you come or else i’ll be upset.

it was stephen’s first nrw experience with us, and with so many different options, he was like a kid in a candy store.  after also indulging in a plate of the hushpuppies, he tried the stuffed piquillo peppers with chevre and honey.  they were “alright and average,” as sweet peppers with cream cheese and sweet sauce didn’t seem very original to him.

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stuffed piquillo peppers with chevre and honey.

next to stephen, vinh started out with the shrooms on toast with sausage, brandy, and thyme.  i think the only opinion i got from him on it was that it was different and interesting, but if i recall correctly, the bowl was licked nearly clean when he was finished.  must be a good sign, yes?

shrooms on toast with sausage, brandy, & thyme.

shrooms on toast with sausage, brandy, & thyme.

alison made a great choice in first ordering the sweet potato gnocchi with bacon, greens, and parm broth.  i had considered having it myself, but i didn’t want to rush through the pillowy gnocchi.  gnocchi is something i like to take my time with, but that’s just me.  anyway!  alison thought it was a fantastic combination of salty and sweet.  the broth was great and everything together was “delicious,” exclamation point!

sweet potato gnocchi with bacon, greens, & parm broth.

sweet potato gnocchi with bacon, greens, & parm broth.

down at my end of the table, gregory and i shared the roasted butternut squash with brown butter, fried sage, and pecans and the roasted brussel sprouts with lemon, anchovy, and caper.  these little dishes looked hearty and tasted exactly as you would have wanted them to.  the brussel sprouts were on point and nicely prepared.  they weren’t too tough and had just enough butter to make them savory.  the brussel sprouts were well-liked by the table, as was the butternut squash.  personally, i liked the squash slightly more than the brussel sprouts.  the garnishments were the perfect idea with this rich vegetable.  you could easily make a meal out of either along with another little something.  great choices that will not steer you wrong.

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to my right, nathan had the smoked pork empanadas with pickle and apple bbq.  i didn’t even see those bad boys on the menu!  the dough was wonderful and light but not too light so as to allow the pork to fall out.  the bbq sauce was a little sweet but quite good, making for a dish that was, overall, “quite delicious.”

smoked pork empanadas with pickle & apple bbq.

smoked pork empanadas with pickle & apple bbq.

i love eggs almost any time, anywhere, so when i saw the deviled farm eggs with bacon and sriracha, i knew they’d be something to try.  i kind of squealed when they came out because don’t they just look adorable in this little cast-iron skillet?  a delicate hard-boiled egg in this strong, sturdy vessel?  yes, i’m getting poetic on you.  just sit back and enjoy it!  speaking of enjoy, did i enjoy these little fellas?  yes and no.  i enjoyed them for the mere fact that they’re deviled eggs, but the sriracha and bacon are the only things that saved them from being incredibly mediocre and average and boring.  there wasn’t anything special about the deviled egg stuffing itself, and i still think the pickle was a bit unnecessary.

deviled farm eggs with bacon & sriracha.

deviled farm eggs with bacon & sriracha.

we were curious about a couple other things on the menu, one of them being the fried brussel leaves with bacon (while they last).  tremaine strongly recommended them the second we mentioned it, so a bowl of the stuff came out soon thereafter.  first, it is a very interesting dish to see.  it looks very voluminous and rather earthy, but we all bravely dug in to give it a try.  most everyone liked it, and with that i had some myself.  as i took a bite of one leaf and then another, it dawned on me that each one tasted different, somehow some way.  it threw me off and kept me puzzled, even after the fifth or sixth leaf.  the flavors are stronger on some bites than others, and unlike alison and stephen, i did not prefer my bites with the caramelized onion.  i liked the flavor the onion provided, but the slimy onion with the crunchy and crisp leaf was a strange pairing.  all in all, definitely a dish to try if they have it available.  maybe not very filling, but certainly worth getting for the tastes.

fried brussel leaves with bacon.

fried brussel leaves with bacon.

about halfway through the meal, the manager melinda came over to check in on how we were doing.  we were clearly a little more uproarious than the rest of the patrons, but i could tell our fun was infectious.  everyone needs to lighten up in the middle of the week, and we were accomplishing just that at saltyard.

dishes continued to arrive, and we continued to be awed by what was placed in front of us.  i’ll take this moment to say that the general consensus among the group was that the food got better as the night went on.  i think it’s a fairly accurate statement for a few of us, especially considering we hadn’t even gotten to dessert!

stephen’s main course that night was the clam special.  tramaine’s description of the dish was convincing enough that he just had to try it.  there were a ton of tiny clams deliciously swimming in a wine butter sauce with bacon, onions, and peppers.  he graciously let me have a bite, sending me into food heaven for just a few moments.  great recommendation.

for something a bit more hearty, vinh ordered the pan roasted scallops with lentil puree and apple fennel salad.  vinh described it as “definitely different,” but he said it with an optimistic tone in his voice.  considering i love scallops, i almost ordered them for myself, and i regret not getting a bite from vinh’s plate.  those plump scallops looked perfectly seared, and with the apple and lentil puree, i am certain it would have been a unique bite.

pan roasted scallops with lentil puree & apple fennel salad.

pan roasted scallops with lentil puree & apple fennel salad.

in trying to decide on a more “meal” plate, gregory and nathan both ordered the award-winning signature sliders with pimento cheese and green tomato-bacon relish.  tremaine had talked them up a lot when they were asking questions, so the expectation was set high.  i admit that these sliders looked incredible when they were brought out to the table.  although the bread to meat ratio seemed skewed (sliders always seem to have way more bread than necessary, if you ask me), that oozy cheese and buttery bun were pretty irresistible to the eye and stomach.  after working through the first slider, both boys agreed that this dish was their favorite of the night, at least up to that point.  the flavors are there and, since it’s a more substantial dish, you feel like you’re getting good value in each bite.  the meat of the patty itself is unreal, i mean it.  a tiny morsel of meat fell off the plate, and when i gave it a try, oh man, i could not get over it.  well-cooked and clearly of high grade, these sliders are a miniature work of art.  now, with all of that being said, i wasn’t as wowed by the slider as a whole.  the relish and pimento cheese were almost too sweet together, and even though i gladly finished half a slider, i wouldn’t order it as my main.  now, if you were to ask vinh, gregory, nathan, or alison, they’d say different.  they’d order these bad boys again in a heartbeat!

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after much back and forth, gregory also could not keep himself from trying the pimento cheese, rarebit style (which means that the dish was warmed right near the broiler, the things you learn!).  we weren’t sure how the cheese was going to be served, and then it came out, and then we were all convinced we’d died and gone to cheese heaven.  i LOVE pimento cheese, almost to an unnatural extent, and this plate was everything you could hope for pimento cheese to be.  it was ridiculously rich, smothered atop that piece of toast like you don’t need your arteries.  the fact that it was served warm was the best decision they could have made.  it was such a cheese massacre that gregory just had to share it with me.  ah, sometimes life is such a pain, having to eat cheese so that it doesn’t go to waste…

pimento cheese, rarebit style.

pimento cheese, rarebit style.

the evening was getting carb-ier and cheesier, and we finished off our dinner portion of the meal with the ny cheddar biscuits with garlic and parsley.  tramaine said they were a popular choice with customers, and alison and i had been eyeing them all night.  these arrived looking all cute, again, in their little skillet.  i took the first one and probably could have ended the night right there.  they were slightly undercooked, not quite doughy if that’s what you’re thinking, and just cheesy enough.  no joke, i could have eaten nothing but bread and cheese all night.  think about it:  the pimento cheese, ny cheddar biscuits, and the sliders?  yep, that’s how you become obese, folks.  thank goodness i don’t eat this way all the time.

ny cheddar biscuits with garlic & parsley.

ny cheddar biscuits with garlic & parsley.

at last, we were all easily swayed into having dessert, a sweet way to end the night.  now, when i say sweet, i exaggerate not one bit.  the desserts were rich and decadent and no joke at all.  i’d say you could easily split one between two or even three guests, and that suggestion is coming to you from a girl who almost always has a sweet tooth.

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we’ll start at the other end of the table with stephen.  his eyes found the pumpkin spiced tiramisu, and he was done.  he loves tiramisu, but this take on it wasn’t what he had hoped it would be.  yes, it was pumpkin-y, but perhaps too pumpkin-y.  it was nice and fragrant and beautifully prepared, but it was very light, and the tiramisu itself wasn’t as much of a standout as he’d wanted.  alison, also a tiramisu fan, seemed to like it a bit more than stephen, but neither seemed overwhelmed.

pumpkin spiced tiramisu.

pumpkin spiced tiramisu.

vinh and gregory quickly decided the s’more bread pudding with maple and banana ice cream was what they wanted to try.  when the waitress brought it out, i was instantly jealous and regretted not ordering it myself.  i regretted it even more after tasting some of it, for it was incredible.  for several of us, it was the winning dessert of the night without question.  it is dense and sweet and rich and definitely something to share.  i had to help gregory finish his, oh, what a problem to have!  the banana ice cream is a pleasant surprise, and the roasted marshmallow just makes you feel all young again.  a very nice touch that melded perfectly with the rest of the dish’s components.  i seriously wouldn’t put it past me to just come here one night for some wine and dessert.  it’s that good.  if you have room in your belly for dessert and you do not order the bread pudding, i shake my head at you.

alison had seriously considered the bread pudding as well, but after much debate, she ended up having the apple + almond tart with toasted almonds and caramel ice cream.  she declared it as “quite tasty!”, a great way to finish the meal because it’s a little bit lighter.  out of all the desserts she sampled, this one was easily her favorite.  she put together a spoonful for me, gracious to share when she loved it so much.  at first i liked all the tangy and zesty flavors, but then i got to the tart itself and my opinion changed completely.  its texture was a little harder than i thought it would be and the flavor of the tart itself was strange and didn’t seem to go with everything else in the dish.  it’s always such an interesting thing how we all have different palettes for certain tastes and flavors.  although kind to let me have a bite, it was clear i’d be leaving the rest of it to alison.

apple + almond tart with toasted almonds & caramel ice cream.

apple + almond tart with toasted almonds & caramel ice cream.

last but not least, we come to the final dish of our table, the chocolate nemesis.  i have a weak spot for chocolate nearly any time of the day, and that night was no different.  the presentation was excellent, heavy with the cake itself yet dainty with those pomegranate seeds, clementine slices, and peel zest.  i took my first bite and knew that i’d already taken one bite too many.  like i said, i love chocolate, but good gracious, this torte might be one of the sweetest things i can remember ever eating.  its texture is almost like that of a chocolate cheesecake, and it definitely has the density and flavor of a torte.  i was practically begging everyone to take a bite because i knew i wouldn’t be able to finish it.  this dessert was my nemesis that night, pushing me over the edge where i had already been teetering.  assuming you don’t eat too much for your appetizers and dinner, you could possibly share the chocolate nemesis with at least one other person, if not a whole tableful.  it’s dense and delicious and just the right amount of bittersweet cocoa, but beware!  it will take no prisoners.

chocolate nemesis.

chocolate nemesis.

so, after trying nearly 20 different dishes, what do you think we’d say about saltyard?  i’d say this place has so much good going for it that it better stay in business.  i’d say that you need to find yourself here as soon as possible because there’s such a variety that you’ll be sure to find something you love.  i’d say that if you need a friend to try it out with you, feel free to dial me up.  i’d say that saltyard is one of my favorite places we’ve been to for nrw, and we’ve been a lot of places.

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