Southern Misgiving

A trip to new Nancy G's, plus an encounter with Paula Deen

As atonement for years of bitchy reviewing, I expect to come back in my next life as a bad cook. I will open a restaurant and critics will crush me like a cockroach. I will write each of them an e-mail longer than my pants leg, calling them pretentious snobs who have no respect for the entrepreneurial risks I have taken in opening my bistro, which, by the way, I will have named "Sludge," in the single-word style so popular these days. "Sludge, the place for casseroles and conversation," my menu will say.

Sigh. I really hate when I go to a restaurant where the owner and staff are all smiley and solicitous ... but plunk platters of prison food on my table. "How is everything?" they ask every five minutes (because, unsurprisingly, the restaurant is mainly empty). "Just great!" I reply, feeling tempted to scrape the contents of my plate into a napkin and bolt to the restroom with it because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.

Such was my emotional turmoil at Nancy G's Cafe and Neighborhood Bistro (4920 Roswell Road, Fountain Oaks Shopping Center, 404-705-8444). This cheerful tan and green restaurant has replaced the red-draped and moody Mazza, whose demise is a mystery, but I prefer to blame an excess of belly dancing. I'd really like to say nice things about Nancy Goodrich's new eatery. She has worked 25 years in the restaurant business and she's taken the unusual step of making her cafe friendly to children. The servers are attentive and well informed. The bartender cracked us up by shouting insults at Kenny Rogers and Jimmy Buffet, whose music was perhaps the first sign of a serious lapse of taste here.

So, lay lady lay, what's to eat in Margaritaville? Morbid curiosity compelled me to order the starter of "housemade pimento cheese," described as the "pate of the South." Actually, I love pimento cheese but, honestly, I could tell no difference in this and the ordinary stuff I used to spoon out of Mrs. Kinser's plastic tubs. Here it's served with toast points, which were too narrow to make eating easy. Wayne's house-cured salmon, three lumps of rough, translucently pink flesh with a weird gold tint, tasted better. It came with a big glob of cream cheese and some capers.

Entrees produced one hit and one miss. The hit was Wayne's big fat molasses-brined pork chop, grilled with a balsamic glaze and served with a juicy grilled peach - a pleasantly sour counterpoint to the sweet pork. Unfortunately, the plate's broccoli rabe had been cooked until it was nearly yellow. The miss was tuna steak seared in a pumpkin seed crust. Two pieces of the fish were thrown onto a bed of field greens that had been drenched until soggy in a super-oily lemon vinaigrette. The advertised blood oranges turned out to be two or three sections rendered nearly indistinguishable from the greens by the salad dressing.

Dessert? Anything we chose would be wonderful, our server told us, but the banana pudding was "to die for." Yes, it really was. In many years of eating this ubiquitous kiddy food, I have never encountered a version as murderous to the palate. The excess of salt was shocking enough, but the pudding had the texture of ... I don't know. I think you might be able to rebuild facial features of accident victims with the stuff. Soggy cookies didn't help.

Come on! Nancy G, get a menu consultant or hire a competent chef. Your heart is in the right place, but your kitchen needs help.

Nothing fake

As I staggered from the gym to Publix last Monday, I was stunned to see two huge lines forming at the front and rear doors of Chapter One. It was the largest crowd I've ever seen for a book signing. Who could it be? Had Britney Spears already released a guide to child rearing? Had the mother of Michael Jackson's 13-year-old obsession published an illustrated catalog of jewelry she received in return for the phallic sacrifice of her beloved child?

As I passed the front of the store, I marveled to see women pressing their faces against the window, screaming, "There she is! There she is! There's Paula!"

Yes, it was cookbook author Paula Deen. I batted a few crones out of the way for a closer look myself. The Savannah chef, TV personality and former agoraphobic was herself in the deep throes of Southern-belle hysteria, waving and turning her silver hair from side to side like a beauty queen riding on the back of a convertible.

"Now," the woman next to me shouted, "that is a real person! There is nothing fake about Paula! She is real! Yoo-hoo! Paula!"

I couldn't resist. "Real compared to whom?" I asked the woman.

"Don't be rude," she snapped.

Whatever! God, it's hard to be a critic this week.

The Greening of Ponce

That evening we went for dinner at unreal Doc Green's (782 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-446-1750). I say it's unreal because the restaurant's own marketing acknowledges as much. The menu features "gourmet salads" but, in case that sounds too green, it also suggests that your meal can be as "healthy as you wanna be." In other words, you can put steak (or chicken or turkey) on your gourmet salad.

Yes, it's a big salad bar, though you don't get to work the tongs yourself. Wayne selected the signature "Dr. Rosen Rosen" salad - Romaine tossed with "bleu cheese crumbles," chopped bacon, sliced egg, tomato, cucumbers and ranch dressing. To this he added the dry, overcooked steak slices. Tres gourmet.

The franchise operation also serves sandwiches and some entrees. I decided to have the grilled chicken breast. I fear Doc Green has been pilfering the innards of sandwiches at Chick-Fil-A. You get two flattened-out breasts with grill marks and a weird kind of marinated taste. For "delicious sides," I chose canned corn with bacon and some mashed potatoes barely seasoned with garlic.

I don't get it.

Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or e-mail him at cliff.bostock@creativeloafing.com.??

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