Muss & Turner's in Smyrna raises the bar for take-home treats

The belly rules the mind, says the menu at Muss & Turner's (1675 Cumberland Parkway, Smyrna, 770-434-1114), quoting a Spanish proverb. Ignoring that the same thing is said about the penis, you'll certainly be able to expand your mind at this new gourmet market and sandwich shop.

This is the project of Todd Mussman and Ryan Turner. Mussman, most recently executive chef at Sala, earlier worked at South City Kitchen and the Food Studio, all owned by the Fifth Group Restaurants. Turner is the business partner, working last as food and beverage manager at East Lake Golf Club. Chef de cuisine is Dave Sturgis, also a Food Studio alumnus.

Muss & Turner's closest intown competitor is Star Provisions. The difference here is the big sandwich menu and the unique availability of fresh take-home meals. And these items blow Eatzi's and Alon's out of the water (although, notably, Muss & Turner's is not selling any bread but baguettes). Belly, which showed promise when it opened, doesn't come close, having taken on the ambiance of a gift shop.

Muss & Turner's is a gorgeous, sensuous space, with lots of blond wood and glittering glass cases with brilliantly colored food. The cases sit before an open kitchen designed to accommodate cooking classes. There's a large communal table that reiterates the overall feeling of - what to call it? - culinary bonding. Foodies are already streaming to the place, from all over the city. And it isn't that convenient to town.

You'd need a small pickup truck filled with money to sample everything here. I bought a bunch of stuff but still haven't grazed the menu in depth. Of course, I had to try the Heritage Farm ground lamb burger that has produced raves from other critics. Lamb burgers have started to show up in restaurants around town, which is a happy development for me, since this has been one of my favorite comfort foods since childhood but one I've only been able to indulge at home. Mussman's is the best I've encountered out-of-home, served on a Kaiser roll with roasted peppers and a feta-mint spread. But I have a complaint. Cut the garlic back (if not eliminate it). It overpowers the natural taste of the lamb.

Mussman is vacuum-packing full meals that you heat by dunking in boiling water. The process keeps the food fresh, preserving flavors without changing structure the way freezing does. (I've filled suitcases with similarly packed cheese in Paris.) Half a grilled chicken with broccoli, cauliflower, baby carrots and browned potatoes will cost you almost $14, but we are talking a chicken that has been pampered like a princess and well fed before it was executed. Honestly, it was the finest chicken I've sampled in memory.

Salads are almost startling in their flavor. Roasted beets are lightly mixed with red onions; you're given gooey goat cheese to mix with them before serving. It lathers the beets and forms clumps amid them, imparting a pungent note to temper the beets' sweetness. A shrimp salad is sauced with mayo, dotted with capers and lightly seasoned with dill - another dish that almost clones one of my childhood favorites. A corn salad includes hominy with the usual peppers and red onions. But you're given a powdery cheese - I don't know what it is - to combine with it. I elected to heat the salad just enough to melt the cheese a bit. It was probably my favorite.

What else? A frittata containing sausage and potatoes heats well in a microwave. Fat Tuscan sausages sauteed in a pan and eaten for breakfast woke me up by surprising me with their ribbons of melted cheese.

There is also a brilliant collection of cheeses. No, it's not as thorough as Star Provisions' but you'll find some surprises, including Spanish cheeses. Ditto for the collection of cured meats, including an excellent Serrano ham.

Now. When I told a friend that I was going to visit a new deli in the 'burbs, he said, "Don't say 'deli.' There are no real delis in Atlanta." I have heard this so many times from Jewish friends and readers that I had to pass the complaint on to Mussman.

He instantly lit up, telling me that he'd grown up in a Jewish deli in Brooklyn. Of course, the ambiance here is certainly not that of a New York deli, but Mussman said he is buying his pastrami and corned beef from "the best" and that customers have nearly broken down in tears on tasting his Reuben. OK, I'm slightly exaggerating, but he promises that any true Jewish deli lover will be happy with his meats. Let me hear your feedback.

Here and there

Richard Blais, Atlanta's master of molecular cuisine, has been named executive chef of One Midtown Kitchen. We're confused. Blais has been working as sous chef at Two Urban Licks and the rumor was that he was to become chef of Trois, the planned third restaurant to be opened by Bob Amick and Todd Rushing. Whatever. We wish him well. ...

I have returned three times to Com, the new Vietnamese restaurant I reviewed here some weeks back, and continue to find mainly flawless food. The standout has been an amazing appetizer of grilled rabbit with herbs and peanuts. If the rabbit's not available, you have to try the mussels. The only dish that has not rocked me is a rice dish that reminded me of a deconstructed Korean bibimbap, with a fried egg, some grilled meat, etc. The bun dishes - simple rice vermicelli with herbs and the meat of your choice - are better. ...

Speaking of Vietnamese restaurants, this is old news but hasn't been reported here before: Suzanne Bojtchewsky, owner of my longtime favorite, Bien Thuy, has moved home to Vietnam. ...

I continue to get e-mail about my rant about Popeye's on Ponce. I've even received phone calls from Mrs. Winner's and Church's asking me to make a switch. Meanwhile, things have improved. At my last visit, instead of shortchanging me as usual, they actually doubled some of my order. Woo hoo. Extra breast!

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

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