Smoke-free at the Glenwood

The advent of the gastropub has brought us good food and lots to drink under one roof for usually good prices. But it's also created a health hazard. I'm talking about second-hand smoke.

Because most of these places qualify as bars, smoking is permitted under the law. Indeed, there's even the case of the Vortex, which converted its official designation from restaurant to bar to let people respire carcinogens. Every gust of laughter in such places turns into a fit of coughing.

Of course, this isn't much of an issue where the food is really secondary to boozing. But there are places, like the Glenwood (1263 Glenwood Ave., 404-622-6066), where the food is good enough to attract serious diners who would rather not have to shower and wash their clothes as soon as they get home.

The Glenwood recently opened a smoke-free dining room that also includes a new wine bar. This is not a grudging accommodation. The new area is separated by sliding glass doors and has its own ventilation system. You won't catch a whiff of smoke once you're inside. Of course, you may end up like us – sitting completely alone in the dining room while the smoky side revels. Only one other table of diners was seated during our meal.

The space is beautiful, with a rough-hewn stone wall, a glistening hardwood floor, terra-cotta colors, pleasantly soft lighting and the wine bar that offers more than 30 varieties by the glass. The restaurant has also added charcuterie and cheeses to its menu to complement the wines. We ordered a combination plate of three cheeses and three meats for a bargain price of $15.50.

The cheese and charcuterie menu apparently changes regularly. We ordered bresaola, prosciutto and soppressata. Our three cheeses included one domestic – a Chocolate Stout cheddar from Oregon's Rogue Creamery. No, it doesn't taste like chocolate; that's the name of the ale with which it's made. We also ordered a classic French Morbier and – our favorite – Roaring 40s, an Australian blue cheese. The plate also included Greek olives stuffed inside Peppadews, a few anchovies and Medjool dates. I have one complaint, and not an altogether insignificant one: The ingredients were all served cold, so flavors were considerably compromised.

Angel Sutor, a longtime chef in Atlanta, is directing the kitchen at the Glenwood now. Wayne ordered the horseradish-encrusted sea bass served with a lemon beurre blanc over wild-rice pilaf and a semi-circle of sliced, roasted carrots. It was a bit retro but flavors were spot-on.

I couldn't resist the surreal turducken burger, made of ground chicken, duck and turkey. It was topped with remoulade and a couple of fried oysters. It's certainly a tasty departure from the usual red meat. Because of the rather strong seasoning, though, it tastes like a sausage patty, virtually eclipsing the remoulade and oysters. I got a side of collards, my favorite here, and jalapeño-cheddar hushpuppies served with jalapeño-apple jelly.

We were too stuffed to consider dessert, but I can recommend the fried Oreos from earlier visits.

In Glenwood Park

We are still missing Zocalo, which closed its Grant Park operation quite a few months ago, leaving us bereft of good Mexican food. There used to be three authentic Mexican-operated taquerias in the 'hood, too, but increasing rents pushed them out. Two of those spots are now occupied by mainstream restaurants.

The nearest now is Matador Mexican Cantina and Tequila Bar (925 Garrett St., 404-635-0187) in Glenwood Park. There is another of these, the original, in Oakhurst. Both are far more Tex-Mex than Mex. So if you're looking for real Mexican cooking, keep driving.

We recently visited the Glenwood Park restaurant for the first time. We had a very mixed experience.

First, the restaurant's main dining room may be one of the most unattractive I've ever seen. Some money was spent to install a lot of booths but you can't see over them, so we felt like we were eating on a train. If you walk to the restroom, you bypass a service area that seems oddly placed.

I recommend you sit in the bar area; it's a much cozier space.

Our first impression of service was not good. There was a considerable lapse of time between when we ordered our starter, chorizo fundido, and when we were able to order our entrees. When the manager came by, we snapped at him that we wanted our order taken and he immediately apologized for the delay. Then he deducted 20 percent of the cost of our meal because, as the server explained, "the manager wasn't satisfied with the service you received." Oy. We were embarrassed because, by meal's end, we realized the server was working virtually alone.

The food is hit or miss. Our starter of ground chorizo under melted white cheese was way greasy and served with a nearly tasteless green sauce. Most weirdly, they only gave us three tortillas to eat the stuff. So we ended up eating a third of it by scooping it on chips. Please, when portioning tortillas, multiply the number of diners by at least two, not 1.5.

Wayne ordered an entrée of pollo fundido. That's a chicken breast marinated in lime juice and tequila and coated with cheese dip. It was served with the usual rice and a huge pool of refried beans. If you like beige and brown food, you'll love this. It tasted slightly better than it looked.

I ordered three tacos. The carnitas were especially good – not particularly crispy, but marinated in tomatillo sauce and cinnamon. The effect was deliciously spicy and slightly sweet.

Another, "taco de camarones del inferno," featured sautéed shrimp in a chipotle sauce. The good-sized shrimp were cooked exactly right but did not live up to the name, which I believe is meant to say "shrimp from hell." The menu even has a warning that they are super-hot. They were nothing of the kind – not even faintly hot. (And, by the way, "hell" in Spanish is infierno. In Italian, it's inferno.)

My third taco, grilled lobster with a chipotle-spiked Thousand Island dressing, was not worth its higher price. Half the lobster was stringy, and buried in too much lettuce for my taste.

A cool feature of the restaurant is a cabinet filled with dozens of various hot sauces. They are fun to experiment with, but most of them compare to authentic sauces in the way Kool-Aid compares to a well-made mixed drink.

With just a little effort, this place could be much better.

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