The Colonnade, Atlanta GA

If you grew up in a southern household, you simply must visit The Colonnade to have your mind blown by this menu. They serve things here that your mother or your grandmother regularly prepared and which you had completely forgotten. Last week, Marie and our daughter and I joined David and Neal for supper here. All three of us fellows had the same eye-popping reaction to the same thing. “Pears and cheese?! My mom used to make that!” With grated sharp cheddar cheese and mayo. It must have been in the secret handbook assigned by Betty Crocker to all housewives in Georgia and neighboring states between 1964 and 1975.

One of the other amazing things on the menu is tomato aspic. This savory gelatin was apparently a somewhat common dish in postwar America, until the Jell-O company turned families onto the idea of gelatin as a sweet dessert instead. “Oh, Lord,” said Neal, sampling a half-spoonful of my order. “It tastes like V-8 Jell-O.” Turns out he’s exactly right. I found a recipe for tomato aspic which calls for tomato juice, Tabasco and bay leaf along with two envelopes of unflavored gelatin. The curiosity and novelty didn’t overwhelm the reality that it wasn’t very good, but as I told Neal as I encouraged him to give it a taste, when the heck else are you going to have the chance to try tomato aspic in a restaurant?

Naturally, I had to try both of these at the Colonnade, as they’re both missing from the menus of darn near every other restaurant around. So is calf’s liver, among others, but I had to draw the line somewhere. No, I just had your common-or-garden chicken livers. Nothing adventurous here.

The Colonnade is one of Atlanta’s oldest surviving restaurants. Only the Atkins Park Tavern is older. It opened in 1927 at the intersection of Piedmont and Lindbergh, in a house that was torn down before I was born. In 1962, the Colonnade moved to its present location on Cheshire Bridge Road in front of that unbelievably skeevy motel. I know this must come as a shock to Atlantans to hear a motel on Cheshire Bridge described as skeevy, but I calls ’em as I sees ’em.

We were mistaken on one point about the Colonnade. Looking over all these old-fashioned, timelost dishes on the menu along with the fried chicken and collard greens, we all assumed, quite wrongly, that the only things to have changed here over the decades are the prices. However, in the lobby, there is a collection of old menus from earlier days, and it would appear that curiosities like the aspic and the pear and cheese are actually relatively new. Along with the menus, there are also some newspaper and magazine reviews. One of these features the ridiculous headline “PATRONS PRAISE GOOD PLACE TO EAT.” When I wrote for a newspaper in Athens, I occasionally wanted to smack the copy editors around with a baseball bat for all the awful headlines they wrote for my articles, but lordy, I never had one that bad.

There has been one very unfortunate change at the restaurant, but it’s not one that I knew about for a couple of days. We noticed in the lobby the requisite framed, autographed poster of Guy Fieri spotlighting the Colonnade’s appearance on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. I tracked down the clip – they’re on YouTube – and was surprised to see that the Food Network series visited the Colonnade during a period where they were experimenting with some really fascinating concoctions no longer available. So if you’re a Triple-D fan making your way around the country hitting the featured restaurants – and a fine use of your time that would be – it looks like you cannot currently get the redneck sushi, the lobster knuckle sandwich or, tragically, the kangaroo sirloin. Look, I like chicken livers all right, but if I’d seen kangaroo steak on the menu, that’s what I would have ordered. The Colonnade’s brief flirtation with new, wild and a little weird has ended, and they’re back to the basics, serving up fine dining the way that your grandmother knew it.

I did find one note about the fine dining experience a little unusual, however. All of the service was very good, and we enjoyed our server’s choosing to answer Marie’s request for a recommendation in reverse. Rather than telling her what he liked best, he told her the two dishes that he did not enjoy, suggesting that she’d like anything else that she ordered, and she did. But I was a little surprised at the register. The Colonnade does not accept credit cards. That’s just fine by me; I don’t like to use credit cards. (I also play Where’s George?, so it’s important that I keep ones in circulation!) I tried not to be confrontational about it, but I was curious about the policy. “I think that’s so neat that y’all don’t take credit cards. I don’t use them either, but I was wondering why you don’t.” I guess the lady at the register gets that a lot, only rudely. “We just don’t. We never have.” That’s all the answer that she wanted to give.

So much for curiosity, but then again, I think the Colonnade is older than credit cards, and they can make that choice. The rest of you, swing by your bank’s ATM first.

Other blog posts about the Colonnade:

Atlanta Foodies (May 12 2007)
Atlanta etc. (Feb. 28 2009)

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