I get the impression that Food 101 is overlooked by an army of potential guests who will fall in love with the place once they try it. We visited a couple of years ago, at the launch of their Barrel Bar, and mentioned then that the restaurant, led by Chef Justin Keith, was pretty far ahead of the “new Southern” curve, anticipating the rise of the cocktails-in-mason-jars craze by a couple of years. It’s a place that should be celebrated and talked about a lot more than it is, particularly with some treats as terrific as what they are offering on their Spring menu.
Last month, we joined several other bloggers and writers to sample some of the drinks and entrees that are currently being offered. We had a good time and enjoyed the food. First up was possibly the most interesting hummus that I’ve ever had. I won’t say that it is my favorite, because hummus, while traditionally made with chickpeas, can be made from just about any ingredients. Chef Justin has come up with a boiled peanut hummus. Somehow, this was more than just peanut butter! The texture was like a classic hummus, but the flavor was exactly like grabbing a bag from a roadside stand between Athens and Madison. We enjoyed it, but there was much better to come.
For example, there were these scallops from New England’s Georges Bank, served with red grapefruit, sliced jalapenos, and avocado oil. I certainly love scallops, and what a clever accompaniment they had! I really enjoyed the explosion of sweet and spicy with the grapefruit and the peppers mixing together.
Even better, however, was a dish of charred Spanish octopus. We absolutely loved this. It is seasoned and cooked just perfectly. We couldn’t stop raving about it, and don’t plan to. It’s served with artichokes and pickled peppers and it’s really wonderful.
The dish that I did not try is pictured above. It’s a catfish pate, which unfortunately for me is made with clam juice, which I can’t eat. Marie really enjoyed it, and she also really liked the asparagus tart, which is made with Vidalia onions and fontina, and served with a fried quail egg, more than I did. I honestly wasn’t a fan of this, but everybody seems to enjoy asparagus more than I do. Unfortunately, we lost the light by the time this dish was served.
The octopus was our favorite, but the final dish of the night was a close second. I’m sorry our photos were too dark and awful to share, but the “inside-out Reuben” that is the house duck pastrami really is fun. It’s tiny little grilled cheeses, topped with a very light slaw mixed with Thousand Island dressing and spicy mustard, with a few strips of the pastrami atop the stack. It’s a whimsical and clever creation, and the pastrami is just terrific. They do a superb job with it here.
We enjoyed our visit a lot, and recommend the octopus in particular. It’s very nice to see Food 101 continuing to innovate and have fun. Definitely try to check out this menu before it vanishes in the next few weeks.
(As noted, this was a media event and our meal was complimentary. It’s our policy to always note when we’ve received our meal without charge. If you would like to invite us to your restaurant’s media events, please drop Grant a line at firstname.lastname@example.org .)
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