By Joe Duffy
I’ve rightfully credited the often imitated but never duplicated Avalon for permanently altering the uOTPian landscape (I say for the better), dining included. However, long before North American Properties broke ground on Old Milton, the genesis of suburban dining relevancy was on Canton Street in Roswell.
At the forefront was Cornell graduate, Roswell native, and fine dining trailblazer in this district Ryan Pernice. His first two restaurants—Table & Main and Osteria Mattone—remain elite destination-worthy trendsetters, located a football field or so length from each other in the heart of downtown Roswell.
Just four years removed from the Ivy League campus, plus a stint in New York City helping open Maialino, a Roman trattoria from award-winning restaurateur Danny Meyer, Pernice returned to his old stomping grounds to debut Table & Main.
Make no mistake about it, opening the upscale southern restaurant was uncharted waters in an area long ago bestowed by former AJC dining critic John Kessler as “Bloomin’ Onion Acres,” a once-accurate, thankfully obsolete narrative stolen by yours truly many times.
When questioned about how he was among the first to see the restaurant uprising, Pernice explained, “Table & Main tested the theory that our friends and neighbors—because remember I’ve lived in Roswell since second grade—would respond to our kind of dining environment.” As his restaurants are also celebrated for an impressive drink menu, he added, “And maybe they’d even have that extra glass of wine because they weren’t driving so far!”
Table & Main is most celebrated for their fried chicken, accounting for a whopping sixteen percent of sales last year. And it’s for good reason. I’ve had most of the famed yardbird in Atlanta in my 30-something years here: Deacon Burton’s, The Colonnade, Watershed, Greenwood’s on Green Street, Thelma’s Kitchen, among the most high-profile. Can I throw in The Coffee Cup in Charlotte and Mrs. Rowe’s in Staunton, Virginia?
Table & Main holds their own with any, though Watershed is a great song and the legendary Lydell “Deacon” Burton is in a different stratosphere—a unanimous first ballot Hall of Famer in fried chicken mastery, if there was such a museum.
Anyway, enough of my customary retrospection, pretending I’m youthful again, and back to the here and now. The shrimp and grits as well as the burger are also tremendously popular at T&M.
I was moderately surprised their bone-in pork chop was not the second favorite. Roswell resident Amy Loftus said her husband and out of town guests declare “every single item one of the best they’ve ever had.” Such is the case with the pork chop here for your humble correspondent, no small proclamation because I admire the version at nearby Peach & the Porkchop.
Catfish isn’t the first item that springs to mind when I contemplate top-of-the-line dining. Heck it’s not even the eighth food product to pop into my brainpan. Applause to sous chef Jess Liberatore, who created the best catfish I have ever gobbled. With “Nashville Hot” sauce, Jess has a nice play on Cajun staple dirty rice with dirty farro. The dirty moniker affectionately derives from its appearance, but I quickly cleaned it off my plate. Yes, catfish can be posh.
For the health conscious, Pernice touts the vegetable plate as a standout because “we love showing that Southern cuisine doesn’t have to be deep fried in butter, and it gives chef Woody a chance to showcase our farmer relationships.”
Chef Woody is Woolery Back. His aptitudes are a principal reason that elevates Table & Main above the live, work, and play restaurants. While Avalon enlisted luminary Atlanta chefs to open outposts in Alpharetta, Pernice’s restaurants embody the more organic approach implemented by Canton Street. The formula is simple. The chef is in the kitchen and the owner is in the front of the house, exactly where they earned their reputations.
The Johnson & Wales grad trained under celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, then came directly from Restaurant Eugene, where he was sous chef at one of the top restaurants in the history of the city.
I’m all about the food, though even I have fondness for the refurbished house setting of T&M. Much more refined than your humble correspondent, the above Mrs. Loftus said, “The presentation is five-star.”
In addition to chefs Woody and Jess, the modest Pernice commends GM Matthew Forsee who, like Liberatore, is approaching seven years at the Canton Street hotspot.
As stated previously, at The Current Hub my focal point is on the best restaurants, rather than reviewing the good, bad, and ugly of subordinate eateries. Hence, the implicit conclusion is that any restaurant that rises to the level of being featured here has multifarious, meritorious options to consume. But other menu items I’ve relished over the years include meatloaf meatballs and Charleston she-crab soup.
Sometime in the near future, we will talk more about Osteria Mattone. At press time, the future of East Roswell standout Foundation Social Eatery is in limbo. FSE joins Pernice’s two Roswell staples among the three top dinner restaurants in the Roz.
Table & Main | 1028 Canton Street | Roswell, GA 30075 | 678.869.5178
Had the pleasure of meeting a friend for lunch at Good Word Brewing in downtown Duluth. Well-traveled confidant, he remarked among his favorite burgers are here. Taking into account that his No. 1 is the marvelous ITP restaurant Fred’s, I definitely wanted to partake. Though I have no shortage of beloved burger joints, the good word is Good Word is worthy of top stage. Bebop ESB is a very good in-house beer from the brewpub, owned by Decatur central pillar Brick Store Pub.
Ba Bellies, perhaps Peachtree Corners foremost restaurant, has experimented with the proper balance of American and Asian at their fusion grubbery. I’m joyful to report, the sister restaurant of Nam Phuong vapored into turning Vietnamese.
Both grilled pork banh mi and beef pho tai were very good. Only complaint: I want more meat. Where’s the beef? I have no other, dare I say beef. Oy, seems the trend for pho places is they are now either putting the meat in before it hits the table or, in the case of BB, precooking the beef. I guess it’s the litigious great, unwashed people—illiterate on how to eat pho—who are spoiling it for the civilized among us. But then again, what do you expect in this barking mad world in which most restaurants don’t deposit raw egg into their steak tartare anymore?…
First bite at Minnie Olivia Pizzeria in downtown Alpharetta: woodfire pizza and Italian panini are both good, but the star of the show was the roasted tomato-braised pork meatballs over cheesy baked polenta. Could they supplant Campania as outputting my favorite meatball balls? I’ll keep it simple. Campania is my top shop for veal balls, Minnie Olivia my pork balls preference…
Met beer writer extraordinaire Tara Gary at Shanghai Chinese Food & Bar. It’s in downtown Roswell in the house best remembered as The Roswell Teahouse. I had to try what I heard raved about from the first day—the “3-Day” wings, which are cured, marinated, and confit. They are undoubtedly among the best specialty wings anywhere. I also enjoyed the Shanghai noodles and short rib bao. The latter was a definite standout. Rumor is Tara and Pinkies Up co-owner Melissa Harbers were dining there days before, with the latter entrepreneur ballyhooing the fried rice.
Cover photo of an assortment of desserts by Iain Bagwell.
When he’s not eating, which is rare, the author is CEO of Sports Handicapping website Offshore Insiders. His bride’s gift site, Duffy Gifts is the place to go for gifts for all occasions from My Thirty One Gifts.