August 22, 2011
First Bite: No. 246
By Nancy Staab
- Interior photo by Helena Peixoto
Seasonality, simplicity and restraint rule at No. 246, the new Ford Fry and Drew Belline venture in Decatur. Go for the ricotta-filled agnolotti with summer corn and stay for the whole roasted Branzino, craft cocktails by Laura Creasey and a rustic-urbane decor by Smith Hanes.
I think No. 246 had me at the décor (or do I mean the door). It’s a handsome space in that spare, poetic way that is the calling card of designer Smith Hanes. Hanes also did the décor for Ford Fry’s other restaurant JCT. Kitchen as well as The Farmhouse at Serenbe. What’s not to love about No. 246’s absurdly oversized Edison light bulbs (making that design cliché absolutely fresh again); generous framed windows spilling in tons of light; exposed brick walls painted white; reclaimed wood floors; white subway tiled, theatrical open kitchen with a coveted chef’s counter (not so much table) for four; sleek granite bar; judicious art work and a glinting row of tarnished mirrors imperfectly reflecting the rustic-modern charm of it all. The only down note: the restaurant was packed like Italian sardines, from the bar to the main dining room, on the Thursday night of our visit to the degree that my group was straining to converse across a tiny table. However, we are told the restaurant is already taking steps to fix the problem.
No. 246 may not be the catchiest of names for a restaurant, and it doesn’t even refer to the actual address of the space (which is right next door to Leon’s Full Service). However, following our first test dinner, we are going to be committing this name to memory and making the “field trip” to Decatur regularly to sample the seasonal menu. Decatur, oft-called the Berkeley of Atlanta, is undergoing a little dining boomlet—even with the late, lamented departure of Watershed. It will be a toss-up whether nearby Cakes & Ale chef Billy Allin (who grows his own organic veggies out back) or the equally agrarian-minded chef Drew Belline of No. 246 (under the mentorship of business partner/chef Ford Fry) will claim the “Chez Panisse of Decatur” title, but it will be an interesting race.
But on to the food: Belline, last of Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison’s Floataway Café, brings the same attention to locally-sourced ingredients, clean dishes and seasonal regard at his new spot, as he did at Floataway. The starter presentation of bread, olives in olive oil and a bowl of rustic salt grains on a brown butcher’s paper runner set the tone for the entire meal. It is simple like a Dutch still life, almost biblical, and certainly represents an Italian holy trinity (well, minus the tomato). Presentation points were also earned for the playful starter toasts delivered in curved wooden trenchers. Each spread was served in its own little glass jar--to be slathered on the grilled bread--and very affordable at $3 a pop. Our favorite: the wood oven roasted eggplant with chilies and mint.
Two items were sampled from the cutely named “Water & Flour” portion of the menu. (Note the simplicity. Clearly the mantra of this kitchen.) The prosciutto, gorgonzola and fig pizza was pungent, salty and sweet in equal measure; but not too sweet, even with the lacing of balsamico over the plump green figs. The bracing gorgonzola more than undercut excess sweet and the crust had a particularly salty zing. Next came the sublime and already signature agnolotti with sweet corn, local chanterelles, corn milk, humbolt fog goat cheese and toasted garlic. It’s a bowl of pillowy agnolotti stuffed with ricotta and bathed in subtle corn and mushroom broth. We rue the day chef Belline has to take this dish off the menu due to corn’s all-too-brief season. It is both light and subtle, yet rich at the same time. (We hear the mushrooms are locally foraged and most of the pastas, including the agnolotti, are hand-made in house.) The vegetable sides, rapini with garlic and chilies and the lemon-roasted beets with tarragon, were honest and earthy—the garlic barely perceptible in the rapini or the agnolotti dish.
Dinner culminated with a head-and-tail-on, whole-roasted Branzino beauty topped with shaved fennel, salsa verde, lemon, olive oil and sea salt. Perfection simplicity, and restraint being the operative words for this dish. It would be easy to slip into the boring with this much simplicity, but Belline’s accomplished cooking, a wood-burning oven, and just the right dollop of indulgence (a scoop of goat cheese, a slather of prosciutto, a brushing of olive oil) save the day. Too sated to try the tempting desserts (buttermilk panna cotta with lemon ginger marmelade, blueberry crustada with crème fraiche, etc.) or Laura Creasy’s craft cocktails, our crowd vowed to revisit No. 246 soon--before that delicate agnolotti is a distant summer memory.
No. 246, 129 E. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur, 678.399.8246, www.no246.com Open for lunch and dinner daily with a special spaghetti dinner deal on Monday nights.
And here is a recent fall update on the summer corn agnolotti dish and equally addictive:
Below two more images from the No. 246 website: A spaghetti with clams recipe from the Monday Night Spaghetti Dinner specials and a local heirloom tomatoes salad with basil and pecorino.