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Graveyard Tavern needs sign of life in the kitchen 

I genuinely wanted to like Graveyard Tavern. East Atlanta could definitely use some new restaurant blood. But things at my first meal started out weird and went downhill. First, there was the hostess. It was a busy Friday night, but plenty of tables were still available in the dining room, including a booth in a far corner. As she led us to a four-top about five inches from the hostess stand, we asked if she'd mind if we grabbed the booth instead.

"Sorry," she told us. "Those are reserved for parties of five or more."

Huh? "But we've got four -- isn't that close enough?" Apparently not.

She plopped down menus and, before scurrying off, reminded us that once the band came on, there'd be a cover charge. Seriously? "You mean you're going to come around and get $2 from us after we've been sitting here eating dinner for an hour?" She didn't answer me. I'm not entirely averse to making a scene, so lucky for my poor husband and friends, she steered clear of our table for the rest of the night.

Maybe, baby: From the looks of the crowd, Graveyard Tavern fills a gap in the East Atlanta social scene: baby-friendly bars. I've never seen this many strollers and high chairs at the Earl or Gravity Pub. It didn't make for a particularly tranquil dining experience, but the cavernous space is big (and loud) enough to accommodate rowdy toddlers without disturbing those of us there for the company of adults. Once the jazz band cranked up at about 9 p.m., everyone had to shout to be heard, anyway.

Mediterranean mix-up: I probably could have gotten past the weirdness with the hostess if the food had been better. The menu offers a short list of small plates, a handful of nightly dinner specials, and panini. I'm still scratching my head over artichoke saganaki ($4.50), a little dish of baked artichokes and tomatoes. Isn't saganaki flaming cheese? I don't get it. The best way to describe the dish is tepid: The artichokes and tomatoes tasted like they came straight out of a can, and a few salty crumbles of feta didn't liven things up much. We attacked the crunchy fried calamari ($7) with greater enthusiasm, likewise the grilled Italian bread with caponata and tapenade ($4). I'm not much for caponata, a cold relish of eggplant and peppers, but olive tapenade is one of my favorites. It was, in fact, the highlight of the meal.

So-so sandwiches: I had high hopes for the Graveyard Combo ($6.75), an appealing-sounding mix of gypsy ham, salami, mortadella, provolone, and olive-and-artichoke salad. Faint grill marks on the bun indicated that it had indeed seen a heat source, but the meats and cheeses were cold. The grilled cheese ($5.50) is made with your choice of three cheeses -- a clever move on their part. If you choose poorly (as my husband did with a combo of herbed goat cheese, feta and bel paese, a semi-soft Italian cheese), it's no one's fault but your own. There wasn't anything glaringly wrong with the grilled chicken panino ($6.50) or the portobello and eggplant panino ($5.50). They were just forgettable.

I'm not dismissing Graveyard Tavern out of hand. It just opened in December, so it's early in the game. Its signature cocktails (Nun in a Blender, anyone?) are enough to lure me back for another visit, and hopefully by then things will be much improved.

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