Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The General Muir: 'nouveau deli'?

Posted By on Tue, Feb 19, 2013 at 10:00 AM

I doubt there's any kind of restaurant riskier to open in Atlanta than a New-York-style Jewish deli. People have tried frequently over the years, but the deli-craving perfectionists almost always stab it squarely in the gefilte.

For reasons I don't quite understand, there was a handful of authentic spots when I was a teenager. My favorite was the Nosh O' Rye in the Henry Grady Hotel downtown. Owned by Russian Jews, it provided my first taste of chopped liver. I started taking the bus downtown to visit the library and have lunch at the Nosh when I was 15.

The latest to make the attempt are Ben and Jennifer Johnson, who own the popular West Egg Cafe. Their new deli is the General Muir, named after the refugee ship that brought Jennifer's mother and grandparents, Holocaust survivors, to America following World War II. The manager of West Egg, Shelly Sweet, is also an owner, as is Todd Ginsberg, the popular chef who put Bocado on the map.

The General is open for three meals daily. Breakfast and lunch feature the usual deli favorites like matzoh ball soup and sandwiches made with corned beef and pastrami. Breakfast is classics like lox and bagels and pastrami hash. But it's dinner that brings out Ginsberg's creativity with lots of small plates and six entree-sized riffs on classics - a style of cooking that needs a name like "nouveau deli." (It is not kosher.)

I visited with five friends last Friday and most of what we sampled was good, including roasted duck (top photo) over rutabagas and turnips with a coriander-orange jus; prune-stuffed gnocchi (right photo), oxtail ragu, carrots, and brussels sprouts; and skillet-crisped trout with farro salad, hazelnuts, butternut-squash puree, and chicken jus.

Two at the table split a corned-beef Reuben. I'll leave it to others to pass official Judgment on the corned beef, one of those dishes that inevitably produces controversy. Honestly, it was a bit fatty for my taste, and I agreed with my friends that the sandwich's kraut was not quite acidic enough to cut the fattiness.

The restaurant had been serving dinner only a week when we visited, so it's way too early to pass judgment, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. A definite plus is the Johnsons' well-known hospitality, and a staff that is likewise all smiles and solicitation.

NOTE: Some readers may be interested to check out my biweekly Georgia Voice column, "Food Porn," an (experimental) fictional series set in real-life restaurants. This week, the club meets at the General Muir and the perspective takes a turn toward magical realism in "Lee Reveals His House of Gay Human Oddities". Some of you will doubtlessly hate it.

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