Two Urban Licks

June 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Two Urban Licks
820 Ralph McGill Blvd
Atlanta, GA 30306

The first time I checked out TWO Urban Licks was for a special biannual brunch on Mother’s Day.  They don’t typically serve brunch, but they make an exception twice a year for Mother’s Day and Easter.  Brunch is such a prime time for Atlanta food outings, so it’s a little curious as to why they don’t normally attempt to cater to this crowd.  Nonetheless, I’m always up for checking out restaurants pushing their own boundaries even if in this case I really have no basis of comparison.  Reservations were made and while they were mildly busy when we entered, this place was packed to the brim by the time we left.  I rather enjoyed the warehouse-inspired texturally eclectic ambiance with its spacious interior and was anxious to see what they had to offer.  I presume it has the potential to be a great space for events.

My first real impression of the place was the menu which left me struggling to figure out what I want.  It’s usually not that difficult, but none of the entrees particularly appealed to me and I ended up making a last moment decision when the server returned.  The menu items mostly felt like misplaced lunch and dinner items which I later discovered was the case with the eggy exceptions.  I also felt like the prices felt a bit high considering comparable brunch restaurants.

Bouquet of Bubbles
sparkling wine, fresh strawberry, elderflower liqueur

In all fairness, this was almost unreasonably delicious even if it didn’t feel as if it had that much alcohol and had a different balance when I ordered a second.  This drink was lightly crisp and floral under a pulpy mouth feel.  They weren’t playing around with the strawberries as it was thick with them, but a really nice blend of flavors that really enhanced each other with a kick of bubbles thrown in the mix.

Brioche Beignets
confectioner’s sugar, coffee cream

I grew up close enough to New Orleans to have what I feel is a justified bias when it comes to beignets courtesy of Cafe Du Monde.  I realize that New Orleans way of Cafe Du Monde and other local coffee shops isn’t necessarily the only way to make beignets since it’s certainly a mutation of a much older culinary idea, it’s really molded my ideas of what beignets should be.  Yes, they are fried dough loaded with a pillowy mountain of soft powdered sugar that ends up floating about, tangling into your hair and dusting your clothes.  This sugar nestles and becomes a starchy sugar paste in the little bits of oil clinging to the crevices on the surface.  That’s part of it, but a pile of powdered sugar on top of hot, fried dough does not a beignet make.  There is a textural element that makes them more than average.  They are more dense than your average doughnut, glutinously chewy on the inside with the fried exterior making a bit of a soft almost-crust.  They are one of those simple things that has secured itself as a New Orleans classic and sends droves of tourists and locals alike to keep coming back for more.

The problem I have is that so many places claim to have some sort of beignet, and I guess there isn’t a right way, but there rarely seems to be a version that I’m aware of around here that does enough justice to the concept in my mind.  So of course, this dish immediately got me on guard.  I will certainly give it credit for at least telling me it’s a brioche beignet, so I should have assumed that it wasn’t going to have the chew or the mild crust to it that I generally desire.  All that rant aside, this wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t particularly memorable in my book outside of being another example of a non-beignet.  The real kicker was they weren’t even hot or warm.  They were pillowy with the same texture throughout the dough and mostly coated with traditional sugar which left a bit of a grainy presence on the bite.  There was a mere dusting of confectioner’s sugar.  What was really nice was the light cafe au lait-inspired cream.  At least there was some sort of nod to the tradition that I’m familiar with, and the cream was very light on the coffee which felt appropriate.

Pork Porterhouse
grilled, NY cheddar macaroni, pork jus

This was my panic order, and once it arrived I was taken aback by how huge and simple the plate and portion was.  There it is–big, thick slab of grilled pork hanging out in some jus with a wallop of macaroni on the side.  The meat was thick and flavored pretty much solely with the grill smoke with no other nuances or counterpoints.  There it was being itself.  It was juicy, but on that line where it was in danger of starting to be dry from being overcooked.  Any potential dryness was remedied by chasing each bite down in the jus which was very straightforward.  The macaroni was pretty standard and bland as if it needed some sort of salt or something to enhance the muted flavor.  The macaroni and cheese seemed to be mostly relying on its cream which sort of overwhelmed any cheese flavor.

I checked out the current running dinner version of this dish just for comparison purposes and it runs a few dollars more but comes with spicy sweet potato fries, point reyes cole slaw, and local peach habenero chutney.  That sounds a lot more interesting than this version, and I’m moderately curious to see how the dressed up counterpart compares.

Fried Green Tomato Benedict
ham, poached farm eggs, tabasco hollandaise

There was something nice going on flavor-wise with this one.  The concept itself was nice as there was a lovely tangy vein from the unripened tomato and Tabasco in the hollandaise and it layered nicely on the salty ham.  The bread itself I found nice and soft with a little bit of a thin cornmealy crust.

Unfortunately, the execution fell apart.  The potatoes looked done, but were undercooked both on this plate and the next one.  They were happy to bring more which were possibly even less cooked.  The real question here is not so much why the potatoes were undercooked but why they offered such an uninspiring side dish that they repeated a few times on the menu.  There was pretty much nothing to note about the potatoes at all.  I could have gotten something similar or better at any diner; I would have expected more from a place such as this.

I split my entree as I usually do, so I got the second of the two on the plate.  I pushed my fork into the egg and could tell that it was cold, but when the yolk slipped out enact in a bed of milky white that started to run clear close to the yolk, I became quite aware that this poached egg was far from being cooked.  Again, it was sent back and made right and was even a little bit warm this time, but it didn’t prevent a pretty big mistake from making the table.  This was when I realized due to a few items being cold and undercooked that they were probably beginning to struggle with the service.  This might be one of the reasons they don’t do brunch often or maybe it’s just a result of doing brunch when they rarely offer it.

Brisket & Eggs
smoked, home fries, red wine jus

I had a small sample of this ample cut of brisket, and I preferred it to my pork.  There was a nice sweetness to the caramelized crust, but it didn’t really drift at all into the core of the meat.

Final Verdict:

This brunch service was a bit of a mess and suffering from execution a few times considering the price and caliber of the restaurant, but perhaps that is fair considering this is something they rarely do.  The menu felt a bit uninspired and left me unimpressed.  At least the meat portions were quite ample, but it wasn’t enough to save it for me.  I don’t foresee going back for brunch, but as they seldom have it, that certainly won’t be a problem.  The bigger issue is if I think I’ll go out of my way to come back again, and considering much more interesting and perfectly executed dishes at places in the same price range, I don’t foresee it.

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