First Look: The Drafting Table

Growing pains for the Grant Park gastropub

Wednesday October 31, 2012 04:10 am EDT

After the Hill Street Tavern's abrupt closure back in May, Georgia State University students waited with fingers crossed to see if another budget-friendly bar-that-happens-to-serve-food would take its place. The Tavern's casual ambiance and proximity to campus at the corner of Decatur and Hill streets had made it an easy oasis for thirsty students to embrace. The space remained vacant for most of the summer and word began to spread that instead of another collegiate watering hole, the Tavern's successor would be an upscale gastropub. Signage for the Drafting Table soon appeared.

Far from being "the new Hill Street," the Drafting Table has set its sights on the elusive young professionals crowd. Brightly patterned textiles line a wall of banquettes, while natural wood and plenty of Edison-style lighting lend the space a hip, nondescript craftsman vibe, and an antique drafting table sits near the entrance in a nod to the bar's name. There is plenty of seating to choose from, including ample spots at the bar, high-tops, tables, and tall wooden booths.

The menus here are ambitious in ways that almost compel you to disbelief. More than 30 wines are on the list at the Drafting Table. All but one, a $40 bottle of Prosecco, are offered by the glass, ranging from a $7 sauvignon blanc to a $15 glass of Mollydooker Shiraz. The beer selection is a healthy mix of local and craft with 20 brews on draft and almost as many by the bottle. Here you'll find many familiar faces such as SweetWater, Victory Golden Monkey, and Bell's Two Hearted Ale intermingling with Founders Red's Rye P.A., Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan, and Rogue Mocha Porter. The likes of Miller High Life, Guinness, and Budweiser round out the craft-heavy collection.

The spirit selection at the Drafting Table is pleasantly on trend (Tito's Vodka, Aviation Gin, Belle Meade Bourbon, Fernet Branca), presumably to go along with its list of 13 "crafted cocktails." These house concoctions are, to their credit, intriguing, but rarely come together to produce balanced — or in some cases even palatable — drinks. The Krogstad Collins ($9, Krogstad Aquavit, citrus syrup, fresh lime, pickle juice, grapefruit bitters) is a clash of competing flavors resulting in the unpleasant twang of licorice and turned produce. The Spicy Paloma ($8.50) made with Tanteo Tropical Tequila, orange juice, lime, grapefruit bitters, habañero syrup, and citrus syrup was little more than a pineapple margarita toothache. The most exciting, and most disappointing, however, was the Mexican Chocolate cocktail. Tanteo Cocoa Tequila, habañero syrup, lime, citrus syrup, egg white, and Xocolatl Mole Bitters. A misuse of egg white resulted in a muddy aroma only further sullied by flavors of cocoa and talcum powder. If there is a tasty, well-balanced cocktail at the Drafting Table, I have yet to find it. Until the list sees some revision, better stick to Bourbon and beer.

The food menus, too, advertise delights that don't deliver, despite their arsenals of classy-sounding dishes and higher-end ingredients: bitter greens salad with Bucheron cheese and a brioche cruton; house-made fennel sausage; crispy duck leg appetizer; scallops; and curried oxtail with mashed sweet potatoes and wilted spinach. The Drafting Table's offerings teem with commendable ambition, but unfortunately, the effort rarely translates into success.

An appetizer of steamed mussels, for example, could easily accommodate four people but was drastically underseasoned. The broth accompanying the two dozen mussels, advertised as steeped in beer, butter, and bacon, amounted to little more than hot mussel water flecked with parsley. The crispy duck leg was maddeningly dry, as if it had spent the last 10 minutes dying under a heat lamp. It was served without the black pepper biscuit the menu had promised, although a ramekin of achingly sweet orange marmalade made it to the table. When the biscuit arrived five minutes later, it revealed itself to be the peppery yin to the marmalade's sugary yang, and the dish made infinitely more sense. But elsewhere, error with simple execution seemed to be a recurring theme. Mushroom and lamb pierogies perched on a bed of sautéed peppers and onions were crispy brown on top, but thoroughly charred on the bottom, giving the dish the distinct flavor of burnt carbon. Fortunately, all was not lost. The curried oxtail with mashed sweet potatoes was well-executed. A thick gravy of spicy stewed curry blanketed three bone-in sections of meat that were easily coaxed off the bone.

On my second visit, I decided to play it safe. Sitting at the bar, beer in hand, I confidently ordered what the bartender described as the Drafting Table's signature sandwich: the 50/50 burger. "Just as good if not better than Holeman & Finch's burger. Or at least I think so," he assured. Made with a house blend of equal parts ground sirloin and bacon, the burger is topped with white cheddar cheese, tomato, arugula, and herbed mayonnaise. Once again, what sounded so good in theory was far less enjoyable on the plate. After one month, it seems the Drafting Table is in need of some revision.

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