First Look: Ration and Dram
A visit to H&F vet Andy Minchow's new neighborhood restaurantMonday April 14, 2014 04:00 am EDT
At Ration and Dram, the new two-story restaurant in Edgewood, there is a cocktail on the menu called the Shallow Grave. If you order it, a barkeep will pour measures of one ounce of Chattanooga Whiskey, one ounce of Carpano Antica Formula, one half-ounce of Cappelletti Aperitivo, and one half-ounce of Bigallet China China into a mixing glass, stir with ice until properly chilled and diluted, and then serve the finished drink up in a pre-chilled cocktail glass. The proportions are similar to the Corpse Reviver family of cocktails, so the name is a subtle pun. The result is as good as any of the best dark, stirred cocktails on a menu in Atlanta today, a carefully balanced flavor between the oak of Manhattan and the pleasant bitterness of a Negroni. After tasting it, no one would be surprised to learn that this establishment is owned by Andy Minchow, a former partner and barkeep of Holeman & Finch Public House, the place usually credited for establishing the style and quality of Atlanta cocktail culture.
It is understandable that Minchow's Holeman & Finch credentials precede Ration and Dram. Linton Hopkins' no reservations pub identified the city's appetite for cocktail programs, charcuterie boards, offal plates, and double cheeseburgers at the perfect moment. Despite losing almost every partner, bartender, or chef that established that style over the years, including Minchow, Greg Best, Regan Smith, Adam Biderman, and Ryan Smith, the restaurant continues to be one of Atlanta's most popular. The AJC's lead restaurant critic John Kessler recently penned an entire column about his inability to even get a table at the place.
Aside from Minchow's studied hand with the booze, though, Ration and Dram is aiming to be a very different place from Holeman & Finch. You might notice this first when you head upstairs to have dinner at a table and find four flatscreen televisions playing every basketball game you could hope to see on a Saturday night. You may note the presence of a kid-friendly section on the menu under the heading Wee Rations. The lights, too, are a shade brighter than a true boozehound's establishment. This is a neighborhood restaurant, tucked in loft-filled line between Edgewood and Kirkwood, that happens to have a serious beverage program. Aside from cocktails, Minchow has lined up a short but thoughtful list of draft and bottled beers, house-made sodas, and wine.
Though the menu is definitely still a work in progress, the direction of the food here is in the New American style of updating recognizable dishes with local ingredients. The kitchen's offerings aren't impressive, but they can be simple and satisfying.
In general, portions are generous and prices are under $20. Most nights, the kitchen is serving a savory pie in a cast iron pan, sometimes with chicken, other nights grass-fed beef. Salads are arugula or kale or chard. Duck livers come fried in cornmeal crust. Served as they are with pickles and hot sauce, the effect has more in common with American bar finger food than the European dishes we might associate with duck livers. They're great for soaking up the drinks. There are a variety of sandwiches — fried pork chop, patty melt, gyro — that can do similar a trick.
The one dish that happens to overlap with Holeman & Finch's menu, carbonara, couldn't be more different. H&F serves a small bowl of delicate bucatini, pancetta, and egg yolk that tastes like the definition of richness. Ration and Dram serves its egg yolk over a big bowl of fettuccine, fresh sausage, and local greens, a practical combo that evokes a farmers market more than Florence.
Over the past year or so, the kitchen staff has been cutting their teeth on breakfast dishes at farmers markets around town. Their brunch menu carries over a number of dishes from that experience, including breakfast dumplings, a vegetarian grit bowl, and an egg salad sandwich.
The service is typical of a restaurant in its early weeks — you may linger at the host stand for a few minutes or feel forgotten at your table on occasion — but the staff is genuinely friendly in a way that makes up for any lapse.
Ration and Dram's floor plan is unusual. The restaurant is two stories, but the first floor plan is small and shares space with the kitchen, while the second floor plan is larger and accompanied by a terrace. This is a suitable match to Ration and Dram's style. If you're looking for the neighborhood restaurant to bring the kids and maybe watch a game, head upstairs. If you'd prefer a place a little bit more intimate and quiet, a good place to sip a cocktail, just stay downstairs.