First Look: Community Smith

The foxy Midtown restaurant serves up solid food, even better cocktails

Wednesday March 11, 2015 04:00 am EDT

True craftsmen stamp their handiwork with a maker's mark, like the iconic "T and Co." engraved on certain designer necklaces. For new Midtown restaurant Community Smith, that mark is a fox. It's like the restaurant's spirit animal. The shape of a fox greets guests at the entrance, and a life-size fox fashioned from silverware is on display near the bar. Quips about foxes, like "Hunger will lead a fox out of the forest," adorn the menus.

Attached to the Renaissance Midtown hotel, the six-week-old restaurant replaced former modern-American eatery Briza. Design features such as clean lines, dark wood, and marble are a departure from Briza's kitschy red velvet. Community Smith has a sophisticated yet comfortable vibe. The restaurant, designed by Crème Design, comprises three spaces: a bistrolike dining room, a tavern with communal high-top tables, and a soon-to-be rooftop beer garden set to open this spring.

Smack dab in the center of what could be a cavernous dining room is an architecturally stunning greenhouse made of nubby, translucent glass panes and occupied by a few tables. Through the hazy glass is a romantic view of the kitchen with shadowy figures moving about and occasional flames flaring up from the grill behind them. Under the pendant lamps, a man much too young to be wearing a maroon velvet smoking jacket sips a martini and looks smugly in the direction of non-greenhouse diners. In the tavern section, two businessmen nurse beers after a day in khakis. To the left, a middle-aged couple orders a bottle of pinot noir. They traveled all the way from nearby Sandy Springs to dine in the city. To the right, a group conducts a business dinner.

The wait staff is attentive and friendly.

Our server went over the menu and suggested we order as if we were at a tapas place, sharing bits of this and that. Executive chef Micah Willix, formerly of Ecco and Latitude, fashioned a menu of what he calls "a modern meatery." The menu is divided into three unnamed sections of small plates, larger plates (although they do not include sides), and what most menus would dub "sides." One minor menu quibble: For a restaurant that professes its dedication to seasonal and responsible ingredient sourcing, there was strangely no mention of individual farms. Sure, name-dropping a bunch of purveyors can come off as tacky when done in vain. In this case, it would have been nice to know where the ingredients came from. Ironically, the omission felt borderline foxy.

The first section is a collection of well-executed hits. Pillowy yeast rolls ($2) with cultured butter are almost as good as my grandmother used to make. Crispy squid ($11) is piled high in brilliant orange breading tinted with smoked paprika and dotted with unexpected slivers of green olives. The smoked short rib ($13), just like home-cooked pot roast, comes piping hot nestled over subtly sweet, creamy parsnips. Wild mushrooms ($8) cooked in bone marrow are an earthy topper for crusty ciabatta slices. Lamb spareribs ($14) with crackly skin are coated in a shimmery, sesame-ginger-soy-sorghum glaze and come with a trio of scallion cheese fritters.

Smoked chicken ($18), one of the larger plates, was served in a dainty, cast iron tray with sprigs of thyme, but the skin was limp and dull. Pan-roasted monkfish ($19) was tender and delicate, served with roasted turnips and a lemon chive beurre blanc dotted with bits of smoky bacon.The Community Smith burger ($13) had that familiar, home-cooked-in-a-skillet quality. It comes with fries, but any of the sides from the veggie section of the menu can be substituted. Speaking of veggies, there were eight choices of different vegetable and grain sides, all priced at $5 each. The perfectly roasted cauliflower with turmeric and pickled mustard was a table favorite. The quinoa with slivers of fried onions and sultana raisins was filling and felt healthful.

Drinks at Community Smith focus on the classics. They make a perfect Toronto with a boozy balance of rye, Fernet Branca, simple syrup, and bitters. Their take on a Sazerac, crafted with Chartreuse instead of the usual Absinthe, would make a visitor from New Orleans feel right at home. The wine list has more than 50 wines, none exceeding $75 a bottle, with both Old World and New World selections by the glass. The beer list is varied and fun, with lots of local bottles and things from interesting craft breweries, including Dragon's Milk out of Michigan.

In many ways, Community Smith is as charming as its mascot. The space is rather beautiful, and the different seating areas let you cater your dining experience to your mood. While I'm not quite convinced of Willix's "modern meatery" description, the food here is very approachable and the bar staff has its cocktail program down. Despite its efforts to achieve neighborhood appeal, most diners appear to be out-of-towners and hotel guests from next door. But Atlantans do love a good patio. Perhaps, once the rooftop beer garden opens as the weather warms, al fresco-loving locals hungry for outdoor dining will forge some of that community spirit Community Smith is going for.

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