First Look: City Winery

A deep wine list and live music combine for a wine country-in-the-city- vibe

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The newly opened City Winery is a divergent harmony of concert going and dining. Here, a meal is more than a hot dog and overpriced beer and is easier than trekking picnic baskets, wine bottles, and candelabras to an amphitheater. The music venue/wine bar/restaurant is open nightly in the heart of the city…with air conditioning. A ticket serves as your dinner reservation.

City Winery was founded by Michael Dorf, the man behind the legendary Knitting Factory in New York City. After making his first barrel of wine, he decided to pair it with music and food to create a place to indulge all the senses. City Winery has locations in NYC, Chicago, Nashville and, now, Atlanta. The core of the two-story 26,000-square-foot space in Ponce City Market is a working winery, a fact of which visitors are continually reminded. The upstairs bar showcases 16 wines poured from a high-tech tap system that uses neutral argon gas for preservation instead of relying on sulfites. The bar dining area walls are covered in woven barrel staves. A wall of wine bottles flanks the staircase. Downstairs, stainless steel fermentation tanks line a winery room. The tanks hold wine made from grapes imported from select vineyards around the world. After this fall’s harvest, 40 percent of the grapes will come from Georgia.

The cozy concert venue has wooden floors, a wooden stage, wooden plank tables, and 300 wooden seats. French oak barrels of aging wine are stacked behind the bar area. A performer on stage could look every fan in the eye with the open layout, especially at the many tables bordering the stage. Votive candles flicker on the tables marked by numbered wine bottles, which come etched with the message, “Quiet during the show.” Clouds of woven staves dangle from the ceiling and buffer dinner sounds.

Servers offer complimentary wine samples straight from the barrel to start the meal. Wines on tap can be ordered by the glass, half bottle, or bottle. Servers know these wines well and easily matched our tastes with their pinot noir, which although light in color, is voluptuous with fruit-forward dark cherry and a lengthy finish. In addition to the City Winery-made wines, there’s also a list of more than 400 varietals. Beverage director Mani Gonzalez is on hand to help navigate the catalogue.

No value assignedThe menu is full of concert-friendly fare — no loud nachos— much of it shareable. It’s sectioned into gig-inspired categories. The majority of the menu items are Openers, mainly finger foods good for grazing during a performance. Deviled eggs ($13) kicked up with horseradish are topped with smoky Benton’s bacon and onion jam. Lamb meatballs ($14) arrive in a tiny cast iron Dutch oven and swimming in a slightly sweet mojito rum glaze. Crispy risotto croquettes ($12) are piping hot and filled with pancetta, sage, and melted Pecorino Romano cheese. The best pick is the slow-braised duck confit tacos ($14). Construct them yourself from ingredients laid out on a wooden board: teeny warm tortillas, a generous heap of tender pulled duck, crunchy jicama-cabbage slaw, and tomatillo and avocado salsa.

Of the seasonal flatbreads ($16), the wild mushroom is decently proportioned with shrooms topped with a mixture of Italian cheeses, arugula, and a scant amount of truffle essence. Special Guests are sides good for nibbling. Hand-cut fries are pricey at $9 but golden crisp and good.

Salads make up the Green Room section. Pair a piquant house sauvignon blanc with the earthy baby beet salad ($13). The wine’s clean acidity is a nice counterpoint to the rich morsels of goat cheese and pistachios tossed throughout. The glass of white also pairs well with crispy skinned Georgia trout ($18) over a quinoa and kale salad with slivered almonds, bourbon cherries, and a tangy citrus dressing.

Dense, super moist flourless chocolate cake with Chambord whipped cream will satisfy a dark chocolate lover. A deconstructed chocolate caramel candy bar is crunchy, gooey, and fun.

Service is amiable and swift before shows begin. Orders arrive quickly. It gets understandably tricky during a show. Concert experience is foremost. Order early. Pay before the end of the show with everyone else.

City Winery’s mix-and-match menu along with a deep wine list and live music combine for a wine country-in-the-city-like experience. The food is not as inimitable as the venue but rises well above standard concert fare. One night, a glass of City Winery Riesling, golden, perfumed, and semi-sweet, went well with the singer-songwriter vibes on stage. It’ll be cool when local performers like Col. Bruce Hampton (Sept. 2) take the stage and guests have glasses of house-made Georgia wine in hand.

City Winery. 650 North Ave. N.E. 404-946-3791. www.citywinery.com.

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