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First Look: Old Lady Gang

Kandi Burruss and Todd Tucker's Old Lady Gang flies above the curse of celebrity restaurants



Image LADIES TO THE FRONT: Old Lady Gang's initials in lightsEric CashSunlight pours through the expansive windows and skylight at Old Lady Gang (OLG), warming the atmosphere. In the main dining room, enlarged family photos adorn one wall, and the letters bOLGb light up another.

Heading to eat here, I was hesitant. Days earlier, a co-worker had a four-hour dining experience that ended long after the restaurant had closed its doors b and not by choice. I live in Castleberry Hill, where the new restaurant is located, and had seen the lines of hopeful diners waiting to get in, cars parked along every inch of our streets. (The paid lot is $10, but you risk a parking ticket otherwise.) Of course, the hype was to be expected, given that celebrity proprietors Kandi Burruss and Todd Tucker spent much of the past season of bReal Housewives of Atlantab discussing the hardships and highlights of opening their family restaurant. Fans of the show will recognize the spot where incarcerated ex-househusband Apollo Nidabs new girlfriend made her debut, surprising Burruss at a friends and family event.

The restaurantbs name pays homage to Burrussbs mother and aunts: Mama Joyce, Aunt Nora and Aunt Bertha, the bold lady gangb who often clique up against a common enemy on bHousewives.b A bwantedb poster featuring the founding members hangs next to the bar.

Image KICKIN' CHICKEN: Aunt Bertha's Springer Mountain Farms fried chicken with mac and cheese and collard greensEric CashOLG opened quietly in March with Jaaion bChef Jb Barnes at the helm. Because the restaurant is still in its soft opening period, the menu remains the same for lunch and dinner. Burruss and Tucker's family recipes serve as inspiration for the Southern comfort food menu, and most dishes are named after relatives: fried chicken for Aunt Bertha, French toast for Tuckerbs late mother, Sharon. Barnes says dishes are health-conscious versions of what youbd find at grandmabs Sunday dinner.

The restaurant doesnbt have a working phone line yet, so I made our reservation on OpenTable. We arrived 15 minutes early and were seated in about five, though the restaurant was already packed. We watched Aunt Nora float around the dining room, hugging and chatting with guests. Tucker sat at the marble-topped bar, three TV screens playing above his head.

Rustic unfinished wood panels and whitewash cover the walls. The room feels cramped, but Castleberry Hill spaces arenbt known for gratuitous square footage, and there's a nice patio outside. My friends and I can hear each other clearly despite the number of conversations happening around us, a luxury not granted at many spots around town.

Image TAKE A BITE: Mama Sharon's seared crab cakes come with a corn relish and remoulade.Eric CashOur server arrived about 20 minutes after we were seated, cornbread and honey sauce in hand, but that gave us enough time to scan the menu and decide on cocktails (and starters, and entrC)es). Cocktails range from $9-$13. We ordered Mama Joycebs House Punch, a blend of coconut rum, cranberry and pineapple juices, banana liqueur, lime sour and ginger ale, and the OLG Cadillac Margarita b Don Julio, lime sour and a shot of Grand Marnier. They were out of Grand Marnier, so I accepted a tequila substitute. House Punch was sweet and tropical with heavy notes of banana, while the margarita was light and refreshing, the sidecar just enough to kick it from good to bwhew!b

After a lengthy wait, the starters arrived, sans chicken wings. We let our server know and started in. The char on the lamb lollipops ($14 for three) lent smokiness to the meat but indicated the pops sat on the grill a touch too long. Balsamic glaze and cool pineapple salsa balance out the lambbs saltiness. Juice from the sliders ($11), two perfectly well done angus beef patties topped with remoulade and lettuce on a pretzel bun, oozed with each bite (two at most), and accompanying truffle garlic fries were crispy and satisfying. Crab cakes proved the stars of round one: lightly golden exteriors filled with tender shredded crabmeat and topped with corn relish.

EntrC)es arrived a few moments after we finished the starters. Springer Mountain Farms fried chicken ($14) came with collard greens and mac and cheese. The chicken is fried in soybean or canola oil depending on market price, according to Barnes. Skin is crisp and not too thick or thin, chewy without being oily. You can order white meat for a $2 upcharge, but youbd be playing yourself. The breast is dense and dry, while the thigh is rich and fatty. Our grilled ribeye with mashed red potatoes and green beans ($28), ordered medium, arrives well done, but the balsamic glaze again balances the fatty cut of meat. The mashed potatoes and collard greens, however, felt like afterthoughts. The potatoes needed moisture and the collards lacked the smoky turkey the menu promised. Opt for silky green beans and creamy mac and cheese instead, each portion topped with its own sheet of gooey goodness.

Image BEST COAST: OLG's shrimp and grits made with wild Georgia shrimp and local gritsEric CashShrimp and grits ($15) won the entrC)e menu: Six plump wild Georgia shrimp on a bed of rich local grits with vodka cream sauce, cooked slowly with smoked Gouda for extra heartiness. Just one bite elicited a bLord have mercyb from one of my dining companions.

Our long lost wings ($12, eight per order) arrive as we finish up the entrC)es. Theybre flash fried, then grilled and coated in a top secret OLG wing sauce. Cayenne stings the lips and the back of the throat with each bite. These wings are craveworthy. Be sure to ask for bleu cheese, or ruin the wings with ranch. Diner's choice.

Bananas foster banana pudding ($6) stands alone on the dessert menu. Layers of rum-sauced banana slices; thick, cookie-like crust; and lightly torched hand-whipped cream cover congealed banana pudding. It lacks flavor, and cinnamon overpowers the flambC) sauce.

Image EASY BREEZY: OLG's downstairs patioEric CashOLG has the potential to be a celebrity success story in a town where such restaurants are oftenB overratedB and short-lived. Barnes says they want to treat the menu like the iPhone, presenting a few home runs up front and adding more over time (be on the lookout for a bread pudding peach cobbler). In the meantime, OLG fills a need for good, accessible food done well b and at a cozy price point.

As we left the restaurant, a man called out from his car, bLadies! Was the food good?b

bYes!b we responded in unison.

Old Lady Gang, 177 Peters St. S.W. www.oldladygang.com.



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