Ahhhhhhhhh … everyone’s favorite gut buster … none other than Carver’s Grocery on the Westside of Midtown. Okay, in all technicality – what you have is a restaurant (aka Carver’s Country Kitchen) inside a grocery (aka Carver’s Grocery). The reality is that in all my years of visiting the Carver’s and their restaurant, I’ve never once see anyone purchase anything remotely approaching a “grocery.” So for the sake of brevity, let’s just call them one in the same.
Carver’s, named after owners Robert and Sharon Carver, is yet another in a long list of Atlanta institutions that serves soul food, aka southern cuisine, aka meat’n three (though they are actually a meat-and-two). Truth is, the vast majority of long standing Atlanta restaurants serves the aforementioned. But that’s neither here nor there, and the culinary classification that you ascribe to this joint is nothing more than a matter of semantics. At the end of the day, you’re going to walk out with your waist line expanded and your health calorically challenged by indigenous food from south of the Mason-Dixon.
There are several requisite behaviors one must prepare for when taking a trip to Carver’s. First: wear loose-fitting clothes; second: leave your plastic at home (cash only); and third, put on a happy face … chances are, you’ll be dining next to someone you don’t know (communal seating).
Meanwhile, more often than not, you’ll find that there is no ideal time to head over to the Westside. Open weekdays from 11 o’clock in the AM until 3 o’clock PM, the restaurant stays pretty busy. Show up early, you’re bound to get stuck in traffic (so to speak). On the contrary, show up late, and the food will match the crowd: thinned out. Sharon makes everything fresh, so when it’s gone … it’s gone. Something has got to give, so you might as well just suck it up, pick a time, and head on over.
Speaking of the menu, Carver’s relies on a stable of items. Each day, Sharon will make around ten entrées, a dozen or so sides, and a handful of deserts. Meanwhile, the five choices from the grain family are there everyday [those choices being: biscuits, corn bread, jalapeño corn bread, cheesy bread, & hush puppies].
Let’s be honest, the ‘hood Carver’s calls home can best be described as sketchy. There’s a reasonable chance that someone could drive by Carver’s every day and just never notice it. The run down exterior translates into a homely interior. I never get the feeling that the place is dirty; rather, it makes no effort to be elegant or refined. Though the cafeteria tables and chairs are simple, the décor is anything but. Odds-and-ends adorn the walls in full force. Funny signs show up, as well as some pictures and apparel.
To the left, you’re likely to find Robert manning the register. However, every so often, Sharon will relieve him. The couple seem to go together like peas and carrots. Drifting toward portly, armed with smiles and incredibly affable personalities, the they are as approachable as anyone.
By now, you’re eyes will drift east. After scanning the five tables your neck will perch as you try to see past the couple of folks that are at the cafeteria style counter in the back. You continue your scan only to notice that those few people are simply the front of the Disney World ride line. So you wait and take it in. As you get closer, you’ll be able to sneak-a-peek at the menu for the day.
Standard plates ring up under $10 and come with one entrée, two sides, and a piece of bread. If you want an extra side or some dessert, it will run you $2.50 per. The wait is over, you’re able to calmly place your order (no Soup Nazi here), and moments later you receive your tray of gluttony. Finding a seat can be somewhat of a chore if your party exceeds two people. Still, you’ll get in – somehow and someway.
Over the years, I’ve pretty much honed in on the fried chicken and the meatloaf for my meal. I’ll mix up the sides; however, I always take an order of the cheesy potato ham casserole when it’s available. As the ambiance would suggest, this food is pretty straightforward and simple. I’ve never been blown away with anything here; however, the flavors are fairly consistent. From one meal to the next, I usually can’t tell the difference. That said, the execution of the food can drift from time to time.
The barbecue is nothing to write home about and I’ve stumbled upon a dry order of turkey every once in a blue moon. Meanwhile, the fired chicken, my ‘ole reliable, is tasty but not perfect. Fried chicken is one of the few things that I think almost always tastes better at home. At Carver’s, the batter isn’t heavy, but it’s not light either. There is something a bit sweet about a bite of their chicken. Though that may just be my palate playing tricks on me. A juicy piece of fried fowl can easily hint at sweetness. Unfortunately, the batter does not adhere to the chicken as much as I would like … this leaves you looking like this kid after a good working of the skin:
I prefer the leg and thigh chicken, but people tend to order the “Dolly Parton” breast more frequently. Like the turkey, I’ve had a dry bite of the breast before. Meanwhile, the dark meat has always been moist (not surprising as the dark meat is easier to cook properly). In fact, it can be moist to a fault. During my most recent excursion, the meat simply fell off the bone. With the batter not far behind, I had to reconstruct my chicken to eat it.
The sides are always fresh and tasty. Nothing exquisite and nothing bad, I have enjoyed most every one of them (sans anything with broccoli). Still, they do a better job with their carbs than they do with their leaves. The mac-n-cheese is popular here. As BG points out, they use Velveeta cheese to satiate my savory desires. The deserts come and go, and all seem to do the job. That said, I’ve never had a bite of one – so take that comment with a grain of salt.
I’d say the only thing about Carver’s that I don’t always care for is the service. That may sound odd given what I’ve already said about everyone’s extremely friendly (and competent) nature. However, more often than not, the friendly runners will continue to offer to refill your beverage no matter how many times you tell them you are fine. Maybe that brings out the curmudgeon in me; but overbearing service can be just as bad as absentee service.
In this small community of foodies, I’m actually surprised there isn’t more written about this place. The food gets bonus points for consistency in the taste. That everything is made fresh daily is also a big plus. People love Carver’s, but true to my reputation, I’m a bit more reserved. I find the food and the experience to be very good, but I never find myself tossing and turning at night wondering when I can get my next fix. Instead, I happily go to Carver’s for a little of variety and some solid southern fare. However, if you haven’t been, you should put this high up on your to-do list.
Before I jet, be warned that parking is somewhat problematic, but I’m sure you’ll manage. There are rumors of valet parking in the future
Ratings (Explained Here)