Fresh out of the groomer, The Thirsty Dog Tavern is now open in Peachtree Hills. A hot mess of Olive Garden meets The Titled Kilt plus Park Tavern with a touch of Taco Mac, it’s a reworking of Vita, the previous tenant at 2100 Peachtree. While it’s location is ideal for the nomad in you and me, I was able to coax Deez from his real world responsibilities so that we could enjoy a little lunch at Atlanta’s newest pet friendly establishment.
The restaurant itself is conceptually all over the map, but the food is most similar to those nationwide chains that try their best to serve basic Italian fare. If memory serves me right, the vast portion of the menu at TDT is a holdover from the previous restaurant. That is no surprise when you consider that Vita’s Tony LaRocco, as noted by John Kessler, is one of the proprietors. Along with Dave Heany, formerly of Star Bar, LaRocco has driven out one failed concept and replaced it with a straw-grasping alternative in the hopes of righting the ship. While little there was horribly wrong, save for the fried food, there wasn’t a single aspect of the meal poking at me for further inspection.
Thirsty Dog Tavern sits in one of those “not quite this one and not quite that one” neighborhoods that are surprisingly prevalent around the city.
Vita 2 (I mean Thirsty Dog) splits itself almost perfectly between the north side of Brookwood Hills and the southern tip of Peachtree Hills. It’s not the most ideal area of town, as there’s only one way to really get there (the artery that is Peachtree Road). However, a handful of other restaurants and businesses bring some life to the scene. In addition to the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia (MOCAGA’s website/twitter), foodie destinations like Restaurant Eugene, Holeman & Finch, and Varasano’s Pizzeria all huddle closely together. Then there is the kitsch of Benihana and the robotic like goodness of Houston’s (the only upper casual chain I speak highly of).
The stand alone building that houses Thirsty remains almost entirely unchanged since the “sex-change” of sorts. The exterior is marked with a new sign, and the interior includes new artwork and logo-laden tables, but that’s about it for the new and improved. The restaurant is actually one big room with an elevated bar on one side and two ledges of tables that flank a dinning pool on the other. Then there is a private room that seems unused at this juncture. All in, it’s mostly a derivation of the sports bar idea, but there aren’t enough TVs in the place to truly make that a reality. Still, you could get away with watching a game if that’s your thang.
All this leads out to a two-tiered patio that is frustrating because of what they want it to be, not so much because of what it is. Little puppy paws paint the ground sporadically, and there are a lineup of water bowls available for your little rascal. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t feel like the best environment for woman’s best friend. The fences in place will not prevent some of the more athletic animals from leaping to their death. Seriously, if Rover went over, he’s probably not landing on the sidewalk. There is also a dearth of green space in or around, so if you really want to go with your dog, it’ll be a car ride from somewhere.
There is of course the one section of grass just to the side of the restaurant. It can’t be more than 100 square feet, and is not fenced in at all. There’s a little dispenser of doggy cleanup stuff, and one red chair for chilling … but that doesn’t exactly invite the idea of “let your dog run around.”
Still, Thirsty Dog does cater to the pets with a menu of doggie treats (including a $13.95 filet … really?) and a Milk Bone Happy Hour (apparently running every Monday-Friday, but I’m not sure when because they don’t tell you). All that is fine and well, but our main focus is on the grub for you an I.
Here is where the already teetering concept of TDT falls over the edge. The vast majority of selections are what Americans familiarly think of as Italian, but it’s just too muddled. It starts with the appetizers, where pommes frites (with the worn thin concept of dipping sauces) and homemade chips give way to fried calamari, bruschetta, and the like. Don’t worry though, there are wings and salads as well.
Though the menu itself doesn’t differ according to the time of day, it’s clearly split with both meals in mind. Sandwiches and burgers are in place (mostly between $8 and $9), but health conscious eaters are corralled into the salads section. Most of the sandwiches are fried (po-boy’s) or include some heavy protein (sausage). Dinner is there too, with veal (in the form of parmigiana, picatta, and marsala), steak, and seafood options for about $15.00. Meanwhile, a handful of pasta dishes (mostly with meat based marinara sauces) join up with the chicken for a number of $10 entrées.
Since fries/chips were on tap for our sides, we selected the sausage and peppers in marinara for our appetizer. You can easily make this dish at home, just go buy a jar of Ragu and package of Italian sausage at your nearest Publix. Moving on …
Being that Deez is familiar with my song and dance, he agreed to do a bait and switch with me. While he took down the special sandwich, I went for the oyster po-boy. Upon arrival, halves were exchanged and we dove in. I went with fries, he went with chips.
Within a handful of moments, we were presented with our sandwiches, which seemed awkward in that they were served in tins that could easily been mistaken for doggie bowls. A little too close for home if you ask me. But I digress. The oyster po-boy include six nicely fried oysters, freshly shredded vegetables, and a rémoulade sauce (close cousin to tartar sauce). The bread, while not on par with the best our city has to offer, was more than sufficient with it’s pillowy construction. Bites were a bit on the messy side, which is something I like in my po-boy’s, and the oysters were fried perfectly. A creamy bite with just enough crunch and freshness to make this at least as good as anything of the like I’ve had at a place like Six Feet Under. This was at least sourced from a better grocery store.
However, all’s not well with the po-boy. Thirsty Dog uses the same oil for everything they fry. What ends up happening is your plate of “housemade” potato chips and French fries take on a pungent smell and a seafood rich taste. There’s a reason why that flavor profile isn’t used more often … it’s bad … very bad. I struggled to get through even the handful of fries and chips I had. It was complicated by the fact that our taters were excessively oily as was. Even if they had used a different oil, I still wouldn’t have been a fan of greased potatoes.
This series of faux pas all came crashing in with the conceptual stretch that they served us in the second sandwich. It was described to us as a “BLT with ham and provolone.” Note to people who try to hard: if your BLT has another meat on it … it ceases to be a BLT. Other than that, it was fine. Yeah, I know … it’s just a “Wanna” BLT, but if you can’t get your messaging right with the most basic of items, there are signs of trouble. But again, constructed out of basic ingredients, it tasted just as it should, but with no spark.
The remaining aspect to be discussed (the service), was also a source of awkwardness. The gentleman running the show was very polite, but a little on the pestering side. He spent time with each table nervously inspecting and inquiring about each aspect of the meal. When not engaged with a customer, he stood over in the corner, nervously looking around as if he had just handed his parents a test on which he scored a 67; he wasn’t sure what to expect as a reaction. Granted, these observations are far less disturbing than if he’d been a tyrannical overseer of a horrible restaurant. But still, it was awkward nonetheless.
Because the scantily clad waitresses are such an integral aspect of the branding, the impact on the customers is worth noting. I’m not here to even take a cursory swipe at “sex sells” motif from a sociological/ideological perspective, but simply put: if you want to use sex to sell … get some sex in there. The servers at Thirsty Dog cavort around in Catholic school girl outfits where the back side of the skirts leave far too little to the imagination. Mind you, the criticism here is not in the friendly confines of the individual waitresses. Of the four we interacted with, all were just as nice as can be; that they seemed only quasi-proficient at their jobs and probably shouldn’t have been wearing what they were wearing is as much an extension people running the show as anything.
This conceptual misfire even seemed to extend to the customer base. There’s just something odd about seeing a table of elderly women being served by a girl who might as well be a bar keep at the Cheetah (based on what they outfit them in).
There just isn’t a lot to rally around at Thirsty Dog. With run of the mill ingredients and a Plain Jane menu, they put a great deal of burden on the alternative factors. Nothing really works in that department. It’s not a blight, not a place to yell at; but, it’s not worth the a drive of any significant distance and offers little solace for those of us who hope that there’s something magical hidden in the backroom.