I was apprehensive to say the least. High-brow, underground supper clubs strike a strange cord with me. On the one hand, it’s kind of cool to hit up a private event that requires a trip to the piggy bank. On the other hand, there is something snob-elitish about events that come with a $150 price tag, all white garb, and a super secret location (as this one did). Mind you, supper clubs come in all shapes and sizes. However, this one clearly went the way of “deep thoughts … by F. Scott Fitzgerald.”
Atlanta has it’s fair share of private dining events and one such purveyor of said events is a woman by the name Jenny Levison. Known around these parts as “Souper Jenny,” there is a Buckhead sandwich shop which bares that moniker. Jenny’s shop is a warm and friendly place, and that led me to believe that my fears would be quashed when the event rolled around. In addition, I hear that entry into one of these seatings [sic] is as hard to come by as a golden ticket into Wonka-ville. However, that’s due to demand, and not any pretense. As it follows, when the opportunity to attend one of these events presented itself, I jumped. It was an evening of firsts, and the experience is worth a recap.
As a note, I will make it a point to abandon the long winded nature of my recent reviews … however … this meal (as those I just referred to) deserves my fullest attention). At least read the last paragraph!
Information dripped in. First up, the invite gave you the date, the price tag, and the requisite dress code. There was no indication as to the location or the food slinger. I groveled a bit … after all, I’m not well equipped in the white pants department (I still love ya Souper J – but couldn’t we have just gone with khaki pants???).
Less than 24-hours to kick off and finally we get the location: The Duck Pond, a private park in the 30305. Still … no word on the meat slinger.
What possessed Katie to drag me along is a mystery unto itself. Regardless, I wasn’t gonna give her the chance to come to her senses. In what turned out to offer a bit of foreshadowing, I thought it appropriate that we hit up nearby Holeman & Finch for some apéritifs. I think it’s safe to say that I’m like a fly on the wall at H&F; however, I almost always make this the end of the night stop.
Down went the booze and out the door we shuffled (looking like we were on our way to a funeral with a sick sense of humor). As we got to the door, H&F super gal (and part-owner) Regan stopped us. Something was up, and I should have known. Still, we made it out the door with me unable to fit the pieces together.
A short drive up the road, we arrived at the Duck Pond as one of the last to arrive. We were pleasantly greeted and finally, the cat was let out the bag. The man in spectacles was none other than Linton Hopkins … DAMN YOU REGAN!!!! ;-) My teeth pushed through and the little bit of tension that remained did a Usain Bolt (only to be reeled back in moments later). I was shocked to see that Jenny had wrangled this guy away from Restaurant Eugene on a Saturday night.
While I still think some Khaki’s would have worked, I appreciate what Jenny was doing. Four tables were neatly laid out on a quilt of white linens. With no table legs in site, this was gonna be a cobble squat. However, no picnic plastic to be found. Bamboo dishes, neatly printed menus, and glass stemware covered the tables. Meanwhile, accents of beige and yellow helped balance the area against the deep greens of the park. Some flowers, a few pillows, and some tiki torches … and we have a winner.
To kill some time, guests were offered a cocktail that screamed H&F top to bottom. The Duck Pond cocktail didn’t last long in my glass (nor did any of the refills). Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, Orange Curacao, Orange & Grapefruit juice and a splash of rosé vermouth went down nice and easy. Admittedly sweet in nature, the acidic kick of the juices were spot on.
Meanwhile, my blood pressure quickly went from 0 to 250 in about 1 second flat. I eyed the crowd and saw more than a few people who knew me. Too funny! Thank goodness they were all close acquaintances. Since Katie and I were actually some of the younger ones present, my crew helped me bridge the gap to other guests.
About this time, we realized that each individual had one of four names on a slip of paper… ahh … the inevitable mixer! I ran for cover and quickly tried to hoard my posse at a table. I was graciously rebuffed and in the end … I’m glad. Being mixed in with everyone helped make the event feel more relaxed.
While we drank, appetizers (identified as “passed” on the menu) floated around. How appropriate. Included in the mix was an amuse-bouche cup with chilled pea soup. Accented with fresh mint leaf, the soup itself was substantive but light. A nice touch since many a pea soup come with a hearty density. Not to be forgotten, the mint buzzed in at just the right time.
Also making the rounds was some charred toast with a purée of fava beans. References to Silence of the Lambs aside, this dish grabbed my attention. The purée made excellent use of the buttery, yet nutty bitterness of the fava bean. Fava beans are one of the more labor intensive beans I know of. To see Hopkins utilize them in such extenuating circumstances was nothing less than REALLY FUCKING COOL!
Eventually, Jenny and her crew sent the foodies scurrying toward the “dining hall.” Some nice chitter chatter broke out and food started arriving (along with plenty of wine). The very first dish of the night easily took home the big blue ribbon. The culprit was grilled baby romaine with chèvre, crisp ham, spiced almonds, and citrus vinaigrette. That this was produced by a chef armed with nothing more than an outdoor TRAVEL grill was a total shock (seems like we’ve heard that before). The goat cheese (aka chèvre) gave a creamy balance to a dish marked by the vinaigrette and ham against the almonds and the lettuce.
Other samplings followed and each did a fine job of pleasing my palate (which was quickly being washed away by Mr. Hol). The pimento cheese on sesame crisps was fresh and clean and hinted at spice. Though it didn’t make me twitch, others with a lesser tolerance for spice seemed to take note. Next up, the bacon wrapped quail. I missed the bacon entirely and the flavors here weren’t readily available. Still, the fowl was cooked perfectly and remained juicy throughout my sampling. Thumbs up (especially in the circumstances).
Last but not least, each guest was handed a small bowl of pickled shrimp. Touched off with carrot slivers and onions, I might be mistaken in my previous statement. All I know is that I commandeered one of these for myself. The pickling was in full effect; meanwhile, the shrimp themselves showed no signs of “ringing” and were cooked so as to maintain their staple characteristics. Act I – fin!
Shortly after I licked the last of the pickled juices off my grublits, Jenny threw us a curve ball. Grab your silverware and glasses and get your groove on at another table. Being the wild and rebellious guy that I am, I decided to stay put. After all, if everyone else moves – I’ll get a whole new crowd anyway. Economy of motion in full effect.
Flanked by new company, the main event rolled in. I must say that by this time, my taste buds were shot (take a guess as to why). However, I still took the time in between my conversations with those around me to appreciate the execution of the food. I’ll be honest, the food from Saturday was earth shattering. This however, is only because it was restricted by the difficult kitchen setup. Given those short comings, I am nothing more than astounded by Linton’s culinary talents.
The Grilled Salmon (accompanied by tomato and basil fondue) didn’t miss a beat. There is nothing easier to do in the kitchen than poodle screw a piece of fresh fish. Hopkins maintained his strong performance. The salmon flaked apart as I had hoped and as best as I could tell … did not taste “fishy” in the slightest. High quality ingredients cooked properly! Meanwhile, the hangar steak with parsley and red onion salad showed me something: the person(s) responsible for this meal know a thing or two about statements. Play the hand your dealt. Look, maybe someone else would be more critical of this set up … but remember … there was no Viking in site. The steak was cooked to medium temperature … approaching 150F but not quite there. I’m a medium rare guy myself, but I can respect someone who puts out a good piece of beef that isn’t dried out.
Not a sweets guy, I do think I need to at least reference the Peach cobbler. They made use of Clabber cream. Shockingly, this wasn’t my first experience with clabber cream. For those of you in the dark, it is very similar to crème fraîche, but thicker and more like a smooth ricotta. It’s not common these days as the creator must rely on unpasteurized milk to concoct the stuff.
I guess that I should make also mention that another dessert course was available. However, the only reason I know it was there was that it was on the menu. A southern cheese plate with bread almonds and honey was bogarted … I’m looking at you Mr. & Mrs. Gail. All kidding aside, I can’t say I missed it. I was definitely full and plenty happy to spend my time in conversation with the nice woman who was forced to put up with me for the last half of the meal.
At the end of the day, the food might have lacked the true finish that Hopkins cuisine is known for. However, it’s a more than understandable reality, given that he was working outdoors with mobile equipment. That said, the food Hopkins put forth on Saturday easily rivaled the dishes at some of ATL’s more respected eateries. If I had to put up this kinda dough in a restaurant, I’d have had a totally different set of expectations. Here, everything worked flawlessly.
[Colbert just cropped his top … cool]
As the word count continues to pile up, I’d be remise if I didn’t say thank you to Gina (Linton’s boss … cough … better half). She was a great addition to the experience and I’m sorry I didn’t take more time to talk about her and Jenny. The two of them really did a wonderful job. Meanwhile, I managed to sneak in a conversation with Linton … but I’ll leave the details of that for another time.
Bottom line is: if you can get past the pristine wrapping and the price tag, Souper Jenny supper clubs seem like an AWESOME thing to get in on. Once you stop worrying about the surface matter, you’ll find yourself in a friendly environment filled with great food and wonderful hosts. While I can’t speak to the company you will find yourself in – I lucked out. If you want to get in on one of these, get in line over at Souper Jenny’s special events page.
Before I check out, another one of the guests posted her thoughts over on her blog. Interestingly enough, I don’t think we ran into each other in the crowd of 20 or so. In addition, she has pictures … so it’s worth a visit.