Sauced, Ria Pell’s new fusion soul food venture in Inman Park Atlanta, has been motoring along for several months. Though the restaurant came up for a brief breath of air in 2009, it actually opened for real in early 2010. Soon after, Spark Plug and I made it the appetizer stop on one of our habitual dinning excursions. Though it’s taken me a while to recap the less than stellar experience, ATLiens have been treated to several reviews during my hiatus thanks to some of our mainstream media brethren (linkage at the bottom). It seems I’m not alone in my total lack of fandom for Sauced.
Sauced itself is Pell’s attempt to offer entry-level fine dining. After building up her eponymous Ria’s Bluebird to the point where it’s one of the more well-known breakfast places, Pell is now serving "inspired” soul food in the midst of a late 60’s-esc dinning hall. I use the words inspired here loosely because the only true inspiration seems to be coming from the servers. In the world of take it or leave it, this grub is definitely a leave it. To put it another way, it’s never a good thing when someone spends the first part of a review talking about something other than the atmosphere or the food itself. In the case of Meridith Ford Goldman, she talked about the bathrooms. Not a good sign.
At the time we walked into Sauced, there was little background information available on the food itself (or anything else for that matter). Had we known what to expect, I’d have grabbed me an order of lemon ice box pie and made a beeline to the bathrooms just as soon as it showed up. Naturally, I would have brought my pie with me. I would suppose taking solace in a bathroom stall would have been a smart way to save the experience. However, I didn’t visit the lavatories and didn’t stick around for dessert.
Though many have lauded it, I found the layout to be somewhat off-putting in its awkwardness. The most obvious inspiration for the decor would be late 60’s into mid 70’s home decor. There are a few curve balls in there, but the heavily brown palette is definitely from the era of disco balls, bell bottoms, and platform shoes. The wood paneling sure as hell took me back to my grandparents basement in Swampscott, and they re-did it somewhere in the early 60s. That should tell you something about the vibe at Sauced. It’s a bit kitschy and somewhat campy, but kind of fun at the same time. However, the lack of a hostess stand and no real “flow” in the L-shaped room prevent it from being truly comfortable. Rather, it’s intriguing. Oh wait! What mood is established is summarily slaughtered when you notice one of those tacky gas-station ATMs next to one of the doors. You see, Sauced is cash only. Not a bad move to have it onsite and while outside isn’t really an option, I’m surprised to see the machine displayed so prominently.
After a somewhat disjointed greeting (remember: no host or hostess), we were seated toward the back in one of the many booths. Surrounded by a number of couple’s on their first dates, we dove into the menu looking for that creative streak Pell is known for at Bluebird. Sure enough, that’s what we found.
While I thought about giving the southern dolmas a run, we ended up settling in on the canapé du jour. As a note, the dolmas themselves ($5) essentially swap the grape leaves for collard greens. As for the canapés, that days offering included prosciutto, a thin slice of mild cheese, and some sweet mustard. It was a nice idea, but I wouldn’t really call the assembly “inspired.” Served on a biscuit, we found the bread dried out. The rest of the ingredients were fine … but for a $4 glorified slider, I just didn’t see any reason to lust.
Next on the platter were the playful black-eyed pea fritters. Stuffed with jalapeño and cheddar, there were three mighty fritters to our order ($5), joined on the plate by some shameful attempts at sauce. The fritters themselves were texturally intriguing, and the peas in fritter form were a nice touch … but alas … if you over cook anything, I don’t care what the ingredients are … it’s just not that good. The sauces themselves didn’t have a chance to help. They were glorified samplings of stuff you’d expect to find in a bottle. The hotlanta sauce was neither hot nor good; the smoked tomato vinaigrette was essentially liquid smoke in the guise of a sauce; and, the sweet chili absolutely could have been purchased from any Chinese restaurant in town that uses those little packets. Bleh!
The real tragesty (yes – that’s right … think travesty meets tragedy) were the entrées. I really wanted to like the ribs confit, but there’s only so much that hope can do for you. Supposedly simmered for six hours, these spare ribs were either cooked for much longer or at a higher than ideal temperature. It was just sloppy. The sauce meanwhile had congealed into a sticky, gummy crust that hopefully wasn’t intentional and the sweet potato fries (totally bland) and the red hot slaw (not hot under any interpretation) did little to complete a bite. What you ended up with was a sugary crust around a dried out piece of meat.
Okay, so perhaps there was hope our pork tenderloin special. Once again, we had a flat, overcooked, and nearly flavorless piece of meat. While the meat was robbed of any chance of flavor, the greens on the plate were tart … which is what happens when the chef walks away for a smoke break in the middle of cooking. I’m hoping that’s what happened … because that would at least explain why it was so beaten.
I want to go back through this review, perfuse each sentence and turn it into an academic jewel … but frankly, I just don’t have any desire to give this meal any more thought than I already have. For a meal that came in just shy of $50 (before tax and title), we really should have received better food. Perhaps a libation or two would have helped.
Whatever the case, maybe I’ll be back … and maybe Sauced will be improved. While I’d bet on a return trip, the second seems unlikely. But hey, we all make mistakes.
Atlanta Foodies on Sauced
- Creative Loafing on Sauced (02.22.2010)
- Atlanta Journal on Sauced (02.16.2010)
- Adventurous Tastes on Sauced (01.11.2010)