Grant Park’s Young Augustine’s rose from the ashes of The Standard early this year. This neighborhood take on the gastro pub is the brainchild of Chris Johnson, owner of The Standard, Andy Gonzales, a well traveled chef, and Kyle Faucher, the manager who I know little about. While the fate of the Standard seemed set by a series of tragic circumstances, these three gents set out to infuse the space with a bit of life.
Frequenters of 327 Memorial’s previous tenant will remember the joint for its dive bar atmosphere and low-brow bar food. That’s all a distant memory. The one notable holdover is the bocce ball court out back. On the other hand, the interior has been blown open, leaving a community table in the middle and a long, polished wood bar against the back wall. Taking it all in one Saturday afternoon, and on the heels of some rather flattering reviews, I had high hopes for YA’s. Unfortunately, the interior was the first thing, and just about the last thing, that I actually enjoyed during my one meal there.
The space has a good bit of glass, a flat panel TV, and a good “bar feng shui.” Though the one-sided booths that line the walls are a bit awkward (on account of a foot block), Young Augustine’s won’t drive you away because of the digs. Unless of course you fancy yourself a cigarette fiend … those have been given the heave ho.
Though AW and I were seated rather promptly, service during my one meal at Augustine’s volleyed between sympathetically incompetent to downright “I see our waitress but I’m not sure why she won’t come over here.”
As people who go to restaurants tend to do, we started to peruse the menus. I was immediately sparked. Surely a local pub with dishes like pulled pork and kimchi tacos, a short rib grilled cheese, and heirloom tomatoes should be able to put together a fun and exciting meal. Then I stepped back and thought for a moment.
Like Aesop and his sheep’s clothing, this list fell away only to reveal a concept that is way too focused on being different. When you learn of Gonzales’ past work (Spice Market), you begin to understand why his menu assemblies seem so enthused. Like his menu presentation at Steinbeck’s, Gonzales’ efforts show life; but, the menu is ultimately a disconnected thought process.
Elements of American-Mex (tater tot nachos), Southeast Asian grub, and even some Indian and Korean inspirations, all sit isolated from one and other. These offerings are great for the indecisive and/or adventurous … so long as the execution isn’t strained by the reach.
Our shrimp-scallion pancake was batter thick, oily, and dominated by the oyster sauce ladled on top. The saltiness in the sauce combined with the greasy onion flavors did not sit well. Meanwhile, the pubescent sized shrimp inside might as well have been nabbed from the Red Lobster truck.
The notyototchos (tater tot nachos) read like simple fun: tater tots, “gringo” fundido, tomatoes, scallions, and fresh jalapeños. The tots were store bought bulk variety, the cheese as bottom shelf, and the resulting flavor was as bland as one could expect. It was mushy and underdeveloped. I guess we could have added some bacon for a bit of flavor, but the $2 surcharge didn’t seem worth it.
We struggled on. The lady of the table went with their heirloom tomato sandwich. Though the bread held up just fine, the cheese, tomatoes, and basil found with in were again … totally bland. Hope focused on the truffle mac & cheese … only to be summarily dashed by under cooked shells (that were too large for mac & cheese) and the taste of that pseudo truffle oil bogarted by people not willing to use the real stuff. Maybe the product is supposed to be better … but it sure didn’t taste like it.
My meal came to a crescendo of bad with the pork and kimchi tacos. With a slew restaurants producing kimchi, I think Young Augustine’s might be best served to outsource this. Meanwhile, the shredded pork heap sat inside the generic flour tortillas, dripping juice and tasting like stringed mush. For $9, I got three tacos and condiment cups of sour cream and bottle salsa … way over priced and way under delivered.
With all this bad, there has to be some good. I can assure you it rests in Aimee Achilli, whose wunderkind like beer list steals the show. Achilli might be this cities version of Archie Manning … a great talent in a crappy situation. “But Foodie B., you don’t even like beer?” True, sudsy water has never made the bristles on my neck stand up. But I can assure, after several years in the bar business and some time slinging bottled grape juice … I know a good beer list when I really study it.
Achilli’s assembled list includes 30 craft and imported beers on draft. While I have long lamented the lack of depth in our culinary industry, our beer culture is pretty good. With destination taps available at places like The Brick Store and The Porter, Young Augustine’s has some tough competition in perhaps Atlanta’s toughest food & beverage category. If she doesn’t already know how good she is – perhaps she will now. Achilli’s beer talents puts her place of employ up on high.
[For those of you looking to get out some more … Achilli runs a “Beer 101” class on the first Monday of every month. At roughly $15 for carbonation (and some grub), you’d be hard pressed to complain.]
Still, the beer list will only get them so far. The sourcing needs some major upgrading and I’d like to see the menu trim down its cultural diversity. These dishes can work … but they need some TLC. At the end of the day, the restaurant has been around long enough that a meal like this should have never left the stove, much less hit the table.
Atlanta Foodies on Young Augustine’s
- AJC on Young Augustine’s (06.15.10)
- The Food Abides on Young Augustine’s (03.22.10)
- Atlanta Beer on Young Augustine’s (03.08.10)
- CL on Young Augustine’s (03.05.10)