As a hobby-blogger, or whatever you want to call someone that blows all of their own money on food and then writes about it, repeat visits to restaurants with $30 entrees are more of a luxury than a necessity. First impressions are often all that you can afford.
But there was one phrase that I uttered during my first meal at 4th and Swift that convinced me that I must eat here again if anyone, including myself, could take my review seriously:
“This might have been the best overall meal that I’ve had in Atlanta in the last 6 months.”
How in the hell am I supposed to drop a bomb like that in a review after one visit? I mean, I’ve made some sweeping statements based on single experiences in the past, but come on…that’s a little dramatic don’t you think?
I had to make sure that this wasn’t a fluke.
Tucked away in the old engine room of the Southern Dairies’ building at the corner of North Ave. and Glen Iris, 4th & Swift absolutely drips with “Industrial chic”. I usually pay little mind to the décor of a restaurant, and rarely comment on it. I don’t give a damn if you are slinging grub from the back of a rickshaw if it tastes good. But Ai3, the design team behind 4th & Swift, did a great job of making the exposed brick/loft look feel both modern and inviting at the same time. Sophisticated and warm, but not stuffy.
Chef/Owner Jay Swift, from South City Kitchen and Rainwater fame, has really settled into his own with the modern comfort food cuisine at 4th & Swift. Though he avoids using the phrase “Farm-to-Table”, and I applaud him for that, it is also worth nothing that Swift has a strong focus on local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients. However, I feel that “Modern Comfort Food” (Swift’s own classification for his cooking) doesn’t really do him justice. The level of refinement, subtlety, and artistry that goes into each of his dishes amounts to much more than gussied up classic southern dishes.
Contemporary Southern Food is what Swift was doing at South City Kitchen, and he did it well. But the work he is doing at 4th & Swift far exceeds that, and is evidence of a great progression in his career. Swift is hitting on all cylinders.
I went into my first meal here essentially blind. I had no clue what to order, had read no reviews, and couldn’t even clearly tell you what kind of cuisine Swift was serving. The menu is divided into two sections: A Seasonal Menu and a Market Menu (Daily specials). More than once I’ve found myself flipping between the two rife with indecision.
On our first visit there was one appetizer that jumped out at me, especially after our helpful and attentive server’s mouth-watering description: The Maryland Blue Crab Cake topped with whole grain mustard crema, lardons, and a whole quail egg.
You wouldn’t be able to tell from the slightly fuzzy picture above, but this crab cake had the perfect ratio of breading to crab. Meaning that other than the flavorful crust around the outside, it was all lump crab meat and flavor on the inside. And that, by itself, would have left this dish in the “good” range, just out of reach of “great”. But a forkful of that succulent crab with a swath of the mustard crema and a few chunks of the pork fat, all draped in the runny yolk of the quail egg? Divine. One of the bests crab cakes I’ve ever had, without question.
We’re off to a good start.
Being the glutton that I am, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a second appetizer. And there is something about the words “Crispy Niman Ranch Pork Shank” that just make me get all tingly in my nether-regions.
Served with warm polenta, citrus gremolata, and a red pepper slaw, this was responsible for many moans and eye-rolls at our table. Though the polenta and gremolata, typically served with veal ossobuco, absolutely complemented the pork, all of my attention was on the shank. Upon first inspection, I braced myself for a dry, overcooked piece of meat. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead, what I got was a wonderful contrast in texture, with the crispy exterior giving way to succulent bites of pork that oozed flavor.
I don’t understand why every piece of meat I eat isn’t cooked with the bone still in. On the list of things that God got right, putting bones inside pork has to be near the Top 10. Right behind putting fat on ducks.
For my entrée I ordered what I later came to find out is one of Swift’s signature dishes, the “Three Little Pigs”. Pork loin, served with house made sausage, and some pork belly to boot? Yes please. Oh, and I get Mac & Cheese too? Whatever….just bring me the pig.
This one was really a no brainer for me. My better half even called it as soon as she saw it on the menu: “Oh, well you are OBVIOUSLY getting the three little pigs, so…”
Overall, I was very satisfied with this dish, though it wasn’t perfect. The belly was superb. The skin was oh-so-crispy and the fat melted in my mouth. The house made sausage was fantastic, packed with sage and piggy goodness. It was only the pork loin that was marginally disappointing. Though the flavor was good, it was a little dry. But if you have read my blog before, my irritation with pork loin and its propensity for drying out is nothing new. So I let them off with a warning, ‘cause I get it.
So lets recap, shall we? Crab cakes: Amaze-balls. Pork Shank: Ri-frickin’-diculous. 3 pigs: a pork-orgy.
So, there is really nowhere to go but down from here. I’m already so full, and so satisfied, that ordering dessert not only sounds like a terrible idea, but I’m pretty sure that it will only sully what has, so far, been a wonderful meal.
Enter, Stage Left: The Sticky Toffee Pudding.
OH. MY. GOD.
I rarely get this excited about a dish unless it required some form of slaughtering, but this has made my top 10 dishes in Atlanta. Easily my favorite dessert in town. I considered running to the bathroom to pull the trigger and make room for 6 more of these. Then do it all again.
If you like caramel and toffee, don’t leave without trying this. I’m not really a dessert guy, and I ordered this again on my second visit.
Speaking of which, good news everybody: After my return to 4th & Swift, all of my suspicions of their greatness were confirmed. And since I’m starting to drone on, why don’t we pick up the pace a little?
Here are some highlights.
Chicken Livers w/ brioche toast:
Fantastic chicken livers, and definitely some of the best that I’ve had. Granted, you have to have the palette and mental fortitude for chicken livers, but it was tough to argue with whatever bath of wonderfulness that these were sitting in. The only complaint that I had about this dish was the toast-to-liver ratio was way off. I had to immediately ask for an extra basket of rolls so that I could keep going. Even for me, the texture of a mouthful of just liver can be a bit daunting. But, by the time our server took this from me, that bowl looked like it had just come out of the dishwasher.
Pan Roasted Squab:
Golden, fatty, caramelized skin wrapped around succulent dark pigeon meat, sitting atop fava beans and charred chunks of pineapple. My server said that it was some of the best squab that she has ever had, and I’m glad that I took her word for it. While the best squab I’ve ever eaten was at Quinones, this was an easy 2nd place.
I think I’ve made my point here. I love this place, and I’ll scream it from the rooftops with reckless abandon. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a date with some more Sticky Toffee Pudding.
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