When he opened Holeman & Finch, a public house set across the breezeway from his original Atlanta boîte, Restaurant Eugene, Linton Hopkins ditched the demi-skillets and mini-casseroles made in France by Le Creuset. Turns out that Lodge Manufacturing, up the road in Tennessee, casts similar iron vessels, burnished black and ready to go from oven to table.
Hopkins, whom I profiled in the January 2008 issue of Gourmet, also built a menu that is resolutely American. A menu that is straightforward. And pleasantly random. A menu without a whiff of pretense. That means crisped planks of souse with a sauce of mustard and capers. And fried pig ears and tails with barbecue sauce. And roasted veal sweetbreads over braised greens and hog jowl with brown butter. And pimento cheese with saltines.
Hopkins—who continues to lead the kitchen at Restaurant Eugene, and has ceded day-to-day at Holeman & Finch to young Tony Seachrist—wanted a grilled cheese sandwich, not a croque monsieur. A quick translation, and a bit of literary flourish, resulted in a sandwich he calls the crunchy gentleman. Steak tartare gave way to, well, hand-chopped steak.
Don’t think Hopkins a xenophobe. He’s not of the Freedom Fry School of cookery. He dotes on French wine. (And he knows his Russian lit.) He’s just trying to demystify dinner, to pull the veil back and introduce honest eats, sourced and cooked with integrity, served with smarts but without folderol. (I understand that’s something of a trend these days.)
Speaking of trends, Holeman & Finch calls itself a public house, but it fits well within the gastropub wheelhouse. (In other words, if you like Spotted Pig in New York’s West Village, you’ll love this place.) The space communicates the no-nonsense message. More than half the seating is communal, and all first-come-first-serve diners are packed in anchovy-tin-tight. The walls are patchworks of hammered and patinaed metal. All manner of other house-cured pork parts are illuminated behind panels of glass, along with jars of pickled vegetables.
Cocktails, courtesy of Greg Best—until recently, the barman at Restaurant Eugene, and now a partner in Holeman & Finch—are beautifully conceived. Order a Vieux Carré and you’ll get a mix of rye, Cognac, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, and bitters. (It sounds like a mashup, but it showcases the historical role of brandy in American cocktails, and it goes down like water.) Better still is the Southern Cola, a pleasantly bitter blend of Amaro and Coke, served over a cube of frozen lime juice.
For closers, stay with the Coke theme. Specifically, the Down Low Coke Float, poured with Mexican Coke, sweetened with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. (“Down low” is, evidently, a geographical term.) Stacked alongside are two yeast donuts, draped in a sugary shawl of icing. If Best’s cocktails don’t knock you for a loop, the sheer caloric punch of this dessert will.
Holeman & Finch 2277 Peachtree Rd., Atlanta, GA (404-948-1175; holeman-finch.com)