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"The cornmeal coating is too thick, and the tomatoes are too soggy," Brittany said with a sniff. I'm sorry to say that I was equally disappointed. I've had some tasty starters here, including the collard-green dip — a sassy spin on the standard spinach and cream-cheese concoction. The bitter greens give this dip some punch, but they were out of it that afternoon.
Yes, the appetizer plate was still on our table when the next course arrived — a basic salad with a wildly sweet honey-mustard dressing that Franklin loved. "It tastes like candy!" he said.
For dinner, he ordered the fried chicken. I've had it before and knew it would be good, even if it wasn't up to Stroud's standard — or maybe even the Peachtree Buffet standard. I'm more a fan of this restaurant's salmon croquettes, with their seriously crunchy and delicious crust.
Brittany ordered the meatloaf — another signature dish here — baked with a tomato sauce. It was fine if not outstanding. Lauren's baked catfish, slathered in lemon juice and pepper, was moist enough but bland. "You should have gotten the fried catfish," I told her. "Eating healthy in a soul-food restaurant is practically sinful."
My plate of fat, braised oxtail bones looked sinful enough. The meat — what little was actually there — was tender and lusciously caramelized. But I would have starved if it hadn't been for the wonderful side dishes: macaroni and cheese, cornbread stuffing with gravy, and tarty simmered collard greens.
It was a pleasant, home-style Sunday supper in a comfortable, occasionally theatrical setting. (One of the women at the next table wore a hat designed like the one Aretha Franklin had on during the presidential inauguration.) But the little mistakes kept ratcheting up the irritation quotient. When our server brought coffee for Lauren and me, she announced that the kitchen was out of cream so she had brought milk instead. That was fine, but she had brought it in a coffee cup.
"This restaurant could afford these expensive triangle-shaped plates," Lauren hissed across the table, "and they don't have any creamers?"
I suspect the restaurant is spending money on a bakery-made chocolate layer cake, too. Though it was deliciously moist with fudgy frosting, it looked a lot like the moist, fudgy cake sold in a certain big-box warehouse store. Meanwhile, the menu claims that the peaches in the cobbler are "freshly picked." Despite that likely bit of hyperbole, I still adore this cobbler, with its heavily spiced syrup under a thick lattice crust. And the house-made bread pudding was glorious.
"It's a very nice restaurant," Franklin said as we descended the elevator to the ground floor. "But I think the food is better — and cheaper — at the buffet, and it's a lot more fun."
Yes, you pay extra for the pricey Power & Light District setting, including the five bucks I shelled out for parking. And it's a gorgeous dining room, no question about it. But I confess: I like the buffet better, too. To hell with martinis.
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