Something offal is going on in Atlanta. When I visited the city a couple of months ago, many of the highly recommended restaurants had some sort of out of the ordinary animal offering.
Vegetarians, consider yourself warned. You may not want to read beyond this point.
Offal is defined as the various non-skeletal muscle parts of a butchered animal that may be eaten. These include the liver, kidneys, thymus (on menus as sweetbread), heart, brain and tongue.
I’ve always been a pretty adventurous eater. I remember asking my parents if I could order escargot at a French restaurant when I was about 10 years old (and I’ve loved eating them ever since). I tried tongue once but couldn’t get beyond the texture, and have had mixed experiences with sweetbreads. But foie gras is one of my guilty pleasures.
Though I never ruled out eating other organs, I didn’t really think I’d have the opportunity to try them. When I saw a variety on the menu at Atlanta’s Holman & Finch Public House I felt oddly compelled to order some.
I could have never guessed I would ever rave about — or crave — heart. But I have not been able to stop talking about Holman & Finch’s dish ever since I dined there.
The decor of the Buckhead restaurant can best be described as “butcher chic.” Shades of silver and stainless steel make up the color scheme for the dimly lit bar and small dining area that look like they could be sprayed down for cleaning at the end of the night. From the pig parts and sausages hanging near the entrance to the large sliding barn doors for the bathrooms, everything about the restaurant says vegetarians unwelcome.
I started off slowly, ordering the steak tartare and pan-roasted rabbit livers. The tartare was delicious, chopped into small bits with whole grain mustard and onions that gave it a great flavor. I wasn’t as impressed by the rabbit livers which were overly fried, masking the liver’s taste and spongy texture.
I decided to kick it up a notch and ordered the gratin of marrow served with parsley salad and country bread. I’d had marrow before and remembered it being rich and creamy. Holman & Finch’s version definitely fit this description. Served in the bone, the marrow tasted like warm, melting butter. The bread (great in its own right), made an excellent sponge for soaking it up. Before I knew it, the bone was empty. I had to restrain myself from picking it up to lick any remaining bits — a thought that seemed strangely normal and appealing in that setting.
With a few rounds of animal parts under my belt, I felt daring enough to order the ultimate offal — peppercorn crusted veal heart. The dish arrived unassumingly enough; thinly-sliced rectangular pieces of meat served over parsnip puree in a blood orange sauce. Had I not seen the menu I might have thought it was filet mignon.
Taking a deep breath, I took my first bite. My reaction was instantaneous.
Quite simply put, the veal heart was out of this world.
The taste was incredible. The meat was richly flavored without any hint of gaminess, nicely balanced out by the sweet citrus of the sauce. And I couldn’t get over the texture. The meat was all muscle and no fat, without any toughness at all. It was like biting into a lean piece of filet mignon, only better. The parsnip puree rounded out the meat and potatoes feel, adding a wonderfully creamy element to the dish. A forkful of the heart, puree and sauce together is one of the best flavor combinations I’ve eaten in quite some time.
I’m not sure if I was channeling the energy of the calf or if it was the 2 glasses of wine, but something in me seemed to turn primal. I had an insatiable appetite for heart and I wanted more!
Unfortunately in all my excitement, I hadn’t realized how full I had become. So it was just as well that the restaurant was out of veal brains. At least I’ll have an excuse for a return visit.
Holman & Finch Public House is located at 2277 Peachtree Road Northeast in Atlanta Georgia. They are open for dinner Monday through Saturday and for lunch on Sunday. Reservations are not accepted. For the faint of heart, there are vegetarian side dishes and less adventurous fare on the menu.
Attention Atlanta residents and visitors: beginning in March the Amateur Gastronomer is expanding to Atlanta! If you have a story, wine or event to suggest email firstname.lastname@example.org.