By Collin Kelley
I’ve had the pleasure of dining at Cast Iron in the Old Fourth Ward three times now and I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed each visit, despite some hiccups in service and food consistency.
What I’ve appreciated most is the effort of the kitchen and staff, the comfortable and unfussy atmosphere and the inspired cocktail menu. The fact that I can walk there in less than five minutes doesn’t hurt either.
Cast Iron, the brainchild of Chef Evan Cordes (formerly of Cakes & Ale, Serpas True Food and H. Harper Station), is located in a prime spot: the corner of Highland Avenue and Sampson Street. It’s a short stroll from the Atlanta BeltLine and is surrounded by some other favorite local joints like Highland Bakery, Across the Street, Zuma, Ladybird and my favorite dessert spot, Queen of Cream. The location alone with all the foot traffic should mean it’s an instant hit, but two other restaurants – P’cheen and Last Word – have come and gone in the space, so maybe I’m a little more invested in Cast Iron’s success than I should be.
Cast Iron opened just a couple of days before Thanksgiving, and my first visit there was with a group of friends on the restaurant’s second night of operation. We were seated in a big, roomy booth with a view of Highland and were instantly charmed by the specialty cocktail menu, which is inspired by the album “Ah Um” from jazz great Charles Mingus.
I had the Better Git It In Your Soul, a concoction of tequila, lime, pineapple and cinnamon served over a big ice cube with a nice little kick. One of my friends raved over the Goodbye Porkpie Hat, a smooth mix of bourbon, lemon, maraschino and sarsaparilla soda, while another grimaced at first sip of the Boggie Stop Shuffle, which has paprika-infused vodka and coffee as its main ingredients. He let me have a sip and I commented that I imagined it’s what an ashtray might taste like. On the other hand, the house gin and tonic was totally solid.
The real head-scratcher, at least at first glance, is Cast Iron’s minimal menu. It’s not divided into starters or mains, but simply two short columns with the portions growing from appetizer-sized to more substantial entrees. There are three “sides” or starters listed separately at the bottom of the menu, but the only one you need to care about are the fries.
The shoestring cut fries are crisp, lightly coated in herbs and served with aioli dipping sauce. They might be the best fries I’ve ever tasted. During my three visits, our table wound up ordering a second bowl, and a third. They really are that good.
I ordered the “seven ounce patty” (that’s a hamburger; why it just can’t be called a hamburger on the menu is beyond me) and it was nicely cooked with a juicy, pink center and the Tillamook cheddar offered a nice sharpness. The bun is just weird. At first glance, it looks like toasted Wonder Bread with the crust cut off, but the menu says it’s chili cornmeal bread. It’s a minimal bun, which I prefer, though I found it rather tasteless, but it did allow the flavor of the beef, bacon and cheese to really shine.
The monkfish with boiled peanut rice pudding, citrus marmalade and garlic tomatoes was a hit. It was tender and meaty white with a lobster flavor. Another friend liked the duck confit with waffle chips, and I also sampled the rye tagliatelle with pork shoulder and plan to order my own plate on the next visit. The beet salad – beets, carrots ricotta, parsnips and lentils – also made my fellow diners happy.
If there’s any serious failing on the Cast Iron menu, it’s dessert – if you want to call cookies and milk dessert. Maybe they don’t want to compete with Queen of Cream (seriously, y’all, the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted), but if they want diners to linger, this is where Cordes and company need to step up their game.
Cast Iron is still young and it seems there’s some experimentation going on with ingredients and presentation of their menu staples, but they will settle in. This is a good neighborhood restaurant, and if you happen to be exploring the Eastside Trail and looking for a good dinner spot, Cast Iron is worth your time.
And don’t forget the fries!
Cast Iron, 701 Highland Ave., is open for dinner from 5 to 11 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays with weekend brunch coming soon. Visit castironatl.com for more information.