Where does a 30-something go for food and music now? I’ve been on the lookout for a place that can cover all my bases: above average bar, food that I would eat even if there were no music, and good music. Venkman’s is going to be a huge success for the Old Fourth Ward and Atlanta at large, if it can keep its heads on straight.
One head is Chef Nick Melvin, who did great things at Serenbe, then Parish, then Empire State South, then Rosebud all in the blink of an eye. Another head belongs to Nick Niaspodziani and Peter Olson, better known as the bandleader and bassist of Yacht Rock Revue, the Venkman’s house band and unquestionably Atlanta’s reigning cover band. The triumvirate rounds out with Rhiannon Klee, formerly the bookie at Eddie’s Attic, entrusted with engineering success behind the scenes.
Despite a less-than-stellar table far from the stage, we nevertheless got psyched for the menu, on which nearly everything is suitable for sharing, and more than half the items are either vegetarian or gluten-free.
We dug in on two starters, the mushroom lettuce cups and smoked trout beignets. The former involves a heaping pile of crushed peanuts under which is a bowl of mushrooms treated like bacon with a tangy BBQ vinaigrette. Playful, crunchy, and even sort of refreshing because of the little gem lettuce now fashionably circulating everywhere. But those beignets were the best dish of the night, no question.
A good beignet of any kind is often hard to find in Atlanta, and a seafood beignet even more so. The best I’ve had is Anne Quatrano’s crab beignet at Fish Camp in Ponce City Market. But Melvin is a New Orleans native, and Venkman’s is consequently doing it better with a fishier fish and a fearlessly creamy center. The star of the dish is an apple ketchup. It’s not apple butter; it’s got some cider vinegar in there for a smoother sauce and a polite little kick at the end.
For entrees, we had the chili shrimp and burger with fries. Both showcased Melvin’s refined, precise sense of sours: one of his overall best assets. The chili shrimp was a Chinese-Southern fusion that displayed surprising balance, while the burger’s fancy combo of pickle slaw, dill mustard and tomato jam added loads of flavor and variety without a palate burnout.
When a manager stopped by to see how we were doing, I asked him to cough up the secret to getting a table. If walking in 30 minutes before doors open with tickets purchased 30 days beforehand doesn’t get me to the front row, what does it take? He checked for cancellations and immediately moved us to a table, notably skirting my question.
As it turns out, the tables aren’t front row anyway because there will be a gaggle of 30-somethings dancing in front of the stage as soon as the band gets going. The crowd here is more classy than at Andrews Upstairs and less attentive than at Eddie’s Attic.
On this night, the band was doing the Beatles. If you shut your eyes, the fidelity of sound is incredible. Yacht Rock Revue has several extra players beyond the Fab Four and several extra instruments (theremin, surprise!), but they replicate the original work thoroughly enough that a sing-along quickly ensues. There was a definite good time vibe floating over the crowd.
Venkman’s, located at 740 Ralph McGill Blvd., reallly does seem poised to be the best of all possible worlds, though they need some time to work out the ticketing and service kinks. That’s not a reason to stay home, however.
The place has gotten a strong start and I’m going back momentarily myself, to drill down into their extensive wine list while seeing the world’s greatest Fleetwood Mac cover band for $8.
For more information on Venkman’s, call (470) 225-6162 or venkmans.com.
Megan Volpert lives in Decatur, teaches in Roswell and writes books about popular culture.