I am sitting with my friend Tommy at the new Cockentrice (99 Krog St., 470-428-2733, www.thecockentrice.com) in the Krog Street Market. The dining room, adjacent to a cozy bar, is decorated with cured meats and reminds me of a meal long ago in Spain when a ham crashed from the ceiling onto the table next to mine. Here, the meats do not dangle above the head.
While I look around, our server is talking nonstop—so much that I have almost entirely tuned her out. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the fact that she knows the menu in such detail, but I don’t need to hear every single dish described in one narrative. I feel as though I’m having an out-of-body experience. Finally, she takes a breath. I sigh. Then I hear Tommy ask her a question and I kick him, under the table, as she revs back up. So it goes.
The Cockentrice is most certainly worthy of enthusiasm. The owner-chef is Kevin Ouzts, whose charcuterie shop in Kirkwood, The Spotted Trotter, has garnered raves in the last few years. He opened the Trotter with his wife Megan in 2011 after attending cooking school and working at Holeman and Finch. Ouzts is fanatically passionate about his work, not just as a brilliant chef, but also in his support of “farmers, the service industry and their families, and our ever-engaged and fiercely supportive food community,” as the menu says.
The restaurant’s name refers to a Frankensteinian dish enjoyed by the 16th-Century Tudors—a pig’s upper body sewn to the bottom half of a turkey or capon. There’s nothing quite so weird as that on the menu. Well, a sharable “hot Reuben terrine” might qualify. Here’s the menu’s description: “Pumpernickel tempura, Russian ‘caviar,’ carrot frits, sauerkraut, ‘corn nuts,’ Mornay-studded Swiss cheese.” Even our cockentrice-fluent server could not put all that together into a coherent description. Think fried pies with lotsa stuff. Honestly, it’s the one dish I didn’t think worked well.
Most dishes here are small plates for sharing. A meatless dream was a plank of three fat dollops of custardy Roquefort from renowned Gabriel Coulet, served with a garnish of diced apple, baby celery greens, and pomegranate seeds. Spread it on crunchy toast or roll it naked around your tongue.
A good, uncomplicated example of Ouzts’ talent with cured meats is a plate of salami seasoned with a Georgia-grown chili pepper famous in the Basque region of France, the espelette. It’s mildly hot and a tad sweet. House made bread-and-butter pickles and tiny dots of an esoteric mustard provide different dimensions of the same sweet heat.
Tommy and I decided to share a single entrée—the crispy guinea hen. Afterward, we wished we’d heeded our server’s warning that it is a hella messy dish to eat. Don’t even think about trying to eat it with a fork and knife. The hen is crunchier than your mama’s fried chicken and deliciously spicy. It reminded me of Korean-style fried chicken. Best of all, it was served over a bed of fresh green peas—first of the season.
The menu changes regularly. Bacon butter or roasted bone marrow butter? Rabbit wings or grilled beef and gruyere pudding? Confit of suckling pig or oxtail marmalade? If you can’t order everything you want at one sitting, you can stop to pick up something on your way out at the retail operation that adjoins the restaurant. Oh, and if you’ve had dental surgery, be glad that the restaurant bar features some weird cocktails with meaty additions.
Final advice. Plan to spend a lot of money here. It’s worth every penny, but if you don’t have the pennies, there’s a whole lot of very good grub elsewhere in the market’s food court.