Why do people like summer? It’s always been miserable. But it’s gotten even worse with that global warming thing that many Republicans have attempted to turn into fiction while they race from one air-conditioned public restroom to the next in search of love.
Lucky for you, there are alternatives – like driving barely two hours north to the mountains where the temperature is usually 10 or more degrees cooler. An extra incentive now is a drive to Rabun County where one of Atlanta’s best chefs, David Sweeney, has taken over the kitchen at The Red Barn Café. It is located behind the picturesque Tiger Mountain Vineyards (2592 Old Highway 441 South, Tiger, GA, 30576, tigerwine.com).
Sweeney gained fame in 2007 when he opened the vegetarian Dynamic Dish in the Sweet Auburn District. His specialty has remained vegetarian/vegan cuisine. Lots of people still run when they hear the word “vegetarian” because they think of vegetables as nothing but an accompaniment to meat. But Sweeney’s brilliant inventions, its layers of sublime and earthy flavors, never leave an adventurous diner unsatisfied.
I might add that before he undertook a culinary career, Sweeney worked in fashion houses like Ralph Lauren and Gucci, so visual aesthetics are a strong part of his work. In that, this new temporary gig at the Red Barn – he’s there through October – is perfect. The patio overlooks the vineyard’s vines and a broad field intersected by a dirt road that offers a compelling walk.
The Café is only open weekends – for dinner Friday evenings and brunch and dinner Saturday and Sunday. (Get a reservation!) I confess, the menu startled me. While Sweeney has never refused serving fish and meat on occasion, they play a strong role on the brief menu. Sweeney confirmed the obvious reason why; the clientele is older, local, and thus not quite as adventurous. They’re certainly not unsophisticated and the wines, I’m sure, rightfully draw many. And these are no amateur wines. Tiger’s Petit Manseng, a white wine, has racked up major awards this year.
Not surprisingly, when three of us visited for Sunday brunch recently, our favorite dishes were the vegetarian ones we ordered as starters to share. The most irresistible was a bowl of corn, quinoa, toasted pumpkin seeds, scallions, cilantro, cotija cheese, and red jalapenos. Next was hummus made of black-eyed peas with giant ovals of 7-grain toast, shaved kohlrabi, cucumbers, calamata olives, sprouted fenugreek, and chopped Vidalias. Unfortunately, the two other vegetarian dishes, including grilled zephyr squash, were sold out. Understand that the overwhelming spices that so many amateurish vegetarian chefs use do not pollute these dishes. All of the sustainable, hyper-fresh ingredients are reliant on their own natural, startling flavors.
The same goes for most meat dishes. For an entrée, I ordered shredded brisket cooked in a rich red sauce, topped with a fried egg, served over a fat split biscuit surrounded by an explosively flavorful, sweet tomato jam. Smoked trout – sort of a riff on lox – was served with 7-grain toast points, various greens (including purslane), and a creamy blend of chevre, capers, and dill. A link of bratwurst was served with a dollop of organic mustard and some German potato salad – my least favorite dish.
For dessert, I ordered a bowl of organic red and yellow cherries mixed with ovals of chocolate. This was probably the least successful dish. Many of the cherries had a mealy texture. Far better was the cheese board, featuring two cheeses, a few cherries, some sliced peaches, and pumpkinseed brittle (try it!).
Sweeney has actually moved to the area to live with his boyfriend, although he’s in Atlanta a good bit. For the present, though, we’re not likely to see many of the in-town pop-ups he’s been doing the last few years. So go. Hey, take a Republican and discuss global cooling.