If Deborah VanTrece had chosen a career other than cooking, she might have become a poet. In 1998, she opened a restaurant called Edible Art, and more recently, she launched Twisted Soul Southern Kitchen + Bar in Decatur. If the names aren’t poetic enough, VanTrece’s cooking certainly is. She mixes ingredients in the twisted way a poet mixes metaphors that refer to the soulful South as well as other areas of the world. Where else are you going to find short rib lasagna made with local goat cheese?
I ate frequently at Edible Art, a virtual hole-in-the-wall in East Atlanta Village. It closed in 2002 thanks to one of the numerous landlord disputes in that area. After closing, VanTrece took up catering, which remains her bread and butter. She gained considerable fame when she appeared on NBC’s “Food Fighters” in August. Lorraine Lane, VanTrece’s life partner, runs Twisted Soul’s bar, which serves kinky cocktails such as wintertime’s sweet potato martini.
Twisted Soul (314 E. Howard Ave., Decatur, 404-373-2725) replaces Marbar in its location across from Decatur’s revamped train depot. VanTrece and Lane have done little to change the comfy, spacious décor they inherited. Friends and I ate on the patio there a few weeks ago and had a mainly splendid meal.
We were presented with an amuse bouche of seasoned chicken salad nestled in a ring of crispy wontons garnished with microgreens. (The salad is also available on a sandwich with radicchio.) We ordered a starter plate of shrimp-and-crab fritters with garlic jam, and another of fried green tomatoes with goat cheese and red-pepper aioli. Lots of crunch played against comparatively creamy interiors. I have no complaints.
My entrée was chicken grilled Cajun-style. It was served in a bowl with red-bean orzo, okra, corn, tomato succotash, and redeye gravy made with tasso ham. This dish points to a problem that all chefs have when combining so many ingredients: it’s easy to go overboard. While the glazed chicken was succulent, I had a problem with the huge amount of corn that overwhelmed everything else. I certainly don’t mean that the dish wasn’t delicious, but I got too much sweetness from the corn.
VanTrece said her biggest seller is her fried chicken. It features a virtually perfect breading—not too thick or thin—clinging to the Springer Mountain bird. The three side dishes on the plate are takes on classics: collards served in a roll, a scoop of three-cheese orecchiette (otherwise known as mac and cheese), and a chutney of sweet potato and apples.
By popular consensus, the best dish on our table was the short-rib lasagna—a study in tender textures, from the broad noodles to the braised meat. Tomatoes and goat cheese added sharper flavors. Order it.
For dessert, we had two servings of peach cobbler. I don’t think it was up to the quality of the rest of the meal, even with vanilla ice cream added. Again, I’m not saying it wasn’t artfully edible. It frankly tasted a bit old.
VanTrece and Lane say they have other projects in planning, including expansion, a cookbook, and more TV appearances. Get a reservation and prepare to twist your soul.