Waiters at Frog Hollow Tavern are mesmerists. When they describe a dish, specifying where the groceries come from, what techniques are used in preparation, and how the meal is plated, their spiel is so polished that I get lulled into a happy reverie, like listening to a song in which melody overshadows lyrics. I wind up having to slap myself to attention and ask for repetition of details: “What was that? … saffron butter?… organic stone ground grits? … macerated berries and a hint of almond? … what the heck are tomatoes gastrique?”
Such confusion is a pleasant dilemma. No matter what you order in this stylish urban tavern, it is likely to be wonderful. On the Roadfood price scale, it’s a splurge (entrees in the $30 range); and despite the restaurant’s assertion that it lets “freshness speak for itself,” nearly everything on the menu is complicated and multi-layered with hints of this and that, subtle undertones, and surprise seasonings.
If there is a leitmotif to chef Sean A. Wight’s cuisine, it is big flavor. Nothing is bland. Even macaroni and cheese (made lasagna-style with flat noodles), is powerfully cheesy; collard greens are very sweet and very pungent; shrimp and grits isn’t just shrimp and grits, but a stunning gallimaufry of shrimp, grits, andouille sausage, pork lardons, and tomatoes.
Must-eats from the regular menu include silk-white dayboat grouper; an appetizer of beguilingly crisp arancini made with “dirty” Carolina gold risotto; a hefty “cowgirl ribeye” with teriyaki-like glaze; wild Maine mussels with grilled sourdough from Atlanta’s H&F Bakery; and creme brulee that is, in fact, agreeably unfussed-with other than a subtle shot of almond in the custard underneath its singed-crisp integument.
My last visit was at the height of peach season, when an audacious hors d’oeuvre called Titan Farms peach carpaccio is made of thin fruit slices, slivers of Tennessee country ham, and tangy blue cheese. Warm peach cobbler, crowned with house-made vanilla ice cream is all about the intense sunny-sweet flavor of the locally-grown fruit.
Frog Hollow Tavern is popular and crowded enough that reservations are de rigueur. The gatekeepers up front can be officious, assigning customers to the bar if they arrive a few minutes early (despite plenty of empty tables in the dining rooms). Once a party is seated, service is professional, hospitable, enthusiastic, and genuinely helpful.