For lessons in food appreciation, this chefs Clayton eatery is a perfect place to start.
In a time when even children have their own “top chef” shows, cooking sometimes seems to have a lot in common with sports, where a keen competitive spirit and skill under pressure rule. Chef Bryan Carr takes a refreshing approach. A couple years ago, the longtime owner of Atlas penned a tribute to Julia Child, in which he talked about the culinary legend’s respect, generosity, craftsmanship and appreciation of food. “When I cook with those four virtues [in mind],” he wrote, “my skills are sharper, the food is better and my guests and I are happier.”
At Avenue, Carr’s philosophy comes through in the classic, fuss-free dishes and the relaxed atmosphere. You get the sense that serving up three meals a day every day is a joy rather than a challenge at this new Clayton restaurant.
Breakfast & Brunch
Avenue opens weekdays at 7am, when many of us are either grabbing a granola bar on the way out the door or snagging something at the drive-thru. A slice of Avenue’s quiche of the day is well worth skipping the snooze button— the spinach-and-feta version is delightfully light and fluffy. The Eggs Avenue is another winning dish: perfectly poached orbs atop a tower of bacon, spinach and tomato. The cheddar grits cakes are a delightful surprise, too. The flavor is sweeter than expected, and the texture is cakelike, good for soaking up the yolks.
For about the same price as drive-thru fare (and far superior quality), Avenue offers hearty, healthy options like oatmeal with apples and raisins, yogurt parfaits and granola. Or there’s a breakfast sandwich with scrambled eggs, bacon, tomato, lettuce and cheddar. The price point rises a bit for all of these at brunch, and the offerings expand to include ham-and-egg crêpes, huevos rancheros and Avenue’s trademark blueberry-lemon pancakes. Avenue’s bar stays busy during brunch turning out classic cocktails—bloody Marys and mimosas, of course, but also sidecars, Sazeracs and Negronis. These pair better with the lunch options than the eggs, though nobody bats an eye at an early hair-ofthe-dog request either.
Lunch & Dinner
It’s the little details in many of the salads that make them a winning order. The chopped chicken salad with cucumber, tomato, feta and arugula has chickpeas for texture; the sirloin and spinach salad gets extra umami from caramelized onions. And kale, that love-it-or-hate-it leaf, is excellent with farro, roasted apples, sugar snap peas and walnuts.
Soups and sandwiches, on the other hand, are pure comfort food, starting with the spot-on French onion soup. Only a couple of pasta dishes make the cut for lunch, but they’re more plentiful at dinner. In particular, the fresh fettuccine with lamb, red wine, garlic and mint is a blend of familiar flavors.
Those who dined at Pomme, the restaurant and café Carr recently closed, might find good memories in entrees like the braised beef short ribs or in the duck confit with carrot flan. The décor may seem a bit familiar too: Carr’s wife, Diane, puts her personal touch on the restaurants. But this is far from a carbon copy of Pomme—or, for that matter, of Atlas, Carr’s restaurant in the Central West End. It’s worthwhile to sample the roast chicken or the sirloin steak at both to get an idea of Carr’s exceptional ability to draw out flavors by varying techniques or tweaking ingredients.
You will probably see Carr passing through the dining room from time to time. But there’s no open kitchen, no pageantry around the presentation. “There is plenty of extraneous diversion and digression available to lure us away,” Carr wrote in his ode to Julia. “but we cook best when we simply cook.”
Photo credit: Jennifer Silverberg