No. 3: Cakes & Ale
Billy Allin is a poet of the kitchen. And as with the most committed bards, his handiwork has grown in complexity as he continues to refine it. A veteran of Watershed’s kitchen under Scott Peacock, he first won over Decatur in 2008 with the purity of his menu. Unadorned fish fillets, sauteed to crispness and resting in a ham-laced broth. Fried okra with the sheerest crust. Glorious roast chicken. The restaurant soon became my default place to impress food-loving visitors. Its commitment to locally grown vegetables (many from Allin’s backyard garden) and its deft blend of genres (a mutual affection for the South and Italy) embody the sincerest, most ambrosial facets of our dining culture right now.
Lately Allin has taken more risks. The ingredients still lead, but the flavor combinations and depth of technique bring more thrills. A riff on vitello tonnato married buttery slices of cold poached pork loin to a mayonnaise infused with escolar, an oily fish. An arugula, fennel, and celery salad curtailed the richness. Mediterranean gusto inspired a platter of lamb saddle for two with braised pole beans, herbed fregula (a larger cousin to couscous), tomato, and thick, minted yogurt as a rustic sauce. I can hardly imagine better lamb—not too gamy, not too mild, cooked to a blush.
This month Allin will be settling into larger digs on Decatur Square. The restaurant will have an adjoining bakery, and the recent departure of pastry chef Cynthia Wong leaves questions about who will run it. That aside, I trust that the move will only affect Allin’s cooking positively.
Fans watching the current witch-filled season of HBO's True Blood will appreciate the tequila cocktail named the Bruja-Ha. The wine list, heavy on Old World eccentrics, brilliantly offers more than thirty selections by the carafe and twenty by the glass.
Photograph by Alex Martinez