Southerners love to entertain outdoors. Chef-owner Billy Allin of Cakes & Ale and his wife, Kristin, have the perfect garden for a soiree, set on two acres in Decatur. For an intimate party, Allin crafted a menu of fresh-picked ingredients. Annette Joseph, stylist and author of Picture Perfect Parties, created a sophisticated but relaxed table, where family and friends clinked glasses and dined in the fading sun.
- Tangerine, carrot, fennel, and olives
- Herbed green garlic aioli
- Grilled trout, scallions, and asparagus
- Grilled potatoes
- Oysters on half shell, Champagne mignonette
- Cucumber, marinated beets, and lamb’s quarters
- Cakes & Ale dandelion greens, eggs, and pickled onion
- Rosé and sparkling wine
- Strawberry tart and soft whipped cream (not pictured)
The most important ingredient in this menu is freshness. There is nothing to hide in a menu so simple. Impeccably sourced, fresh trout is a must, as the skin is tighter and will be less likely to stick to the grill. Go for vegetables from your local farmer. Georgia-grown asparagus is sometimes still available in late spring; otherwise look for California organic. Green garlic, which looks a little like a scallion, is best in early summer. Lamb’s quarters is a wild green that has a faint asparagus flavor. If you can’t find it, try purslane or arugula. Pour a glass of rosé or sparkling wine. Sit outside and soak in the sun.
Grilled trout, scallion, and asparagus
Light a lump charcoal and/or wood fire in the grill to a high heat. Season a 1 ½-pound trout (rainbow, brook, or brown) generously with salt and pepper and drizzle with a little olive oil. Trim 12 large asparagus and toss in a little olive oil, but do not season yet. Grill the fish on each side for approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Rinse 12 scallions, trim the tops, and add to grill when you flip the fish. Remove both from heat and put on the asparagus. Grill until tender. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper immediately. Serves 4 to 6.
Herbed green garlic aioli
Bring a small pot of water to boil and blanch the 6 green garlic bulbs (washed and sliced) for 30 seconds. Immediately strain and chill in ice water. Remove garlic and press between paper towels to remove moisture. In a blender, combine 1 cup olive oil and green garlic and puree until smooth. Combine 2 egg yolks and 1 teaspoon lemon juice in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk thoroughly. Add a touch of salt. Slowly whisk in the green garlic olive oil drip by drip until an emulsification begins. You can then add it a little more quickly. When all the oil is emulsified, whisk in 1 more teaspoon lemon juice and 1 teaspoon cold water. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in 1 ½ tablespoons chopped herbs (chives, parsley, sorrel, celery leaf) if using within an hour.
Cucumber, marinated beets, and lamb’s quarters
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice 1 cucumber ¼-inch thick and dice a second cucumber. Toss with a pinch of salt and lay on paper towels to remove some moisture. Wash 8 small beets and remove stems and leaves. Put in a glass casserole dish that just holds the beets in a single layer. Add ¼ cup white wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and a splash of olive oil. Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 45 to 60 minutes. When the beets are easily pierced with a knife, remove from oven. While the beets cook, combine 1 shallot (minced), another ¼ cup white wine vinegar, and ½ teaspoon salt and let sit for 15 minutes. Slowly whisk in ½ cup olive oil. When beets are slightly cooled, peel and slice into random shapes (including disks and wedges) and drop into marinade.
Toss the cucumbers in a bowl and dress with pepper, a little more salt, and lemon juice. Remove to a platter. Sprinkle the beets on top and lightly dress the greens.
Annette's styling tips
‣ Add a little twine bow and a flourish of herbs or baby thistle to your napkins for a touch of natural beauty.
‣ Layer a tablecloth and a runner to give texture and interest to your tablescape.
‣ If your menu includes citrus, try a centerpiece of lemons, tangerines, and oranges. Slice some in half so guests can use them to dress fish or salads.
‣ Look for mismatched vintage flatware at flea markets. It's a fun way to add a little whimsy to a fine meal.
‣ No need for a formal centerpiece. Flowers in vintage jelly jars, test tubes, and glass milk bottles provide bits of color all over the table.
This article originally appeared in our June 2014 issue under the headline "Summer spread."