Housed in an 1880s former general store, Old Vinings Inn has been serving upscale Southern fare for years. About two months ago, proprietor Lee Schulman hired Don Diem to replace Jeremy Hartman as executive chef. Diem, who was the opening chef for the original Noche in Virginia-Highland, worked with Schulman at Tom Tom A Bistro.
Since joining the Old Vinings Inn team, Diem has revamped the menu while maintaining its Southern roots. His team is curing their own meats, pickling their own vegetables, and making sauces in-house.
He’s particularly proud of the charcuterie plate, which changes based on what’s fresh but always includes a pickled chow-chow deviled egg, pimento cheese, and flatbread. He also likes the kale chop-chop salad—a Southern version of a steakhouse chopped salad with kale, pickled beets, chopped egg, moonshine grapes, tomatoes, bacon vinaigrette, and more.
“At Here to Serve, I learned to give guests what they want at a reasonable price. In the dining room [at Keystone Mountain Lodge], I learned cool tricks and refined food,” Diem says. “Here, I take both and make it more accessible to the guest—not so froufrou but well executed.”
In order to avoid upsetting long-time patrons, Diem says he kept most of the same proteins but changed the preparation and garnishes. Instead of lamb with mashed potatoes, he’s serving it porcini-dusted, with savory thyme and mushroom bread pudding and a candied garlic sauce. Instead of trout with carrots and rice pilaf, he’s serving it pecan-crusted with emulsified brown butter and warm green bean, tomato, and pearl onion salad.
There’s also a double-cut marbled pork chop with field pea and carrot ragout, shrimp and grits with Creole beer broth, and a crab cake with traditional creamed corn.
“We’re there for the guest. If I have something in-house that someone wants and I can do it, I want to do it,” he says. “I’m very into customer feedback.”