canoe

Tucked away on the quiet banks of the Chattahoochee River is Canoe, one of Atlanta’s most acclaimed restaurants. The inviting interior blends wood, brick, ironwork and a wall of windows to create a casually elegant atmosphere. Settle into an overstuffed booth and take in the artistic touches, like Ivan Bailey’s hand-forged iron vines and creatures that wind their way through the restaurant – or the furniture art, created by Dwayne Thompson.

Balanced by culinary expertise and natural aesthetics, it’s a unique setting  – from the bustling exposed kitchen to the ceiling that resembles the inside of a canoe. Of course, the best is yet to come, so take your time perusing the seasonal menu from Executive Chef Carvel Grant Gould, a seventh generation Atlantan. Her sophisticated Southern style is a fundamental part of the Canoe experience.

Over brunch the other day, I know I wasn’t the only one paralyzed by the menu choices:  the savory and sweet scones with house made preserves or the buttery Georgia pecan sticky buns?  Oh hell, why not both. And since we’re indulging, bring on the house smoked salmon, which comes on a crispy potato pancake with goat’s cheese.

The excess of baked goods and potatoes negated the need for a proper starter  so I regretfully passed on the enticing descriptions of she-crab and African squash soups, but settling on a main course  still proved daunting.  “Duck & Eggs,” a pair of sunny side up eggs with a toasted sage biscuit and duck ragout? Brioche french toast with banana-mascarpone? Chicken and grits, with shiitake mushrooms and cipollinis?  I opted – finally – for the fried green tomato Benedict, which combined velvety hollandaise, smoky ham, and perfectly poached egg into a delirious contrast of textures and flavors, elevated by a surprise bite of tomato.

Stuffed to the gills, I jokingly mentioned dessert.  But when I heard the house specialty was popcorn ice cream on a bed of caramel corn, I was too curious too resist.  Of course, in for a penny, in for a pound, we might as well throw a cobbler in there, too – this is the south after all.  When two giant plates of dessert arrived at the table, I found myself unable to control the intractable pull of yumminess, which kept calling me to have just one more bite – all the while shuddering at the human body’s ability to overindulge against all good sense.  More to the point, my body – and it’s near-Olympic lack of restraint.

After brunch, Chef Gould took me for a tour around the grounds.  The river rolls past a tranquil waterfront enhanced by a natural, manicured landscape.  The colorful gardens, crisp white special-event tents and meandering walkways are the perfect spot for a postprandial stroll – or a nap. “It’s a very rustic, organic, warm feeling restaurant,” she said when I asked her to describe her food. “Finding the freshest ingredients, respecting their flavors and applying solid cooking techniques in the kitchen is how they come to life.” She hems and haws as I prod her into defining her style of cooking, before reluctantly settling on simply “contemporary American.”  I find it interesting that she neglects to include the word Southern in there and I call her on it.  “I’m 7th generation,” she says, “I couldn’t be more Southern.  But I just cook what I like.”

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