Lunch or dinner at the Savory Spoon requires the management of perception.
The exterior of this Jefferson restaurant is a dull brown, and the building itself, rather new, is tucked behind an aging Shell station on Highway 15, known locally as Sycamore Street.
When the restaurant is busy, you park near a closed down tattoo shop nestled into the Shell station’s oyster-colored cinder block facade. When the parking lot is empty, the bare brown hunk the Spoon inhabits is so nondescript that if the vinyl sign didn’t scream restaurant you might mistake the spot for a discount jeweler.
When the Savory Spoon first opened, the interior of its main dining room (it has since expanded), looked like an average strip mall delicatessen, the type of place where you don’t expect more than a turkey club and a floppy pickle. It’s chill vibe, according to appearances, did not do justice to the locally-sourced and curiously paired meals chef Josh Aaron had been whipping up in his spare kitchen.
Not that the Savory Spoon’s menu was ever stuffy. Burgers and sandwiches made their mark early.
But the more time one spends with Aaron, and his wife and culinary partner Ariel Hirsch, the more the restaurant’s mixed signals make sense. You’ll never see Aaron without a black chef shirt hanging off his shoulders and kitchen Crocs on his feet. A gussied up Aaron looks similar to kitchen grease Aaron. To wit, he lives life in plates served; the scenery is an afterthought.
In February 2013, the Savory Spoon expanded into unused space adjacent to their original dining room, adding a wall of craft beer draughts in the process. Aaron said he needed the overflow room. Business has boomed such in the past year that he’s considered a second location. And maybe he’s right. On a recent Wednesday lunch service, finding an open table proved harder than spotting an unhappy customer.
Savory Spoon’s success story has one central character and one glaring omission. It’s a story about a crab cake, and it’s a story about how Aaaron refuses to deep fry food.
Aaron’s crab cake has been his restaurant’s top seller. But it’s not crispy fried, as many customers expect. It’s baked in the oven. Like the lack of french fries on the menu, a pan-seared, brioche bread crumbed lump of crab meat was at first a hard sell for Aaron’s Jackson County customers. That is until they tried it.
Aaron skips the deep fryer for health reasons. As an executive chef in corporate chain restaurants, he lamented the world of fat he was told to heap on customers. Convincing Jeffersonian eaters on the benefits of low-grease dinners, though, has taken some effort.
“Once we explain it, they respect it,” Aaron said.
Two of Aaron’s crab cakes come served on a craggy pile of a fresh corn salsa and topped with housemade pickles for $12. The perfect bite is found when your teeth gnash an errant chop of jalapeno lurking within the salsa.
Landlubbers are a specialty of Aaron’s, but you’re more likely to find him playing fishmonger for some sea dweller you’ve never heard of than some Chilean sea flopper. Lately, wahoo, a warm water fish that’s begun swimming off the coast of North Carolina, according to Aaron, flopped onto the Spoon’s menu as a staple, a choice Aaron made as a sustainable replacement for swordfish. He serves a wahoo filet ($11) atop a summer squash casserole to which the entire Spanish yield of smoked paprika has been added – that is a compliment.
Aaron, too, has been sneaking quinoa, the longtime pseudo-grain choice for hippies that’s capturing mainstream eaters, onto his plates in ways that picky customers would never notice. A dish called Meat and Mother Grain ($10) pairs quinoa with ground grass-fed beef stuffed into two roasted green peppers and served next to a pile of mac and cheese.
• Check out more photos from Savory Spoon in our slideshow.
Every Wednesday, Aaron produces a special called Worldly Wednesdays ($12) that riffs on classic global cuisine. One recent Wednesday, he tackled South America, where quinoa comes from, and built a special that drew on a few traditions from the lower part of that continent. A bowl of Aaron’s salty quinoa and corn chowder would convince the whitest of rice gulpers that another grain is possible. Served in a ceramic bowl, the chowder bubbled next to a filet of corvino atop chimichurri and smothered in sauteed tomatoes and onions.
The less adventurous can opt for the Savory Steak Salad ($12), a grass-fed take on a black and blue salad, only Aaron’s choice for a blue cheese is quite mild. With protein from Buckhead Beef, a cheese from Spain and greens from a distributor, the steak salad represents one of the only items whose ingredients aren’t from local farms and businesses.
All those squashes, peppers, tomatoes and whatnot mentioned above, they all come from farms in north Georgia.
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