Hands-on approach works at this ‘dive’

By Wyatt Williams - For the AJC

Restaurant owners and chefs often function like figureheads.

When we say, “Jeff Myers serves a delightful mash-up of pork belly and French toast at his new Kirkwood restaurant Dish Dive,” what we usually mean is that Myers has hired cooks and servers and managers to prepare and serve that dish in the manner that he designed. It is a light metaphor, the same way we curse the president for a policy determined by a member of his cabinet.

In this case, though, the statement is literal. When you sit down at Dish Dive, Myers will take your order for pork belly, Travis Carroll will prepare it in the kitchen, and Myers will return to serve the dish to your table. They are the restaurant’s only two full-time employees.

By most restaurant standards, this should be a disaster. (Just imagine what would happen if Ford Fry and Adam Evans tried to run the Optimist without help.)

Instead, Dish Dive is an object lesson in simple cool, a place nearly defined by what it doesn’t do. There is no raw bar, no cave for curing meats, no local cheese cart, no barrel-aged cocktail, no beer taps, no alcohol available for purchase at all. The menu on any given night has less than 10 dishes. The restaurant has just 16 seats.

Distractions, obligations and ambitions out of the way, Myers and Carroll devote themselves to serving an idiosyncratic New American cuisine, elegantly and on the cheap. That’s it. Few restaurants set their aim so low, but fewer still realize it so clearly.

Let’s get back to that pork belly dish. Carroll plates thick wedges of it alongside wedges of deep-fried French toast atop a bed of thick, savory grits and sweet sorghum syrup. It is brunch on a plate, a breakfast-for-dinner riff with a sophisticated balance of crunchy and melty pleasure.

Speaking of crunch and melt, Carroll also serves a few variations on poutine that he calls Dish Fries. The chicken-gravy-and-cheese version tastes a bit like nachos with chicken stock. Superior is the duck-confit-with-provolone-cheese, a fried delight that begs for a good beer to wash it down.

Myers said he fully intends to keep Dish Dive a BYOB establishment, which makes Ale Yeah, an excellent beer shop located almost next door, the de facto beverage program. It also means your bill will be surprisingly low. A feast for two won’t run more than $50.

That feast also won’t leave you overstuffed, either. That’s in part because Carroll’s menu is deceptively vegetablecentric. After the pork belly and fries, the menu is mostly devoted to colorful, rich arrangements of vegetables. Roasted cauliflower is brightened by red, chile-flecked romesco. A grain salad pairs roasted squash and beets with discs of raw roots, both crunchy and satisfyingly rich. A salad of kale and chard is topped with pickled slivers of chard stems.

Best of the vegetables might be shakshuka, a stewed dish of tomatoes, okra and peppers topped with a fried egg. My head says that a dish like that should be saved for summer, but my stomach was warmed by the spicy, rich depth of flavor. The ring of sweet corn sauce, like other sweet notes on the menu, doesn’t suit my palate, but it is inoffensive enough.

The elegance of Dish Dive, though, largely depends on the subtle touch of Myers. He doesn’t bore you with the obnoxious “how the menu works” speech, but he answers every question you have. The soundtrack is crafted like a mixtape. The interior is homey without being cloying. It makes me wish more restaurateurs would bother working their own tables.

At the end of your meal, Myers will pull his iPhone out of his pocket and swipe your card. You’ll notice that the screen is cracked. No matter. It is simple and it works.