Canoe: Fifteen-plus years and growing
On-site gardens produce delights for diners.
It's was an emotional year in 2009 at Canoe, the popular restaurant that nestles on the banks of the Chattahoochee. In the fall of that year, severe flooding put the eatery out of business for two months, but after massive cleaning, reupholstering and reorganizing, it re-opened with a renewed spirit.
"We had a rebirth," said executive chef Carvel Grant Gould. "There was a great sense of loss, but through it all we felt the appreciation of our guests and staff. There's a lot of heart and love in this place."
It may take more than six feet of water to wipe out Canoe's physical space. Built of river stone, glass and thick wood atop a sturdy concrete foundation, the building has outlasted other floods and various incarnations, including a 1950s dance hall and two previous restaurants. (Flashback to Robinson's Tropical Garden or Patio on the River.)
But for the last 15-plus years, Canoe has been a destination that combines a seasonal, Southern menu with beautiful gardens and vistas.
"We've always been very ingredient-driven and seasonal," said Gould. "We don't have anything frozen or in cans. We're a full-scratch house."
Gould not only features plenty of locally-grown, fresh ingredients, but also creates daily menus centered around items that come from the 12 raised beds she's planted near the kitchen.
"During the spring and summer, there's a huge selection of vegetables, as well as blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and different herbs. And I also have 70,000 bees that provide our own fresh honey,'' she said.
Diners may find dishes such as lamb ribs with Vidalia onion and sweet pepper chow-chow; quail with collard greens; pecan-crusted cod with sweet peas; or a duck and beef burger with pickled cabbage. Along with the seasonal selections, there are menu mainstays that guests continue to clamor for.
"I think our African squash soup has been on the menu for-ev-er," said Gould. "By the time fall comes, people start asking about it. I also get in trouble if I change the beet salad; even my mother has told me not to mess with that!"
If diners do have a favorite dish that's not on the menu, Gould will gladly make it, given a few day's notice.
"We have a tuna tartare with a wasabi sorbet that some people always ask for," she said. "But generally, there's so much to choose from that people can always find a new favorite."
Among those favorites are the slow-braised rabbit with Swiss chard and bacon ravioli; a buckwheat pasta that's a hit with gluten-intolerant diners; quail, pheasant and dry-aged steaks; and any of the daily fish specials.
Keeping up with the ever-changing menu can be a challenge, but it's one the efficient staff meets with aplomb.
"We do ask a lot of our servers," said Gould. "They need an understanding of food and wines, and they're tested constantly. It's not an easy job. But we have a culture here that means you've got to care about what you're doing. And all of us do."
4199 Paces Ferry Road
Hours: lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; dinner, 5:30-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 5:30-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and 5:30-9:30 p.m. Sundays; brunch, 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sundays.