I've heard a lot of good things about Empire State South and Executive Chef Ryan Smith. So many good things that I tried to get it to be the restaurant for our wedding night with family before we headed over to the brewery for the reception. (I was shot down faster than you can can say "no"). I'm glad we decided on Cypress, but I would have loved to share Empire State South with my family.
The restaurant is an urban take on souther dining. The interior is comfortable and our large group of eight felt like we belonged right away. The bar is enormous with plenty of seating for everyone. We spent our first 30 minutes at the restaurant at the bar for cocktails before being seated for dinner. Here is one of the three complaints that I'll have about the restaurant. The beer menu, while interesting and unique, was too interesting and unique. I'm a beer (wedding reception at brewery) fan, so are a few of the people in my dinner party. Maybe one of the beers on the menu, it wasn't a short list, was something that I recognized as having tasted before. It seemed pretty pretentious to me. No beers on tap either. I can get past that, I can get past not wanting to have Bud Light on your menu, but there are plenty of other microbrew beers that are more common than what was on their beer menu. Also, our bartender was s.l.o.w. We were the only ones at the bar and it was 6:00, so before the dinner rush, and it took quite a while for some of us to get our cocktails. So much so that I ordered my second drink from the table, knowing it would take as long to get it, but I'd have water at my seat to hold me over until it was delivered.
The cocktails were also very unique and my Pimms Cup was perfect. I really wish I could drink that cocktail like I drink water without getting drunk. It's so good.
Once we were seated in the dining room that is deceivingly large, we ordered our round of drinks and then our appetizers. We had two dozen of the oysters and an order of the In Jars. Both were wonderful. The oysters were a little fatty, so they weren't the hard, skinny ones you sometimes get and the homemade sauces were perfect. The In Jars spreads couldn't have been more unique and wonderful at the same time. I would recommend that Snackie to anyone in a large group.
The menu features local fare and really focuses on southern tastes. I had the GA Trout and I'm so glad I did. Our server even recommended it as one of her favorites, year round. The Tomato Buttermilk Ravioli was also a huge hit at our table and I with I could have had a bite. The other favorite at the table was the Smoked Duck Breast. I don't think you could go wrong with any of those entree choices. Click here to see their full dinner menu. You will notice that there isn't a beef option on the menu, a disappointment to two of the gentlemen in our group. If you have a steak eater in your group, you won't find that on the menu. I was a little surprised, but I was fine with my trout.
Only one of our eight ordered dessert, the Chocolate and Cherries, but it was plenty to share among all of us.
There is outside seating for dining, some high top tables for mingling and even a bunch of adirondack chairs in the "grass" around the bocce court. We tried to get a game in but as soon as we threw the jack the rain started. Thanks Atlanta weather.
Overall the evening was fantastic. The food was delicious and the atmosphere delightful. Our server was attentive and quick with drinks and our water glasses were never empty. The hostess team was beyond accommodating as well, a nice touch. Now that I've dined at ESS do I still wish it was our restaurant for our wedding night dinner (or rehearsal dinner for a more traditional wedding), probably not. The menu isn't cheap and the beer selection would have thrown off a few people looking for something a little familiar. And I have steak fans in my family. It was a wonderful dinner and I can't wait for a reason to head back.