Sept. 29, 2016
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What’s with the sauce, bro?
Julie Ann Grimm

Georgia Blues

A former favorite tries a new concept and loses focus

July 6, 2016, 12:00 am

We were anxious when we heard that the owners of Georgia were remodeling the dining room to accommodate 30 beer taps and shifting to a more approachable focus. Taproom? Bar food? That’s not what SFR loved about Georgia back in late 2014, when executive chef Brett Sparman was running the kitchen, and it’s not what wowed us when we named it Restaurant of the Year in October 2015.

The website now invites diners to “Santa Fe’s favorite downtown gastro pub” for “casual dining.” But just last year, we raved about a creative fine dining menu that offered short rib pasta with wild mushrooms, lamb satay with mint basil pesto and chimichurri-marinated tenderloin. Now there’s a happy hour menu that includes pot pie, mac and cheese, onion rings and chicken wings, all for $6 or $7. The dinner menu boasts a chicken club sandwich.

The change was intended to shift Georgia (225 Johnson St., 989-4367) away from being a destination for tourists and a once-in-a-while splurge for locals, according to chef Leroy Alvarado, who took over the kitchen more than a year ago. In that time, Georgia has also added lunch service (the menu is mostly less-expensive versions of the salads, appetizers and bar food on the dinner menu).

“It feels a little more comfortable,” Alvarado says, especially “coming here with kids, they can hang out on the patio and everything.”

The chef says in the weeks since the new concept debuted, business has noticeably changed. “We’re definitely getting probably another 10 people who come in a least two or three times a week just to have beers,” he says. Although this new contingent of regulars has been attracted to the expanded taproom and more inexpensive food options, the restaurant hasn’t given up on serving an audience interested in fine dining, according to Alvarado.

Much of the menu remains the same, and the familiar shrimp and grits are still there, along with the pan-seared duck breast.

But the soundtrack to the new Georgia is BB King. Bwow-pwow-bwow: The thrill is gone, babe.

Like BB said, now that it’s all over, all we can do is wish her well.

This is probably a great business plan. There really aren’t enough places in Santa Fe, or downtown, where you can choose from among so many different beers, including many local and regional craft brews. So this addition to our beer world is a good thing.

And so is creating a place that’s affordable enough to visit once a week. That middle tier of restaurants really should be bigger in Santa Fe. Good move there.

The fact that a beautiful spot downtown, one that had been traditionally the domain of well-heeled tourists and Santa Fe 1-percenters, is now welcoming to rugrats? That’s rad. Parents need more places where they can eat something besides chicken fingers.

So if you’re looking for a place downtown to meet a friend for a drink and a light dinner, maybe catch a little of the game on a massive TV over the bar, then this is probably great news for you. You can get a plate of fish and chips and a couple of beers, plus tip, for $20. The French fries have been improved; they’re now made in-house and handcut, with a little skin left on and fried very crispy. They’re great.

But some of you will be disheartened to find that Georgia is no longer the kind of place that makes a foodie’s heart sing. On a recent visit, a side of Brussels sprouts ($8) lacked the promised crispiness, needed salt and were too vinegary.

An appetizer of plump Stone IPA-battered shrimp ($14) was delightful, but it came with a sauce made of bottled sweet chile sauce and mayonnaise that tasted … like it was made of bottled sweet chile sauce and mayonnaise.

That same sweet chile sauce coated an order of slightly soggy wings ($14) that weren’t good enough to warrant finishing.

A housemade salmon burger ($12.50) was dense, dry and fishy, but otherwise tasteless. It came with two different kinds of housemade pickles, which is a cool idea. But the pickles were soggy, and the predominant flavor was vinegar. They lacked salt, spice or a hint of sweetness.

We over-ordered for this meal (as we often do), but we left more food on the table than usual.

Serving a menu of casual plates and bar food is a fine idea, we just wish Georgia could have kept more of the quality and creativity that made us fall in love with it the first time.

At a Glance:
: 11:30 am-2 pm daily; Happy hour 5-9 pm, Sunday-Thursday
Best Bet: Stone IPA battered shrimp and a pint
Don’t Miss
: Happy hour on the patio


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