Hoof & Ale has been in the Pavilions at Eastlake on Roswell Road for two years, yet until recently it had been flying under my radar. After a couple of visits I am convinced this excellent gastropub deserves as much attention and accolades as any place inside the perimeter.
By Joan Durbin
Photography by Erin Gray Cantrell
“Where craft food meets craft beer” is how owner and chef Joseph Rahme describes his cozy 49-seat establishment, which brings both his experience and enthusiasms into play.
A home brewer himself for 10 years, one of Rahme’s creations, a French country ale, took third place in the nation. With this passion as well as his 19-year background in upscale kitchens across the metro area, when it came time to open his own restaurant a gastropub seemed the ideal fit.
“I wanted to show people that beer can go with more than pizza and fries,” Rahme said.
His menu offers food that is familiar, but elevated by his skill and imagination, and at very reasonable prices.
“I want to have affordable cuisine for everybody, the whole family. I understand parents have a budget,” he said.
Burgers account for a sizable cut of Hoof &Ale’s business, and rightly so. It was difficult to resist the rich and hearty Breakfast Burger — Angus beef, grilled pork belly, fried egg and cheddar cheese. You can also order a burger with pimiento cheese, fried shallots and delectable house made pickles, or build your own using items such as five different kinds of cheese, shallots, pickles and fried green tomatoes.
Beef also shows up in another dish that began as a special and earned a permanent spot on the menu. Rahme’s steak and fries starts with dry aged rib eye from Bear Creek cattle ranch in Ellijay. Marbled just enough to retain juiciness, it comes to the table tender and full of beefy flavor, accented with a drizzle of zingy lemon aioli.
But please don’t order it well done, which, Rahme said, considering the time and care invested by Bear Creek in raising, butchering and processing its first-rate cattle, “is disrespectful to the meat.”
Equally delicious in their own way are the fries. At most restaurants I lose interest and leave some on my plate, but these were nearly impossible to stop nibbling. Seasoned with Hoof & Ale’s proprietary blend of salt and spices, as well as a bit of thyme and pork fat, they are good enough to rank in my all-time potato favorites.
Wait a minute. Pork fat, I can hear you saying?
“I love pig,” Rahme said with a grin. Pork, including bellies procured from Cajun Meat Company across Roswell Road from Hoof & Ale, shows up in many of his dishes.
His take on poutine employs pork shoulder, brined and spiced for up to 24 hours then roasted slowly for another 10. With the house sauce and Mexican queso fresco, the pork mingles with those addictive fries to become a satisfying and tasty combo.
A dish of smoked pork loin hash — pork chunks, Yukon gold potatoes, red onions, scallions, Hoof & Ale house sauce, asparagus and golden raisins — grabbed my interest.
Never would I have imagined asparagus and raisins could be so deliciously complementary, yet I found all of the components play together very nicely to produce a fun and flavorful mix.
Don’t overlook Hoof & Ale’s grilled gulf shrimp with roasted red peppers, pearl couscous and corn. Colorful and deceptively simple in concept, shrimp is clearly the star of the dish, but the supporting players meld into a flavorful, succotash-like backdrop.
“This is my day off munchie food, the kind that I like to eat at home when I’m relaxing,” Rahme said. “I like to cook food that is inspired by what I feel like eating.”
Speaking of munchies, if, like me, you are a devoted fan of fried chicken, you’ll want to order a snack of fried chicken skins, served with a relish of cucumber and red onion to balance the crisp fried fatty goodness of the skins.
Rahme said 95 percent of everything on the menu is made in house; for example, he cures his own bacon, makes his own pickles and all of his sauces, dressings and desserts. His ingredients are carefully selected for freshness and superior quality.
“I try to stick with as much as I can get locally and seasonally in Georgia,” he said.
Of course, food isn’t the only thing in which Hoof & Ale excels. The large chalkboard list of IPAs, pilsners, stouts and more is one of the first things customers see, and it’s impressive in its variety.
Always there are six on tap and around two dozen in the bottle. What is truly special is that all are artisanal.
“We heavily support local beers. There are no macro breweries like Bud or Miller here,” Rahme said. “Since we are a craft beer-focused restaurant, it would only be right to put our focus on some of the smaller, up and coming breweries, whether they are local or national. Just like how we prefer to showcase some lesser known brands of wine that taste amazing, we highlight our craft beer selection the same way.”
Hoof & Ale chooses its beers based upon seasonality and customer requests.
“We will always have Red Hare offerings since they are a local Marietta brewery. If we get enough suggestions and requests from our guests about a particular style or specific brand, we will try our best to bring that in,” Rahme said.
Wednesdays are great for sampling something new, because select craft brews are half price.
“I think it safe to say that because we don’t offer any of the major commercial beers, we have opened people’s minds and palates to new and interesting offers.”
He concedes that sometimes it can be an uphill battle since Hoof & Ale does not offer what is known as the BMCs — Bud, Miller and Coors — “but we do our best to find comparable beers as long as they (the guests) have an open mind and are willing to try something different.”
That “something different,” which also applies to Rahme’s playful menu, is why Hoof & Ale is well positioned to become a regular destination for customers who are looking for quality food and beverages in a casual, friendly atmosphere.
“We’re equidistant between The Butcher, The Baker and Seed,” he said, referencing two of Cobb’s most highly rated dining establishments. “We live five minutes away from here near Wheeler High School, and we like to sort of jokingly call this Midtown Cobb. We want to try to change the culinary landscape here.”