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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall (Old Fourth Ward)

Toddler Foodie Rating:  4 out of 5 Gummy Bears.  Best for kids who eat like adults (there's no kids menu, and there are no chicken fingers, macaroni & cheese, or French fries).  Come for brunch or an early dinner to avoid the cocktail crowd. 

:) = Awesome location right on the Beltline.  Neat campground theme complete with wooden picnic tables in the dining room, stuffed deer heads on the wall (which are a great distraction for little ones), a huge mural featuring a large owl and a bear that makes you feel like you're lost in the woods (another good distraction for littles), and creative camp-style dishes (including Fluffernutter sandwiches... hellooo, retro).  Staff is friendly and attentive to children, and the crowd there doesn't seem to mind children. Lots of nice outdoor seating. 

:( = Parking is probably difficult when it's busy.  Some of the dishes require some tweaking/perfecting.  Small bathrooms with no changing tables. 

"We have to eat this burger before the bear gets it!"
When we learned that there's a restaurant right off the Beltline that transports its diners to a bona fide campsite and serves old school camping-inspired food, we said, "Sign us up!"  We couldn't dream of a better way to spend a chilly, drizzly, winter evening.

We arrived at Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall, recently crowned one of the hottest new restaurants in Atlanta, around 5 PM.  Mommy, who was apprehensive about taking us there because Yelp says it is not good for kids, was elated to find that there were quite a few young diners present - even toddlers!  And there were lots of high chairs by the hostess stand - a sure sign that kids are welcome.

The stylish hostess knew right away to grab a high chair for us and seat us at a table near the restrooms.  We were awestruck by Ladybird's dining room.  It was hip, artsy, retro, and down-home casual all at the same time.  The natural wood tables and bar, authentic campground décor, and huge mural of a dark forest featured on the main wall made us feel like we were on a scouting trip and got us really excited about trying the food.  We started our meal with "Trail Snacks":  Navajo Fry Bread and the Fluffernutter.

Navajo Fry Bread
Photo taken by 3-year-old Toddler Foodie.
Photo taken by 2-year-old Toddler Foodie.
Both dishes were delicious - and messy.  Prepare to ask for more napkins or bust out the wet wipes.  The Navajo Fry Bread was like a salty-sweet flatbread pizza topped with a generous portion of country ham and oozing with fresh honey.  The Fluffernutter was overstuffed with homemade versions of marshmallow crème and hazelnut butter, served in a brown paper bag with bacon crusted banana chips.  (No, we're not joking.)  We devoured that Fluffernutter like we had been lost in the woods for weeks.  How could we not?

We got a sampling of dishes to taste and share:  the creamy ham & potato soup, hearty greens and farro salad, grass fed beef carpaccio, Fisherman's Stew, and double-stack burger.  What we loved:  the soup, the Fisherman's Stew (steelhead trout, littleneck clams, chorizo, sofrito, yucca, & baby onions, served in a cast iron skillet with a cute tin camping cup for the shells), and the carpaccio (definitely made with high quality beef and topped with delicious grana cheese).  What we thought could use a little perfecting:  the burger (the meat and bun were clearly high quality, but the patty was a tad salty; we loved the pickles served alongside the burger, though - they had a sweet-smoky-somewhat spicy flavor and were clearly made in-house) and the farro salad (it had too much farro and not enough greens, and the farro seemed undercooked).

Grass-fed beef carpaccio (top)
Hearty greens and farro salad with bleu cheese on the side (bottom)
Fisherman's Stew
A little after 6 PM, the restaurant started to fill up with adults looking for a good meal and/or tasty cocktail(s).  The cool thing was, the dining area was large enough to accommodate the grown-ups and us (we tend to get antsy toward the end of our meal and start moving around the table a lot); and the noise level was high enough to drown out the dinner-is-over-now-we're-ready-to-go whining that was starting to come out of our mouths.  Of course, Mommy couldn't leave without trying dessert; so before we were done with our entrees, she ordered the Strawberry Shortcake.  We are sooooooo glad she did.  Ladybird's Strawberry Shortcake is one of the best desserts we have ever had in the ATL.  The "shortcake" part of it is more like sweet cornbread straight out of  a Southern grandmomma's oven.  Imagine topping that with subtly sweet, without-a-doubt-house-made citrus crème anglaise and whipped cream, and a smattering of fresh strawberries.  We were in food heaven. 

"Floyd Mayweather is not The Best Ever.  This Strawberry Shortcake is!"
We absolutely loved the atmosphere and entire motif of Ladybird.  We hope that as the restaurant matures, the recipes will reach perfection - because this spot has so much potential.  We look forward to coming back when the weather is warmer, so we can sit on the patio, watch Atlanta go by on the Beltline, and pretend we're Cub Scouts on a mission to brave the unknown. 
"Can someone please bring the Fluffernutter back into fashion?! It is life-changing!"
"Okay, brontosaurus, I guess you can have some of my Fluffernutter."

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