Two Urban Licks (downtown)

/ Updated on June 1, 2014

Don't even try to drive there. Even our cab driver (an Atlanta native) got lost. But when you finally do open the front door, your Quixotic search will have been worth it. Though the name could be suggestive of who-knows-what, it actually refers to a guitar “lick,” i.e., a “riff” or a short series of notes. The term is often used with blues music and points up the live music echoing out from the front corner by the bar. But there's a lot more than just a band. The place is tucked away in a warehouse area and it's huge. The ceilings are easily 30-35 ft. high, and a gigantic painting (actually a grouping of related pieces) from Atlantan artist Todd Murphy, glows out from one of the walls. A bustling factory-like open kitchen dominates the center of the room with a massive hood and industrial-strength rotisserie casting shadows on the surrounding tables. When you enter, a towering stack of wine barrels greets you, hiding (for a moment) the cavernous space beyond.

We were seated at a deuce adjacent to a phalanx of garage doors that open onto an outdoor seating area, and even in it's grandeur, the place felt sort of cozy. A lot of that is due to the diffuse lighting provided by red-clothed hanging fixtures as big as a small car. Servers scurry in and out of the shadows (they use the classic “runner” system, so food comes out of the kitchen surprisingly fast).

We started with the vaunted Salmon Chips (fresh potato chips piled high with smoked and flaked salmon, chipotle cream cheese, onions and capers). The generous portion (5 large chips) is cleverly presented on a weathered plank that sits 4-5 inches above the table on wrought iron legs. It's like biting into a crackly and salmony bruschetta–the whole thing is quite a production. We also had the Lamb Lollipops (pear chutney and a creamy chevre–Frenched, perfectly crusty on the outside and still pink on the inside), and the Brisket Empañadas (stuffed to the breaking point with a beefy filling and drizzled with a warm garlic aioli, pico de gallo and crumbles of an unusually mild feta).

In order to stave off the spectre of hunger that lurks in that no-man's land between the appetizers and the mains, we split the Braised Oxtail, happily nestled on a bed of sugar-snaps and a darkly sweet amalgam of apple, pear and rhubarb. Then the Bronzed Scallops and the Seared Duck arrived. The Scallops were huge and perfectly cooked (I hate those tiny “bay” scallops that are almost always overcooked). The three poker chip-sized bivalves cavorted atop a bed of cheesy gouda grits, flanked by a lake of savory smoked tomato puree on one side and a cool dollop of pico de gallo on the other. The duck was the star of the show, seared and sliced, politely sharing the plate with andouille sausage, spicy roasted apples, carrots and brussels sprouts. All played very nicely together.

I don't usually talk about dessert, and I won't…except for one thing: Order the White Chocolate Cranberry Bread Pudding. Don't question Your Foodie. You will not be sorry.

Two Urban Licks was recommended by two of my favorite people who travel to Atlanta regularly on business. I have to admit that at first I was put off by the size of the place, concerned that an overworked kitchen awash in tickets would produce mediocre product. It did not. An army of young servers scurries about, dropping by regularly to ask if all is OK, while plate-laden runners deliver most everything with a smile.

Two Urban Licks is close to downtown Atlanta at 820 Ralph McGill Blvd., nestled among commercial warehouses and 18-wheelers. I suggest you take a cab or you may never be seen or heard from again (they have a taxi stand out front and the valets are happy to accommodate). Call for reservations at 404-522-4622. (D., Bar) Price range: Expensive -.

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