- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2002

Georgia Brown's is a peach of a restaurant.

You don't have to have been born south of the Mason-Dixon line to appreciate some of the best Southern cooking in Washington at the McPherson Square eatery.

But while the cooking is "down home" with original flares, the setting couldn't be more sophisticated and stylish a real attraction for business clients who have a hankering for soul food or secretly resent the Yankees who have taken over Washington in the years since it was just a sleepy Southern town.

The restaurant's appropriately peach, gold and green-toned decor was created by artist Adam Tihany before he fashioned his world-famous designs at La Cirque in New York.

It features a massive sculpture hung from the ceiling like the Spanish moss on the trees in the Savannah River basin outside Charleston, S.C. Huge, half-moon-shaped windows let the daylight stream in while wall sconces supplement with a warm gold light.

Mr. Tihany created a maze of maple paneling to carve out nooks and alcoves within the dining room. The swoops and curves of the paneling are a joy to the eye and the sense of privacy and intimacy afforded by the nooks is welcome in an otherwise busy and crowded lunchroom.

Georgia Brown's is very popular with nearby office workers, who had filled nearly every table and were chatting noisily on a recent afternoon. While that was a sign that the food was good, it sent the decibel level so high that hearing a soft-spoken person across the table could sometimes be a chore.

The service was efficient, friendly and energetic, in keeping with the lively atmosphere created by the crowd. Reservations are not necessary, but are recommended for Sunday brunch, which has received awards and can draw throngs.

Clearly the attraction, besides the singularly attractive setting, is the array of Southern specialties from she-crab soup and fried green tomatoes to Carolina gumbo and sugar and spice pork chops.

A cursory look at the menu suggests a New Orleans inspiration. But the cuisine actually derives from the low country surrounding Charleston, settled by groups as diverse as west Africans, French Huguenots and Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal.

The latter unlikely group of settlers brought with them tomatoes originally from Mexico by way of Spain and Portugal, says Neal Langermann, the restaurant's highly accessible executive chef.

He says his goal is to start with the simple dishes of the region and add gourmet touches that make them even more memorable. The fried green tomatoes, for example, are stuffed with basil cream cheese and topped with a tangy lemon-cayenne mayonnaise.

Diners can arrange a chef's table, which Mr. Langermann personally serves, with five or six courses paired with wines. Regular diners also can view him cooking in his open kitchen.

My companion found the green tomatoes plump and juicy with a pleasing crunch, and felt they were even better when spiced up a bit with hot pepper sauce.

My appetizer of she-crab soup was smooth and sumptuous, garnished with a combination of crabmeat and crab roe that gave it a distinct Southern twang.

My companion's grilled catfish was exceedingly fresh, moist and succulent, accompanied by red rice and a succotash of corn and black-eyed peas.

My barbecued shrimp salad was colorful and inventive, garnished with an unusual combination of goat cheese, peaches and olives. All was accompanied by flaky biscuits and corn bread worthy of such a Southern banquet.

If possible, save room for the awesome assortment of gooey Southern desserts, from peach cobbler to sweet potato pie. Or at least sample the original ice creams and sorbets.

My companion's blueberry and white chocolate ice cream was sumptuous. My bowl of strawberries and blackberries drizzled with caramel-chocolate and raspberry sauce was divine. They washed down nicely with a snappy espresso.

The restaurant also offers some highly inventive drinks and fine wines. My companion sampled the Coosawachee lemonade, made fresh with Bacardi rum. It was light and festive with a huge sprig of mint and a quarter lemon on the side.

My glass of sauvignon blanc, at $8.95, was good but not extraordinary as one would expect at that price.

The tab was reasonable for a three-course meal and drinks, coming to $110, including tip.

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