Valentine’s Day is the biggest night of the year for restaurants – and for husbands hoping to get it right in terms of venue choice. With Edgar’s Grille and Center, we were taking a chance: the restaurant had officially opened Feb. 11.
The restaurant and conference center is part of Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia’s new complex at Washington and Furys Ferry roads. It’s staffed by professional chefs and wait staff, but also provides culinary students at the School of Hospitality & Culinary Arts at Helms College learning experiences once they have mastered a significant portion of their culinary training.
If, like me, you’re surprised to learn that Goodwill runs a college, you’ll be even more surprised by Edgar’s itself.
Named after the Rev. Edgar Helms, Goodwill’s founder, there is nothing institutional about this place. Edgar’s is a completely upscale dining experience, with an interior like nothing else in Augusta.
If you don’t like the look of raw meat, you may want to avert your eyes from the display case as you enter the restaurant, but once you get past that, you’ll be struck by the deep red mosaic tile by the bar; the huge mural of city lights along the row of rounded banquettes; and the attractive blue lights set in the white, white ceiling.
The heavy menus are covered in faux ostrich with a gleaming bronze plate stamped with the restaurant’s name. And inside, what a wealth of choices. Tapas, including fried green tomatoes with a spiced cucumber sauce and barbecue pig “wings” with red slaw. Brick-oven pizzas topped with everything from the classic margherita trio to grilled chicken, sundried tomatoes and goat cheese. Enticing entrée choices, including Carolina shrimp and grits, a local pork chop, bourbon-glazed salmon and even chicken and waffles. To whoever wrote the menu, kudos for making every option sound incredibly appetizing.
Edgar’s also has a good list of wines, spirits and specialty cocktails; and coffee by Augusta’s own Buona Caffe.
Sean decreed it was a night to go all out. We started by sharing an appetizer of smoked mussels, white wine and garlic butter followed by the small butter greens salad.
After we got our salad, we had to remind our waitress about the appetizer, but we didn’t mind. The salad featured whole leaves of lettuce, accented by a lemon truffle vinaigrette, smoky cheddar, candied walnuts and vinegary apples. It was a complex dish, most successful when the ingredients came together in one bite.
The bread deserves its own mention – not for itself since it was just a typical French loaf, but because it came with small glass jars of creamy pimento cheese and sweet and smoky bacon jam. Both were amazing to eat and to look at – and I almost wanted to take those little jars home with me!
The mussels appetizer, however, could have been a bit more refined. The flavor of the alcohol in the white wine, and the large flecks of cilantro, were too brash against the delicate, salty mussels.
For my meal, I had the cornmeal crusted Carolina flounder with shellfish fricassee served atop corn and sea island peas (similar to black-eyed peas). For $22, it was a huge portion covering my plate. It really was just a simple fried fish, but it and its accompaniments were elevated by a sweet and delicate cream sauce that I tried to scoop up with each bite. My one wish: for a little green on the plate.
Sean went for the steak – described as grilled certified angus beef tenderloin – potato gratin, asparagus and bleu cheese butter. Ordered at medium, it came nearer to rare, but was so tender, with the surprise of the bleu cheese kick at the end of the bite. And I loved the soft and comforting potato gratin and the crisp asparagus.
At the next table over, a small comedy was taking place: the husband had ordered the ricotta gnocchi but was brought a plump and delectable pork chop. When the waitress swapped it for his gnocchi with much apology, he looked down at the much smaller portion with a clown-like waggle of his head, causing his wife and me to giggle. It became a running joke between our tables the rest of the night.
When it came time for dessert, they followed our lead: We opted for the red velvet soufflé with sweet and sour whipped cream and the sorghum fig cake with vanilla ice cream (made from locally sourced milk) and balsamic syrup.
My fig cake was dense yet crumbly, tart and not very sweet – a cross between a spice and a fruit cake. It wasn’t my favorite, so I concentrated on the ice cream – rich, vanilla-scented goodness.
The red velvet soufflé wasn’t so much soufflé – it was heavier than that, with a soft moist crumb, and a crunchy sugar topping. It had a definite cocoa flavor and with the whipped cream (reminiscent of a light cream cheese frosting), was much more my kind of dessert.
Overall, as much as I enjoyed the experience, the very best part of Edgar’s isn’t the food, the ambiance or the company. It’s the fact that a portion of its proceeds also goes back into Goodwill’s services – good food doing a very good thing.
ON THE MENU
WHERE: Edgar’s Grille and Center, 3165 Washington Road
HOURS: Monday-Saturday, bar opens at 4:30 p.m. with dinner service starting at 5:30 p.m. Closes at 10 p.m.
SECOND HELPING: (706) 854-4700, edgarsgrille.com or find them on Facebook