I had heard about the Grayson College Culinary Arts restaurant Six Ninety One, but until last week, I had not been there. Chalk that delay up to lost opportunities for interesting dining. The restaurant, named for the state highway that runs past the college, is a real gem. This semester, it is open for dinner on Tuesdays and Thursdays with two seatings each evening, one at 5 p.m. and another at 7 p.m., though reservations are required.
The menu for each evening is fixed, with diners being offered two different choices for the four-course meal. The menus are published weekly on the restaurant’s Facebook page, and you can make reservations by phone or email. The service is formal. Chef Joanna Bryant, who runs the instructional part of the school, believes that would-be chefs should understand the ins and outs of proper table service as well as how to cook, so the school’s students also perform the front of the house duties.
The restaurant itself is a large open, airy room with a wall of windows on the north side. The servers, dressed in black and white, move unobtrusively through their duties as good servers should. As traditional with formal dining, the place setting includes a charger plate, linen napkins and a full complement of well-polished silverware.
My dinner companion and I decided up front to split the menu so we could try at least a bite of everything offered. Good choice, and it made for an interesting mix of flavors, textures and tastes.
The menu on the night I was there started with two salads, a spring mix with pickled onions, bacon, fried goat cheese and green goddess dressing or a Caprese salad with tomato, fresh mozzarella, and basil with a balsamic reduction dressing. This was followed by either clam chowder or fried green tomatoes with a Cajun remoulade.
Both were good, and although generally I am not a fan of raw onions, the picked slivers in the spring mix added a nice contrast to the greens. Fresh tomatoes and mozzarella is a can’t miss item and the balsamic reduction proved a touch of tart and sweet to the taste. The chowder was excellent, as good as any I have ever had. The fried green tomatoes were well breaded with a crunchy exterior, but the tomatoes themselves were a little soft for my taste.
For entrées, we had a choice of honey bourbon steak tips with garlic mashed potatoes, asparagus and charred shishito peppers or a chicken pot pie presented in a individual-sized cast iron skillet. The dessert choices were Paris Brest or a layer cake filled with orange and lemon curd and topped with cream Chantilly. The first is a French treat created in 1910 to commemorate the Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race. It is a wheel-shaped choux pastry filled with a hazelnut pastry cream and drizzled with chocolate.
A selection of beverages — no alcohol — and a basket of special breads completed the offerings.
I had the chicken pot pie, and it too was excellent. Comfort food doesn’t get any better, and the steak tips, which had a slightly sweet sauce with a hint of bourbon, were good as well, but for me, the chicken pie was the star of the table.
Both desserts were good; not too much, but just enough to finish off the meal. The pastry cream filling in the choux was smooth and not too sweet with flavors that left room for discussion as to what might have been in the mix besides the hazelnut paste.
Six Ninety One is unique in offering an excellent formal dining experience in a subdued setting with all of the special touches one would expect to find in the top restaurants anywhere, and it comes without the pretense and the price often associated with fine dining.
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