Green Goat grazes on penchant for local, homestyle

The Green Goat restaurant is at 1300 Savannah Highway.

The Green Goat opened in the location of the former George’s Sports Bar and Grill on Savannah Highway. Out with an arcade of sports-tuned televisions; in with a bucolic mural of goats at play and the namesake icon painted on the walls.

The Green Goat is in a strip mall but it has all the nuances of a classic diner without the stainless steel, the Formica and the Naugahyde. It offers blue-plate specials and a modestly priced menu firmly rooted in the American South.

The dining room has been refreshed with paint. Fresh cream walls are now striped with vibrant green.

The bar side maintains its own entrance and a modern breakfront separates the high tops on the bar side from the booths and tables in the dining room. There is nothing, however, to absorb the cheers and boos of the fans as the home team’s circumstances changes.

Kelly Ruff and Jason Lewis opened this summer with a menu dedicated to local ingredients and a willingness to accommodate eaters with food allergies, sensitivities and gluten-intolerance. Special dietary needs? No problem.

Appetizers better serve the bar trade where tomatoes, pickles and calamari are fried; each served with a dedicated sauce of house-made chow-chow, aioli or marinara.

Wings also land on the menu with your choice of dry rubs or wet sauces or both. Dips figure prominently as perfect companions for the rotating selection of beers and are accompanied by ubiquitous chips and the unexpected toast points.

The “house of Ruff” has provided the recipe for the clam dip that is partnered with local favorite pimiento cheese. This Double Dipper offers snappy flavors to accompany a chilled Stella Cidre or a can of Aviation. The shortcoming of this appetizer menu is that the offerings are rich or fried or both.

Salads are a strong suit, where freshness prevails, dressings are made in-house and ingredients are trimmed down to size. Available in two portions, small or large, the salads are served in stainless steel bowls that “feel” like the garde manger left out the plating step.

That being said, baby spinach leaves were just the foil for roasted pepper dice, salty bacon chips, spicy red onions and sweet candied pecans coated in an emulsified bacon vinaigrette. Grammy’s Favorite salad spoke to a 21st century “grand” where fried goat cheese, orange segments and dried cranberries temper the peppery kick of baby arugula. Gild your salad with an antibiotic-free chicken breast or local shrimp that the kitchen will blacken, grill or fry, and dinner is served.

In alignment with the commitment to the universe of diners who suffer food sensitivities, the chicken is antibiotic-free, the burger is grass-fed beef and the Angus beef hot dog contains no nitrates.

If you were expecting goat on the menu, you are out of luck except for the goat cheese garnish to salad, a topping for burgers and a flavor enhancement to smashed potatoes. No goat curries, ragus, barbecue or ribs. No trendlet “chevon” to tempt the foodistas. Not even a Coach Farm cheesecaket.

I think that The Green Goat speaks to a greener way of living rather than eating mutton chops or cabrito tacos. Entrees are limited and feature chicken, shrimp and grits, pork chops and stuffed meatloaf. The kitchen allows you to choose your portion, and based on my 3/4-inch slab of meatloaf, one is plenty.

The meatloaf is lined with ham slices and Swiss cheese. Think of it as “cordon bleu meatloaf” where forcemeat replaces a chicken breast. The meat is flavored with onions, grated carrots, sweet red pepper and herbs; it is rolled around substantial slices of ham and cheese and baked. To finish the dish, the slices are seared and browned to a crisp. It was served with a green tomato gravy that held the promise of astringency but paled in tartness, and goat cheese infused-smashed potatoes that were tepid.

Take your pick when it comes to fried chicken: white meat or dark; a quarter or half the bird plus two sides. The breast and wing left the fryer with a shaggy bark of golden-brown skin and crust; the skin was dimpled by the heat of the fat and the white meat glistened in the resultant steam. Yet, this perfectly fried yard bird had no flavor. No salt, no pepper, no thyme or cayenne was apparent in eating it. Tableside salting easily ratcheted up its flavor, but what about the cook?

Its blandness was an anomaly because the vegetable sides gave witness to the happy execution of a “grandmother” at the stove: collards with nary a bitter stem, baptized in pork both jowl and shreds, sweet with heat, and rendered tender with time. Green beans fared equally as well, hovering at that spot where the cell walls surrendered to crispness and the beans are flavored and plumped by the likker of their cooking liquids. Edible osmosis at its simplest. Coleslaw, though, joined the chicken with fresh strands of cabbage bereft of flavor and tang.

It was clear that the fry cook had timing down; now balance that hand with well-modulated seasoning.

A chocolate mousse cake and bread pudding were our dessert options. Made in-house, so our server said, so we tried the cake. A gritty icing covered a devils food cake, mousse would not describe the filling and the whipped cream collapsed on top and with it our interest in finishing this confection.

You will find the servers friendly and accommodating. The prevailing philosophy of the owners is to take care of the guests, and the staff models that behavior.

Ruff and Lewis are committed to local ingredients and embracing American home cooking styles. Execution, like the namesake goat, may require a bit more browsing into recipes to deliver a taste sensation that shows they are not kidding around.