Jesse Edmunds describes his new venue, The Hawthorn, as a “refined dining experience.” And so it is.
The elegant new restaurant, in the former home of Joe Mama’s and later, Tifeo, is a white tablecloth establishment, the cuisine inspired by the dishes of the American South and the south of Europe. The Hawthorn is named after Edmunds’ favorite flower, regal but grounded, like the food.
Edmunds and his team make pretty much everything from scratch — the crackers, sourdough bread, pasta, sauces. The list goes on and on. The emphasis is on well-sourced seasonal ingredients, local when possible. Expect the menu to change often.
The Hawthorn has had a soft opening since Oct. 5 but the grand opening is Nov. 10 and 11. Diners will be treated to a round of free champagne and the beer and wine service will expand to a full bar.
For Edmunds, The Hawthorn is a long time coming. He’s been working in the restaurant business since washing dishes at age 13. The ambitious chef graduated from Florida State University’s Dedman School of Hospitality, and at age 21 came up with a business plan for a “refined” restaurant.
It would be 10 years before Edmunds made his plan a reality, but The Hawthorn is very much the restaurant of his dreams.
Edmund’s wife, Briana, designed the handsome restaurant, decorated in hues of deep navy and crisp white, with accents of grey, brick and wood. Walls are brightened by vivid abstracts and small planters. The Hawthorn can seat 54 in the main dining room, 20 in the bar area and eight on the outside patio. You might hear a Rolling Stones tune played softly in the background, but the fun soundtrack won’t interfere with your focus on food, friends and drink.
For starters, my husband and I, dining with another couple, shared two of the intriguing small plates. The lamb crepe was superb. The dish is a play on pulled pork with cornbread and coleslaw, said Edmunds, but this version features flavorful braised lamb from Border Springs Farm in Virginia that’s shredded and tucked inside soft crepes made from cornmeal from Rich Pouncey’s Bumpy Road Farms in Tallahassee. The crepe is garnished with pickled mustard seeds and cabbage slaw. I want some more, right now.
Instead of avocado toast, Edmunds features butternut squash on a thin slice of wood-fired, fresh-baked sourdough slathered with a shmear of rich mascarpone cheese. The bread is topped with three renditions of the squash: confit, charred and puréed. It’s finished with a few butternut squash seeds, a drizzle of fig vinegar, thinly sliced radishes and radish greens. A taste of autumn.
The Hawthorn displays a chalkboard showing the source of its oysters, but we’ll have to try the mollusks on our next visit. We had to save room for large plates, including a mix of proteins and a vegetarian entree (with root vegetables, greens, potatoes au gratin and farmers cheese).
Pork tends to disappoint at most restaurants but The Hawthorn’s pork tenderloin is excellent, buttery tender and juicy. It’s set atop a creamy sauce of puréed roasted corn spiked with saffron. The house-made hominy is a nice touch, along with sweet potatoes and leeks cooked in a cast-iron pan in the wood fire. No wonder the dish is called Fall Pork.
My friend, who loves duck, ordered the duck confit, wonderfully moist and savory, tossed with plump, house-made gnocchi, crisp pancetta, roasted cipollini onions, romanesco (cousin to the cauliflower) and lots of Parmesan. If you don’t like salty food, keep in mind the dish is naturally a tad salty but certainly delicious.
The crab capellini has the simple goodness of a meal cooked in sunny Italy. Edmunds uses an arugula purée in his house-made pasta so it’s a light green, a pleasant backdrop for the real lump crab. On the side are slices of oranges in a white wine butter sauce. The surprise element is a dollop of Georgia caviar, one luxurious bite that doesn’t overpower the delicate dish. The caviar is made from Russian sturgeon raised in Georgia.
The other fish dish on our visit was a double hunk of fresh rainbow trout cooked skin-on, complimented by a fermented tomato sauce with heirloom carrots scooped into melon balls for a whimsical accent.
For dessert, we devoured the scrumptious red velvet bread pudding from pastry chef Kristen Siegel. It’s more of a deconstructed cake, with chunks of chocolate, a vanilla crème anglaise and a garnish of beet micro greens. We could have licked the plate.
For something different, try the gujar ka halwa cake. It’s like an Indian version of carrot cake with cardamon and other Indian spices. If you’re a fan of cream cheese, you’ll love the thick wedge of rich cream cheese ice cream. It’s accompanied by Seigel’s own almond brittle.
A sweet ending, indeed.
There’s a small, thoughtful wine list (by the glass and bottle). Beer choices include Proof’s La La Land and Cigar City’s Jai Alai IPAs. The full bar will feature classic cocktails like martinis and Manhattans.
Servers were attentive and came around often to fill water glasses and see if we were enjoying our meal. We were.
Small plates $10 to $13, large plates $20 to $35, desserts $8 to $9.
The Hawthorn is a winner. It’s only open about a month but it’s already a creative, and welcome, new dining destination for Tallahassee.
Rating: Worth the Drive
Rochelle Koff writes about food and dining at TallahasseeTable.com, and on Facebook, @TheTallahasseeTable and Twitter @tallytable. Reach her at TallahasseeTable@gmail.com.
When you go …
1307 N. Monroe St., Unit 1
Open 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday to Saturday