GEORGIA

HobNobbing with the best of them in Atlanta's Ansley Park

The Birthday Lunch: so easy to suggest, so hard to get right. But my sister blew into town on my (ahem) 40th birthday just after a new joint called HobNob opened in my old favorite coffee shop space. I wasn't looking for a SATC pastel cupcake girlfest, just a good meal. Once I saw that poutine was on the menu, I told her to skip breakfast so we could really tuck in.

We zoom toward Ansley Park with the special fizzy joy you'd expect of two women who have left five young children under 6 safe and happy in others' care for exactly three hours. Once we arrive it takes just a little maneuvering for us to weasel our way into the miniscule parking lot, where we watch the valet park our car just a few feet away.

Walking into HobNob feels a bit abrupt; you practically trip over whomever is sitting at the end of a long, curved tended bar, which is mirrored by another long, curved seating area with stools, facing into the smallish dining room. But once you're in, you find stony nooks and crannies and a fireplace mixed with televisions and a wall of glasses and craft beers. It feels modern and ski-lodge cozy at the same time. We shed our layers and scarves and belly up to a small table just shy of the fireplace's blooming heat.

Our first course is the eternal Canuck favorite poutine – French fries with brown gravy and cheese curds. It sounds… well, it sounds horrible. But it tastes divine, as do all carb-heavy traditional dishes. We follow it up with a virtuous salad – except the salad has pears wrapped in prosciutto – and because you only turn 40 once we also split a plate of short rib tacos with fennel, spinach, and fontina cheese. And did I mention that all the plates have beer pairings? We can't try everything, since one of us is driving and the other is a nursing mother, but we do have one each. We toast our server, whose birthday was the day before, and talk about how fun it is to have birthdays in bleak wintry-springy months when everyone is looking for an excuse to celebrate.

I make a mental note to return with my husband, and start thinking of other friends and family who will love it here. This is a good sign, and signals exactly what HobNob aspires to be – nothing pretentious, just a warm neighborhood resto with a solid bill of fare and (dare I say it) happy service. The poutine has put to bed any suggestion of dessert, but a menu with a separate section just for alcoholic milkshakes has my permanent interest.

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