By Emily Williams
At their new Edgewood restaurant, Greenhouse, seasoned chefs Mary Claire and Bray Britton are striking a balance with a creative menu of items that fulfill cravings while nourishing the body.
The tagline for Greenhouse is “Feelin’ Good All the Time,” which highlights the couple’s philosophy that, while food is transformative and healthy eating is important, eating right doesn’t have to be boring.
“We want to feed people in a way that makes them feel great from the inside out,” Mary Claire said.
With that in mind, Greenhouse is a place where the whole family can enjoy something wholesome that also tastes amazing and doesn’t break the bank.
“Bray and I know that eating whole, organic, colorful meals helps all of us feel our best,” Mary Claire said. “However, having a house full of tiny folks makes that difficult. It’s much harder to prepare fresh, whole, healthy meals than to throw a frozen pizza in the oven.”
Sensing a void in organic options, Edgewood seemed the perfect spot for their establishment.
The Brittons even partnered with Domestique coffee to fill the additional lack of a coffee shop in the area.
“Our menu is designed to get people excited about eating bountiful, vibrant, wholesome meals that taste incredible, fill you up and don’t leave you feeling like a hot pile of garbage afterward.”
When the Brittons are craving something less than healthy, they find an opportunity to strike a balance.
“Bray is a grill genius,” Mary Claire said. “If we want burgers, we know that the best one will be in our own backyard.
“We also totally do a pizza night at home about once a week. We’ll either order from New York Pizza or make our own. And we believe that you can eat clean and feel sated. That’s the whole point of Greenhouse.”
An Innovative Menu
The menu features a variety of salads – you can even build your own, three curated smoothie options and four filling soups – from Smokey Corn to Crispy Tequila Pork.
A “Sando” selection features heavier options. Those who seek a grilled cheese will not be disappointed. They also provide chicken salad, the Bahn Green – their take on the classic Vietnamese Bahn Mi, and the GH Cuban, a French loaf packed with smokey pork, marinated kale and pickled onions, chicharrones and swiss cheese.
For visitors with a sweet tooth, Mary Claire has cooked up a Ridiculous Cookie that is said to be out of this world.
Many of the items on the menu have been kid-approved by the Brittons’ three sons. Items such as the rainbow salad side item are popular at their household.
“It’s sort of an unsung hero at our house,” Bray said. “It’s composed of chickpeas, bell peppers, olives, parsley, feta, with a Greek vinaigrette. Our kids eat it and we eat it.”
Full of protein, the rainbow salad is packed with vegetables and makes a great snack or base for a bigger meal.
“We wanted to make it easy for families to come and grab something that they can feel good about feeding themselves and their families,” Mary Claire said.
Learning From Mom
Both Mary Claire and Bray grew up with mothers who cooked often and taught them to cook joyously and adventurously.
“My mom rarely cooked the same thing twice and always welcomed my help,” said Mary Claire. “Bray’s mom treats every meal like a big, fun party, and that mindset is so joyful and inspiring.”
Those initial experiences in the kitchen and at the table set the tone for both of their lives, leading both Mary Claire and Bray into culinary careers.
Mary Claire began working in the industry in New York City at Danny Meyer’s Union Square Café. She moved to Atlanta, where she joined the kitchen at Bacchanalia and then Abbatoir, now closed.
Bray has spent much of his career in Birmingham working for the legendary Frank Stitt at Highlands Bar and Grill, and he helped start El Barrio and Paramount Restaurants.
According to Bray, important lessons were learned in his experience working with a restaurant that did not make it.
“One of the first restaurants that I worked for went under after a couple of years,” Bray said. “They were trying so hard, but they nailed every bullet point on the failing restaurant business model.”
The restaurant struggled until the end, when it settled for buying cheaper products to try to stay afloat.
“It was very important to see that and understand why it was happening,” he said. “You must work harder to make your place better, not more profitable. You can never sacrifice quality.”
For Mary Claire, the lessons she holds most dear are those day-to-day processes that keep the kitchen running efficiently.
“Come in early. Do your job – exceptionally well. Do everyone else’s job – exceptionally well. Work clean. Be precise. Take direction. Never leave a task incomplete,” she said. “Put your heart into each and every task.”
Both Mary Claire and Bray see not only pursuing a culinary career, but running a restaurant as a calling.
The notion hit Mary Claire one evening while working one of her first restaurant jobs in Atlanta as a pastry chef.
“We were short staffed one night and just got slammed,” she said. “I ended up running back and forth between the pastry kitchen and the hotline all night, making salads, working sauté, while firing off and finishing pastries. It was so challenging but exhilarating; and that night I realized not only that I was capable of running a kitchen, but that it was my calling.”
Learning From Surprises
Bray had a similar moment of revelation while working his first dining gig, running the kitchen at a country club.
“It was normal to walk in to work and find out that we had booked last-minute parties on the pool deck, the grill patio and the 19th green that needed to be fed; in addition to regular dinner service,” he said.
After working such a demanding job, Bray was no longer intimidated when he walked into a new kitchen. Whatever was thrown at him, he knew he could handle it.
While leading a kitchen is a small part of the job when it comes to opening a restaurant, the Brittons were lucky that Bray was familiar with the process.
“Bray was one of the opening chefs at El Barrio, so he was able to walk through the opening process with that company,” Mary Claire said.
In addition, Bray was the opening chef at Paramount, owned by the same people who started El Barrio.
“Those experiences have been so incredibly valuable to our own opening, and we are so grateful,” she said.
The best part about opening their own restaurant in Edgewood has been getting to know the area, meeting with guests and neighbors.
“The hardest part has been being away from our tiny people so much,” Mary Claire said. “It’s been hard for all of us, but we’re getting in the groove and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”