Any way you slice it, Atlanta’s a tough restaurant market. Worthy restaurants fall off the fickle public’s radar and disappear to make way for the next buzzed-about eatery. It’s a town where the boldest flavors often prevail. Indigo Road Restaurant Group’s newest Atlanta restaurant, Donetto in the Stockyards development on Brady Avenue is, at first glance, another of these industrial-styled spaces with big, bold dishes, boozy cocktails and hip vibes. It may be all of those things, but as I discovered on a recent visit, it’s so much more.
I can’t remember a time when “take me out to the ballgame” included excitement about stadium food. In the past, it’s usually down to sad options like crumpled burgers, wilted French fries, generic beer and rubbery hot dogs. Foodies and sports fans can rest easy, thanks to the opening of Mercedes-Benz Stadium and its star culinary player, Molly B’s. Named for Falcons and Atlanta United owner and chairman Arthur Blank’s mother, Molly, the eatery is a tribute to her well-known hospitality.
“I’m not a scholar,” Ford Fry is telling me, as we’re tucked into a dimly lit corner banquette at Marcel in Atlanta’s Westside Provisions development. “Instead, I’m inspired by pictures and all of the classic steakhouses.” Chef Fry may not call himself a scholar, but in Marcel (and his other restaurants, for that matter, as he’s maybe most known for being a prolific restaurateur) he has divined the algorithm of a successful restaurant. As they say, he has a knack for giving the people what they want.
At a recent meal at The Federal, the latest restaurant from long-time Atlanta chefs Shaun Doty and Lance Gummere, I was happily struck by the diminutive, jewel box space and tightly curated menu. Make no mistake, though: big flavors are the name of Doty’s kitchen game. Opened in November, The Federal is a French bistro-American steakhouse mashup. At just 45 seats, it’s intimate by design. If you allow your imagination to wander, you might just believe you’re seated in a Parisian brasserie instead of in Midtown Atlanta.
“Write what you know” is sage advice often attributed to Mark Twain or William Faulkner. The same is regularly said to chefs, who are encouraged to cook dishes close to their hearts and histories. While beautiful dishes can happen with a walk on the wild side, often the most heartfelt – and delicious – things happen with a deep knowledge of a culture’s history and traditions.
We’re fortunate that Atlanta has a myriad of stellar places to worship at the altar of beef (Hal’s, Chops and Oak Steak are favorites), but the new 101 Steak in Vinings can stand tall amongst these giants, and perhaps even teach a thing or two about pushing the culinary envelope. Instead of boring basics, 101 Steak is more like a graduate-level course. Chef Joe Ahn builds on a firm foundation of exacting technique, expertly chosen cuts and fresh ingredients. Then, he layers in his own creative touches with finesse and aplomb.
“Life is a combination of magic and pasta,” the late Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini once said. I’m inclined to agree, particularly after my recent visit to il Giallo Osteria & Bar, run by Chef Jamie Adams and General Manager Leonardo Moura. My meal was transporting – from starters of earthy duck and rabbit meatballs nestled in a rich gravy of mushrooms and Vidalia onions, to plump agnolotti filled with rich roasted duck and nutty fontina cheese, to the heavenly pizza di fragole for dessert.
Cape Dutch is the kind of place that charms you to your very core. The menu of South African fare, while not huge, is so compelling that I was loathe to choose. Lemongrass mussels with coconut milk; Thai basil, seared scallops with cucumber noodles and quinoa tabbouleh; elk chop with spaghetti squash; and board of meats and cheeses from around the world all called my name. Lucky for me, restaurant owner Justin Anthony was on hand to offer his guidance.
With a focus on Basque cuisine, Cooks & Soldiers, the newest restaurant from Castellucci Hospitality Group, shines bright. From From vegan “tartare” to Trout Navarre (cooked on a flat-top grill with umami-laden black garlic, Iberico ham, Swiss chard, hazelnut romesco and crispy potatoes), Chef Landon Thompson’s varied menu is peppered with fresh, experimental twists that keep interest high. The wine list is glorious, heavily weighted toward those of Spanish origin.