New and exciting openings from the Atlanta restaurant scene! Dig in and see why these are some of the most buzz-worthy spots to open in recent memory!
Stillhouse—While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the mainstream-ization of old Appalachia in the forms of bluegrass music and primitive southern cooking, I have to admit I didn’t see moonshine cracking the bourgeois code. But sure enough, here is ole’ white lightning showing up (legally) in liquor stores and in respectable bars in respectable neighborhoods. Stillhouse Craft Burgers & Moonshine, a recent opening in the East Andrews Entertainment dojo, puts this mystical elixir as its raison d’être both at the bar and in the kitchen. Saddle up in the homey, saloon-like space featuring antique tin ceiling tiles and hi-tops resting on empty whiskey barrels, grab a rawhide-covered menu and get down to business! Front and center in the extensive bar are the moonshine cocktails, some infused with flavors like watermelon mint brown sugar, roasted apple Vidalia onion jalapeño and even caramel Krispy Kreme. Throw a twist into your hooch by having the barkeep burn some aged pecan, cherry or peach wood smoke into the glass, infusing it with some smoky goodness. The menu revolves around gourmet bar/comfort food and behemoth burgers. These things are a carnivore’s dream, stacked nearly a foot tall and “upside down” with the cheese and sauce baked into the inverted top bun. 14 burgers, all completely original and ridiculously decadent include grass-fed beef, duck confit, crab cakes, fried oysters, bacon and eggs and much more. They range in price from $9-$12 and can easily feed two. And absolutely put the Krispy Kreme bread pudding on your sweet-tooth bucket list. It’s one of the best desserts in the city. But whatever you do, don’t dismiss Stillhouse as a novelty just because it associates with such notorious cultural beverage; it’s the real deal. Even Urban Spoon listed it as a top 100 new restaurant in the US last year. www.stillhouseatl.com
St. Cecilia—Spoiler alert: Ford Fry has done it again. After back-to-back show stoppers with The Optimist and King + Duke, St. Cecilia (the patron saint of music in case you were wondering) completes the stunning trifecta in less than 18 months. In restaurant terms that’s a Usain Bolt-fast clip to churn out three of the most unique, stylish and groundbreaking restaurants that the city has ever seen. Taking over the former Bluepointe space across from Phipps, Fry’s team stripped down what had previously been a dramatic room and now lets the drama of the architecture speak for itself. 50-foot ceilings tower over the space but now instead of the luxe fabrics, rich colors and fancy lighting, the new space has gone organic with simple walnut floors, walls of books, bric-a-brac and taxidermy and a muted, soft earth-tone palate. The result is a soothing, bright milieu that creates a perfect accompaniment to the cuisine—northern Italian with a focus on the Ligurian coast. Picture yourself at a table in Santa Margherita (OK, the view is of Phipps but work with me here) and sit back while fresh crudos like cobia tartare, hamachi and chilled oysters; antipasti like fried salt cod beignets and hearth-roasted octopus; melt-in-you-mouth pastas like the pansotti stuffed with roasted beet and the ravioli with apple and mascarpone and Maine Lobster; and mains like triggerfish with wood-roasted calamari and the Block Island Swordfish arrive at your table. Benissimo! Indeed, St. Cecilia’s continues to push Fry’s high bar even higher—make room on the trophy shelf for more awards and gushing from national press. And with 3 more concepts in the pipeline looking to open in 2014/15, one simply has to marvel at Fry’s team’s seemingly endless well of ideas, talent and design. www.stceciliaatl.com
Ink and Elm—Sexy. Creative. Delicious. Adjectives which, aside from some winsome co-eds, were never uttered to describe anything within walking distance of the Emory campus. Until now. Ink and Elm, a name that pays homage to landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead (builder of both NYC’s Central Park and ATL’s own Druid Hills), eschews the pizza/burrito/noodle fare associated with the Emory village and now offers some of the most elegant comfort-food dining and sexiest build outs in the city. Local restaurant architects ai3 have nailed it again with a space that is warm (dark woods), relaxed (transitional furniture) and infectiously stylish (floor to celling up-lit curtains). A wall of brown liquor—over 100 different types of scotch, bourbons and ryes—located next to a burning fireplace and a lounge of leather and brass rivet chairs frames up one of the most intriguing bar set-ups in town. On the food side Marietta’s own Stephen Sharp mans the kitchen and sends out a menu of approachably-sophisticated, locally-sourced, seasonally-inspired southern grub. OK, OK I know this is now a jumble of annoying hyphenated restaurant cliches but Sharp executes with so much confidence and measured risk that the result is anything but cliched. With the pork loin, he tops it with a crunchy seeded mustard, a sweet Vidalia onion gravy and Georgia apples. Very southern and by its ingredients but the combinations of crunchy and soft, salty and savory, sweetness and acidity was unlike anything I’ve had with that dish before; a true revelation. The NC Flounder on the other hand is prepared anything but traditional: with matsuake (a Japanese pine mushroom), pac choi (Chinese cabbage) and a dashi broth (a Japanese kelp soup stock). And the “brick-cooked” chicken made with local muscadines and collards (again, local and essentially traditional) elicited a “best chicken dish ever” from my dining buddy. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention their skilled selection and shucking of cold water oysters as well as a gorgeous weekend brunch starring fried chicken brined for 6 days before frying. Yeah baby. www.inkandelmatlanta.com
Kimball House—Named for two historic hotels that served Atlanta in the early 1900s, Kimball House is a remarkable project that came together over 6 years led by 7 mixologists coming from two Decatur mainstay joints, Leon’s Full Service and the Brick House Pub. Housed in the former Decatur Train Depot, a building built in 1891, it would be a home run just for the decor; a living museum of all things vintage. Reclaimed materials accentuate an already fascinating structure including the towering bar which is made from the original floors of the train depot (that had previously been repurposed as tables by an earlier tenant), an antique belt-driven fan system, antique light fixtures and shelves of old books and 1000+ pieces of vintage glassware. But besides the righteous digs, Kimball House perhaps has set the new standard for mixology in the city. Like alchemists working with laboratory beakers, apothecary droppers and spray bottles to sprtiz aromas into the glasses, the army of mixologists are simply elixir gods. Drawing from a multitude of fresh ingredients, fist-sized perfect cubes of ice and a bottomless well of cocktail mastery, the drinks, served in vintage lowballs and stemware, are simply a delight to see, smell and taste. And if only the decor and the drinks were all-world, you’d forgive mediocre food…but it’s anything but. Kimball House puts out an oyster selection and presentation that belongs in the bivalve hall of fame. I ordered two dozen mixed east and west coast raw beauties, Fed Ex'd in fresh that day, presented on a manhole cover-sized platter, perched on perfect ice pellets like tiny one-carat glistening diamonds. Glorious. From there I enjoyed several of the most beautifully plated small dishes I’ve had in some time—the little neck clams and a tuna crudo with blood orange. Then the house-made lemon herb sausage with farro was wonderfully complex but also extremely hearty. And for dessert the Cake and Ice Cream, a small pineapple upside-down cake, pineapple ice cream with passionfruit and blood orange sorbets possessed deliriously explosive flavors. Kimball House is something truly special. Very indie. Very local. Very Decatur. But remember—while open seven days a week there are no reservations so it’s first come, first served. And they are serving many. www.kimball-house.com
Better Half - One of the most memorable meals I have had in years was at a table full of strangers in an exposed brick loft in an old factory that served as a set for the Hunger Games. I am totally serious. I am talking about the Push Start Kitchen, a former underground supper club founded by Zach and Cristina Meloy out of their own home in The Goat Farm in midtown west. And as I predicted at the time couple of years ago, it would not be long before a proper brick-and-mortar kitchen would be necessary to showcase Zach’s cooking talents. So after a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds, Better Half now serves dinner Tuesday-Saturday on 14th Street near Georgia Tech. The couple met when Zach visited Cristina’s native Costa Rica and that Latin influence runs throughout each of the dishes. The roasted beet tart with horseradish and crispy pig ear comes plated beautifully and carefully mixes sweet and spicy. The sopa negra (blackbean soup), thick, salty and delicious comes to life when the perfectly poached egg, upon piercing with a spoon, runs it’s gooey innards into the concoction for a savory addition to the salty soup. For the main course I had the pork loin with parsnip mustard, roasted turnip and pickled apple. It, too, looked beautiful and showed a range of flavors that Meloy has been crafting since his time at Push Start. For dessert the cocoa sponge with smoked cajeta (a Mexican-style sweet syrup made from caramelized milk) and buttermilk ice cream demonstrated Meloy’s well-rounded talents as a pastry chef. Better Half rocks as a sophisticated neighborhood destination. It’s uncomplicated in a good way, with the food easy to enjoy but just challenging enough with the Latin accents to keep you on your toes. At press time the liquor license was in progress but for the time being BYOB and just enjoy the food. www.betterhalfatl.com