Chef Jason Hall, formerly of Saltyard and Livingston, will be the opening chef at Max’s Wine Dive, a new gourmet comfort food spot in Midtown. Scheduled to open May 15 at 77 12th Street, Max’s started in Texas in 2003 with the slogan “Fried Chicken and Champagne… Why the Hell Not?!?” The Atlanta spot will be the seventh location and the first outside of Texas. Hall says Max’s is not run like a chain—half of the menu will be local, with items like PigCorn (caramel corn, cayenne, peanuts, and bacon) and pan-seared scallops with celery root and strawberry gastrique. He shares details below.
In the past you've worked at local, independent restaurants. What brought you to Max's Wine Dive?
I flew out and did a tasting, spoke with the chefs responsible for the menus. Everyone who worked there seemed to really enjoy working there. It’s a very casual, upbeat kind of place. Max’s still has that local, independent feel. They’ve been able to create that with consistency across the board. Everything is made in house from scratch. Half the vibe is created by a local chef using local ingredients unique to that location. Half the menu is classics. It’s not run like chain restaurants. The owner is approachable; he’s in and out of all the restaurants. My very first job was at Applebee's. That was a corporate restaurant. I know what those feel like. This is not that.
How do you explain the Max's concept to those who don't know anything about it?
It’s a dive bar, but we’re very serious about food, wine and service. It lacks the ostentatiousness of other restaurants.
When I think of dive bars, Northside Tavern comes to mind, not a brand new building in the heart of Midtown.
The original Houston location [of Max’s] is a dive. It’s not orchestrated. It naturally occurred. The servers have been there a very long time. They attach themselves to the restaurant. I told the GM after we went to the original Max’s, “You know before we open, we’re going to have to go in and kick some stuff around to get rid of that squeaky clean feel.” There’s no tablecloths or anything, but we’ll have the highest quality wines in the city with some serious comfort food.
Once the space is finished being built out, what will it look like?
In the company, there was a joke about a Georgia boy and what he was going to cook. They joked about squirrel heads, so I found this massive squirrel head that will be on the wall. It’s a shotgun bar with very high ceilings. Then there’s the exposed nature of it—you can see the rafters, the plumbing, and the open kitchen behind the bar.
What kind of seasonal menu items are you working on?
I’m definitely going to have a chef’s preserves plate: pickles, kraut, preserved items, local cheeses, and charcuterie—that sort of thing. We’ll have some smaller bar snacks as well.
The items will show the accumulation of my experiences working with Zeb [Stevenson] at Livingston and Tyler [Williams] at Woodfire Grill. Playful items using preservation, pickling, house-made vinegars, charcuterie, and traditional dishes in a way they’ve never been experienced before. That section of the menu will all change seasonally.
We’ll have a chicken noodle soup that is gluten free and carb-free. The chicken is the noodle with consistency of egg pasta. My favorite classic item is the Nacho Mamas Oysters with crispy fried Gulf Coast oysters and garlic aioli on wonton chips with habanero salsa and cilantro.
What’s the story with the fried chicken and champagne?
Fried chicken is definitely a staple there. They have the right idea. They soak it in a buttermilk marinade for over a day and add a little spice. It’s excellent fried chicken. There will be a gluten-free fried chicken as well.
Let’s talk brunch. What will you be serving?
We’re going to feel it out and decide whether or not to open for lunch. We will be open Friday through Sunday for brunch. It’ll be a badass kind of brunch with really playful things—a great way to end your week. I’m not going to say we’ll have chicken and waffles, but that approach: sweet and savory. There will be some classics like frittatas, too. The menu is still in development.
How does wine play a role in the Max's experience?
We’re wine and beer only. Our selection will have a lot of domestic flair with some classic vintages and grapes. We want to have a broad sampling of each kind of wine.
The latest location had a few tap wines, but for the most part it’s bottle sales and every bottle is available by glass with a two-glass commitment. If you like the wine, you can take it home with you. It’s incredibly competitive pricing. The wines are stored on shelving out and about. There’s a day-old wine section with a few bottles available on special by the glass.
Is there a sommelier?
We have a wine sales manager who may or may not be a certified sommelier. The servers are so passionate and knowledgeable.
How does the vibe at Max's change throughout the night? Do you have a late night menu or expect a big bar scene?
Late night is going to be great time to visit. We’re open ‘til 1 a.m. on weekends. We’ll have a very creative and nuanced late-night menu.
Max’s is more of a restaurant than a bar though. People don’t just go there to hang out and get trashed. They come in and enjoy a few wines and leave happy.
Anything else we should know?
We hope to open multiple locations if everything goes well.