Will Ford Fry ever slow down? Probably not.
The chef/owner behind The Optimist, King + Duke, St. Cecilia, No. 246, and JCT Kitchen is set to expand his empire in October and/or November with the opening of two Mex-Tex restaurants: Superica in Inman Park’s Krog Street Market and the El Felix in Alpharetta’s Avalon. Afterward, Fry will turn his attention to a new restaurant in Houston—his first outside of Georgia. Scheduled to open in April 2015, the restaurant will “provide the neighborhood there with what JCT does on the Westside,” he says. “Except instead of Southern twist, it’s regional cooking for the Gulf and the hill country.” There will likely be an oyster bar and a wood-burning grill with a six-seat chef’s table in front.
He wants to open others in Texas, too. “We don’t just want to do one in Texas,” he says. “I’m just a big believer in growth for our staff. The people who come to work in this restaurant in Houston need to see more upward mobility.”
He says maybe he’ll open another concept in Houston or one in Austin—there’s even the possibility of a whole Texas division.
He admits, “We are in talks with some people in Nashville,” too. “My thought is to slow down a little in Atlanta—maybe stay in the Southeast.”
There is, however, one more Atlanta restaurant in the works. Hailed as the “sister restaurant to the Optimist,” it will open at 280 Elizabeth Street in Inman Park in summer 2015. Fry describes it as “very bohemian with elements of a 1970s surf lodge” and “some humor to it—like the hokey-ness of Life Aquatic.”
Details on Superica and El Felix
The two will serve similar fare designed by Fry and partner Kevin Maxey, but the kitchens will be run by up-and-coming talent, as opposed to one of the many established head chefs already working for Fry. They will, however, have lead bartenders who will work under beverage director Lara Creasy to make margaritas and craft cocktails.
“There is going to be a lot of crossover,” Fry says. “For the most part, Superica is the grand experience. It’ll have a stage and live music—very Austin, Texas. The El Felix is a little more family-friendly. It won’t have a live music component, but maybe a raw bar with ceviche, oysters, and things like that.”
Food-wise, Fry says diners can expect fajitas, perhaps a chicken mole taco, and grilled items like lobster served with foamy butter and a stack of flour tortillas. There will be make-your-own carnitas with slow-brasied pork shank fried in pork fat with the bone-in, a tossed and chopped salad with meat from the grill, a brothy red chile tortilla soup, and classic verde pozole.
Fresh tortilla chips served with two salsas—one with tomatoes roasted and charred on the wood grill and the other tomatillo with avocado—will be free.
Perhaps the item Fry is most excited about is chile con queso—a puffy taco made with a fresh masa corn tortilla, pressed and then fried (as opposed to griddled) and doused with Mexican cheese dip. It’s something Fry remembers fondly from his youth in Texas. “It puffs up like a pita but folds like a taco,” he says.
Though the puffy taco will be available with meat (braised beef cheek), the chile con queso will be part of the Combination Plate, a five-item meal that may include a tamale and a cheese enchilada. Rice and beans will be served family-style.
Superica will also serve breakfast (brunch) on weekends: migos, huevos rancheros, and eggs with chorizo and warm tortillas, plus pancakes and waffles. Fry even promises a spicy cocktail meant to "cure" hangovers.