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Carly Cooper

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2012 year in review

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A handful of hotspots opened, longtime staples closed, and more and more local chefs became reality TV stars. Foodies tried to counter the effects of pork over-indulgence by eating more kale. Bitter-laced cocktails maintained their momentum, and farm-to-table fatigue set in (for the expression and the overload of pimento cheese, anyway; local, seasonal ingredients should be a given in any ambitious restaurant). Food trucks banded together and opened a park—twice. The list goes on and on. Read on for the monthly highlights . . . if for no other reason than to say “remember when.”

January
Cardamom Hill opens on Northside Drive, featuring cuisine from Kerala, the southwestern-most state of India. Executive chef and owner Asha Gomez is later featured in the September issues of Food & Wine and Bon Appetit and named one the Top 10 Chefs You Need to Know in Atlanta by the Braiser.

February
Cucina Asellina, the Italian restaurant adjacent to STK Atlanta, opens, providing a trendy yet comfortable place for pasta and pizza on the Midtown Mile. In the suburbs, Little Alley Steak launches, making Roswell’s Canton Street restaurant row an even buzzier destination.

March
Award-winning restaurant critic Besha Rodell is laid off from Creative Loafing along with several other longtime staffers. Creative Loafing later asks Rodell to freelance for the paper, but she picks up a more high-profile gig at LA Weekly.

Shane Devereux (Dinner Party Atlanta, Top Flr, and Sound Table) opens the Lawrence with partners Patrick La Bouff and Darren Carr. He departs just eight months later and is replaced by executive chef Jonathan St. Hilaire.

April
Atlanta’s first food truck park opens on Howell Mill Road, then temporarily closes and reopens. The Atlanta police cite permit issues, but the Atlanta Street Food Coalition stands its ground. Food trucks become a permanent fixture in the city—as well as an easy way for aspiring restaurateurs to get their name known.

May
The new LEED-certified international terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport opens with space planned for Ecco, Lorena Garcia Tapas Bar, and the Varsity.

Richard Blais (previously known for burgers, hot dogs, and Top Chef) returns to the kitchen with the opening of the Spence, making headcheese (mixed with macaroni) palatable to Atlantans.

Watershed moves from Decatur to Brookwood with Joe Truex in the kitchen. The restaurant’s official name becomes Watershed on Peachtree.

June
The Atlanta Nosh, an evolution of the Atlanta Underground Market started by Michaela Graham, closes its doors. Graham flees to Seattle, hoping the free-spirited population there will better embrace her vision.

July
Fifth Group (the Original El Taco, La Tavola, Ecco, Alma Cocina, and South City Kitchen) opens a sustainable seafood spot called Lure. Buzz-worthy touches include an anchor from the bottom of the Boston Harbor and a lamp made from the nose of a World War II bomber.

August
The New York-based 5 Napkin Burger shutters its 10th and Piedmont location, proving once again that what succeeds in other major cities doesn’t always work in the ATL.

Buckhead Life Restaurant Group’s Southwestern spot Nava also closes. Ford Fry later announces plans to open a colonial-American eatery here.

September
Giving Antico Pizza some real competition, brothers Jason and Hugh Connerty open Ammazza in the Old Fourth Ward. Glitter pizza becomes a thing.

October
The Optimist is named “Restaurant of the Year” by Esquire Magazine, boosting chef Ford Fry’s popularity more than anyone thought possible, and raising expectations for his next restaurant (likely opening in spring), King Duke.

Shaun Doty gets into the chicken market with the opening of Bantam and Biddy in Ansley Park. Most reviewers are surprisingly quiet about the restaurant.

November
The Georgia Restaurant Association honors Linton Hopkins—owner of Restaurant Eugene, Holeman & Finch Public House, H&F Bottle Shop, and H&F Bread Co.—with the 2012 Innovator Award.

Sorrento lemon chicken

Dante Stephensen, founder of Dante’s Down the Hatch, is inducted into the Atlanta Hospitality Hall of Fame. Shortly thereafter, he regretfully announces that Dante’s will be closing in March.

December
Antico Pizza’s Giovanni Di Palma opens Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano, the first component of his planned Piazza San Gennaro. (Pictured right: Gio’s Sorrento lemon chicken.)

Longtime favorite Pura Vida announces on its Facebook page that owners Hector and Leslie Santiago will close its doors at the end of the month.

Sheik Burritos to close December 23, reopen in spring 2013

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After three years in a nondescript shopping center on Piedmont Road just south of Buckhead, Sheik Burritos n Kabobs will close its doors on December 23. Owner Jahan Ostad said Sheik is by no means going out of business—he plans to reopen in a larger location in Midtown or Poncey-Highlands in spring of 2013.

The upcoming closure is a result of the shopping plaza being under contract with developer Archstone. The deal is scheduled to close at the end of this year. If it goes through, the plaza, including the Sheik Burritos unit, Pots ‘N Pans restaurant and Taco Cabana, will be demolished and turned into apartments with possible retail space underneath. Ostad said Archstone posted “Now leasing for 2014” signs and announced plans to break ground in the second quarter of 2013.

To celebrate Sheik’s temporary close, the restaurant is hosting a “3 Year Going Away Party” on December 16 from 2 p.m. until dark, weather permitting. This free event will feature King of Pops, live rock ‘n’ roll by the Sheik Allegiance Band (a group of regulars playing covers), a burrito-eating competition, and several “very special guests,” Ostad says. The burrito-eating competition costs $20 to enter but is free for those who eat at least three burritos. SweetWater beer may be provided as well.

Ostad says he sees the restaurant’s impending closure as a positive thing. “We’ve been stifled in our current location without the proper space to grow,” he says. “It’s bittersweet because of the fond memories we have here, but we welcome the closing of this chapter and look forward to the future.”

Sheik lovers fear not: the Persian-Southwestern burritos may just make an appearance at festivals or pop-ups, come New Year’s. Ostad is busy working on revamping the menu, and he has high hopes for expansion. “Four restaurants in four years in Atlanta, then nationwide—100 units!” he exclaims.

Jason McClure: Villains to open early February

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Last July, HD1’s executive chef Jared Lee Pyles announced he was leaving the haute doggery to open a sandwich shop with FLIP’s Jason McClure and Grindhouse Burgers’ Alex Broustein. In September, the boys held a pop-up at Miso Isakaya, showcasing their “wickedly good” sandwiches, which they had initially planned to sell from the Old Fourth Ward. Fast forward a few months, and the chefs have instead secured the Little Azio space in Midtown, with Villains set to open there in February 2013. McLure gave us the scoop on what we can expect.

How did the name Villains come about?
Alex, Jared and I were sitting at a bar one night talking about how there are no really great, identifiable sandwich shops in Atlanta. Food has become so bland because of the health movement, and we wanted to create a place where the sandwiches just feel decadent. I’ve always had a passion for bad guys—the coolness of it, and I’ve had this running joke with my son about how Darth Vader has more fun than Luke Skywalker. We wanted a place that could feel a little counterculture and that’s Villains—wickedly good heroes.

How will that theme come to life in the restaurant?
The sandwiches will be named after the bad guys in comic books and movies, but nothing too obvious. We want the movie buffs to be rewarded that they are in-the-know when they come here and recognize the sandwich name and can tell their friends “hey that’s the villain from that movie.” [The sandwiches will have] names like Bugsy Siegel, Megatron, Odd Job and David Lo Pan.

I fished out my old 1980s comic books from mom’s house and we got our color palette inspiration from there. We’re thinking black, toxic green, electric orange with some blue, purple, and stark white. We wanted a logo that could be spray painted near the entry point of the restaurant, like a graffiti tag.

So aside from the colors, what do you envision for the décor?
We’re about two weeks away from nailing down the final vision, but we want to use a lot of metals. The entrance will look like an evil lair—the space already has subway tiles and an arched roof. We’ll have maps, schematics, and countdown clocks . . . things that are worth a chuckle but not Disneyesque. Once inside, it’ll be more like a canteen (the villains’ secret meeting space). Studio Fong (who worked on Grindhouse) is helping with the build out.

What kind of sandwiches will you focus on, and what sides will you offer?
We’re doing plays on classic regional sandwiches like the reuben and banh mi. There’s the King Pig of Crime, a roast porchetta; and the Odd Job, a Korean fried chicken sandwich tossed in an Asian buffalo sauce with pear slaw. We’ll have a couple of side salads, like the Cherry Bomb (tomato and charred tofu), and one full-size—the Hail Niro—an Asian-style Caesar salad with white miso dressing and kale instead of romaine, topped with fried ramen. We might do a soup, plus chili, vegetarian chicharrones, braised radish with bacon in the winter, and rotating popcorn specials.

We’ll keep with seasonality. We’re trying to lock down a menu and execute consistently, but let’s put it this way: I forbade Alex from putting up a menu board that we couldn’t change easily. I think all menus should be chalkboards [laughs].

We’ll have a full bar and do some sort of roast pork entrée for dinner Thursdays through Saturdays. Later, we might do a rotating chef series on Saturday evenings. That’s something I got to do at Miso Isakaya. It was a powerful experience and I want to share that with other young chefs.

Anything else we should know?
We’re thinking about some sort of delivery function—maybe bikes with fake gun mounts to keep with the theme. Jared is an avid urban biker so he’s into that. . . Also, I’m not sure if we’ll actually do this, but we’ve been joking about having a list of evil people in the restaurant and if your name shows up on the list, you’re too evil to eat there and you won’t be allowed in. Like Bobby Petrino, after what he did to the Falcons.

The 13 most anticipated restaurants of 2013

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Last year, Richard Blais got back in the kitchen with the Spence, Fifth Group opened a sustainable seafood spot (Lure), and the Optimist was named “Restaurant of the Year” by Esquire Magazine. Giovanni Di Palma drafted plans for a miniature Little Italy near Georgia Tech (see Bar Antico below), Shaun Doty got into the fast-casual chicken market with the opening of Bantam and Biddy, and numerous local chefs appeared on Chopped.

What will 2013 bring? We’ve compiled the 13 most anticipated restaurants of the year—just to give you a little something to look forward to.

KR SteakBar
Scheduled to open in late February after months of delays caused by permitting, KR SteakBar will be the fourth restaurant in Chef Kevin Rathbun’s growing empire. More affordable than Rathbun’s and Kevin Rathbun Steak, KR SteakBar—located in ADAC, newly open to the public, in Peachtree Hills—will tout Italian-inspired small plates targeted at the 20- and 30-year old set.

Gunshow
Chef Kevin Gillespie recently left his longtime post at Woodfire Grill and plans to open this Glenwood Park restaurant in the spring. With a name that represents his Southern upbringing, Gunshow will have an “open format” . . . what that means exactly has yet to be revealed.

The General Muir
The West Egg Cafe team is branching out, Jewish deli-style. The General Muir will open in the new Emory Point city center early in the year. Todd Ginsberg, formerly of Bocado, will take the lead in the kitchen.

King Duke
Ford Fry supposedly has three new metro-area restaurants in the works. The first, King Duke, will take over the former Nava space in Buckhead and serve colonial American cuisine. This hearth cooking restaurant is estimated to open in March.

Bar Antico
Antico Pizza’s Giovanni di Palma opened Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano in December 2012. Next up in his Piazza San Gennaro plans is Bar Antico, where he hopes patrons will enjoy dessert and after-dinner drinks. The gelato shop and bar are set to open near Georgia Tech in the spring.

Villains
After several pop-ups in the fall, Villains’ “wickedly good” sandwiches will open in the former Little Azio space in Midtown come February. Alex Broustein (Grindhouse Burgers), Jason McClure (formerly of FLIP), and Jared Lee Pyles (formerly of HD1) promise a new, decadent take on regional classics.

Chick-a-biddy
The sister restaurant of Shaun Doty’s Bantam and Biddy, Chick-a-biddy will be a smaller rotisserie chicken spot in Atlantic Station. Look for it in the spring.

Foundation
If everything goes according to plan, Inman Park residents can expect a new restaurant, led by chef Mel Toledo (formerly of Bacchanalia), on DeKalb Avenue this winter. Not much has been said about the food, but ai3 is designing the interior, so you can expect a fun vibe.

Ink & Elm
Said to celebrate the history of Druid Hills and particularly Frederick Law Olmsted’s role in designing it, Ink & Elm will open in Emory Village this winter and feature a lounge, tavern and dining room specializing in Southern cuisine.

Chai Pani
This Indian street food restaurant helms from Asheville and is moving into the old Watershed space in Decatur. It will likely open in the first quarter of 2013.

Octopus
Angus Brown and Nhan Lee of Octopus Bar have been scouting locations to turn their late-night sensation into a restaurant that serves dinner at regular hours. The opening date is yet to be determined, but we do know Brown is traveling to Vietnam this winter, so spring or summer seems more likely.

BoccaLuppo
Bruce Logue bought the old Sauced space from Ria Pell and plans to open BoccaLuppo, an Italian-American restaurant, there in the spring. Logue promises a pasta bar, local cheeses, and perhaps some old favorites from his days at La Pietra Cucina, such as Calabrese sausage.

Airport eats
Okay, we cheated a bit here. So many well-known Atlanta restaurants are opening outposts in Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport this year that we just couldn’t name them all individually. We’re excited for Varasano’s Pizzeria, Ecco, Chicken & Beer (from Ludacris), Twist, and more.

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