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Jennifer Zyman

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Maricela Vega is leaving 8Arm, but she has big plans for the future

Maricela Vega leaving 8Arm
Maricela Vega

Photograph by Braylen Dion

When I first wrote about chef Maricela Vega in back in June 2018, Atlanta was just learning of the burgeoning talent as she sold tamales through her business, Chicomecóatl. After landing the lead chef gig at 8Arm, Vega found herself in the national spotlight with multiple features in publications such as Bon Appétit. But after two years at the helm of the funky Ponce de Leon mainstay owned by Nhan Le, Vega has announced her last day will be April 17. She will host a series of Mexican menus for her final month as chef, and after that, she’s got major plans for Chicomecóatl, ones that have been in the works for a long time.

“All of us wish that last year was different. It was like we were just getting ready to do our thing and now the vibe is completely different,” Vega says about her departure from 8Arm. “I’ve lost my entire crew, basically. I needed to start focusing on really getting my work through Chico launched. The goal is to, hopefully [by] 2022, enter the co-op world and sell my products, which are going to be tamales, tortillas, tostadas, and hot sauces.”

I spoke with her about her decision to leave the restaurant, where her cuisine was described by our critic Christiane Lauterbach as “wildly different and deliciously subversive,” and her plans to make her long-term goals finally come to fruition.

Let’s talk about this menu that you’re doing before you leave because it sounds super exciting.
I’m organizing it and trying to get some details together, but I might just keep our traditional eight-item menu. I’m hopefully getting dessert features. There’s three girlfriends that I have that I would love to have do special desserts each week. Each week, the menu is going to change. We’ll have four special menus, and will feature three female pastry chefs that I think are doing excellent work in the city. [View the first menu here.]

Is the reason that you’re leaving twofold—that you’re ready to leave 8Arm and to focus on the ChicomecĂłatl venture?
Honestly, it’s all of it. I was making tamales in between [working at 8Arm], and when you make masa, or anything with tamales, I like to dedicate that time. If I’m rushed, I refuse to make it. I’m like, you’re not going to rush me, I want to take my time, I want to make sure that I’m enjoying this and that I’m finishing the product the way it should be. [I] was feeling that way with trying to tether Chico during tamale season. At 8Arm, it kind of felt like I was cheating on both because both [projects] require a lot of energy. I feel like one week I’d pay more attention to 8Arm, and the next week would be more Chico. It’s not a good balance for your personal life, but also for the work that you’re creating. Mistakes start to happen; it just doesn’t feel good.

I have a really good relationship with Nhan, so once I started to feel [this way], I’d just call him or shoot him a message. And I was like, I think this is happening, but I’m not sure, and I just want to let you know. Then the more and more you sit with it, it’s just like, okay, this is going to happen. I just got to do this. This work is going to take a long time.

[My] end goal is to actually start farming and revitalizing the piece of land [in Mexico] that my grandfather left behind when he passed away. I can’t do all three, but if I’m with Chico, I can set up my production. Then I can leave for like a month, go to Mexico, and start prepping that, which is basically what’s going to happen when I leave 8Arm. I’m going to be going to San Miguel de Allende to help a chef friend, and then on the weekends I’ll have four days off, and on those four days, I’ll just travel South to my family’s village. I’m just going to go for a month and a half to start getting stuff together—do a land assessment, figure out what cover crops I can start. This place hasn’t been touched in over 20 years, so I basically have my work cut out for me.

Since I interviewed you for the magazine a few years ago, so much has happened to you on a national level. You’ve become a nationally lauded chef. What has that journey been like for you?
Definitely a lot of pressure to try to make sure that all my decisions are well thought out and that I’m doing my research properly. I guess in a way I might’ve manifested it, because I’ve always mentioned to folks part of the reason why I took on the executive chef was to play a leadership position in a way. And to have other young women of color look up and be like, Oh, this lady doing this work. And how my work is sourcing, and everything regarding that aspect, and just full circle taking everyone into consideration. It was very difficult.

You have so many fans. Where can they find you in the future when you’re not in Mexico?
That is the thing that we’re going to be focusing on this late summer-fall; it will be kind of like a pop-up tour in a way. We’re going to have to figure out how things progress in the Covid sector of the world, with healthcare guidelines and everything. But [I’d like to go] throughout the entire Southeast, I guess like New Orleans, Birmingham, Chattanooga, Nashville, Asheville, Charleston, maybe Jacksonville, other little cities in the South, where I can go and do tamale popups and just kind of put my masa work on display. And that’ll hopefully pick up and people will want me in their co-op stores in 2022.

Can you talk about the masa that you source?
I work with a Mexican-based company whose values are strictly with the farmer and also keeping seed restoration inline. To have that direct connection, that is the dream. I’m living the dream right now. I don’t think people understand this, but there’s an entire network of corn people in the U.S. And we’re all kind of connected to the corn people in Mexico. Hopefully in five years, I’ll be sourcing from myself, buying my own corn from the land that I’m working on from my grandfather. That’s the big goal right there.

It’s always cool to see someone from Atlanta do really big things, and the way you change the narrative about food and female chefs is so exciting. It’s great to see you pivot back to your original goal.
It’s moments like this fucked up past year that also make you want to align yourself as best as you can. And understanding to be forgiving of yourself. It like drove me to just say, let’s do this. I feel like I’m doing all the proper work and research to support all that. I feel good about it; I feel confident.

Looking to try birria tacos? Head to Birria El Gordo in Marietta

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Birria El Gordo Marietta
Tacos from Birria El Gordo in Marietta

Photograph courtesy of Birria El Gordo

Taco trends are—in my humble opinion—the best trends, and birria is having its moment at restaurants and pop-ups across the country. Birria tacos are made with meat—often goat, beef, or chicken—that’s slow-cooked in a spicy, earthy, red braising liquid. The meat is shredded and placed inside of a corn tortilla that has been griddled using the top layer of fat from the braising liquid, which gives birria tacos their signature red-orange color. A cup of the braising liquid, or consomme, is often served alongside birria tacos for dipping.

If you’re looking for a spot to try birra locally, look no further than Birria El Gordo in Marietta. The Pineda family, who run the pop-up, moved to Atlanta from the San Fernando Valley in the late 1990s. “My parents wanted to come over here for better job opportunities because it was getting tougher and more expensive in California,” says Nestor Pineda Jr. Nestor Jr., who manages the Instagram account for Birria El Gordo, works there with his parents, Nestor Sr. and Emeli Pineda; sister, Jessica; and brother, Julian.

The Pinedas originally owned a grocery store, Carniceria y Fruteria Guerrero, that went under during the 2008 recession. Billares Guerrero was their next endeavor, a restaurant in Marietta frequented mostly by people who lived nearby. But when the family closed the neighborhood restaurant in March due to the pandemic, they, like so many restaurant owners, had to quickly pivot. Five weeks later, Birria El Gordo pop-ups, named after a grandson, opened in the space on the weekends, a nod to the fact that birria is traditionally made on weekends or for special occasions like birthdays or weddings.

“When it was originally just a regular restaurant, [the patrons were] just mostly Mexican people,” Nestor Jr. says. “Now, it’s a very diverse crowd.”

You can credit the birria and the hunger-inducing photos on the pop-up’s Instagram account for that. Making Birria wasn’t a stretch for the Pinedas. “We’ve always sold barbacoa [at Billares Guerrero], which is similar to birria,” says Nestor Jr. “The only difference is the way the carne is prepared. Birria renders a lot more consomme than barbacoa does.”

Birria El Gordo offers birria made with beef, goat, chicken, and jackfruit. Fillings come in a variety of styles like the mulita (a tortilla sandwiched with birria and avocado) or taco dorado (crunchy tacos with a cheese option), and Vampiro (a tostada with cheese and guacamole). You can also get a styrofoam container of consomme as a dip for your tacos or to eat as a soup. Many of the taco creations get a coating of Birria drippings, which infuse the tortillas with all the complex, slow-cooked flavor of the heavily spiced fillings. All the tortillas are made by hand, which can make orders take a little longer, but it’s worth it. Look for specials on Instagram that range from split baked potatoes overstuffed with shredded birria meat to red holiday tamales to birria ramen. They also have a bar menu, where you can order agua frescas or TajĂ­n-rimmed micheladas.

In its early days, the pop-up would often sell out quickly. But, months later, there’s more food to go around, and they’ve added an extra day to their Friday through Sunday hours—Taco Tuesday, of course. The restaurant offers dine-in, but you can also place a takeout order inside, take a pager, and wait in your car. Because these tacos are best eaten fresh and hot out of the kitchen, this is a great place to opt for a car picnic. But be to sure bring a roll of paper towels—the tacos are extremely saucy.

The family is looking to open a standalone intown location they say could open sometime in 2021. But for now, they want to see how the pandemic pans out and are hoping the right opportunity in the city presents itself. 350 Pat Mell Road Southeast (Inside Billares Guerrero), Marietta, (678) 503-0114

Atlantans heartbroken after fire destroys the Ponce Krispy Kreme

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Atlanta mourns the Ponce Krispy Kreme destroyed in fire
Firefighters work at the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts store on Ponce de Leon Avenue on February 10.

AP Photo/Ron Harris

The Krispy Kreme on Ponce de Leon in Atlanta caught fire overnight, and Atlanta is mourning in unison. Atlanta Fire Rescue reported the fire started in the back of the building after midnight Wednesday and moved quickly through the building. Two employees inside were able to escape without injuries. Officials say the building is a total loss, but the cause of the fire has yet to be determined. NBA star Shaquille O’Neal purchased the Ponce de Leon shop in 2016 as part of a larger franchise deal.

Although many Atlantans might believe the nearly 60-year-old location was the first Krispy Kreme, the company was started in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, by Vernon Rudolph in 1937. When the business came to Atlanta, Rudolph only sold the doughnuts wholesale at another building nearby on Ponce but moved to the existing spot in 1965, which was opened to the public with table service. The “hot sign” was added in 1995, and the space was remodeled to resemble an old-fashioned diner in 2003. For many years, Krispy Kreme was a sweet treasure you only found in the Southeast, but the company is now world-famous with more than 1000 stores all over the globe.

The Ponce Krispy Kreme is an institution for Atlantans, whether they grew up here or not. The doughnut shop holds a special place in our hearts, even if it’s just because the iconic building has been a prominent fixture on Ponce de Leon Avenue, the stretch of road that, as we wrote in 2018, “possesses the historic charm, the culinary creativity, and the total weirdness that makes Atlanta, well, Atlanta.” Sure, there are better and fancier doughnuts to be found in the metro, but there is certainly a place for nostalgia in food.

 

This morning, photos and videos flooded social media along with tributes. For many, myself included, the Krispy Kreme has been a constant fixture in our lives. As a kid, getting a hot and fresh doughnut straight off of the conveyor belt was nirvana. In my 20s, it was the place to stop after a long, late night of dancing at MJQ or Masquerade. As a parent, the doughnuts brought countless moments of joy for my family. Coincidentally enough, I’d just ordered a dozen Valentine’s Day-themed Krispy Kremes Tuesday night (from a different location, fortunately) for delivery this morning.

Our longtime restaurant critic, Christiane Lauterbach, notes that the Krispy Kreme was among the first places she visited when she moved to Atlanta from Greenwich Village by way of Paris in the 1970s. “It forever shaped my idea of what a hot doughnut is and should remain,” she says. “I used to take my babies to look at the line and watch the magic happen.”

Shaq told 11Alive in a statement: “I hope no one was hurt and we will bounce back better than ever.” I think it is safe to say that fans hope for a rebuild, but losing such a quintessential piece of the Atlanta skyline, even temporarily, will sting for a while.

8 things you must try at Home Park’s new Japanese grocery store

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Wagaya Grocery Store
The lower level of Wagaya Grocery Store is lined wall-to-wall with Japanese and Korean products (and a few American ones, too).

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman

Convenience stores, like 7-Eleven and Lawson, have a different value in Japan than they do in the U.S. While you wouldn’t necessarily consider the hot offerings from 7-Eleven as a must-try here, in Japan, it’s a culinary high-ground. Egg salad sandwiches (Sandos) on soft white bread and fried chicken bites (Kara-age) are some of the best bites in Tokyo, and I’ve always lamented the lack of such stores in Atlanta.

Takashi Otsuka, who owns Wagaya and neighboring Chirori in Home Park, opened such a convenience store, Wagaya Groceries, underneath his restaurants (349 14th Street Northwest). Although the space is tiny, there’s an astounding amount of products packed inside. One of the first things you’ll see when you enter is little wicker baskets of egg salad, fried chicken, and pork cutlet Sandos alongside still-warm pyramids of onigiri and fresh pastries from White Windmill bakery. Hang a right, and there are Japanese sweets and candy, including baby-pink strawberry Kit Kats and candy bars filled with a slip of jam.

For heartier items, head down the stairs where a bounty of Japanese and Korean groceries abound. Since the restaurants upstairs source such good fish and booze, you’ll find it all for sale here, too. There is sliced fish, cooked rice, and everything else you need to make sushi at home, along with craft sake to pair. You’ll also find fresh vegetables, meats, frozen dumplings, oden (fish cakes), and Korean rice cakes for a full-fledged meal.

And that’s just in the fridge. The shelves also contain all manner of Japanese and Korean dry ingredients, snacks, and instant noodles. There are also many shelves of local and Japanese beers in a rainbow of funky colorful designs that call to mind anime and Marvel comics.

The prices are comparatively reasonable to Super H-Mart and Buford Highway Farmers Market, making this an excellent alternative for intown residents who don’t feel like getting on the highway. If you are not comfortable entering stores right now or are just in a rush, you can place an order for pick-up online. There’s also now a patio open where you can enjoy your Sando in the cool fall air.

Sound intimidating? Nah. The exploration is all part of the fun! Here’s a quick list of my some of my favorite items to get you started.

Onigiri: warm sushi rice filled with salmon or pickled plum and wrapped in seaweed, found in wicker baskets near the entrance

Egg salad Sando: creamy and dreamy egg salad stuffed inside slices of soft white bread

Kara-age: crispy fried chicken bites from the hot case

Wagaya Grocery StoreHitachino Nest beers: Japanese craft beers brewed in a bunch of varieties, including a yuzu lager and ginger brew.

Wagaya Grocery StoreCinema Popcorn Strawberry & Butter Salt: Salty and sweet strawberry-scented popcorn in a cute bucket

Wagaya Grocery StoreCalbee JagaRico Hokkaido Butter: crispy potato sticks perfumed with Hokkaido butter

Wagaya Grocery StoreYP Sweet and Spicy Rapokki: Chewy Korean rice cakes and noodles in a spicy Korean red pepper sauce

Wagaya Grocery StoreKameda Age Ichiban: Sweet and crunchy individually wrapped rice crackers that look like craters on the moon

6 spots for great sushi takeout in Atlanta

Where to get takeout sushi Atlanta
MujĹŤ

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman

The pandemic has changed the way we dine, perhaps indefinitely. While the notion of a shoulder-to-shoulder omakase meal at a sushi counter is certainly a less safe dining option right now, people still crave sushi—and it’s not something most can easily whip up at home. But Atlanta’s sushi chefs have accepted the takeout challenge and are serving rolls to-go alongside elegant omakase meals. Here are a few of our favorites, from both newcomers and classic Atlanta restaurants:

Where to get takeout sushi Atlanta
MujĹŤ

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman

MujĹŤ Atlanta
MujĹŤ is a pop-up collaboration between Federico Castellucci (of the Iberian Pig, Cooks & Soldiers, Recess, and more) and chef J. Trent Harris, a Kentucky native who most recently worked as the executive sous chef at NYC sushi hotspot Shuko. Harris also worked at Sushi Ginza Onodera in Tokyo and New York City, where he worked alongside Master Sushi Chef Masaki Saito. MujĹŤ serves modern Edomae sushi and small plates, which means some fish is aged and cured to add complexity. The bamboo packaging and attention to detail, such as the tiny squeeze-bottle of soy sauce and matching matchbox-sized sauce dish that comes packaged with your order, are exceptional. It manages to feel bespoke and also ensure the omakase meal makes it home without losing quality. A curated selection of sakes, wines, and beers is also available for an add-on to make it a fantastic night.

Where to get takeout sushi Atlanta
Sashimi bowl at Nakato

Photograph courtesy of Nakato

Nakato
This family-run Cheshire Bridge restaurant has been open since 1972 and now, using an online portal, you can order things like gloves, masks, or wine from their online marketplace, in addition to any Japanese food your heart is craving. Nakato offers specials based on seasonality or in celebration of several Japanese holidays, and their sushi is always fresh. The restaurant also offers family-style hibachi meals and grill-at-home skewer kits. Owner Sachi Nakato writes personalized thank you notes that she attaches to all takeout orders, which also include a QR code for people to donate to Nakato’s employee relief fund.

Sushi Hayakawa
All of Chef Hayakawa’s takeout meal are packaged in a portable bunch of boxes to make sure each piece stays as pristine as the chef made it. Takeout options include a Chirashi-don (raw fish arranged over a large bowl of rice) or a dinner bento with items that changes weekly. Hayakawa also sometimes offers specials, such as unagi donburi (grilled freshwater eel over rice). Every Tuesday, Hayakawa delivers a family-style meal to the emergency room nurses and doctors at Emory University Hospital. If you want to help this effort, you can add five dollars to your order. The restaurant is also open for in-person seasonal omakase and prepaid reservations for parties of up to two people.

Where to get takeout sushi Atlanta
Send Sushi

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman

Send Sushi
Georgia natives Ron Cheng and Gusan Jang initially started Send Sushi as a once a month, private pop-up omakase meal that showcased Jang’s skills from his time at Nakazawa Sushi and Eleven Madison Park. When the pandemic hit, the concept morphed into an omakase delivery service. All meals come with miso soup, and there are often add-ons like fresh uni, depending on what Jang gets flown in from around the world. Send is still new and finding its footing with keeping the orders cool during summer months. You can find more information on ordering and securing a spot (they go fast) via Tock.

Umi
This Buckhead sushi hotspot was one of the first to pivot into curbside delivery takeout. While it was a brand new endeavor for the restaurant, owner Farshid Arshid ensured that the packaging and branding was consistent with Umi’s sleek style. You can now order most of their menu, including the spicy tuna crispy rice and a chef’s choice of nigiri, for curbside pickup, along with wine, sake, and picture-perfect desserts. They are now open for dine-in reservations and in the process of building additional outdoor seating.

20 years, countless tacos: How Taqueria del Sol became a sensation

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Taqueria Del Sol 20th anniversary
Taqueria del Sol’s first location, on the Westside, opened in 2000.

Photograph courtesy of Taqueria Del Sol

The road to Taqueria del Sol—the beloved Atlanta taco joint that celebrates its 20th anniversary on February 2—began in 1967 when owner Mike Klank moved to Atlanta to study engineering at Georgia Tech. He worked at different restaurants, including Manuel’s, off-and-on to support himself in graduate school. In 1987, he was working at El Azteca when a long-haired, earring-clad drummer named Eddie Hernandez walked in, looking for a job as a waiter.

Hernandez’s life had led him from his hometown of Monterrey, Mexico, to Houston, where he’d tried unsuccessfully to land a recording contract, then to Waco and finally Atlanta. “I wanted to be a musician,” Hernandez says. “It didn’t work out very well, but cooking did.” The duo began what would become a lifelong partnership when they opened Azteca Grill. They combined Hernandez’s Mexican cooking style, learned from his grandmother, with a New Mexican influence Klank brought from time spent living there. Then, they added some Southern flair. This mashup of cuisines became Hernandez’s signature style, leading to future popular Taqueria del Sol dishes such as the spicy Southern greens and fried chicken taco.

In 1991, the partners opened Sun Down Cafe in Atlanta on Cheshire Bridge, a more upscale Southwestern restaurant that was open only for dinner. After about a year, Klank says, customers begged them to open for lunch, but Klank knew lunch service needed to be fast and economical. He wasn’t sure it would work with the restaurant as it was. Hernandez and Klank had always shared a love of street food and began to throw out ideas for a burrito wagon or taco stall that would just serve dishes inside Sun Down’s brick-and-mortar building. Starting in 1992, Sun Down became “Taqueria Sun Down” at lunchtime. The restaurant’s manager ran the counter, and they hired one extra person to run the food. The menu was straightforward, with one taco and one blue plate. No starters. No enchiladas. What started as only three lunch services a week quickly became five. Customers loved it.

Taqueria Del Sol 20th anniversary
Tacos at Taqueria del Sol

Photograph by Hannah Feiten Photography

Taqueria Del Sol 20th anniversary
Inside the Westside Taqueria del Sol

Photograph courtesy of Taqueria Del Sol

Klank and Hernandez decided to fully commit to the Taqueria concept in 2000 and opened the first Taqueria del Sol on Atlanta’s Westside. The restaurant was one of Atlanta’s first fast-casual restaurants, and Hernandez recalls a lot of resistance to the concept. “They’d never seen it before,” he says. Customers expected to be waited on and didn’t want to wait in a line, Klank remembers.

“People got really mad at us,” Klank says. “We had this one guy who came in and said, ‘You know, if your food weren’t so good nobody would come here.’ And he added, ‘I’m never coming back.’ But he still comes to this day.”

Others were also converted once they realized their food would still arrive hot and quickly, even if they did have to wait in line and find their own table. Klank and Hernandez’s flow of service, along with flavorful, affordable food, was a hit.

Taqueria Del Sol 20th anniversaryTaqueria Del Sol 20th anniversaryAfter 20 years, countless accolades including numerous James Beard nominations, and a cookbook from Hernandez, Taqueria del Sol’s core menu hasn’t changed much. Certain tacos and blue plate specials rotate weekly to keep things fresh and allow the chefs room to experiment. The variety keeps the menu interesting enough that some customers are known to eat there two or three times a week. “They can come one day and get enchiladas and come another day and get tacos and some sides,” Klank says. “Then they can come another day and get the seafood special. They would have three totally different meals, but all of them fresh, good quality products at a price they can afford.”

Today, Taqueria del Sol continues to be one of Atlanta’s most popular restaurants with four locations in metro Atlanta, one in Athens, and one franchise group in Nashville that operates two restaurants. And while there are no special celebrations planned this weekend to commemorate the anniversary, the lines will likely still be out the door, as they often are. Personally, I plan to use it as an excuse to celebrate with some cheese dip, a fish taco, and those spicy greens.

Where to eat breakfast on Buford Highway

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Buford Highway doesn’t have a huge breakfast scene, but it still offers destination-worthy dishes for early risers (Xelapan opens at 6 a.m., Tortas Factory and El Taco Veloz at 7). Yes, we fudged it a little with the soups; I Luv Pho and Nam Phuong don’t open until 10 a.m., which some might consider early lunch. But we stand behind soup for late breakfast—especially for late hungover breakfast.

Photography by Ben Rollins

Soups

Filet mignon pho

Filet mignon pho
I Luv Pho
Vietnamese

Chicken and ginger congee

Chicken and ginger congee
One of our 75 Best Restaurants →
Nam Phuong
Vietnamese

Egg noodle soup with crispy pork

Egg noodle soup with crispy pork
Ming’s BBQ
Cantonese

Sandwiches

Banh mi #7

Banh mi #7
Lee’s Bakery
Vietnamese

Breakfast egg, ham, and beans torta

Breakfast egg, ham, and beans torta
Tortas Factory Del D.F.
Mexican

Egg banh mi

Egg banh mi
Quoc Hong Banh Mi Fast Food
Vietnamese

Platters

Huevos al gusto egg and beans platter

Huevos al gusto egg and beans platter
Xelapan Cafeteria
Guatemalan

Calento breakfast platter

Calento breakfast platter
Las Delicias de la Abuela
Colombian

Mexican-style eggs

Mexican-style eggs
El Taco Veloz
Mexican

This article appears in our October 2019 issue.

Finally: Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q is opening a second location

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Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q The Works Westside Atlanta
The new Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q will open at The Works on Chattahoochee Avenue.

Rendering courtesy of Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q

When Jonathan and Justin Fox started Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q in 2004 out of their tiny Brookhaven house, the Atlanta barbecue landscape was very different. Small batch craft barbecue wasn’t as much of a thing as it is today. After the Fox Bros. opened their DeKalb Avenue restaurant on Labor Day weekend 2007, they became a neighborhood fixture and a destination. Accolades, national food show appearances, a partnership with the Atlanta Falcons, a booming catering business with a commissary kitchen, the Que-osk, and tons of giving back to the community followed.

With the popularity came growing pains and the need to expand. Fox Bros. only seats 140 diners, the parking is limited, and they now make all of their sides at the commissary because the restaurant kitchen can’t keep up with the demand. After looking for a new space for four years, they’ve finally found the right spot for a second Fox Bros. in Selig Enterprises development The Works, which is on the Upper Westside. “The Works works,” says Jonathan. “This one felt right. It’s an Atlanta family-based development crew, and they’re all about their family, just like we’re all about our employees and family.”

Expected to open in June 2020, the official second Fox Bros. location on Chattahoochee Avenue will be a big one—just under 10,000 square feet—enabling the brothers to do things they couldn’t at the DeKalb Avenue restaurant, which is 3,800 square feet. The new location near “The Spur” (a new BeltLine-esque path) will seat 300 people, have a to-go counter, a prepared foods section, merchandise area, a large bar with an expanded bar menu, and an open-air covered patio. Unlike the DeKalb Avenue location, the new Fox Bros. will have ample parking with parking decks and surface parking, in addition to valet and ride-share locations. “DeKalb gets so busy that people eat and go,” says Jonathan Fox. He hopes the new space will allow people to relax and vibe a little more, especially with Scofflaw Brewing and the food hall that Andrew Zimmern is set to curate located next door.

Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q The Works Westside Atlanta
The new Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q

Rendering courtesy of Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q

Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q The Works Westside Atlanta
The new Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q

Rendering courtesy of Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q

Most importantly, Fox Bros. 2.0 will have a larger kitchen, so they can roll out the dishes they’ve been working on in their commissary over the years. The heart of the menu, however, will be core barbecue items you know and love, which have remained unchanged for 12 years. The brothers maintain they are still Texas boys making Texas-style brisket and they are not changing a thing. “I don’t want to step outside of the box and change who we are,” Jonathan says. “We got here by offering the best products we can serve. As long as we don’t get wrapped up in what’s trending and check ourselves, we’ll just go with what we know and be who we are.”

Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q The Works Westside Atlanta
The Fox brothers

Photograph by Andrew Thomas Lee

Given all they’ve done, this new endeavor doesn’t seem all that intimidating. “We’ve been gearing up for this moment for quite some time,” says Jonathan. I know I can speak for Atlanta here and say, we have all been waiting, too.

Find excellent dim sum at Royal China’s dazzling new Duluth digs

Royal China Duluth Dim Sum Atlanta
Dim Sum at Royal China

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman

When I moved back to Atlanta from San Francisco in the mid-2000s, one thing I never understood was how weird our dim sum scene was. No place seemed to stay good for very long, and there were a lot of flash-in-the-pans that never gained enough of a foothold to dominate. I always fell back on Royal China in Chamblee. If you were a regular, you know Royal China’s decor had seen better days. The restaurant’s interior was kind of a grimy, reddish pink and so worn out, I started to avoid it, despite the still delicious dishes on the menu.

But then Royal China closed its Chamblee Dunwoody Road restaurant this past April and reopened 18 miles north in a former sporting goods store near the Costco off of Venture Drive in Duluth. Entering though the new doors, I may have let out some oohs and ahhs. It’s not only fancier than the previous location, but so much more beautiful than most of what is out there, with high ceilings and gold and sparkling accents everywhere you look. There are three separate rooms, two of which shimmer with chandeliers that resemble pixelated flowers, and a one side room off the bar. There’s also an enormous screen and what looks like all the AV equipment you could possibly need for any event from bar mitzvah to wedding banquet.

Royal China Duluth Dim Sum Atlanta
Inside the new Royal China in Duluth

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman

Royal China Duluth Dim Sum Atlanta
Inside the new Royal China in Duluth

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman

Royal China serves all the classic dim sum dishes such as har gow (shrimp dumplings), sticky rice, congee, clams in black bean sauce, and chicken feet. If you get there early, the carts come often and hot. It doesn’t seem too difficult to accommodate a group, and larger parties make it easier to order a range of classic Cantonese dishes—dry-fried beef chow fun, salt and pepper calamari, lobster stir-fried with scallion and ginger, and chow mein with vegetables and soy sauce—from the encyclopedia-like menu.

The Peking duck is a showstopper; a waiter brings the duck on a rolling cart and carves it, leaving nothing but the crisp skin. Soft, pillowy buns are served alongside hoisin sauce, shaved green onions, and batons of cucumber meant to lighten the richness of your sandwich.

Royal China Duluth Dim Sum Atlanta
Peking Duck and fried rice at Royal China

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman

Fillings are flavorful and abundant in dumplings like the har gow, where chopped chunks of shrimp nearly burst out of the rice paper wrapper, which is sometimes over-steamed.

Most of my favorite things are fried. Think golden shrimp spring rolls or a “lollipop” of breaded shrimp paste formed around a short stick of sugarcane. Both are especially good when swiped through a little dish of red chili and soy sauce.

Between the over-the-top decor, the abundance of dishes, and the thick menu with helpful pictures for the uninitiated, Royal China is a gem. It makes the drive from Atlanta to Duluth worth it—so worth it, in fact, that I returned three weekends in a row, each time bringing more people with me. And if the waits—they can reach upwards to an hour on the weekends if you arrive during prime time—are any indication, it’s already a success. If the wait is too long, you can always pop over to the Costco next door and knock out some errands. 3960 Venture Drive, Duluth, 770-216-9933

10 years of Miller Union: How the restaurant challenged the way we think about Southern food

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Miller Union Atlanta 10th Anniversary
Miller Union celebrates its 10th anniversary this fall.

Photograph by Heidi Geldhauser

Miller Union chef Steven Satterfield and general manager Neal McCarthy have helped reimagine what it means to be a “Southern restaurant” since opening the doors to their Westside restaurant in 2009. Satterfield was one of only two Atlanta chefs in the past decade to win the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast. McCarthy, also the restaurant’s sommelier, has been nominated twice for his wine program. (This year, they also earned the top slot for the first time in our annual Best Restaurants list.) Through Miller Union, the pair have changed how Atlantans think about Southern food, in part by elevating the role of vegetables and reconceiving traditional recipes—but also by reflecting the modern and multicultural South.

For their 10-year anniversary, the duo is celebrating not just their accomplishments but the evolution of Southern cooking more broadly. “One of my ideas was to involve other chefs from the South that I’ve become good friends with, which also takes a little bit of burden off of us in terms of preparation,” Satterfield says. “This way, we can have a little more time to interface with our customers and raise a glass with them.”

Miller Union Atlanta 10th Anniversary
Chef Steven Satterfield and general manager Neal McCarthy

Photograph by Heidi Geldhauser

At the anniversary party, on November 10 at the Westside Warehouse, Satterfield will cook side-by-side with guest chefs including Tandy Wilson of City House in Nashville, Joe Kindred of Kindred in Davidson, North Carolina, and Michael Hudman and Andrew Ticer of Enjoy A|M Restaurant Group in Memphis. Kimball House and Ticonderoga Club will provide drinks, as will Savannah’s Service Brewing Co. The party also will function as a fundraiser for Wholesome Wave, which is dedicated to strengthening local food communities.

We spoke with Satterfield and McCarthy about the restaurant’s first decade, as well as what’s next for Miller Union.

You opened your restaurant in the middle of the recession. Did that worry you?

Steven Satterfield: We were pretty freaked out. All of our friends were like, You’re crazy. This is a terrible time. Don’t do it! But we had already started the ball rolling. We couldn’t reverse it, so we moved forward. But we were scared shitless.

Neal McCarthy: We’d both worked hard for a long time, and to [finally] do something for ourselves and have the economy turn the way it did was one of those things that we would have never seen coming. But looking back, it was probably such a great time to open, because I think there were a lot of people that needed something new and exciting, and we filled that void for some people. It was exciting.

When Miller Union opened, it was labeled as a Southern restaurant. Is it still a Southern restaurant today, or has it become something different?

McCarthy: Steven had come from working for a great Southern chef, Scott Peacock at Watershed, so he was automatically labeled as a Southern chef. When we first opened, there was this moment of Southern food becoming culturally significant, but we never put that label on ourselves. What Steven and I always talked about was our mission was to serve the best ingredients that we can buy. And those have to come from Georgia, from North Carolina, from our local farms. That’s something we’ve never budged on; we’ve stood by it regardless of the financial implications.

Satterfield: I think there are always going to be elements of the menu that feel significantly Southern, but I think we’re also in an international city and a cosmopolitan place. More and more we start to borrow from other cultures for inspiration, while still using the Southern ingredients. It’s exciting to be able to use these ingredients in different ways. When you think about organizations such as the Southern Foodways Alliance and their recent explorations of what it means to be Southern and how multicultural that can be, it helps redefine [Southern food], especially in a city like Atlanta, where there are so many different of cultures. We can explore a little more and not be tied to grandma’s recipe list.

Miller Union Atlanta 10th Anniversary
The vegetable plate at Miller Union

Photograph by Heidi Geldhauser

How has Miller Union changed, and how is Atlanta’s restaurant scene different from what it was a decade ago?

Satterfield: We’ve evolved, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is that Neal and I still work in the restaurant every day. One thing I’m particularly proud of in Atlanta is how much interfacing there is between chefs and growers, all the farms that we have here, and how much our farmers market scene [has grown]. In 2009, it was still kind of burgeoning, but now we have so many [now].

When I go out to eat at other restaurants, I see the same ingredients, but the way the chefs interpret them is what makes [the chefs] stand apart. It’s exciting to see chefs embracing seasonality and making it part of their routine. It didn’t use to be that way, and I’d like to think that maybe Miller Union can take some credit for starting that as a local trend. I don’t think it should be a trend, though, it should be the way we cook.

McCarthy: This restaurant has created a wine program that is, in my opinion, the best in the city. And I’m still as active now as I ever have been about trying to always keep the wine list fresh and vibrant. But [our program] has also enabled a lot more wine programs in the past 10 years to know that they can push the boundaries of what has been expected. Ten years ago, there weren’t very many independent wine shops that were open. Now, we have a good culture of drinking wine.

After you were diagnosed with cancer [in 2012], I remember hearing you talk about the healing power of food. Did cancer change your approach as a chef?

Satterfield: Not necessarily. We’ve always pushed to have a lot of produce on the plate no matter what the dish is. I embraced it for myself more so than ever during and after that healing process, thinking a lot about what vegetables and fruits have to offer as sources of vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients. These are things that our bodies crave and need so much. It’s better to go that route than to take a pill.

Miller Union Atlanta 10th Anniversary
Inside Miller Union

Photograph by Heidi Geldhauser

What are some of your favorite moments looking back?

McCarthy: I think the James Beard [Award] celebration was a collection of everything for us. We’ve had [a lot of] talented people come through the restaurant and work with us. From my wife, our bookkeeper, to Steven’s husband, Ben, who enables Steven and I to be able to do all the things that we do to make the restaurant work. Our management staff; Julie [Steele]’s been here for eight years. Vince, my bartender, has been here since the day we opened. We had a dishwasher that was with us from the day we opened, for nine years until he moved back to Mexico. Winning that award was for all of them. We felt like [the award] was great for Atlanta, too. I was born in England, but I tell people that I am from Atlanta; this is my home. My wife is a native Atlantan. Steven has been here 30 years. I feel like we bring a lot to the city, and we’ve been able to do that with one small restaurant in a part of town that we didn’t know was going to explode into the neighborhood that it is today.

Satterfield: I’ve spent a lot of time doing events both locally and out of town. And my goal as the chef has always been to be a sort of ambassador for the restaurant. When people think of Atlanta, we want them to think of us first. Oh, we’ve got to book a table at Miller Union. I feel like we’ve succeeded in that. The proof of it is when we’re stowing people’s luggage in our office on a nightly basis. It’s a blessing and a curse. Every convention that comes to town, we get slammed. We’ve exceeded that goal of being a place that people visit when they come here. 

When you open a restaurant, you don’t know what the life span of it will be. It’s pretty amazing to make it to the 10-year mark because not many restaurants do. Now when I think about Miller Union’s lifespan, it’s big question mark. Who knows how long this place will last? I look at restaurants like Chez Panisse in California, which has always inspired me. They just celebrated [48] years. I don’t know if I’ll still be alive then. But we are very, very lucky and feel very blessed to have such great support from our community and beyond. We only get busier every year. There was a time where I was concerned, maybe year three or four, where I thought, Okay, people are going to stop coming because we’re no longer new. That happens with new places; it can be a flash in the pan and all of a sudden people stop going. We’re lucky that we’ve never fallen out of favor with Atlanta, and we are very appreciative of all of our diners.

Are there any plans to open a second restaurant?

McCarthy: After you publish this article, then maybe somebody will give us some money.

Satterfield: Every year we talk about ideas that we have, and we have some good ones, but we’ve never felt the timing was entirely right. Maybe on the horizon, who knows?

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

If you go: Miller Union’s 10th anniversary party will be at Westside Warehouse (996 Huff Road Northwest) on Sunday, November 10 from 3-6 p.m. Tickets are $100 and available here.

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