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Mara Shalhoup

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For us mere mortals: A glimpse into the world of Himitsu’s VIPs

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For most of us, there’s only one way to get past the formidable, keypad-operated, metal door that slides open Bond-like to reveal the secret lair that is Himitsu: plead your case via email. But for a select group of VIPs, most of them holders of the Buckhead speakeasy’s all-access black card, the club is their regular playground. Himitsu allowed us a glimpse into the world of some of those regular guests, from restaurant moguls to sports execs.

After Dark: Himitsu
Giovanni Di Palma (left) and Kevin Gillespie

Photograph by Mike Colletta

Giovanni Di Palma (owner of Antico Pizza Napoletana and related empire)

Q: Who’s gonna win in a bar fight: Himitsu’s Ito-Gio Pizza [a playful nod to Giovanni from chef Fuyuhiko Ito] or your San Gennaro pie?
A: Tough call, but they tried to burn San Gennaro in a furnace in 300 AD, and he came out unscathed. I go with Gennaro.

Q: What are you and chef Kevin Gillespie chatting about?
A: We both are exotic-car fanatics, so mostly cars and a little about our next great food venture.

Kevin Gillespie (chef-owner of Gunshow, Revival, and Cold Beer)

Q: What’s good to order?
A: Funny enough, I’ve never ordered my own drinks here. The bartenders know me from [sister restaurant] Umi and know that I am a huge Japanese whiskey fan, so I trust them to choose my drinks for me.

After Dark: Himitsu
John Paulson and Rachel Powers

Photograph by Mike Colletta

John Paulson (owner of a civil engineering business)

Q: How’d you get in?
A: Farshid [Arshid, Himitsu and Umi co-owner] invited me to join. When they first opened, you were granted access with an eye scan.

Rachel Powers (Georgia State University computer programming student)

Q: Tell me about the green suit.
A: The green suit is my power move. It’s flashy without being too loud and is a great conversation starter. It fits my personality and accentuates my androgyny.

After Dark: Himitsu
Ryan and Lauren Harrison

Photograph by Mike Colletta

Ryan Harrison (professional tennis player) and Lauren Harrison (former freelance television producer)

Q: How’d you hear about this place?
Ryan: We heard of it through our friends on the ATP Tour.
Lauren: Whenever there is a tournament in Atlanta, everyone always goes and raves about it.

Atlanta After Dark: Himitsu
Carlos and Lita Bocanegra

Photograph by Mike Colletta

Carlos Bocanegra (Atlanta United vice president and technical director) and Lita Bocanegra (stay-at-home home)

Q: What do you like about Himitsu?
Carlos: It’s private. It’s like a little hideaway in the city.
Lita: The otoro tartare with caviar!

Q: Why is that duck looking at your husband like that?
Lita: He always carries duck snacks.

After Dark: Himitsu
Durana and Shahab Sean Elmi

Photograph by Mike Colletta

Durana Elmi (CEO of L’Amour Floral, a flower-design company, and owner of DuranaCouture.com, a statement jewelry retail site) and Shahab Sean Elmi (CEO of health supplements company Cymbiotika and COO of music platform Dash Radio)

Q: What interesting people have you met?
Shahab: Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle were here one night. Beyond celebs, my wife and I have made some great friends.

Q: What’s good to eat?
Durana: Never leave without having the crepe cake. Worth all the calories.

Carlos Bocanegra (Atlanta United vice president and technical director) and Lita Bocanegra (stay-at-home mom)

Q: What do you like about Himitsu?
Carlos: It’s private. It’s like a little hideaway in the city.
Lita: The otoro tartare with caviar!

After Dark: Himitsu
Matt and Lindsey Capps

Photograph by Mike Colletta

Andy Capps (founder and co-CEO of RESICAP, a provider of single-family real estate services) and Lindsey Capps (stay-at-home mom)

Q: What brought you here?
Matt: I frequented Umi often and had heard about the “private club” just a few storefronts away. A buddy introduced me to Farshid, and we hit it off.
Lindsey: Next thing we knew, we got our Himitsu black cards in the mail.

After Dark: Himitsu
Whitney and Van Council

Photograph by Mike Colletta

Whitney Council (real estate agent) and Van Council (owner and president, Van Michael Salons)

Q: What was your first impression of this place?
Van: It’s bringing a Tokyo- or New York–type atmosphere to Atlanta. One time, I did see Jennifer Lawrence here, so that was pretty cool!

Q: How good are people’s hairstyles here, on a scale of one to 10?
Whitney: I gave the bartender a complimentary service at Van Michael Men. I give him a 10.
Van: If they’re a Van Michael client, then they’re definitely a 10. All the others are about a five.

This article appears in our September 2019 issue.

More Atlanta After Dark

8Arm’s Maricela Vega is hosting a dinner to help restore the culture of the tortilla

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8Arm review
Chef Maricela Vega is known for her masa-making skills and her sense of food justice.

Photograph by Alex Martinez

It’s not every day that you can find in Atlanta a five-course, plant-based meal that weds the techniques and ingredients of ancient and modern Mexico. But you can on Monday.

As part of her effort to spread awareness of her native cuisine—and to raise funds for a masa-making machine and, eventually, a brick-and-mortar shop that sells fresh, heirloom masa and tortillas—8Arm chef Maricela Vega will be preparing a dinner on September 16 with courses such as an eggplant tostada with frijoles guisados in chile negro and a salad of “many greens,” king trumpet mushrooms, serrano honey, and pumpkinseed oil.

“It is a complete expression of the current seasonality and how I can relate that to dishes that spark memories from my childhood,” Vega said a few days before the dinner, picking through the squash blossoms that a local farmer had just dropped off (and that will show up in a “quesadilla” at the Monday dinner). “You will hardly ever find that on the menu at 8Arm.”

Vega was fresh off a trip to New York for its Corn Symposium, which brings together people devoted to restoring, importing, and growing heirloom corn. “It was really nice to be there with people who understand what you’re trying to do,” Vega says. “It reinforces that there can be a marketplace for that.”

A marketplace is what she’s trying to build here: specifically, a brick-and-mortar retail masa shop and tortilleria on Buford Highway. She wants to offer an alternative to tortillas made with commercially produced corn flour, which she says has “zero nutrients and no flavor at all. You can’t even taste the kernel.”

The trip to New York included a visit to mom-and-pop shop Tortilleria Nixtamal in Queens. “That was the first store—it’s also a mini restaurant now—that started grinding corn in New York,” she says. “Of course, this was a while ago. Now, they would have been fine if they opened up in the city. But they chose that area because it has a rich population of Latinos.”

Vega wants to work with Georgia farmers to grow heirloom corn varieties, so that her masa can be predominantly locally sourced (with the remainder imported from Oaxaca, Mexico). She intends to start making masa at a “beta shop” inside 8Arm, and plans to travel to Oaxaca, Mexico City, and the Yucatan to figure out how the locals create and use specially carved stones on which to cook differently textured tortillas. But first she needs a proper machine, which will be at least $10,000 in order to produce the 500 pounds of masa per week she hopes to yield.

“I want to just get an entire perspective of what it means to run that business so that people will understand how important it is,” she says. “It’s really important that we restore the culture of the tortilla.”

Tickets for the five-course dinner will be available for purchase until Monday morning; the $100 covers tax, gratuity, and beverages, including samplings from women-run Yola Mezcal and wild sumac and sorghum wine from Athens-based Cherokee Moon Mixology.

The verdict on 3 new Atlanta restaurants: Wood’s Chapel BBQ, Sceptre Brewing Arts, the Deer and the Dove

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Fresh on the Scene: The Deer and the Dove
Coffee-dusted venison at the Deer and the Dove

Photograph by Martha Williams

The Deer and the Dove

On a prime corner of the Decatur square, in the space formerly occupied by Cakes & Ale (one of the most revered restaurants of the past two decades), comes an ambitious second act from chef Terry Koval of Wrecking Bar Brewpub fame. Koval’s new venture is farm-driven (check), kid-friendly (check), and evokes a hipster hunting lodge (check). But if you’re going to compare this restaurant to its predecessor—and who isn’t?—well, Cakes & Ale it ain’t. At least not yet. On a recent visit, the menu’s more creative compositions needed a bit of editing; though the octopus and shrimp terrine with pickled beans and mint emulsion sounded enchanting, the sum of the parts did not equal a cohesive dish, and a whole roasted trout with sweetbreads was an overload of mushiness. Instead, graze on the verdant, seasonal Weekly Salad Pickings or a well-dressed, dry-aged burger. Those simpler dishes, along with the sophisticated but low-key vibe, make for a charming night out. 155 Sycamore Street, Decatur, 404-748-4617

Sceptre Brewing Arts

The team behind Argosy, the East Atlanta Village beer-nerd paradise, has imported some of its cool-kid cred to Oakhurst’s relatively tamer drinking and dining scene. At Sceptre Brewing Arts, they’re also crafting and canning their own beer, which is appearing on taps and, soon, retail shelves around town. The restaurant is tucked away at the end of an ignoble strip mall, yet it’s dramatically fronted by a glassed-in brewing room with towering, gleaming fermenters and tanks. The beer list is mostly concerned with what comes out of those tanks—10 to 12 options available in small or regular pours, from a funky-sour cultured peach ale made with Georgia wheat to a signature India cream ale made with Southern corn. The lofty dining room and bar, hung with a light fixture fashioned out of skateboards, has glass garage doors that open onto Sceptre’s finest asset: a capacious, partially covered beer garden. The snacky food is slightly better than much of what you’ll find in Oakhurst (think jars of smoked beet puree, decadent mesquite fries, and a sandwich of velvety, slow-cooked short rib) and makes for a fitting companion to the craft beers. 630 East Lake Drive, Decatur, no phone

Wood's Chapel BBQ Atlanta
Ribs on the smoker

Courtesy of Wood's Chapel

Wood’s Chapel BBQ

Summerhill, wedged between booming Grant Park and ghostly Turner Field, is set to become the city’s next big dining neighborhood, and Wood’s Chapel BBQ is exhibit A. Chef and co-owner Todd Ginsburg (the General Muir, Fred’s Meat & Bread, Yalla) has now added wood-smoked barbecue to his repertoire, and with the help of pitmaster Craig Hoelzer, he nails it. The luscious brisket strikes the ideal balance between smokiness and meatiness and appears to be the early star, but you’re best served by ordering the two-meat sampler platter and tacking on a charred and juicy jumble of whole hog (chopped pork). Ginsburg and Hoelzer also earn all the bonus points for including smoked Scottish salmon among the meats, allowing pescatarians to get in on the smokehouse’s action. Sides by chef Wilson Gourley, formerly of 8Arm, include a transcendent buttermilk potato salad and an over-salted (at least on one recent visit) but otherwise solid mac and cheese. Weather permitting, soak up the smokehouse vibes (and smells) on the patio and adjacent Astroturf lawn, decked out with cornhole and Adirondack chairs. 85 Georgia Avenue, 404-522-3000

This article appears in our October 2019 issue.

As a misfit teen, R. Thomas was my late-night savior

R. Thomas

In the early 1990s, R. Thomas felt as out of place in the South as I did. A quirky, San Francisco–inspired health-food restaurant that stayed open late was a hard sell at the time, even in Buckhead. The Buckhead of that era was no less glamorous than it is now, but it also had some grit. You could get lost in an avalanche of musty fiction at Oxford Books or arcane punk at Fantasyland Records (actually, you can still do the latter). But R. Thomas was neither glam nor gritty. It was just plain weird.

Of course, there was nothing weird (or glam or gritty) in the then homogeneous part of East Cobb where my family recently had relocated—and where I often was asked by classmates, in that not-friendly, just-north-of-puberty way, “Uh, where are you from?” My answer—Connecticut by way of Florida by way of Nevada—did not clear things up. My subsequent “I’m half-Lebanese” was met with blank stares.

Neighborhood kids were puzzled by the monstrous, carrot-stained Champion juicer that occupied an obscene amount of counterspace in the cramped kitchen of our 1970s-built “contemporary” home. The cooking of my father, a lapsed vegetarian and raw-food enthusiast, only served to further the confusion. Why does that salad in the fridge have so much parsley in it? Is that seriously a frozen octopus in the freezer?

I don’t remember what exactly led me, when I was 17, to R. Thomas. There was no search engine into which to type “late night vegetarian friendly restaurants atlanta.” We’re talking about a time when “early adopter” meant standing in line at Criminal Records for the midnight CD release of Smashing Pumpkins’s Siamese Dream (which, it should be noted, was no Gish). Back then, knowledge of everything alternative and off-the-beaten-track was the currency of the cool kids (some things never change), and word of mouth was the primary means of discovery (other things do). Anyway, like any self-conscious and self-convinced “in-the-know” high schooler, I made it my business to root out all things antithetical to the suburbs. R. Thomas was one of those things.

I had no idea that it was the vision of a former fast-food exec who wanted his customers to eat better (Richard Thomas died just two years ago at age 82). But I did know that it was a concept foreign to the chain restaurant–choked thoroughfares I’d begrudgingly grown accustomed to closer to home. And it was instantly familiar. Like my own house, the dining room was decked out with ample rattan and greenery (this was after and, given recent trends, before either was stylish). And not only could I eat food similar to what I’d grown up on (falafel and tabbouleh might not have been every ’90s teenager’s comfort food, but they were mine)—I could eat it at 2 a.m.! And I did. All the damn time.

No other place came as close to satisfying my simultaneous yearnings for discovery and acceptance as this weirdly tropical and uncharacteristically health-focused restaurant. When I found R. Thomas, it was a restaurant both too late and too early for its time. It didn’t fit in then (and wouldn’t catch on for a few more years), and I therefore believed in my teenage heart that it was just like me. It was exotic in the same way that I believed others perceived me. I didn’t want to be seen that way, but R. Thomas owned it. I figured maybe I would one day, too.

Three things to order

And why I love them

R. Thomas Raw Veggie Dinner #2

R’s Raw Veggie Dinner #2
Raw falafel, cauliflower tabbouleh, seaweed salad, and cashew cheese, served with flaxseed chips. Back in high school, this was the height of weirdness.

R. Thomas Collard Kale Salad

Collard Kale Salad
Sure, kale salad is everywhere now. But I challenge you to find one that tops R. Thomas’s from way back when. The secret is in the highly marinated collards.

R. Thomas Stuffed Portabella

R’s Stuffed Portabella
Scoff all you want; this dish was a revelation when I first ate it. Life is now filled with more sophisticated food, but a seared portabella cap with mashed potatoes and garlicky green beans brings me no less joy.

This article appears in our September 2019 issue.

The verdict on 3 new Atlanta restaurants: The Select, Little Rey, Slim & Husky’s

The Select
Miso sea bass with charred bok choy, pickled shiitake, ricepuff, and scallion salad

Photograph by Christina Anton

The Select

From the outside, the Select might be mistaken for belonging to that breed of run-of-the-mill, upscale restaurants endemic to big-box suburbia. Of course, the particular Sandy Springs big box that houses the Select is more impressive than most: a $229-million, mixed-use compound with shimmering glass, gurgling fountains, and actual, discernible architectural features. (In fact, the most generic thing about the development is its name: City Springs.) Located toward the back of City Springs, across from Nam Kitchen (of Kinjo brothers fame) and behind the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center, the Select will quickly disabuse you of your preconceptions once you step inside. The space is all soaring glamour, a style people might describe as “Parisian” but reads more like modern America’s notion of what Paris should look like: velvet drapery, bentwood chairs, globe-light chandeliers, towering bookshelves flanking a marble statue. Yes, the menu includes ubiquitous-sounding dishes—beet salad with goat cheese, crab cake with grapefruit-yuzu butter, miso sea bass with bok choy and shiitake—but each dish gets a boost from the quality of both the presentation and technique. If this is the new suburbia, sign us up. 6405 Blue Stone Road, Sandy Springs, 770-637-2240

Little Rey

The newest addition to the Ford Fry empire (JCT Kitchen, the Optimist, Beetlecat, Superica, Marcel, no. 246, and so on), Little Rey is classic Fry: exceedingly stylish, largely delicious, somewhat original, a hair too pricey. And always packed. The specialty at this most casual of Fry joints is chicken al carbon, which is traditionally found not in reclaimed industrial spaces with rattan planters spewing foliage but over a charcoal pit in bare-bones, Mexican-roadside digs. Little Rey’s version—available as a half bird, whole bird, or two birds; in a $4.25 (eek!) taco; or chopped and laid over cilantro rice—is cooked over wood rather than charcoal and is respectably smoky, though the white meat can get a little parched. You’ll want to relieve it with a squirt of luscious red salsa. Among the sides, the esquites—a mix of creamed corn and hominy (along with spicy mayo, cilantro, lime, and cotija)—is pure comfort in a cup. Another cup of comfort: the spot-on soft-serve, with unexpected notes of pineapple and coconut. The wait likely will be crazy, but the counter-service ordering moves pretty quickly, as does the kitchen. We’d say you can beat the crowds by showing up at 8 a.m. for breakfast tacos (five varieties, including chorizo, steak, and mushroom, kale, and poblano)—but even at that hour, the masses often have descended. 1878 Piedmont Avenue, 770-796-0207

Slim & Husky’s

This Westside pizza joint is the first of two planned Atlanta outposts from the hip-hop–minded Nashville minichain, which gained initial attention by opening in historically black and underserved North Nashville. Atlanta is a logical next stop (Memphis and Chattanooga are next). But underserved the Westside is not; the chain’s mission might resonate more strongly in Adair Park, its second Atlanta location. The pies have cracker-thin crusts and names evoking vintage hip-hop (Rony, Roni, Rone! or Got 5 On It), and they’re made in front of you, assembly-line style, before being placed in a conveyor oven. What emerges on the other side is high on stoner-y fun if low on artisanal craft. Go for the Cee No Green, loaded with ground beef, pepperoni, sausage, and two styles of bacon—but if it’s a classic margherita you’re after, you’re better off at nearby Antico. 1016 Howell Mill Road, 404-458-3327

This article appears in our August 2019 issue.

The verdict on 3 new Atlanta restaurants: Forno Vero, Street Taco, and Taqueria Rojas

Forno Vero
Pizza at Forno Vero

Photograph courtesy of Marietta Square Market

Forno Vero
This self-described “Neapolitan eatery and drinkery” is the star attraction at Marietta Square Market, the slick yet historically appropriate new food hall that offers a smart suburban take on the once-urban phenomenon. Lest you question Forno Vero’s bona fides, or if you happen to belong to the rare breed of diners unacquainted with Neapolitan pies, the menu here prominently states: “The crust on our pizzas have a char due to the wood fired cooking process.” Let’s talk about that char. It’s not nearly as pronounced as the black blisters that grace the crust at, say, Varuni Napoli, the Neapolitan eatery at similarly styled food hall Krog Street Market, and therefore barely warrants the forewarning. But the pies that spring forth from Forno Vero’s aquamarine-tiled ovens are nonetheless respectable and flavorful, with an underside so uncharacteristally firm you might not even have to fold your slice. The margherita pie is the benchmark by which Neapolitan pizza should be assessed, and this one does not disappoint. If you’re looking for something with more kick, the Speziato, with spicy soppressata and Calabrian peppers, does the trick. 68 North Marietta Parkway, 678-310-2078

Street Taco
Street Taco

Photograph courtesy of Marietta Square Market

Street Taco
Street Taco is one of two proper “restaurants” (as opposed to mere stalls) at Marietta Square Market. Whereas the other restaurant, Forno Vero, is the food hall’s nucleus—located smack dab in the middle of the 18,500-square-foot compound, ringed by bar stools, and facing the communal tables—Street Taco’s dining room and patio are tucked away in a quiet back corner. Well, quiet until a freight train lumbers along the tracks behind the building, which only adds to the charm—and is less distracting than the main food hall’s cacophony. As for the tacos, which will set you back $3 or $4 a pop, they don’t quite live up to the promise of the restaurant’s name, both when it comes to value and, in some cases, flavor. The corn and flour tortillas were cold and flabby, and the fish taco was weirdly bland. But the al pastor was juicy and fatty and worth the trip alone. Order three of those (on warm tortillas). 68 North Marietta Parkway, 678-823-8700

Taqueria Rojas
If it’s street tacos you’re after, you’ll do better by visiting a food hall of a different sort. The Global Grub Collective is a cramped storefront and a half in East Atlanta Village that hosts a half-dozen or so rotating vendors in addition to its anchor Vietnamese spot. Expect banged-up picnic tables, a stifling heat index, and some of the best (and best-priced) food for miles around. Its most recent addition is Taqueria Rojas, run by a family who previously sold tacos at a soccer park. For $2, you get a double-stacked corn tortilla heaped with one of six meat options (we especially like the birria, but you can’t choose wrong) or four veggie ones (prepared with as much care as the meat), which you can accessorize however you see fit by digging into the generous condiment station, which includes one green salsa, a pico, and several reds, as well as pickled or diced onions, chopped cilantro, queso fresco, and whole pickled jalapeños. As we waited for our order, we watched as two groups of departing diners went out of their way to thank the family members for bringing these tacos into their lives. You’ll also be inclined to express gratitude for the corn husk– or banana leaf–wrapped tamales and the lime-drenched and chili-spiked fruit cups. Currently open weeknights only. 479-B Flat Shoals Avenue, 404-430-7613

This article appears in our July 2019 issue.

The verdict on 3 new Atlanta restaurants: Boxcar, Lazy Betty, and Pancake Social

Beet carpaccio

Photograph courtesy of Brian Manley

Boxcar
The BeltLine-adjacent Lee + White development in West End has been dubbed “Malt Disney” for its high concentration of boozy attractions. First came Monday Night Brewing’s tasting room, the Garage. ASW Distillery’s tasting room recently opened, and there are two new hophead destinations (from Wild Heaven Beer and Best End Brewing) on the way. Fortunately, Boxcar came along in March, offering gastropub fare for soaking up all those suds. Located directly above its sister retail outpost, the Hop City Beer bottle shop, Boxcar’s loft-like space is decked out with exposed brick, blond wood, a massive patio, a bustling indoor-outdoor bar, and light fixtures fashioned out of (wait for it) beer barrels. Boxcar unsurprisingly boasts 28 craft beers on tap and, more surprisingly, an ambitious menu of dishes small, large, and handheld. The food can get a little too ambitious at times. The boneless chicken is overfried and only slightly redeemed by the perfectly blistered shishitos and tangy yuzu mayo. The Lobstah Roll is a celery-overloaded snooze. Instead, order the luscious beet carpaccio salad with fennel, frisee, and fennel-caper gremolata—and, for absorbing that third IPA, a soft-baked pretzel and an extra order of sweet potato fries. 1000 White Street, 470-788-8171

Lazy Betty
Lazy Betty will draw inevitable comparisons to Staplehouse—it’s a tasting-menu restaurant with a hip aesthetic in a part of town (in this case, Candler Park) that has never seen a restaurant like it. Executive chef/co-owner Ron Hsu and partner/chef de cuisine Aaron Philips are both alums of Le Bernardin, the three-Michelin-star Manhattan restaurant. But Hsu flawlessly interweaves his modest roots (he’s the son of immigrants who ran local Chinese restaurants) throughout the restaurant’s high-end menu. This is food that’s not only worth its price tag—$165 for 10 courses, $125 for seven—it’s also food that manages to have fun. On a recent menu, the Duo of Salmon was actually a single piece that was gently poached on the bottom and raw on top. Rising up from a Parmesan-lemon broth, it was as soft and stunning as a Botticelli. 1530 DeKalb Avenue, 404-975-3692

Pancake Social Atlanta menu
Corn pancakes with blueberry compote

Photograph courtesy of Pancake Social

Pancake Social
It’s one thing to wait 30 minutes for brunch. It’s another thing to wait 30 minutes in line for brunch. And wait in line you will, if you choose to visit Pancake Social anytime close to brunch hour. Fortunately, the new Ponce City Market restaurant from the inimitable Anne Quatrano (Bacchanalia, Star Provisions, Floataway Cafe, W.H. Stiles Fish Camp) serves pancakes—and bowls and sandwiches—all day, every day. Whether you want to eat pancakes at 5 p.m. is up to you. As for whether they’re worth the wait at 9 a.m. on a Sunday, we will begrudgingly admit that they are. The Big Pecan-Praline Stack is accurately named—it looks like a not-that-small layer cake. It tastes a little like a layer cake, too—though the cornbread-like pancakes are undersweetened so as not to compete with the show-stopping pecan-praline syrup. The savory Dutch Baby Pancake arrives in a cast-iron skillet, pillowing soft slices of baked apple and gooey Gruyère. You can also go for straight-up buttermilk with Vermont maple syrup, among other options. And once the restaurant starts serving Gin-Ginger Rickies and Bitter Spritzes (liquor license coming soon), maybe that wait won’t be such a drag. 675 Ponce de Leon Avenue, 678-609-8696

This article appears in our June 2019 issue.

The verdict on 3 new Atlanta restaurants: Feedel Bistro, Santorini Taverna, and Slutty Vegan

Slutty Vegan Atlanta
Slutty Vegan

Photograph courtesy of Slutty Vegan

Slutty Vegan
Bring a friend. Bring a book. Just be prepared to stand in line at Slutty Vegan, the southwest Atlanta take-out–only burger stand serving plant-based patties to thousands of people every week who wait up to an hour (or more) for the experience. The Westview brick-and-mortar location of Pinky Cole’s viral-sensation food truck serves cheekily named burgers—hello, One Night Stand and Menage a Trois—that have drawn orgasmic reviews from celebrities like Tyler Perry and Snoop Dogg. The patties are created by the Impossible Company, a California start-up that’s recreated the heme molecule that makes meat taste like, well, meat. Slutty Vegan isn’t the only Atlanta restaurant to serve Impossible products, but none of the others have generated the buzz that Cole’s burgers have. The 10 burger and sandwich options on the menu come with toppings including vegan bacon, vegan cheese, vegan shrimp, and caramelized onions (the $19 Menage a Trois has all of those atop an Impossible patty; perhaps it should’ve been called the Menage a Cinq), and all but one of them is doused with Slutty Sauce. I went with the Super Slut, an Impossible burger patty on a vegan Hawaiian bun loaded with caramelized onions, guacamole, jalapeños, vegan cheese, lettuce, and tomato, with Slutty Sauce seeping from the edges. The burger and crinkle-cut fries, included with every order, held up just fine on my five-minute walk home; a neighbor who’d yet to brave the line joked that he considered forcing me to surrender the burger to him. Gloriously sloppy and convincingly meaty, the Super Slut was indistinguishable from the classic burgers you find at the best walk-up joints. 1542 Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard, 678-732-3525  —Thomas Wheatley

Feedel Bistro
As the newest of three (yes, three) Ethiopian restaurants at the intersection of Briarcliff and Clairmont roads, Feedel Bistro signifies the size and strength of Atlanta’s Ethiopian community—but it also faces a challenge. How does it differentiate itself from its next-door neighbor, the no-frills and long-reliable Bahel, and its across-the-street one, the acclaimed Desta? For starters, Feedel Bistro is technically Ethiopian and Eritrean, though the cuisines of the bordering countries are nearly identical. A bigger difference is Feedel Bistro’s stylish dining room, all decked out with distressd shiplap walls and black rattan pendants. The space is tasteful and curated, and so is the concise menu, which has fewer options than Desta’s or Bahel’s and is a little easier to navigate. It’s a bit pricier, too. The supremely comforting “mom’s special,” gomen be’siga, combines cubes of tender lamb and velvety collards in a mildly spiced butter sauce. The kitfo—a beef dish traditionally served raw but also available here lightly sauteed or fully cooked—is evidence of the kitchen’s delicate balance with spice (the meat is neither overwhelmed nor underseasoned) and its deft knifework (the raw beef version is perfectly minced). Whatever you do, order the vegetarian sampler platter of spiced red lentils, brown lentils, yellow split peas, collards, cabbage, and house salad. It’s one of the best vegan meals around and a worthy addition to the spread, even at a table of carnivores. 3125 Briarcliff Road, 404-963-2905  —Mara Shalhoup

Santorini Taverna
The owners of Gyro City Grill (with locations in Dacula, Hiram, and Roswell) have migrated closer to Atlanta with Santorini Taverna in Sandy Springs. The restaurant serves straightforward and simply prepared Greek classics, such as a soothing, lemony bowl of avgolemono (egg and orzo soup), and American dishes with a Greek accent, such as a Philly cheesesteak heaped with gyro meat. The menu is composed of a head-spinning 14 sections, but you can cut down on your perusal time by looking for the more creatively named plates, including Greek Peak Combination “Most Popular” (gyro, chicken, and pork souvlaki, served with tzatziki sauce, onions, tomatoes, and stuffed dolmas) and the Largest & Best Gyro in Town “Award Winning.” The latter is indeed oversized. Across the board, in fact, Santorini’s portions are exceedingly generous, as are its hospitable owners. It’s a welcome, family-friendly addition to the neighborhood. 4600 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs, 678-705-8772  —Jennifer Zyman

This article appears in our May 2019 issue.

Giving Kitchen named James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year

Giving Kitchen cofounder Jen Hidinger-Kendrick

Photograph by Andrew Thomas Lee

Atlantans already know this, but as of this morning the James Beard Foundation has made it even more clear: The work that Giving Kitchen is doing in Atlanta is some of the most important food-related philanthropic work in the country.

The nonprofit, which helps restaurant workers in times of crisis and has a heartbreaking backstory of its own, is the recipient of the James Beard Foundation’s 2019 Humanitarian of the Year Award. Past winners of the award, which honors “an individual or organization working in the realm of food who has given selflessly and worked tirelessly to better the lives of others and society at large,” include celebrity chefs such as Wolfgang Puck, Rick Bayless, Emeril Lagasse, and, last year, José Andrés. Those chefs, typically through their own nonprofits or foundations, have given millions of dollars in aid to a variety of causes. Andrés and his World Central Kitchen, for instance, served more than 3 million meals in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Other recipients of the award include the New Orleans Restaurant Community in 2006, following Hurricane Katrina, and the New York Restaurant Community in 2002, following 9/11.

Giving Kitchen provides assistance to those suffering less headline-grabbing but no less catastrophic setbacks. The nonprofit provides grants to restaurant and catering workers faced with debilitating sickness, disease, or accidents. Such workers are typically underinsured, with limited paid time off. A grant from Giving Kitchen can allow them to pay their medical bills, childcare costs, and rent or mortgage.

“I have never heard of a resource like this in any city, and I’ve lived all over the world,” says Reggie Ealy, a former employee of Home Grown and Revolution Doughnuts who received a Giving Kitchen grant after he was diagnosed in 2016 with Multiple Myeloma, a cancer that accumulates in the bone marrow.

Ealy is among more than 1,500 people to receive assistance from Giving Kitchen, which has now handed out $2.4 million in aid since its founding in 2013.

Giving Kitchen earns Humanitarian of the Year award from James Beard Foundation
The staff of Giving Kitchen, including Hidinger-Kendrick (far left)

Photograph by Erika Botfeld/Courtesy Giving Kitchen

The organization was borne of a tragedy. While husband and wife Ryan and Jen Hidinger were in the midst of building their dream restaurant, 35-year-old Ryan was diagnosed in 2012 with late-stage gall bladder cancer. Inspired by the immense outpouring of support from the restaurant community—including $275,000 raised through a benefit dinner dubbed Team Hidi—the couple decided that they would launch a nonprofit to help other restaurant workers in need. All the after-tax profits from their restaurant would support their nonprofit, Giving Kitchen.

Ryan died a year before before his restaurant, Staplehouse, opened in 2015. Not only did Staplehouse go on to earn wide acclaim—Bon Appetit named it the country’s best new restaurant in 2016, both the restaurant and its chef have been James Beard finalists, and we named it Atlanta’s best restaurant two years running—but Jen Hidinger-Kendrick has continued to expand the scope and mission of Giving Kitchen, year after year. Its seventh-annual Team Hidi benefit last month raised a record $865,000.

In front of the crowd of hundreds gathered at the benefit, Hidinger-Kendrick recalled her late husband’s reaction to the support he received from restaurant workers who rallied around him after his diagnosis: “I remember Ryan looking at me saying, ‘I want this for everyone.’ And you know what? I do, too. I want this for everyone.”

Ealy says that without the support of Giving Kitchen, he’s not sure how we would have been able to make ends meet while undergoing a stem cell transplant and immunotherapy. He describes Hidinger-Kendrick as a patron saint who helps watch over Atlanta’s tight-knit restaurant community.

“She’s kept the dream of her husband alive,” Ealy says. “And that’s kept the dreams of so many people in the industry alive.”

Giving Kitchen will accept the award at the James Beard Awards Gala on May 6 in Chicago.

Disclosure: Atlanta magazine has donated proceeds from its 50 Best Restaurants event to Giving Kitchen.

The verdict on 3 newcomers to Atlanta’s dining scene: El Tesoro, Gino’s East, and Soul Crab

El Tesoro

El Tesoro
Drop that sad excuse for a burrito and make haste to El Tesoro. In fact, drop whatever you’re holding and head to this 16-seat Edgewood oasis, in a dusty gravel lot across from a members-only biker bar and behind Rudy’s Auto & Collision. I say this at the risk of sending the line even farther out the door, but word already has spread about these outrageously tasty tacos, burritos, and tamales, among other dishes (including breakfast options; currently, the restaurant only is open from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.). “El Tesoro” means “the treasure,” and partners Alan Raines, of the late Iris and Cantina La Casita in East Atlanta Village, and Darryl Howard have found one in Cristina Lugo Soto, a home cook who hails from the Mexican coastal state of Guerrero and helms the kitchen with her daughter, Mayra. Soto offers three tamale flavors—pork with green salsa, chicken with chipotle salsa, and rajas with mushroom and squash—and if there’s a more craveable masa in existence, I’ve yet to find it. The tacos come as tacos are supposed to, with supremely flavorful meat that requires no embellishment aside from micro-diced onion, a light shower of chopped cilantro, a squeeze of lime, and, if you must, a streak of one of three homemade salsas. The brick-red barbacoa filling is a lesson in harmonious spice without excessive heat. Before you scoff at the tacos’ $3.25 cost ($3.50 if you want house-made Lechuza spent-grain corn tortillas, which you absolutely do), note that the “burros” (aka burritos) will set you back only $5.75. A taco or tamale and a burro would easily feed a reasonably hungry person, though they might not be enough to satisfy that person’s instant infatuation. At the table next to ours, a man nodded at his empty plate where a burro had briefly resided and said to the woman across from him, “I’m going to order another one.” “Seriously? You want the same thing?” “Yes, I could eat that again.” During the exchange, my own dining companion already was back in line, waiting to order burro number two. 1374 Arkwright Place, 470-440-5502  —Mara Shalhoup

Gino's East

Gino’s East
This Chicago-based chain is more than 50 years old, but you wouldn’t know it from walking inside its first Georgia location, in the North Highland Avenue space formerly home to the short-lived Rize Artisan Pizza. Black T-shirts sold behind the counter seem targeted toward millennials, with phrases such as “we roll deep” and “will run for pizza.” And if you want to try Gino’s signature deep-dish, Chicago-style pizza, you have to order it “deep AF.” The pizza itself, though, stays true to its Windy City roots: You’ll find the same dense, rich crust and thick, robust tomato sauce. Appetizers such as spinach and artichoke dip or pizza breadsticks will help satiate those who are put off by the 45-minute wait for a deep AF, but the pie is so filling you might want to skip them. Gino’s East also offers a less daunting option—called, simply, “deep dish”—for the diner who’s unaccustomed to or overwhelmed by this style of pizza. The “deep dish” is shorter than the deep AF, with less heft, and therefore easier to demolish without leftovers. Or you can skip the deep end altogether and order the thin crust (but really, you should go deep). Chicagoans have argued for ages about which deep-dish chain makes the best pie, but if you’ve never tried any of them, Gino’s is a good—and now convenient—place to start. 675 North Highland Avenue, 678-921-1001  —Myrydd Wells

Soul Crab
Chef Darius Williams’s follow-up to Greens & Gravy—a restaurant that helped reenergize the food scene in Westview—brings a similar jolt to another high-potential part of town: College Park. Located in a vintage storefront in the city’s old-timey downtown, directly across from its historic depot, Soul Crab is a fine place to post up with an enormous bowl of catfish and grits and watch the trains roll by. Williams serves comfort food that threatens to induce a food coma, but we’re not complaining. If you’re in the sweet-cornbread-is-superior camp, his skillet butter pecan cornbread won’t disappoint. You’ll find many of the same dishes here as at Greens & Gravy, but there’s a heavier emphasis on seafood, including by-the-pound crab legs, shrimp, black mussels, and crawfish. Ask for the Hennessy garlic butter for an extra-decadent kick. 3725 Main Street, College Park, 404-228-2835  —Mara Shalhoup

This article appears in our April 2019 issue.

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