Anne Quatrano is the talented chef behind Bacchanalia, widely considered Atlanta’s best restaurant. In late May, she and her husband, fellow toque Clifford Harrison, added Abattoir to their small local empire (they also own Quinones at Bacchanalia, an intimate restaurant-within-a-restaurant; the adjoining gourmet market Star Provisions; and Floataway Cafe in Virginia-Highland). Instead of $75 prix-fixe menus a la Bacchanalia, the new spot features rustic dishes meant for sharing, and many cost less than $10.
This week, Quatrano took a break from her crazy-busy schedule—she’s been working days at Bacchanalia and nights at Abattoir—to chat with Sara Levine about her newest venture. She even hinted at another to come. Lucky for us, she’s not into the national-expansion thing, so the next opening will be here in Atlanta in the not-too-distant future.
Can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind Abattoir?
The idea first came to us about four years ago. These past four years we’ve been really focusing on the utilization of whole animals—we developed a charcuterie program here at Bacchanalia and started doing more terrines, pig’s feet, [using] pig’s heads…we really spent a good amount of time and energy on it. My staff, one of them being Joshua Hopkins, who is now our executive chef and partner at Abattoir, really were instrumental in that program. We put in a $40,000 aging facility for our charcuterie…and as a result, I’m not even exaggerating, 80 percent of the people who want to work here want to work in the charcuterie department. Chefs and cooks are really excited about this and want to learn how to do it. We thought that the public would be into it, too.
Did the idea or the location—a former meat-packing plant—come first?
The space became available and I started speaking to [the White Provisions building management] about 18 months ago, signed the lease a year ago. We always knew we wanted meat and protein to be a focus and because the space was a slaughterhouse, it really seemed to fit nicely into what Josh, Clifford and I wanted to do. The restaurant is actually where the cattle ramp was, where they drove the cattle in from. It made sense to us to have a meat restaurant. Many have pushed us to do a steakhouse, but I don’t think that the days of the high-end steakhouse are really viable. I don’t want to be a Bones or a Chops, they do a great job and I don’t think there’s room for another one like that. Something that’s quite a bit less expensive, with a broader menu, serving things that are interesting and people dig—I think there’s room for that.
How did Joshua Hopkins get involved in the project? Has he been working with you for a while?
Clifford and I are 50 now—we love the restaurant business and we want to continue to do it with people who, you know, are not 50. So when we find chefs like Josh who are energetic and have our work ethic and love it and get it, we want to do it with them. Josh has been working for us five years, and he has been chef de cuisine at Bacchanalia for four. He’s 36. He’s from Atlanta, his family’s here, he is so enthusiastic and really loved the meat concept, and the space loved the meat concept too.
It’s been a long time since you opened a brand-new place—how has this been different from the last time? Any lessons learned in the past that made this opening run more smoothly?
We opened Quinones in 2005, and although we did build a new kitchen and that new dining room, it wasn’t building from scratch. We moved Bacchanalia [from Buckhead to Howell Mill Road] in ‘99 and opened Star Provisions—that was a huge move. We opened Floataway in ’98. Those were two really hard years there. So it’s been ten years. There’s a lot to think about when you open a new place, but I have an amazing staff—I should say it like 100 times. I have people who are committed to this business and to us and our food, so it was not nearly as hard as it could have been. I am a detail-oriented person but I couldn’t have gotten all of the details together without all of these people. Kitchen staff from Bacchanalia would come over here to Abattoir after they finished service and spend 3-4 hours of their own time here to make sure we were okay. That’s how committed they are.
How do you think Atlantans are responding to “nose-to-tail” cooking? Are people ordering the more adventurous dishes from the “offal” section of the menu?
The menu, I was counting it the other day, it’s biggest menu we’ve ever worked with—48 items. Maybe 15 involve anything that is slightly unusual. But yes, that section is huge. We sell a ton of sweetbreads, both veal and lamb. We sell out lamb kidneys whenever we put them on the menu. It’s not easy to get these things, with only two in an animal! I think we’re attracting a certain type of person who wants to try that, but they’re also bringing their friends and family who maybe don’t and they also have lots of options. A vegetarian could definitely eat here…there’s like 10 items just in our vegetable section and it keeps growing because we’re in our summer produce. We’ve had more than a few vegetarians here so far, actually.
Does any of the meat come from Summerland Farms, where you live?
Up until now, we have not slaughtered any of our animals. They come from other people, local farms. I think we are going to start raising pigs this year though, that’s our plan. We wanted to make sure we had someplace to slaughter them that we liked, that did it the right way. Raising them is the easy part. There are two places that are near us up in Cartersville that we think would work.
How often are you in the kitchen at Abattoir? Did you and Hopkins work together in creating the menu?
We’ve worked together in creating menus for five years, so I think we’ve got it down and know what each other likes. Almost for a year, maybe longer, we’ve been trying out dishes at Bacchanalia. Josh is an incredible chef so it wasn’t hard. I am at Abattoir every night for now—I will probably devote my nights there for a year, to get it running smoothly. The ultimate plan is three nights at Bacchanalia and three at Abattoir. For now, I work during the days at Bacchanalia. Clifford is everywhere but at night he runs the kitchen at Floataway.
Plans for Abattoir obviously began before the economy took its turn for the worse, but it is at a price point (nothing on the menu over $20; a lot under $10) that works in these tight times. Was that the original plan?
I think that we always thought this would be our most reasonably priced restaurant. Prices are low but they’re also sharing portions—they’re not huge, they’re small portions of really great food meant to be shared and enjoyed together. We certainly didn’t know what was going to happen this year. I’m not even sure if we would have opened if we’d known in advance! Thankfully, it’s been very busy.
What’s your favorite thing on the menu?
I really love the burger. I love a hamburger and ours is pork and beef—we salt it and vacuum-seal it so it self-cures. It’s this little firm, moist patty—well maybe not so little, it’s 8 ounces, and it stays nice and pink on the inside. It’s like something between a sausage and a burger. I just think it’s great. There few times I’ve had that I’ve actually gotten to sit down and eat, I’ve had [the burger twice] and thought that they were the bomb. We eat in the back, on the porch out by the dumpsters!
What chefs, local or otherwise, have inspired you in your career? Are there any restaurants that inspired Abattoir?
I worked under Judy Rodgers at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco for two years, and I loved everything that was going on there in the mid-80s. I would have to say that Alice Waters was part of my initial culinary education, we did a lot of fund-raising back then and everybody in the area was involved. We raised money for AIDS and I worked with Alice and Judy and others like Joyce Goldstein and Barbara Tropp in those events—it was a great community of great chefs and women chefs. Really unusual in 1984.
I don’t think there’s anything exactly like Abattoir, but definitely restaurants that I like a lot that offer some of the whole-animal items. St. John in London is unbelievably awesome. A16 in San Francisco—Nate [Appleman] has a way with off-parts of the animal that is delicious. A restaurant that’s small and I don’t even know if it is still good is Resto in New York—I just loved the food there too.
Are more restaurant openings in your future? In Atlanta or elsewhere?
I don’t think outside of Atlanta. I really like to be involved in my restaurants, so I’m not interested in doing anything far away. An hour away is enough for me to drive home! I do think there will be more restaurants, probably on this side of town, possibly something very soon. I’m in discussions right now —I can tell you that it will be something real simple and even more casual than Abattoir. It might be in 2009. I guess that’s the MO, you wait ten years and then open two in the same year!