Checking in with Chad Clevenger of forthcoming Alma Cocina

ATL Food Chatter: August 8, 2011
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With fourteen years of culinary experience in both fine dining and high-volume casual dining under his belt, plus posole and tamale recipes that have been voted the best in Denver, Chad Clevenger seemed to be a natural fit for Alma Cocina, the Fifth Group’s modern Mexican restaurant opening this fall Downtown. Clevenger, who will be the restaurant’s executive chef, so impressed the Fifth Group’s brass that they dropped the “Tex” from the “Mex” cuisine they had originally planned to feature in the former Il Mulino space.

A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Austin, Texas, the thirty-two-year-old’s most influential career experiences include his time as executive chef at Coyote Cafe, where he spent three years working with acclaimed Chef Mark Miller in Santa Fe, New Mexico. After that, Clevenger became the chef/owner of Agave Grill and Mel’s Bar & Grill, winning awards such as “Best American Restaurant in Denver” and “Top 10 Fine Dining Restaurants in Denver.” Prior to joining Fifth Group, Clevenger also operated the Porker Street Food Cart, a gourmet street food cart featuring global pork dishes. As one of the leaders in the Denver street cart revolution, Clevenger became known as “the swine sultan” and was recognized as “Street Food Chef of the Year” by Denver Magazine.

Q: How did you hook up with your new gig?
CC: I hooked up with Fifth Group Restaurants online. I had sent my resume out all over the country and they responded back to me. We talked and I flew down to Atlanta and we really clicked. And here I am. [He arrived mid-July.]

Q: Why Atlanta?
CC: After living in Denver for several years as a chef/owner, I felt that moving to a larger city with a larger restaurant market would give me more opportunities to advance my career as a chef. So I looked at the top food cities in America—San Fran, Chicago, New York—and eventually I flew down to Atlanta, and I was really surprised by the up-and-coming food scene. Atlanta has a very unique culture with a lot of great chefs and restaurants. I loved it here and after a few days hanging out with the guys from Fifth Group and getting to know them, we both felt we were a fit for each other. I’m stoked to be here and very excited to do something new for Atlanta.

Q: Can you provide any information about Alma’s menu?
CC: We are still in the R&D phase now so I can’t reveal too much. However, I can say that Alma’s menu will be a contemporary modern Mexican/Latin cuisine. The Fifth Group executive team and I are headed to Philadelphia this weekend to check out some its Mexican restaurants, such as Steven Starr’s El Rey.

Q: Will there be a food cart like the Porker cart in Denver?
CC: Right now all of my attention and focus is on the development of Alma Cocina and creating the best Mexican restaurant in Atlanta. I did bring the cart with me to Atlanta so you never know . . .  stay tuned.

Q: Where have you eaten here in ATL?
CC: So obviously all of the Fifth Group Restaurants, and La Tavola probably four times. Then anywhere from Chef Liu’s and Bo Bo Garden out on Buford Hwy to Rathbun’s, Local Three, Holeman and Finch, and to places like Fat Matt’s, Flip Burger, Rosa Mexicano, Holy Taco, OK Cafe, and Escorpion.

The sixth annual Midtown Restaurant Week will run from Saturday, August 27, until Sunday, September 4, this year.

Sweetwater Brewery, Canoe Restaurant, and the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeepers are joining forces for the second consecutive year to benefit the Save the Hooch campaign with a barbecue fundraiser on Saturday, August 13, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Canoe.

The Grant Park Conservancy’s 2011 Corks and Forks event will be held on Saturday and Sunday, August 27 and 28, from 1 to 5 p.m. at historic Grant Park.

Buckhead. Sara Koob has returned to Canoe as its pastry chef.

What Now Atlanta reports that Copeland’s Buckhead will close August 14. According to the restaurant’s general manager, who was quoted in the article, an excessive rent increase at the Tower Place location is the reason for the closure.

Creative Loafing’s Besha Rodell tweeted that H&F Bottle Shop finally got its liquor license and will soon have it on the shelves of Atlanta’s first boutique bottle shop.

Downtown. East Atlanta Patch notes that Grindhouse Killer Burger founder/owner Alex Brounstein is planning to franchise the original location of his intown hamburger business that he started two years ago in order to concentrate on the newly opened and larger Piedmont Road store. In an exclusive interview, Bournstein maintains he does not want sell the Sweet Auburn Curb Market store but would rather have an operator come in and provide the day-to-day management that he can no longer provide.

Blossom Tree Korean Eatery, featuring bipimbap, kimbap, tonkatsu, and Korean tacos, is now open at 64 Peachtree Street, across from Woodruff Park.

Lunacy Black Market tweeted that it has stopped serving lunch for the time being, and Creative Loafing reported that the restaurant will close August 15 to 30.

Midtown. According to a liquor license review board agenda, the name of Patrick La Bouff (Dinner Party Atlanta) and his Top Flr partners’ new restaurant at 905 Juniper Street is The Lawrence. [Editor’s note: It’s also interesting to see on the same agenda docket that Giovanni Di Palma has applied for a liquor license at Antico.]

Smyrna. Ebony and Ivory Chicken, Catfish and BBQ—a takeout only stand featuring the aforementioned items as well as tacos and Brunswick stew—is now open at 871 Concord Road.

Westside. Eater Atlanta notes that H&F Bread Co. is relocating to a 10,000-square-foot location on the Westside that will feature a small walkup retail area.

Question of the Week: What restaurant is expected to open in the Copeland’s Buckhead space in February 2012?

P.S. The answer to last week’s QOTW—What nationally known spice purveyor has recently opened its first Georgia location?—is Penzey’s Spices at 6235 Roswell Road.

Do you have restaurant openings, closings, or other news to share? Email James Oxendine at