Chef Zeb Stevenson is planning to open his first restaurant, Redbird, with partner Ross Jones in the summer of 2019. The two met when Jones, who cofounded Watershed in 1998 with Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls, hired Stevenson as its chef in 2014. In April, Jones sold the James Beard Award-winning, Southern-inspired restaurant to chef Matt Marcus.
Stevenson and Jones will open Redbird in the former Bacchanalia space at Westside Provisions District, but the vibe will be different than that of the fine-dining behemoth, which relocated about a mile away (into more casual digs).
“It’s very important to me to have a restaurant that has a come-as-you-are feel,” Stevenson said in a phone interview. “I don’t want anybody getting hung up on what they have to wear to come to my restaurant. I want people to feel welcome. I want them to feel like they belong. It’s a post-industrial space, so we’ll warm it up with texture. I don’t want it to feel fancy. To me, that would be a fail if the restaurant felt fancy.”
While he’s been known as a Southern chef who uses local vegetables and has close relationships with local farmers, Stevenson said his menu will be more free-from (organized from lightest to largest plates, rather than by starters and entrees) and his food more free-spirited. “Free-spirited cuisine means that I don’t have to cook under the specter of the constraints of really anything,” he said. “Watershed was a great time in my life, and I valued every minute there. But Watershed was a Southern restaurant so, we had to source from the South, and we had to keep our food aligned more or less to Southern preparations. I never really liked that.”
The restaurant will have a wood-burning hearth, and Stevenson is eager to utilize the old-school cooking method. He plans to serve large-format dishes including a whole roasted chicken and a big steak, as well as plates for sharing, such as a sizzling garlic shrimp cazuela served with a “bread pull,” and a socca (a chickpea flour fritter) smeared with garlic jam.
Stevenson said Redbird will have more global influences and fewer restraints on sourcing, allowing him to incorporate ingredients such as porcini mushrooms and tamarind that aren’t native to Georgia. “White asparagus is the first one that leaps to mind,” he said. “I always love to serve white asparagus when it comes in the early spring. I think it’s one of the world’s true delicacies when it’s cooked properly, but it doesn’t grow here. In the Southern farm-to-table way of being, there’s no way I could serve something like that and still look myself in the mirror.”