First Look: Joe Schafer gives us a glimpse into King + Duke’s menu

Ford Fry’s buzzy Buckhead restaurant opens Monday

Ford Fry’s highly anticipated open-hearth cooking restaurant, King and Duke, opens Monday in the space formerly home to Nava in Buckhead. With a 65-seat patio facing Peachtree Street, customized Elijah Craig bourbon labels, and a private dining room hidden by a belted door (see more of that below), this restaurant is drawing attention from all over. Executive chef Joe Schafer spared a few minutes between completing mock dinner service and preparing for today’s Friends and Family lunch to give us a glimpse into King Duke’s menu and more.

What’s on the menu?
A little game, a little steaks, chops. There’s a quartet of rabbit—pancetta-wrapped loin, confit leg, rabbit liver toast, and rabbit banger sausage, served with a chilled grain salad made of red rice and farro. We have a couple of items for two: There’s a whole grilled chicken with chicory salad with giant croutons, and a 36-ounce ribeye called the King. It comes with a sweet romaine lettuce salad and two big smoked marrow bones. For appetizers, there’s wood-grilled octopus with chorizo vinaigrette, roasted olives, and lemon aioli; and a braised wood-grilled lamb belly with marinated cucumbers, Bulgarian feta, a sherry glaze, and naan bread made by the pastry chef.

So is it big menu?
For dinner, we have about five items in the bites section—$3 to $5 items like crudité with homemade ricotta. Then we have about ten appetizers, ten or eleven entrees and seven sides that stand on their own, meaning they’re different than the ones that come with the meals. For example, creamy polenta with roasted mushrooms, creamy white beans with Parmesan, and artichokes cooked in the coals with anchovy aioli and lemon.

For lunch, we have four sandwiches, four salads, a couple appetizers and five desserts. The Duke is our burger—a 9 ounce house-ground patty made of Certified Angus Beef chuck and dry aged cuts. We’ll be dry aging our own beef in about a week. The burger is really simple, served with whole roasted onions and a homemade pickle on a buttermilk bun with caraway seeds and sea salt made in house. It’s served with fries. The filet of fish (haddock smoked and flaked and formed into a patty with flour, egg, and bread crumbs) comes with tartar sauce on a lighter, fluffier hamburger bun, and is served with vinegar coleslaw. The grilled cheese vegetable sandwich is Fontina and Swiss in a cast iron pan with chopped, grilled rapini in a salsa verde on semolina bread.

What (if anything) have you changed as you’ve been preparing these last couple of weeks?
This kitchen is all powered by coal and wood. I’m comfortable cooking that way but have never done it on this scale. It’s easy to do a one-plate tasting for Ford and make it delicious in Adam Evans’ kitchen at the Optimist. It’s easy to simulate the flavor, but once you get in the actual [King and Duke space], you have to scale back on certain things. We’ve done two mock services and already changed three or four ways of picking things up. One of my grill cooks—a steak guy—was messing around with ways to cook the charred tomato that comes with the 16-ounce New York strip. Everything has to be perfect for it because there’s very few things on the plate, but it’s very difficult to sear a wet tomato. The grill was giving him grill marks but not the right char. Our grill is on pulleys so we can put the coals in and take them out to adjust the level of heat of the fire. So he raised it up, threw on a cast iron pan and put a tomato in there, and it worked.

How does the decor fit with your food?
It’s a nice contrast to the way we are cooking, which is so primitive and harsh. The space is a lot warmer than the rest of Ford’s restaurants. There are some dark woods but some lighter accents and really cool, sort of modern lighting. There are lots of American literary books on bookshelves, a lot of random artwork, two pictures of storm troopers, and George Orwell books. It’s not like your typical Buckhead steakhouse; it’s entertaining and charismatic.

Ford does a lot of things just because they’re cool. The door to the private room is lined with leather belts, and the belts are on the wall, too, so you can’t really tell where the door is when it’s closed.

You’re about to open one of the most highly anticipated restaurants of the year. How do you feel?
I’ve never been in a position like this with so much attention being paid to the restaurant I’ve been working on. I’ve never been part of an opening as an executive chef. It’s a little bit of pressure, but I try not to overthink it or read too much into it. I just focus on what I do and constantly evolve my food and my cooks’ techniques and make them better because ultimately, they’re the ones cooking. I’m really excited. I’m not necessarily nervous; I am anxious and ready to get out there.