Food Chatter: A first glance at the Optimist


A spectacular Atlanta Food & Wine Festival event last week had those who were in attendance speaking in exclamation points about the Optimist, star chef Ford Fry’s latest resto. The sophisticated Southern-style seafood spot has the look, menu, and location to add a new star to Atlanta’s seafood dining profile.

The Optimist, named after a small sailing craft, has a Southern seaside theme that sets the perfect tone for the dining experience. Designer Smith Hanes (JCT Kitchen, No. 246, and Watershed on Peachtree) has created a Hampton’s-meets-the-South look that deftly incorporates nautically themed artwork into a space that features soaring ceilings, subway tiled walls, forged metal fixtures, and re-purposed wood elements like the floor-to-ceiling windows separated by wood strips designed to look like lobster traps. Hanes’s take on the beach house bathroom—hand numbered keys—adds another classic touch to the Optimist’s décor. The star-studded pre-opening event, Oceans 6, presented a progressive selection of seafood delights from Southern chefs Norman Van Aken (Florida), Bryan Caswell (Texas), Mike Lata (South Carolina), Dean Max (Florida), and Brandon McGlamery (Florida), along with some artful pairings by Master Sommelier Kathy Morgan (D.C.). It also served as the debut of the Optimist’s top toque, Adam Evans, formerly of JCT Kitchen, whose contribution to the menu
was equal to the occasion.

The Optimist’s dining menu features a stunning array of sustainable fresh fish and shellfish like Georgia white shrimp, Florida grouper, North Georgia trout, and Virginia clams; all available either fried, grilled, or roasted in a wood burning oven. The adjoining Oyster Bar features a wrap around raw bar in a “fish camp” setting and an outdoor patio.

The huge standalone bar’s menu features seafaring libations such as the Sea Shanty, Mother of Pearl, Old Salty Dog, and the Cutty Shark. In addition, there are four draft beers, fifteen by the bottle, and a nicely balanced wine list.

The dramatic, 10,000-square-foot space is located at 914 Howell Mill Road, at the headwaters of the Westside’s expanding Howell Mill Road restaurant row, which, until now, has lacked a significant seafood presence.

The Optimist is slated to set sail on Monday, May 21.

Atlanta’s first permanent food truck site, the Atlanta Food Truck Park and Market, has reopened after the permitting problems that forced its abrupt closing were resolved last week. According to various media reports, the closure was a result of the fact that individual trucks needed separate vendor permits in addition to those held by the park. Prompt action by City Councilmember Kwanza Hall and others assisted in the acquisition of the required permits.

Brit bad boy chef, Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” television show is casting in Atlanta.

Slated to release on October 16, star chef Kevin Gillespie’s cookbook, “Fire in My Belly: Real Cooking,” is now available for pre-ordering.

Ford Fry offered up his ATL food favorites in the May issue of GQ magazine.

Buckhead. Eater Atlanta is reporting that twenty-three-year-old Daniel Gorman, the chef de cuisine of the Terrace Level at the Cherokee Town and Country Club, won the Hans Bueschkens Junior Chefs Challenge in Daejeon, South Korea,
earlier this month.

Aria’s twenty-four-year-old sommelier, Jacob Gragg, became Atlanta’s ninth Advanced Sommelier last month. The next step: Master Sommelier.

Stagecoach, a western themed saloon featuring single malt whiskey, has opened at 34 Irby Street.

Little 5 Points. Wrecking Bar Brewpub, which celebrates its first anniversary this month, was recognized as one of the Best Brewpubs in America by Chow, a national food media site.

Midtown. La Pietra Cucina is now under the PR umbrella of Concentrics Restaurants.

Sandy Springs. Beginning Saturday, May 19, at noon, Ray’s on the River is hosting a three-part jazz concert series on their event lawn to benefit local charities. Kicking off the series will be jazz violinist Ken Ford.

Smyrna. The Muss & Turner’s team has opened Eleanor’s, a cocktail bar named for the company’s controller, next door. Eleanor’s will feature some food offerings from M&T’s.

Heirloom Market BBQ was cited as one of America’s best new barbecue spots by Food and Wine magazine.

Westside. On Friday, May 18, Antico Pizza will host a benefit for Embraced, an Atlanta-based 501(c) 3 that provides orthopedic and mobility equipment to those in need.

Speaking of Antico, look for Limoncello Bar, Caffe and Gelataria in Piazza Antico currently under construction across the street from the pizzeria. Piazza will feature over 100 outdoor seats evoking an Italian neighborhood feeling and with optional complimentary valet.

Question of the Week: Who is White Oak Kitchen’s opening chef?

P.S. The answer to last week’s QOTW—What Westside shop is designed to offer handmade bon bons to the public is slated to open this month?—is Chocolate South, from architect Amy Everette Stankus.