Gene’s opens July 23 in East Lake, promising a mix of highbrow and lowbrow in an eclectic atmosphere

A barbecue pop-up becomes a fun brick-and-mortar with bar food, brunch with McDonald's-inspired favorites, and batched cocktails

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Talking to Avery Cottrell is like riding a Tilt-A-Whirl—he’s talking a million miles a minute and my head spins trying to keep up. The conversation switches quickly from food to tchotchkes to the 4th of July, punctuated by laughter that I can’t help but join in on. Cottrell is the brainchild behind Gene’s, an eclectic restaurant opening July 23 in the former Salaryman space in East Lake. Previously a pop-up at spots like Kimball House, Talat Market, Bogg’s Social & Supply, and Poor Hendrix (where Cottrell currently works), Gene’s serves smoked barbecue with Vietnamese and Cajun flavors.

Backed by the owners of Kimball House and John Ward of Victory Brands (Victory Sandwich Bar, Lloyd’s, the S.O.S. Tiki Bar), Gene’s is named for Cottrell’s 35-pound, orange-and-white rescue cat. “My middle name is Eugene. My wife’s dad’s middle name is Gene, and cat’s name is Gene,” Cottrell explains. “So why not?”

Gene’s is designed as a mix of highbrow and lowbrow, reflected in the food, drinks, and decor. “My personal palate is pretty trashy. My partners’ palates are a little more refined,” Cottrell says. “It’s a fun combination for this bizarre, weird vibe we have going on in here. It’s a recipe for an awesome time.”

Crispy beef vibe with noun cham and herbs

Courtesy of Gene's

Chili-brined chicken skewers with cracking gremolata

Courtesy of Gene's

Meats will be cooked using an offset smoker over a wood fire for “low and slow traditional Texas barbecue.” The smoker was made by Kennesaw-based Primitive Pits. Since Cottrell’s family stems from Louisiana, he infuses the barbecue with Cajun flavors. The result is heavy smoked meats with a hint of heat and some additional Gulf Coast influences. Expect pulled pork, brisket, smoked turkey breast, and grilled chili-brined chicken. Sandwiches come on TGM bread with sides such as coal-roasted beets with feta and citrus vinaigrette, cucumber salad with mint and toasted sesame, and serrano pepper coleslaw. There’s a Gulf fish dip with fried Saltine crackers, mushroom tacos, and whole smoked cauliflower with harissa and pomegranate. Cottrell’s wife Elizabeth Hurstell will be baking pies for dessert, complementing his Biscoff banana pudding.

At 9 p.m., the disco ball will turn on and the menu shifts to bar food like Daytona hot wings, a buffalo shrimp sandwich, crab claws, and boudin egg rolls. Sunday brunch will feature Egg McMuffin-style sandwiches and McDonald’s-like hash browns, cheddar biscuits with Cajun spice, barbecue shrimp and grits, and breakfast burritos with smoked meat. A fried chicken meal may be available in limited quantities. “McDonald’s is the best fast-food breakfast in my opinion. We don’t want it to be fussy,” Cottrell says.

Margarita with blanco tequila, cointreau, lime, and yuzu

Courtesy of Gene's

Miles Macquarrie of Kimball House is consulting on the bar menu, putting together classy prebatched options like the Smoke House Julep (smoked bourbon, lemon, madeira, and crème de pêche), Tulsi tonic (Murrell’s Row Tulsi gin, lime cordial, Centerbe Faccio Brutto, and tonic), and the ice-cold Gene’s Martini (Murrell’s Row Gin Gin, dry vermouth, Cap Corse blanc, and smoked olives). Contrast those with the frozen Bushwhacker, Hurricane, and nonalcoholic Gensicle (orange, vanilla, and coconut). The beer list includes Coors Light, and a few local options from Inner Voice, Halfway Crooks, and Sceptre Brewing. There will be four natural and orange wines available too. Perhaps most notable are vodka-based gelatin shots with varieties “from as stupid as a Mountain Dew Jell-O shot to as complex as a negroni Jell-O shot,” Cottrell says. “It’s a full bar, but there are no stirred cocktails—no cocktails you might find in Kimball House.”

The counter-service restaurant is adorned with thrifted items for a “dive-y, super eclectic, vintage” vibe akin to the Flora-Bama or Red Bar on 30-A. Cottrell says he’s been amassing these pieces for five years—everything from a 20-foot, bright red, faux alligator that will act as a chandelier over the bar to Ward’s childhood Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle decorating the HVAC unit. There are Christmas lights, neon signs, mirrors, folk art, and photos of country stars. Tarot cards from the Cartoon Network show Adventure Time are used as bathroom wallpaper.

Inside Gene’s

Courtesy of Gene's

“We want to make it a community spot where guests bring art to put on the walls, and it keeps growing that way,” Cottrell says.

Diners are invited to choose songs from the juke box with offerings ranging from Madonna to Swamp Dogg to Jimmy Buffett. When you hear your name called over the loudspeaker, it’s time to grab your food and enjoy, inside or on the covered patio.

Don’t want to wait to try it? Gene’s is offering a $59.69 takeout meal on the 4th of July only. Preorder for a rack of ribs, flour tortillas, toppings, and sides.

Inside Gene’s

Courtesy of Gene's

Gene’s decor

Courtesy of Gene's

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