Linton Hopkins (Restaurant Eugene, Holeman and Finch) will open his steakhouse, C. Ellet’s, at the Battery Atlanta at SunTrust Park later this month. The restaurant is named for Hopkins’s great-grandfather, Charles Ellet, Jr., who worked as a a U.S. Army Corps engineer building bridges connecting the Southeast. (Ellett fought with the Union Navy and ultimately lost his life in the Battle of Memphis.)
Hopkins has put together a team of heavy hitters to run the place: He plucked chef Damon Wise from New York City’s Maison Premiere and Sauvage, relocating him to Atlanta in May. Wise is now Resurgens Hospitality’s culinary director and his primary focus to start has been C. Ellet’s. Trey Rayburn, formerly of the Branded Butcher in Athens, will be the chef de cuisine, and following Wise south from New York is James Geoghegan, who took home the first place win at 2016’s Oyster Shucking Competition at Seafood Expo North America. He’ll be C. Ellet’s oyster purchaser and head shucker. “We take for granted these amazing skill positions,” says Hopkins. “No one thought about bartenders 20 years ago, but now that’s blown up. James is a world-class shucker who grew up around this stuff, and I don’t want to take that for granted.”
That philosophy seems to extend to every part of the menu. There’s a lot of talk about “programs” here—the shellfish program, the beef program, the vegetable program—but that doesn’t mean the food will be complicated. Hopkins sees C. Ellet’s as a “next-generation steakhouse” where his staff—and customers—have high standards for quality. “People should know that our carrots come from Nicolas Donck of Georgia’s Crystal Organic Farm,” says Hopkins. “That is worthy of our adoration: cooking good carrots, properly.”
The onion rings are sliced thin, fried, and then formed into one ring-like cylinder. Diners can go at it with a fork and knife. “Steakhouses all follow the same model: it’s the same menu, the same guys with cigars and whiskey,” says Hopkins. “It’s fun playing around with the archetypes.”
As for the steaks: “Everyone wants the middle meats, but I’m more interested in getting into these underutilized ‘off’ cuts,” says Wise. “We’re not just serving hangar or flatiron steaks.” Some cuts you might not have heard of—cuts that neither Hopkins nor Wise had heard of, either, before they started touring America’s best beef producers: a cowgirl ribeye from Texas, baseball steak from Nebraska, and a Western griller from Alabama. “We learned there’s a Denver steak, also called a Zabuton, which is taken from under the shoulder blade; there’s something called lifter meat from the rib, which might become our tartare; there’s lip-on or lip-off—all of these little qualitative choices that I took for granted.”
C. Ellet’s will offer around seven cuts bone-in and around 10 boneless, with an array of classic sauces (Hollandaise, Foyot, Colbert, Robert, Periguex—get your French culinary books out—and green peppercorn) and compound butters (bone marrow, blue cheese, horseradish, Sapelo shrimp) to pair with them. The burger is made from 21-day dry-aged beef from Alabama.
There are options from the sea (Maine lobster meets creamed Carolina rice in one dish) and the air (lacquered Jurgieliwicz Farms duck with burnt oranges), but listing it all off is . . . a lot. This is a seriously sourced menu of ingredients, and the dishes are still being finalized.
“Mark Twain is our guiding our philosopher,” says Hopkins. While on a tour in Europe, Twain wrote a love letter to the dishes he missed from home. “His list is what I consider to be the great American foods: Porterhouse steaks, soft shell crabs, baked apples, Southern biscuits.”
“Our foodstuffs are amazing, and I want to celebrate that which is forgotten.”