Update 12/30/15: Angus Brown and Nhan Le will keep Lusca open through the first half of 2016 and project a spring opening for their new restaurant, AMA inside Paris on Ponce.
Big news from Angus Brown and Nhan Le: They’re closing their Brookwood Hills restaurant Lusca and opening a wood-grilled seafood and vegetable spot inside Paris on Ponce. When Ama comes online (as early as January), Lusca, which opened in April of last year, will close to the public to be converted into a catering facility, led by Matt Blackburn. Duane Kulers will continue to run the late-night Octopus Bar with Le, allowing Brown to focus on Ama.
Named after pearl divers, Ama will be a walk-in-only restaurant serving dinner nightly, plus brunch and lunch on weekends.
“At 40 seats instead of 100, I can run it like Octopus Bar where I can be back in the kitchen and don’t have to focus on expediting,” Brown says. “We’ll be sending out food as it’s ready rather than coursing everything out. I like that better—it has more energy and you get to be a little more creative with the menu.”
The menu may include items like butter clam tartare, steak tartare, Alabama blue crab cocktail with black pepper and horseradish sauce, and a double-patty cheeseburger. Brunch will be a different beast, taking cues from Brown’s “obsession” with Mexican fare, with offerings like huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, and quail on giant beans with poached eggs and salsa fresca. Tim Faulkner will make the cocktails, with wine selected by Lauren Walton.
With construction starting next week, the space will undergo minor renovations, including a glass wall that allows diners to see into Paris on Ponce, glass garage doors overlooking the BeltLine, and turning the space currently occupied by a juice bar into a five-seat oyster bar. Below, Brown explains why he’s closing Lusca, including how he almost left for New York.
Evan Mah: I hate that you’re closing Lusca. My last couple of meals had been phenomenal.
AB: We had really hoped that going over there [in Brookwood Hills], that we’d change a lot of things. We had hoped that we’d have people coming from other parts of town, and we’re seeing that people are still stuck in their neighborhoods. It’s been a difficulty, but it’s also been great and done a lot of positive things for us. The catering is starting to take off so that’s been great.
EM: When did you decide that things weren’t going the way you wanted them to?
AB: In the last year, we’ve done two pop-ups in New York. The first one we did was in a small coffee shop in Chinatown. In the second one, Nhan and I took over Extra Fancy in Brooklyn. After we got back, I told Nhan, “I need to be in New York. I need this energy.” I felt really pushed, and I saw myself really pushing myself a lot more than I found myself doing at Lusca. For me, I need that.
Nhan agreed with me, and we were actually looking at a space in Prospect Park. We looked at a few spaces in Atlanta, and the more we looked, they were all new developments, and nothing felt right. [The owner] of Paris on Ponce caught wind that we were trying to make a move so they approached us. After walking around the space for 10 minutes, we realized it was exactly what we’re looking for. The building has old bones, it’s funky, it’s got a ton of walking traffic. That whole area feels really alive.
EM: How long was it before you started feeling like you were missing something?
AB: I’ve been cooking in restaurants for most of my life and working at Octopus Bar was the first time I’d ever worked at a place that wasn’t coursed and that you send out food when it’s ready. It took opening Lusca, doing the coursing, that I realized how much I liked shared plates, not a lot of seats, a loud and compact [space]. I think it took being open for maybe a year to realize it fully. I still am always at Octopus Bar. I bought a house across the street, and I would go from Lusca to Octopus Bar and help out. I’d expedite, run food, and bus tables. That size—it’s so much more appealing to me. I feel way more focused. Lusca was the first time that I only expedited in my life and wasn’t behind the line. I want to be cooking. That’s what I want.
EM: You mentioned people being stuck in their neighborhoods.
AB: I feel like people stay where they work until traffic dies down, and then they go straight home and then go somewhere close in their neighborhood. They don’t really go home and then go out to dinner in another area. Everyone says, “It’s such a long trek,” but it’s really not that far! It takes me 15 minutes to get home in East Atlanta. People want to be in a place where they can get back to their neighborhood and just walk somewhere. And so I think the heart of that energy is on Ponce.
EM: Do you feel like Atlantans are afraid to get out of their comfort zone?
AB: I was talking about that with someone yesterday. There’s now starting to be more ethnic food within the perimeter. I still want to go outside the Perimeter and you still see people interested in places in Duluth. But also people are walking and riding their bikes. That’s all happening over in Ponce, and we want to be a part of that.
Correction: Ama is named after pearl divers, not three female pearl divers. Also, this article has been updated to include that Duane Kulers will run Octopus Bar, with Le working behind the scenes at all three restaurants.