Just in time for its 10th anniversary, Decatur staple No. 246 (29 East Ponce de Leon Avenue) is ditching its modern, California-Italian roots for a nostalgic throwback to “red-sauce” dining rooms of the 1970s. The restaurant’s new concept focuses on Southern Italian classics like fried mozzarella, cheesy garlic bread, spaghetti and meatballs, and veal Milanese. Fear not, pizza will still be on the menu.
“When you get older, you start liking things that remind you of those comforting moments of your childhood,” says Ford Fry, founder of No. 246 and its parent group, Rocket Farm Restaurants. “During quarantine, [246 partner] Drew [Belline] and I both ended up making meatballs or a massive chicken parm. It’s just what you want to eat.”
Belline says he’s wanted to create a “red-sauce concept” for more than five years, and saw a good opportunity in Atlanta.
“Atlanta feels like it’s missing that mafia-vibe restaurant, and 246 was kind of going in that direction anyway,” Fry says. “This is fun and not so serious. We want to be old school with technique, rather than a cigarette hanging out of your mouth.”
Old 246 favorites like baked ricotta will still be available, white others, like the agnolotti, will be simplified. Other menu items will include spicy rigatoni vodka, chicken al lemone, Bistecca alla Florentina, and flounder piccata. For dessert, expect tiramisu with a sidecar of espresso.
The five-course chef’s menu will continue to be an outlet for executive chef Dave Stockford’s creativity with ever-changing offerings like tagliatelle carbonara with white truffles and roasted fish in brown butter.
The drink menu, too, is being transformed from a focus on seasonal, craft cocktails and simple, tried-and-true classics. The menu includes approximately 10 cocktails, including a $4 half-pour negroni served in a tiny martini glass. There’s also a garibaldi made with Campari and whipped orange juice and a martini with a gorgonzola-stuffed olive and seasonal sidecar snack, such as a date with pecorino and basil, named Papa Lou after Belline’s father. Lighter options include a seasonal bellini, apero spritz, and Hugo, made with elderflower, prosecco, and soda water.
“When we opened in 2011, the craft cocktail scene was just taking off. Now, we’re going back to the classic Italian bar,” says beverage manager Clarke Anderson. “The drinks speak to traditional Italian flavors and ingredients like vermouth, Campari, and prosecco.”
The grappa, apertif and digestif menu has been expanded to include 34 amari. The beer list is changing from primarily local brews to classic European and Italian lagers. Although the wine by-the-glass menu is mostly unchanged, the bottle list will be reorganized by price point falling into three categories: $45, $60, and $85. A special occasion cellar list will feature a higher-end dozen bottles.
The decor will also be updated to pay homage to Italian restaurants of decades past. Fry says to expect a homier vibe with black and white photos on the walls, herbs hanging to dry, and white tablecloths with butcher paper on top. The servers will don classic uniforms featuring white shirts, thin black ties, and long bistro aprons for a more polished look.
“This type of restaurant was real strong in the ‘70s, so we’ll have elements of disco playing, and a Studio 54 vibe going on,” Fry says.
In other Rocket Farm Restaurants news, chef Mirra Sims—formerly of Gramercy Tavern—is taking the reigns at Beetlecat and will reinvent the menu there. She replaces chef Andrew Isabella (formerly of No. 246), who moved to Florida for a change of pace during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Mirra has a subtle touch with food. She balances salt, fat, acid, and heat, and brings interesting spice to everything,” Belline says. “She will be focused on lightening up the food, steering away from the Asian flavors on the menu now. You’ll see a lot of small vegetable and fruit dishes.”
A new Superica location is opening in Dunwoody next year, and yet another location of the popular Tex-Mex restaurant may be in the works for the Westside.