Even without the signage yet in place, HD1, the new Poncey Highland haute doggery concept by Atlanta chef Richard Blais and Atlanta restaurateur Barry Mills is impossible to miss at 664 North Highland Avenue. The structure’s back to the future vibe, created by design firm ai3, will be instantly recognizable to Blais’ Flip Burger Boutique customers. On the off chance you’ve never tasted a foie gras burger with red wine jam, just look for the joint that looks like a Nirvana rehearsal space knocked up the “Brady Bunch” house. The eatery officially opens to the public at 5:30 p.m. today.
Inside the groovy massive wooden door, a space age chalk board menu greets diners with offerings including a Red Haute Dog with brisket chili, pepper jack cheese foam and Vidalia onion; a fennel sausage with San Marzano ketchup, fontina cheese and grilled radicchio; brisket chili with cool ranch oyster crackers and soft serve ice cream spiked with brown sugar and bourbon. A full bar will offer mixed drinks, a wine list and canned beer, including PBR tall boys. Long communal tables accented with blood red leather seats occupy center stage in the eatery. Dark woods and sleek metal surfaces prevail below a three-dimensional wooden rafter ceiling.
On Wednesday afternoon, owner and Blais’ trail-blazing Flip business partner Barry Mills was hard at work, crashed at a window seat, tapping out last-minute details on his laptop with a trucker cap pulled down on his head as executive chef Jared Lee Pyles (Kyma, Home, Woodfire Grill and Flip) held a meeting with his kitchen staff a few tables away. Mills, a Poncey Highland resident himself, has had his eye on the neighborhood as a possible location. “I’ve been wanting to get into this neighborhood for a long time,” Mills told us. “I live over here and know it really well. It’s a great market and it’s also got a late-night day part which is something we always wanted at Flip. Richard and I have been talking about doing a hot dog concept for a long time. It’s a very cheffy kind of food which is something we’re both interested in. It’s just a different play on taking something that is a casual, very traditional fare and reinventing it and reinventing a whole restaurant around it. We did it with Flip and it’s fun to try and do it again but do something totally different at the same time.”
With Flip’s two Atlanta locations and a Birmingham restaurant, it’s natural to assume that HD1 will spawn siblings. But Mills said it’s not something he plots out. “We try not to fortune tell our way through things,” he said. “I really focus on doing one location and do it really well. If it ends up being something we do multiples [locations] on, all the better. I really don’t like to think about that at the start. It’s like jinxing yourself.”
With a “Top Chef All Stars” winner’s name attached to the concept as a menu consultant and a small army of followers who breathlessly follow his every tweet on Twitter (a photo of his wife’s bra went viral on the social media site just last week), Mills conceded the idea of a soft opening isn’t really feasible. “We’ve never really tried that,” he said. “We’ve just said, ‘Ok, here it is.’ There’s a certain disadvantage to that but I think that’s a quality problem to have. If we’re going to worry about something, that’s a pretty great thing to worry about. We’ve just tried to hold the press back until the last minute to give us a little breathing room. It’s a learning process for us but we realize we’re incredibly fortunate to have that problem. We just try to be on our toes and be really ready when we open up.”
HD1 will also cater to a late night crowd in search of a unique nosh while getting their drink on. “This was an opportunity to meld a restaurant and bar together,” Mills explained. “This is a great part of town to do that.” HD1 is initially scheduled to stay open until 11 p.m. on weeknights but Mills is hoping to keep HD1 open until at least midnight and possibly later on weekends although he is still finalizing the restaurant’s hours of operations.
Does Mills anticipate doing for high-end hot dogs on a national scale what he and Blais have accomplished with hamburgers? “I don’t think about that,” he explained. “I’ve learned to focus on what I do and I try not be reactive to the market. The burger thing was completely unforeseen by me. This is something that Richard and I really wanted to do, irrespective of the market. We just wanted to create something that we hope the market will enjoy.”