Q&A with chef Drew Belline

Drew Belline surprised Atlanta’s food fans last month with his announcement that he will leave Floataway Cafe to be executive chef at Ford Fry’s newest project, an Italian/Mediterranean restaurant at in the former Eurasia Bistro spot at 129 East Ponce de Leon in downtown Decatur.
Belline, an Atlanta native and graduate of Johnson & Wales University’s culinary arts program in Providence, Rhode Island, worked in Manhattan at Craft and with Charlie Palmer at Kitchen 22 before returning to Atlanta in 2004 to cook on the line at Bacchanalia. He ascended in positions through Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison’s other restaurants—first as chef de cuisine at Quinones and then at Floataway Cafe, where he started in 2006.
Q: What inspired you to join Ford on this venture after all of the years with Anne and Clifford?
DB: Leaving Floataway was definitely a tough decision, especially leaving Annie. AQ has been my mentor and close friend for the past seven years. What I have learned from her about food, styling and management has helped shape who I am as a chef and an entrepreneur. The energy that she put into me was a gift that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to repay. As for our new venture, Ford and I felt like we found a great space with good potential for the Decatur community. We also share the same passion for simplicity and locality in our food, so it just feels like a perfect match. I will, however, truly miss Floataway, one of the greatest restaurants in the southeast.
Q: Why an Italian concept??
DB: I don’t really want to pigeonhole the food into being called “Italian.” Yes, there will be strong rustic Italian technique, but I see the menu/food being more influenced by locality and seasonality with American and Californian influence. I know the trend in food right now, at least in the Southeast, has been dominated by the meat-centric theme, but I see the food at this restaurant as being more about the vegetables, something you want to eat everyday.

Q: Why Decatur as opposed to, say, the Westside?
DB: Decatur is where I live. I love Decatur!

Q: Will the restaurant include a bar/wine menu with an Italian theme?
DB:I see the wine list as having some great Italian wines but being dominated with American options. I think the cocktail options will have a classic theme with a housemade cello [fruit-infused alcohol, such as limoncello] program.

Q: What specific influences will you bring to the menu?
DB: I have been really big into preserves and pickles lately! Also artisanal style breads, handmade pastas and Neapolitan-style pizzas at a great price.

According to an annual survey of 1,527 chefs, all members of the American Culinary Federation, by the National Restaurant Association (NRA), locally sourced ingredients and sustainability topped the list of the top trends in restaurants for next year.

Kevin Gillespie will deliver the commencement address at his alma mater, The Art Institute of Atlanta, Friday, December 17 at the Georgia World Congress Center, the AJC reports.

Alpharetta. Rio Nuevo Cantina has opened at 6400 North Point Parkway.

Buckhead. Continuing its rebuild of the restaurant team after hiring Aaron Russell as pastry chef and David Sweeney as production chef, Restaurant Eugene has promoted Jeff Hagley to maître d’. He was formerly Eugene’s director of wine and spirits and is also a Bacchanalia alum.

The Mansion on Peachtree has converted its restaurant NEO into The Lounge, featuring live entertainment.

Decatur. Thrillist is reporting that Ale Yeah ! a craft beer-only shop, has opened at 906 West College Street.

Druid Hills. What Now Atlanta notes that Houqua Tearoom , featuring “fine teas from around the world” is planning on opening in the lower level of Saba at 1451 Oxford Road near Emory Village.

Midtown. As widely reported last week via a company press release, Vickery’s Bar and Grill on Crescent Avenue is closing after 27 years.

Old Fourth Ward. Wheat Street Baptist Church, one of the nation’s oldest African American churches, has leased four acres of inner city land to Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture (TLW) to build an organic vegetable garden, which will also serve as a market place and training center for Atlantans interested in urban agriculture.
Daily Candy is reporting that Market, a grocery store featuring baked goods from Alon’s, has opened at 672 Highland Avenue.

Smyrna. The AJC is reporting that DeCuir Gourmet, featuring “richly seasoned Cajun food” has opened at 4924 South Cobb Drive.

Question of the Week: What popular pub recently added an addition featuring a 500-bottle collection of vintage brews?

PS. The answer to last week’s QOTW—What nationally renowned ATL burger spot is up for sale, with a starting price of $450,000?—is Ann’s Snack Bar, as reported in the New York Times.