Q&A with Katie Birmingham of Noon Midtown


ATL Food Chatter: April 12, 2010
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I recently ate at what is, in my opinion, Midtown’s coolest breakfast and lunch spot, Noon Midtown. After the meal, I had the opportunity to chat with Noon’s multi-talented chef/owner, Katie Birmingham, about her brainchild. A former attorney who has worked for some of the top toques in town, Birmingham shared her plans to evolve the concept that she and her architect husband created after visiting several hole-in-the-wall sandwich places while honeymooning in Italy:
Q: You have worked for some big talents in the town, including Guenter Seeger and Anne Quatrano. Who has had the most influence on your culinary style?
KB: I really lucked out as a cook, as I got to work for some great chefs over the years. Of those chefs, Clifford Harrison and Anne Quatrano had the biggest influence on my cooking style. The other big influence was Martin Gagne [chef at the late, lamented Hedgerose], the first chef for whom I worked. I guess I was a bit naïve, but just I walked into his restaurant unannounced and told him I wanted to be a chef. I had no experience, but he put me on the line and helped me get into culinary school. After all of these years, I still see Martin’s influence on my cooking style, and he remains one of my favorite chefs.

Q: Noon’s first anniversary is coming up on April 27. I understand that you are going to start dinner service soon. When will that begin and what will be the hours?
KB: We will begin dinner service at the end of April. Our new hours will be Monday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., and Tuesday-Saturday from 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Q: What will be on the dinner menu?
KB: Along with our full bar, the dinner menu will include a few of our sandwiches, such as the meatloaf and the three-cheese panino. We’ll be adding several bar snacks and appetizers (duck fat popcorn, piquillo peppers with chevre and honey aioli, and the PB3&J, which is a grilled peanut butter, banana, and Benton’s bacon sandwich with bourbon jelly), entrees (roasted salmon with fresh pea puree, olives and Greek yogurt; chicken schnitzel) and desserts (affogato with sublime doughnut ice cream and counter culture espresso; Meyer lemon semifreddo; flourless chocolate cake with salted caramel ice cream).   
Q: What prompted you to expand Noon’s operation to offering dinner?
KB: A number of factors, not the least of which is that we have always wanted Noon Midtown to be a neighborhood restaurant. During the day, we get to meet and serve a lot of people who work in Midtown but live elsewhere. Opening for dinner makes us more accessible to Midtown residents, many of whom work outside of Midtown and cannot make it in for lunch. Additionally, it gives us the chance to play around with different menu items.
Q: What are some of your lessons learned during your first year?
KB: Probably the most important lesson we’ve learned is that you have to listen to your customers and make them feel at home, and I think we do a good job with that. Additionally, you have to be willing to adapt. Our concept was focused on coffee, breakfast, lunch and corporate catering. We chose Midtown—and 12th & Midtown specifically—for that concept, because we wanted a location in which the majority of our customers would reach us on foot.
Q: How has your location in Midtown been an asset?
KB: The concept depends heavily on the presence of retail and office tenants. Since we opened almost one year ago, we’ve seen the addition of some exciting new tenants in the 12th & Midtown development, such as the Loews Hotel, Seyfarth Shaw LLP, Boston Consulting and CB2, which will open this summer. But, as the first tenant to open in 1010 Midtown (which is part of 12th & Midtown), we spent our first year here without the benefit of the supporting retail tenants. With our transition to nights, we will be shifting to more of a destination-orientated concept. As 12th & Midtown grows, we feel our adjustments will be a successful complement to the project and to Midtown as a whole.  
Last question: If you were entertaining out of town guests where, besides Noon, in Atlanta would you take them to eat?
KB: There are a lot of great choices in Atlanta right now, but the first two that come to mind are Shaun’s in Inman Park and Sublime Doughnuts.
The twelth annual Flavors of Atlanta, the premier culinary event for the American Liver Foundation featuring 25 of Atlanta’s most celebrated chefs, will be held at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 21 at The Foundry at Puritan Mill.

Top Chef: The Tour will make its Atlanta stop, featuring Kevin Gillespie and Richard Blais, on Tuesday, April 20 from 10 a.m. until 4 p. m. at the Westside Urban Market.
Buckhead. US Cafe is opening a 148-seat, 3,400-square foot location at 2591 Piedmont Avenue this May in the Piedmont Vista apartments.
Downtown. Tomorrow’s News Today reports that Jack’s Sandwich Shop, a longtime area staple, will reappear in the Mall at Peachtree Center.
Foodie Buddha notes that The Greek Gyros and Pizza Restaurant has opened inside the Sweet Auburn Curb Market.
East Atlanta. What Now Atlanta is reporting that iLounge, a two-level martini and hookah bar featuring live music, has opened at 1287 Glenwood Avenue in the East Atlanta Village.
Inman Park. Two Urban Licks was cited in the April issue of Food & Wine magazine for being one of the places in America to taste wine on tap.
Midtown. Chris Jennings has left his position as Park 75’s executive pastry chef.
Smyrna. Staq’s BBQ, touting a family recipe-based sauce, has opened at 2599 S. Cobb Parkway.
Virginia Highland. What Now Atlanta is reporting that Goin’ Coastal, a Canton-based restaurant concept featuring sustainable seafood, will open at 1021 Virginia Avenue in the former Figo location this summer. 

Question of the Week: What intown gastropreneur is selling his specialty from a pushcart until his store is finished being renovated?
PS. The answer to last week’s QOTW—What national burger chain is rumored to be opening a store in midtown?— is Five Guys Burgers and Fries, in the Spire condos.