All around the country, famed restaurants are dropping their tasting menus. First came Manhattan’s Eleven Madison Park, then Bacchanalia. Now, despite being the first restaurant to receive an Atlanta magazine four-star review since 2010—a review centered on its tasting menu—Staplehouse, too, is going a la carte.
“This isn’t about abandoning anything but about embracing something new—something we haven’t been able to put as much time and effort into,” says founder Jen Hidinger. “It’s an opportunity for us to strengthen what we’ve created.”
Hidinger opened the restaurant last year after her husband, Ryan Hidinger, succumbed to gallbladder cancer in 2014. His best friend, executive chef Ryan Smith, came on board; carrying out the vision the Hidingers had created with their supperclub, A Prelude to Staplehouse. Today, the restaurant serves as the for-profit arm of the Giving Kitchen, supporting restaurant workers in need.
And that’s part of the reason Hidinger says they’ve decided to leave the tasting menus behind. “We have a fiduciary responsibility to our nonprofit. We want to provide as much light to the Giving Kitchen as we can through food and service,” she says.
Plus, the Old Fourth Ward restaurant’s kitchen simply isn’t big enough to serve two completely different menus. By giving up the tasting menus, Staplehouse will be able to host more diners—inside, on the patio, and in the private dining room. Hidinger says they hope to be able to host more large parties, and will likely expand their hours a bit, too.
Corby Kummer, the Atlanta critic who awarded four stars to Staplehouse, says he’ll miss Smith’s tasting menu. He went on the record in a 2013 Vanity Fair piece as strongly disliking tasting menus for forcing diners to eat too much food they might not be interested in. “Staplehouse is different,” he says. “Ryan Smith designs meals better than I can. The choices, the progression of flavors and temperature and textures—they all made sense and never seemed excessive.” Still, he says, choice almost always works out better for a diner, and “there are always plenty of things on the a la carte menu I want to try.” He’s counting on having the option all diners will presumably have: Ask the kitchen to design a menu for them.
“As an entrepreneur, we have the ability to change, and that’s pretty awesome,” Hidinger says. “We want to make [Staplehouse] more sustainable and accessible.”
The restaurant will honor all tasting menu reservations through the end of the month. Come September 1, diners will order from an expanded a la carte menu. Whether that’s the end of the Tock pay-in-advance reservation ticketing system Staplehouse uses is yet to be decided. Hidinger says she’s considering requiring a deposit for reservations.
“We’ll still be the same Staplehouse that people have come to love,” she says.