Marcus Bar & Grille
Dining years ago at Marcus Samuelsson’s Harlem restaurant, Red Rooster, I found myself smitten with its big flavors, its playfulness, and the verve with which it combined global ingredients reflecting Samuelsson’s own biography—born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden—as well as his adopted home: When Barack Obama ate here in 2011, for instance, he supped on plum-sauce short ribs and an Ethiopian-spiced side of sweet potatoes and green beans. Harlem’s a special place, of course, and Samuelsson took obvious care to capture its magic. But Atlanta’s special too, and the celebrity chef’s first foray into this city—“inspired by Red Rooster”—feels less energetic; you could close your eyes, take a bite, and imagine yourself at any other New American restaurant offering variations of the same crowd-pleasers. The only two salads on the menu on a recent visit: Caesar wedge, tomato-burrata. Under executive chef Hannah Young, the food is undoubtedly well-prepared: Dry-rubbed ribs were exquisitely tender, shrimp ceviche—cured, Peruvian-style, in leche de tigre—was pleasantly spicy. And the dining room, with its funky lamps and big garage doors, is a stylish place to hang. But the menu feels like it’s checking off boxes. When it opened, Marcus Bar & Grille was serving a takeoff on princess cake, a Swedish dessert involving sponge cake, raspberry, and marzipan. It wasn’t available by the time I dined there; rather, dessert options ran from bread pudding to red velvet. Maybe Samuelsson et al don’t think Atlanta has the appetite for anything more interesting, but I wish they’d give us a chance. Old Fourth Ward
Owned by Alyson Williams and Yusef Walker, this pizzeria isn’t exactly a new face in Underground Atlanta: These folks have been popping up down here for a while, in addition to other spots around town, including Our Bar ATL. But last year they announced they were making it official, joining a number of planned businesses trying to bring life back into this funky, slightly postapocalyptic subterranean space, which was purchased by Lalani Ventures in 2020. (Among the more exciting developments: It’ll be the new home of MJQ Concourse, the storied dance club, after it loses its longtime digs on Ponce.) The transition to the permanent space is still in progress, but in the meantime: There’s pizza! And it’s worth making a trip for. Walker and Williams both have connections to local Caribbean restaurants Negril Village and Ms. Icey’s Kitchen & Bar, and the regional influence shows up all over their pies: The Matey, for instance, is topped with jerk chicken in addition to mozz, marinara, blue cheese, and honey. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the Collisseum—lemongrass, Impossible beef, broccoli, soy, red onion—but its flavors melded beautifully, an earthy melange atop a nicely chewy, not-too-thick crust. In the grand style of pizzerias everywhere, Dolo’s repurposes dough for dessert by rolling chunks of it in cinnamon-sugar, only here it comes with a sweet-tart hibiscus sauce for dipping. A second new location is down the street at State Farm Arena. Downtown
The Toco Hills Shopping Center is already home to a surprising number of excellent things to eat and drink, from Spiller Park Coffee to the Indian street food restaurant Masti to the homey Jewish deli/diner Goldbergs. And the options keep expanding, with the plaza recently welcoming a second location of the Japanese-Korean restaurant Salaryman—and this cheerful, brightly colored Jamaican restaurant, launched earlier this year by Wynter Lii and her three daughters, Ashante, Neirah, and Kenecia. Born in South Florida with relatives in the Caribbean, Lii moved to Atlanta a few years ago with hopes of opening a restaurant reflecting her island heritage; it comes through here in tried-and-true entrees like brown stew chicken, oxtails with butter beans, curry goat, and rasta pasta—plus a couple of handhelds like a jerk beef burger. Yet more options are available at weekend brunch (ackee and saltfish bowls, jerk lamb chops), and the rear of the restaurant is home to a cozy bar serving fruity cocktails. Toco Hills
This article appears in our June 2023 issue.