Review: Breaker Breaker turns the BeltLine into a boardwalk

Like his Grindhouse Burgers, Alex Brounstein’s Breaker Breaker brings a fun vibe, along with clever sauces, this time to classic seafood dishes

Breaker Breaker Review
Breaker Breaker’s fried Gulf Fish with fries, empanadas, and roasted beet dip

Photograph by Martha Williams

Fifteen years ago, when I first met Alex Brounstein in the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, where he had just opened his first Grindhouse Killer Burgers, I felt that everything I knew about restaurants was about to change. He doesn’t like it much that I call him the first hipster restaurateur I met (“I wasn’t that cool,” he demurs). But the way he brought together popular culture and novel food ideas in an unorthodox setting thoroughly rattled me.

Everything about Grindhouse was fun. Did we like the burgers more because they had fresh Southwestern peppers and interesting sauces, or because we could slouch at the counter and watch cult movies on the wall? Both! A former lawyer who put away his suits to embrace a less serious way of life, Brounstein was challenging us to quit being so stuffy. We accepted the challenge, and a movement was born.

Brounstein’s new concept, the wildly clever and relaxed Breaker Breaker (921 Wylie Street Southeast), opened late last summer on the BeltLine. It takes full advantage of an unusually uncrowded and narrow stretch, once the home of the historic Stein Steel in Reynoldstown, where giant metal beams were turned into ceiling joists.

The BeltLine turns sharply at Wylie Street, and Brounstein wanted to call the restaurant “Point Break” for the 1990s surfer movie. After his partners vetoed that, Matthew McConaughey appeared to Brounstein in a dream and suggested “Breaker Breaker.” Good, he thought. If they say it twice, they’ll remember it.

What I especially love about Breaker Breaker—besides the fried-fish platters with thick tartar sauce, the fun sandwiches, and the cocktails—is the location. Unlike most of the places constructed closer to Krog Street, there is nothing conventional about the architecture. It consists of linear-stacked concrete blocks, with a huge metal roof original to Stein Steel floating on top. Nicknamed by Brounstein “The World’s Most Expensive Umbrella,” the iconic feature extends to protect a gigantic patio, reminiscent of those along the Gulf Coast beaches of Florida.

The inside of the restaurant has cozy diner vibes, but the best seats are outside or at the bar. All around you, people are having fun. Kids play by the big yellow crane and the other leftover machinery. Their young parents watch them with tall, not-too-sweet, sippable frozen cocktails in hand and fat grouper sandwiches in front of them. Eager bicyclists dismount and lock their wheels, while intowners arrive from a neighborhood where parking isn’t yet a nightmare.

Being fun doesn’t mean that the restaurant isn’t serious about its food. The chef, Maximilian Hines, comes from the now-closed Lawrence, and some of his ideas—always run by Brounstein and his usual manager, now partner, Johnny Farrow—reflect his experience in the world of fine dining. Take Hines’s dips, for example. The fresh, earthy flavor of a chunky beet dip topped with fresh dill—served with raw veggies, but easily recruited to enhance the supermoist hush puppies presented with spiced honey butter—quickly earns enthusiastic approval. Ditto the smoked-fish dip with pickled chilies. There are fun little fried enoki mushrooms atop fried calamari. The fries, shaped like neither sticks nor wedges nor curls, seem to have fallen from a big peeler that respects the irregular form of a potato.

Everything is easily shared: charbroiled oysters with lemon wedges, empanadas generously filled with chicken étouffée with salsa verde on the side, peel-and-eat shrimp, platters of fried fish with fries and Cajun slaw, a Dockside Poutine where crab plays hide-and-seek among the cheese curds. The sandwiches—shrimp po’ boy with slaw, mushroom chopped cheese, properly fried or grilled chicken—hold plenty of appeal. The kids menu offers a mini fish platter and a grilled cheese sandwich. There are no burgers, of course, considering how close Breaker Breaker is to Grindhouse. But there are vegan crab cakes and a bevy of other enticing options.

Everything is easy to execute in an uncommonly narrow kitchen. The only two desserts—ice cream sandwiches (firmly pressed cookies bracketing banana or vanilla ice cream) and refreshingly sour individual Key lime pies—are easy to grab and serve.

Much thought has gone into the beverage menu. Wine boxes; inexpensive lagers; cocktails such as the Mucho Nada (White Claw mango vodka, mango puree, Tajín rim) and spicy Vaya con Dios (habanero tequila, passion fruit liqueur, lime juice)—all are quickly made and lend themselves to repeat orders. As of press time, a rooftop lounge, “Florida Man,” is set to open in late March. [Editor’s note: It’s now set to open in May.]

Unlike the easily replicated Grindhouse, Breaker Breaker is more of a singular concept relying on a unique location. Never before had I thought of the BeltLine as a city boardwalk. But I can see it now, thanks to a team with a real understanding of what makes us happy, and enough chutzpah to generate it.

This article appears in our May 2024 issue.