Fifteen years ago, a somewhat hidden South Buckhead gastropub became a local and national sensation, based on an approach to food and drink that made it one of the coolest culinary kids in town. But yesterday’s Holeman & Finch is not today’s Holeman & Finch.
You’ll still find the cool kids inside the new space at Colony Square, as I did on a recent visit. It happened to be the day Michelin announced it was bringing its famous restaurant guide to Atlanta, for better or worse; conversations about what the news could mean for the city’s restaurants could be heard down the bar as I ordered my first cocktail, the spritzy, gin-based Ribbons. Balancing dry vermouth with apricot and amaro, it was a good enough aperitif, though my favorite was ultimately the Crescent Wing, served in a coupe and reminiscent of a Paper Plane. Tangy, with an earthy depth from Madeira, the drink seemed aesthetically and spiritually connected to the classic cool that H&F appears eager to re-create in its new digs.
The decor leans into the clubby appeal of the original—a retro, industrial-funk hangout that closed in 2020, and whose planned move to Midtown was delayed by the pandemic. That vibe felt more organic further up Peachtree Street than in the almost-hip corporate courtyard of Colony Square. But that doesn’t mean the new look is a miss; the mix of warm wood against cold metal, just barely reflecting the dim lighting, does a decent job of mimicking the original H&F’s edgy Gen-X/Millennial experience. Hanging hams flanking the open kitchen, and unique art pieces in each dining booth, prove the vibe was capable of travel, at least partially. But in reality, the OG Holeman & Finch will never be duplicated, for several reasons. (Another: the fact that spirits master Greg Best—a partner at the original H&F, where he played a key role in bringing craft cocktail culture to Atlanta—now makes his drinks at Ticonderoga Club and Southern National.)
Opened by Linton and Gina Hopkins in 2008—when Buckhead was still figuring itself out after pushing out Black partygoers and blaming Ray Lewis—Holeman & Finch caught lightning in a bottle. Other, stuffier Buckhead restaurant institutions were becoming as dated as the wilted lawyers who held court in their private back rooms, likely formulating early plans for Buckhead City. Then, along came this strange little spot across from the Hopkinses’ fine dining place, Restaurant Eugene. Rather than steaks and lobster, it served what we were told was one of America’s best burgers, taught ATL how and why to drink Fernet Branca, and specialized in whole-animal cuisine. Hell, it even had a “Parts” menu.
The new H&F briefly had a “Parts” menu, too, during its soft opening. It included veal brains. Today, Gina and Linton, along with their son/manager Linton II, have wisely pared down the menu to parts more known. The solid roasted bone marrow remains, but we’re no longer in an area of town where youthful blue bloods relish in proving their street cred by eating offal. In Midtown, veal brains don’t make sense.
Smartly, the Midtown menu—now divided into oysters, cheese, charcuterie, and “small plates” that range from chicken livers to carbonara alla chitarra—is easier to digest. The Lady Edison 36-month ham plate, at a very reasonable $12, is a sweet and salty spread of sliced hog heaven that I paired with chevre at the bartender’s suggestion. But it’s the more approachable dishes—red snapper meuniere with new potatoes and wide-cut collards, roast chicken with tomatoes, parsley, and thick croutons in vinaigrette and natural jus—that shine. My advice: For added veggies, go for the simple lettuce and herb salad, or the Woodland Gardens bok choy in hot sauce and sherried shrimp butter, over the tasteless kilt greens in bacon fat.
I steered clear of the classic menu items that made Holeman & Finch such a revered brand in Atlanta, like the beloved Crunchy Gentleman sandwich and the famous cheeseburger (which is almost $10 cheaper at Ponce City Market). I do regret not having the option to taste Linton’s Sapelo Island red peas, which weren’t on the (frequently changing) menu when I visited. Still, it’s good to see the Hopkinses’ scrappy, highly celebrated rock-and-roller restaurant come back from the uncertainties of Covid. Filling in the final pieces of its former self will take time, but this stylish reminder of Atlanta’s indie dining origins—executed well enough, if perhaps less imaginatively—remains sufficiently gutsy to justify a repeat visit.
This article appears in our September 2023 issue.