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Chef Ford Fry talks about King + Duke and other new restaurants

Chef Ford Fry has his hands full with JCT Kitchen, No. 246, and the Optimist, which was just recognized as this year’s best new restaurant by Esquire. But Fry's ambitions don't stop there. Atlanta Magazine caught up with the busy chef at the annual Lunch Break for Kids, a fundraiser for adolescent nutrition education and awareness.

The Optimist

Ford Fry has a knack for creating likable, trend-driven restaurants that I've found capable but overly safe. His first, JCT Kitchen & Bar in the Westside Urban Market development, opened in 2007. Its tame versions of shrimp and grits, chicken and dumplings, and deviled eggs draped with ham helped usher in the era of that now-cliched genre, Southern farm-to-table, but they lack gutsy soul.

No. 246—Fry’s snazzy Decatur venture with executive chef Drew Belline—launched mid-2011 when fresh hot spots were a rarity amid the draggy economy. It satisfies its nightly crowds with busy pastas, Neapolitan-style pizzas charred in a wood-burning oven, and other Italian comforts. There, too, I hanker for more gusto, for more reach and spark to the cooking.

No. 246

I thought I'd stumbled onto a private party for the local food glitterati the first time I visited Decatur's No. 246 in July. It was the restaurant's inaugural Monday, six days after opening for business. The full house generated such a clamor that the noise bouncing off the white brick walls vibrated in my hands and feet as well as my ears. High-profile chefs like Kevin Rathbun and Empire State South’s Ryan Smith shouted happily, twirling pastas and sharing pizzas among wine distributors and off-duty managers and servers from other restaurants. What drew them—and the unremitting crowds that have shown up night after night since then—so immediately?

Ford Fry’s Jalapeño-Cheddar Fry Bread

Buttery rich yet feathery light, these buns are made from brioche dough that’s remarkably easy with a stand mixer. (It does, however, require advance planning to allow for several risings.)

Ford Fry’s Brisket Sandwich

Dinners at the suburban home of Ford Fry, chef-owner of JCT Kitchen and No. 246, typically revolve around the Big Green Egg perched on the spacious deck in back. What emerges from the ceramic smoker takes him back to gatherings he attended as a youth at his grandfather’s ranch outside of Houston.

Ford Fry on Killer Tomato Festival and No. 246

ATL Food Chatter: July 5, 2011 (To receive the Chatter and other culinary tidbits directly in your inbox, sign up for our weekly dining newsletter)What do you get when you combine some of the South’s top chefs, mixologists, and farmers; the peak of growing season; and good music, all in one location for a good cause? The third annual Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival, which will be held July 17 from 1–5 p.m. at Westside Urban Market. The annual fundraiser for Georgia Organics has morphed into an experience unlike any of the ATL’s growing number of food events. The combination of the creative uses of tomatoes, boisterous crowds spurred on by some rocking bands like the Plasmatics and high-profile judges—including Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appetit, Food & Wine restaurant editor Kate Krader, and ATL’s dynamic dietician, Carolyn O’Neil—produce a unique alchemy that made the Killer Tomato Festival a must-attend.

Q&A with chef Drew Belline

Drew Belline surprised Atlanta’s food fans last month with his announcement that he will leave Floataway Cafe to be executive chef at Ford Fry’s newest project, an Italian/Mediterranean restaurant at in the former Eurasia Bistro spot at 129 East Ponce de Leon in downtown Decatur.

JCT Kitchen & Bar

Wishful thinking goes a long way toward explaining why too many Atlantans, some of them respected colleagues of mine, speak of JCT Kitchen & Bar as if it were a dyed-in-the-wool Southern restaurant, the deluxe meat-and-three of their dreams.

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