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As obvious as the physical transformation of Atlanta’s restaurant scene has been, an underground dining revolution is also underway. The latter—waged by chefs hosting pop-up “restaurants” and dinner series, as well as entrepreneurs offering incubating spaces—isn’t as easy to observe as the former. But it’s similarly impressive. In many ways, it’s more impressive.
Vinings has a new traditional Italian restaurant, Adalina, which has former Empire State South chef Joshua Hopkins at the helm. Candler Park's Nicholas Stinson opened Gato Nights, which is dubbed “a weekly investigation into deep regional Mexican cuisine.” And Berkeley Park welcomes Tuza, a taco shop that is an ode to Mexico City street food.
Some people have season tickets to the ballet; others follow sports. The spectacle I’m addicted to, every bit as physical in its own way but more quotidian, is the artistry of the short-order cook.
When Parnass Savang and Rod Lassiter debuted their Talat Market pop-up at Gato last spring, they had no idea how the city would respond. But the success was near-instant, and now the duo have signed the lease on their first brick-and-mortar restaurant, set to open in 2019.
After Jarrett Stieber launched his beloved pop-up Eat Me Speak Me at Gato in 2014, many considered him Atlanta’s unofficial pop-up king. Stieber recently moved Eat Me Speak Me to S.O.S Tiki Bar in Decatur, and the new incarnation is more restaurant than pop-up, according to the chef.
It's been a good year for Jarrett Stieber, who launched his Eat Me Speak Me pop-up at Candler Park Market last fall. Stieber has spent the last few months cooking up lunch at the General Muir and dinner at Gato Bizco, but as with all roving chefs, nothing is ever permanent. His lunch pop-up at the General Muir will end next Friday (June 13), and he'll soon be spending two nights a week at Gato.
Most pop-up restaurants—in which a chef typically takes over a professional kitchen for a night or two—serve as incubators or showcases. Traveling toques may want to drum up attention away from home, or cooks who dream of starting their own place might take over a friend’s stoves to grandstand their food. But Jarrett Stieber is the only chef in the city who makes running pop-ups his full-time living.
Last fall, pop-up chef Jarrett Stieber launched Eat Me Speak Me at Candler Park Market, a two-part dining and drinking experience that quickly culled a loyal following. Like most pop-ups, the concept was pretty straightforward. Stieber would cook a succinct menu inspired by locally-sourced ingredients, and then with the help of a tiny map and password, you’d end the evening in a secret location imbibing with fellow diners. Setups like this allow chefs in the process of establishing themselves an opportunity to connect directly with adventurous eaters, and in Stieber’s case, gives him a work-life flexibility uncommon to the average line cook.