This year marked ten years for me covering the Atlanta restaurant scene. Looking back over the past decade, I think about our restaurant scene as two very different eras, pre and post economic disaster — or, more mildly stated — pre and post 2008.
Pre-2008 was a very different life as money seemed to flow from everywhere. Young twenty-somethings returned from college to cushy jobs with splashy salaries. They went out on the town to nosh on foie gras and $200 steak dinners while caressing $25 dollar martinis. And, restaurateurs gladly greeted them with bigger and sexier restaurants dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions into build out. Those days are gone. Long gone.
Today, I believe the restaurants of 2012 are very reflective of our wounded wallets and egos. Chefs and restaurateurs have hit us with a steady dose of burgers, barbecue and tacos, gastro-pubs are everywhere. Comfort foods to heal the soul.
Speaking of gastro pubs, let’s start right there because one of the better eateries to open this year was Brookhaven’s There Gastro Pub (305 Brookhaven Ave, Suite 1200, Brookhaven Tel: 404.949.9677). Unlike other so-called gastro pubs, owner Bill Brown truly makes sure his restaurant lives up to the gastro part of that term. The most talked about dishes here are the bison burger (possibly the best in town) and a mahi sandwich that is constructed Cuban style.
Pizza, pizza, pizza. It is a big deal these days in Atlanta and the pizza we now eat has gone from ordinary to extraordinary thanks in large to places like Varasano’s Pizzeria. Sorry, I just don’t see what everybody else sees in Antico Pizza Napoletana’s pizza. Several neapolitan style pizza places have opened this year, the two most notable are Decatur’s Sapori Di Napoli, which I do like and STG Trattoria in Buckhead, which I don’t particularly care for.
However, the best pizza restaurant to open it’s doors in 2012 is Joe’s NY Pizzeria in Roswell. The Joe here is Joe Amitrano, the man responsible for those popular pies at Verra-Zanno Pizzeria in John’s Creek.
Back in 2002 when I first began doing what I do there wasn’t much if any barbecue in this town worthy of mentioning. But man, oh man, have times changed with places like Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q, Community Q, and now Westside’s latest hit Bone Lick BBQ. During a two-year stint in Texas in the 80s is when I first caught the fever for barbecue. Pristine smoky meats so good they didn’t require a single drop of sauce, but were rubbed to the hills with fiery dry rubs. I find that beautiful combination of smoky and spicy highly addictive to this day, and that’s what I love so much about the ‘cue at Bone Lick. This stuff isn’t for wussies and big city frilly palates — the wild and untamed flavors are strong — everything is boldly yet thoughtfully spiced and outright mouth popping delicious.
Since the economic disaster of ’08 upscale restaurants have rarely opened for business in this town. That’s why it was so shocking to watch three open in a span of ten days: Ford Fry’s launch of his seafood concept The Optimist, celebrity chef Richard Blais’ The Spence and the new Watershed in Brookhaven.
The most newsworthy of all of these is the probably The Spence, though as a Blais fan of long ago, I find it a bit underwhelming as I do all his recent works. You see, Blais was once a chef who actually spent fourteen hours a day in the kitchen learning, honing skills, and discovering ways to do things to seafood that should be illegal in 38 states. The food served in his restaurant today is good, but less than ordinary considering his works of old. Oh, do I miss the Blais of old.