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May 13, 2012

ATL Eats Beat:  May 2012

Blais and Fry’s new dining dens, Antico Pizza expands to L.A., the “King” hawks coffee and vodka pops & octopus dogs at Abattoir

By Nancy Staab

  • Photos of The Optimist and The Spence dishes from and portrait of Adam Evans by Richie Arpino

Forget about a cheat sheet, we’ve got your eats sheet on what new restos to book right now, including Ford Fry’s seafood “shack” opening May 21 and Richard Blais’ new American brasserie, The Spence, opening May 26, plus Johnson Studio adds stylish dining to Philips Arena with Red, Antico Pizza goes national in L. A. and Nashville and plots a new limoncello bar/café/gelateria in ATL; and STG and Abattoir rock the many-tentacled octopus

The octopus dog at Abattoir, Adam Evans, an Optimist dish, a Spence dish, the King of Pops mural, Richard Blais. The octopus dog at Abattoir, Adam Evans, an Optimist dish, a Spence dish, the King of Pops mural, Richard Blais.


It’s like Christmas and Fourth of July rolled into one with the back-to-back openings of Ford Fry’s hotly anticipated seafood “shack” The Optimist May 21 in Westside and Richard Blais’ New American brasserie, The Spence, in Midtown May 26.

At The Optimist expect wood burning sustainable seafood, adjoining oyster bar/terrace, and a “Hamptons meets the South” vibe. Preview menu items per executive chef Adam Evans: Maine lobster rolls; dressed oysters; gumbos; garlicky clams with pork belly and croutons; mussels in a crabby-coconut broth; crispy flounder with crab roe butter; and crispy speckled trout with fava bean puree, toasted ricotta cavatelli, spring onion soubise and pickled and candied horseradish. On the drink list: seafaring-inspired sips like an Old Salty Dog (vodka, grapfruit juice,bitters, pink Hawaiian sea salt rim), The Cutty Shark (Cutty Sark scotch, honey, lemon, egg white, lavender bitters) and Mother of Pearl (gin, tonic water, celery bitters, celery and fennel fronds, celery salt).

At The Spence, expect whole roasts served family-style, perhaps a gussied up TV dinner of Salisbury steak with rack of lamb attached via meat glue (per Blais’ Late Night with Jimmy Fallon appearance!), and via Star Chef sneak peek tweets: a playful reinterpretation of fish and chips with a malt vinegar sheet, a colorful starter dish of raw Spanish mackerel, fried clams, pickled radish and smoked mayo, and an entrée of smoky veal cheeks with a sweet candied horseradish and baby vegetables. Lastly, we hear one of The Spence’s preview dinners for Atlanta Food & Wine Festival included the comfort food dish of crispy pork with duck egg and ramen.

Veal cheeks with sweet candied Horseradish from The Spence. Veal cheeks with sweet candied Horseradish from The Spence.



STG Trattoriajust opened in the luxe strip near St Regis housing  Drybar, and already it’s hit its stride, based on a recent spring visit. And it’s no wonder that it aces the rustic Italian theme with former Abattoir chef Joshua Hopkins in the modern, open kitchen and the temporary helping hand of former La Pietra chef Bruce Logue, we hear, on the pastas (prior to Logue’s own new resto launch). The braised octopus small plate with fingerling potatoes and kalamata olives was earthy, slightly spicy with chile oil heat and succulent. The large, wood-fired meatball pizza was wet and luscious with melting pillows of rich ricotta (a knife and fork undertaking) but the culmination was two sublimely seasonal, subtle and delicious spring pastas: a delicate tortelloni in a light broth with spring peas and carrots, and a to-die-for linguini with little neck clams, pancetta, and a slick of oil and butter. Extra points for the fun-to-play-with iPad wine list, which surely leads to additional wine consumption!




Octopus dog with Teriaki from Abattoir Octopus dog with Teriaki from Abattoir

And speaking of Abattoir and octopus….Abattoir’s new chef Tyler Williams (formerly sous chef of Bacchanalia) is already adding his global-creative twist to the meat-centric menu, including the raved about octopus dog with Teriakyi and pickled ginger; a Korean beef jerkey snack with kimchi; a curry flavored shrimp and grits; and Wagyu beef belly with sarsaprilla and kohlrabi.



ANTICO EXPANDS AND EARNS ZAGAT’S HIGHEST RATING reports that Antico Pizza Napoletana will soon expand to Los Angeles and Nashville! Not only that but Eater reports that the cult pizza place will also expand in Atlanta with a Limoncello Bar, Caffe and Gelateria across the street, valet parking, and a new outdoor piazza with 100 additional seats. To prove just how sensational Antico’s pizza is, it also just received the highest rating of any pizza joint in Zagat’s new survey out May 2012. The other top tan Atlanta restaurants to rank with Zagat: Bacchanalia (at number one), Aria, Bone’s, Valenza, Chops, La Pietra Cucina, Star Provisions, Restaurant Eugene and Sotto Sotto.



King of Pops has been cooking up several collaborations this spring, including new coffee and latte pops made with hand-pulled espresso shots courtesy of Batdorf & Bronson and a mocha one incorporating chocolate syrup from Cacao Atlanta. Care more for cocktails than java? King of Pops has also teamed up with Corner Tavern to offer special “poptails” available at all four Corner tavern locations. And these poptails are potent! You must be 21 or over to score them in flavors including a Loaded Arnold Palmer (vodka/sweet tea/lemonade), Strawberry Margarita, and Bourbon Cowboy (bourbon and OJ).



Decatur institution Watershed is also reopening May 24 in the Brookwood condominiums in the South of Buckhead area right before Midtown. Also on board to aid executive chef Joe Truex, former Seegers/Bookhouse Pub alum Julia LeRoy as chef de cuisine (last of LeRoy’s Fried Chicken). So whose fried chicken takes center stage at the new Watershed? The classic Watershed recipe of course, first cultivated by former chef Scott Peacock and now a classic, but that's about the only menu item that remains the same. We can’t wait to see what clever new spins New Orleans native Truex and rising chef LeRoy put on the Southern menu come May. Early reports hint at a fried pimento sandwich, scallp schnitzel, and ribeye with black truffle gravy. 


RED at Philips Arena by The Johnson Studio RED at Philips Arena by The Johnson Studio


Philips Arenanow has swanky new dining digs, the $2 million RED, designed by local starchitect Bill Johnson of The Johnson Studio with a dynamic open kitchen, theatrical lighting and dramatic red accents, of course. Forget stuffing your face with a hot dog and beer in a bleacher seat, instead head into RED and it’s tiered seating (for optimal game or concert viewing) and a contemporary American menu created in consultation with Buckhead Life Restaurant Group. On the nosh list:  flatbreads, sweet and spicy Thai calamari, bone-in filet mignon or fried lobster tail and a signature pepper steak burger with caramelized onions and a port wine glaze.




Fireworks are not the only sparks this summer at the Atlanta Braves games. There will also be culinary sparks via a series of celeb chefs cooking up special pre-game dinners for a new series called Big Night Out. Up to bat July 27 is culinary all-star Kevin Rathbun. The Big Night Out ticket includes a cooking demo, luxury suite seating and a dinner plate from the guest chef, beer and wine, and a parking pass for $135/ person. For more info and tickets: 404.577.9100 ext. 3 or

Garlicky clams with pork belly and croutons from The Optimist Garlicky clams with pork belly and croutons from The Optimist