Atlanta’s chefs and restaurateurs continue serving up fresh concepts that elevate the city’s culinary reputation and draw national acclaim. Almost every day, the city welcomes a hot, new eatery or bar slinging good eats and craft cocktails. Suffice it say, it was a Herculean task to narrow down the list to just a few favorites, but we made it happen.
These restaurants go beyond serving meals. Rather, they couple meticulously crafted and beautifully plated dishes with jaw-dropping interiors and extraordinary bar programs to provide their patrons with a multisensory culinary experience. In other words, they mean business.
“We call the downstairs bar a 70s-surfer-den theme,” said my server, Chelsea, with a smile. The city’s most prolific restaurateur (with 10 concepts and counting in Metro Atlanta), Ford Fry has gone and done it again with his playful new seafood restaurant, BeetleCat. With an already stellar seafood eatery under his belt (The Optimist), some may have questioned the culinary king’s second coastal venture.
But BeetleCat stands an ocean apart from its older, more mature sibling restaurant. In the heart of chic and hip Inman Park, this new spot lends a funk and edge to the notoriously refined area. That’s not to say BeetleCat isn’t just as refined. After gawking at the incredible interiors, which embody two very distinct ambiences in the upstairs and downstairs spaces, you’ll need a moment to fully appreciate the diversity offered by the menu.
A common thread of aquatic offerings hinges together the disparate flavors found on coasts around the world. You’ll find Latin dishes like the tostones and moqueca stew, which features day boat fish (remnants from the day’s filets), shrimp, plantains, yucca, jalapeño, cilantro and cashews swimming in a creamy, coconut-milk broth.
You’ll also find Thai influences, like in the ginger curry shrimp with honey buttered rice; or, my personal favorite, the tuna carpaccio served with Thai herb salsa verde, green papaya, peanuts, jalapeño and crispy shallots—a heavenly blend of flavors that complement the exceptionally fresh and thinly sliced raw tuna.
You’ll find American flavors in plates like the littleneck clams with pork belly and XO sauce while Caribbean influences take the form of conch fritters. Polynesian zest is found throughout the bar program, which serves up Tiki-like punches and cocktails that further highlight the menu’s (and Fry’s) playful side.
Fun-loving yet refined, BeetleCat is interesting in all the right ways.
No reservations. Open until 2 am F-Sa. Open M-Th 5-10 pm, F 11 am-3 pm and 5 pm-2 am, Sa 3 pm-2 am, Su 3-10 pm.
Cape Dutch is like a portal to a vineyard-draped countryside. A native of South Africa, Justin Anthony is responsible for Atlanta’s most popular South African food concepts, including 10 Degrees South, Biltong Bar and Yebo Beach Haus. Much like a conversation with effervescent Anthony, Cape Dutch is an experience.
Chic and alluring lounge seating is tucked into the front corners of the residentially reminiscent restaurant. The lounge faces a metropolitan bar that’s ground zero for an exemplary selection of global wines. Ever the wine connoisseur, Anthony speaks about a favorite bottle as if it were a moment in time, detailing its history while pinpointing its gustatory eccentricities.
Retreat further into the space to find the dining room, which offers a melange of seating arrangements—including traditional tables and chairs—and more intimate spaces that look like the elegant dining room in someone’s home. Justin’s wife, Kelly Anthony, is also his interior designer. Her ability to convey a restaurant’s personality through a tasteful symphony of color, texture and scale rounds out the multisensory one-two punch that Cape Dutch provides.
If the wine list and ambience are the one-two punch, then the food is a roundhouse kick. Executive Chef Philippe Haddad’s Belgian background transmutes onto the menu as a flurry of European influences, some more subtle than others. The rabbit leg, for instance, is from Haddad’s childhood. The rabbit is brined in Belgian ale, braised and served with roasted shallots, carrots and spinach-whipped potatoes in a grain-mustard sauce.
European influences aside, Anthony’s South African roots pop up throughout the menu. In fact, many dishes are cooked on the “braai,” Afrikaans for “grill” and a social custom in the region. Proteins like elk and lamb neighbor the likes of branzino and sea bass. Meanwhile, a stunning assortment of vegetables stand on their own merit, like the wild mushrooms, roasted butternut-squash steaks, and the quintessentially Southern American baby root vegetable plate.
Make reservations on OpenTable. Open for dinner Tu-Th 5-10:30 pm, F-Sa 5-11 pm.
Il Giallo’s chef/owner, Jamie Adams, isn’t Italian. His parents aren’t Italian. And yet, the Southern chef lived for three years in Italy perfecting his technique with a cuisine he grew up eating. To Adams, red sauces and fresh pasta taste like home, because it was his family’s favorite kind of meal. Simple as that.
And yet, il Giallo’s recipes are far from simple. Pastas are crafted from scratch and by hand on a table facing the dining room, like a scene from Top Chef. It’s hard not to stare at the enthralling pasta-making process as you walk to your seat in the open dining room. What this restaurant lacks in fanciful decor, it makes up in the astounding flavor found in each dish.
This is one of those rare “can’t go wrong” menus, though standouts still rise to the top. Take the grilled octopus, for instance. In this dish, tender octopus is grilled and seasoned to perfection then served over creamy smashed potatoes—you’ll wish it were an entree by the time you’re through. The massive vitello alla parmigiana (veal parmesan) has earned itself a folkloric reputation due to its sizable presentation. In this dish, veal chop is pounded thin, butterflied, breaded and fried, serving as foundation for fresh tomato sauce and melted mozzarella.
Adams flexes some creativity on the dessert menu with the pizza di fragole (strawberry pizza). As the name implies, this is a pizza-lover’s sweet-toothed dream. Puff pastry makes up the crust, which is then smothered with fontina, stracchino and mascarpone cheeses, organic strawberry jam and balsamic vinaigrette—a jaw-dropping conclusion to an exceptional meal.
The bar program includes a fairly lengthy wine list and cocktail menu. Make reservations online or by phone. Open for lunch M-F 11:30 am-3 pm; for dinner Su-Th 5-10 pm, F&Sa 5-11 pm.
Pulling up to the inconspicuous brick building on Edgewood Avenue in Atlanta’s historic Old Fourth Ward, you wouldn’t quite believe this is Atlanta’s most acclaimed new restaurant. In fact, Staplehouse boasts a 2016 James Beard Award nomination for Best New Restaurant within just five months of opening. Find your way to the building’s rear to enter the quaint restaurant. Inside, you’ll find a 40-seat dining room, an eight-seat bar and a simple, industrial atmosphere.
Staplehouse just feels different. Co-owner Jen Hidinger’s infectious smile will probably greet you at the host stand, while her brother-in-law, Ryan Smith, heads up the small, open kitchen directly across from her. Kara Hidinger, Smith’s wife and formerly general manager of Abattoir, flits about greeting patrons with a charisma that’s impossible to ignore. This magnificent culinary gem also happens to be a family restaurant with a heart-wrenching backstory.
Jen Hidinger and her husband, Ryan Hidinger, dreamt up Staplehouse years ago after hosting wildly successful pop-up dinners in their home. Buzz about Ryan Hidinger’s culinary talent was building rapid momentum until he was diagnosed with stage four gallbladder cancer in late 2012. He passed away a year later, but not without leaving an indelible legacy. Between December 2012 and January 2014, the Hidingers set out to build a reimagined dream. Staplehouse would now be a vehicle for helping the hospitality community in times of dire need through The Giving Kitchen, a non-profit organization founded in Ryan’s memory in 2014.
With overwhelming support from the community and unfaltering support from their hospitality industry peers, the Hidingers made their wildest dreams a reality. Ryan Hidinger passed away in January 2014, but his courage, selflessness and desire to fill people’s hearts by filling their stomachs lives on with each Staplehouse dinner service. In fact, all of the restaurant’s after-tax profits benefit The Giving Kitchen, which provides grants to restaurant workers in Metro Atlanta who face crises that leave them abruptly unemployed and without benefits.
Perhaps it’s this mission that motivates Chef Smith to create so boldly in the kitchen. Smith’s menu is a showhouse of creative dishes that borderline on molecular gastronomy. The menu is ever-changing, and offered à la carte or as a five-course tasting with optional wine pairings. Here, American ingredients and recipes are transformed with modern techniques, interesting flavor combinations and masterful presentation.
The bar program could merit its own article. Here, knockout cocktails combine meticulous preparation with skilled mixology to yield complex beverages nearly on par with the masterpieces flowing freely from the kitchen.
Reservations are required for the tasting menu, which costs $85 and must be paid when the reservation is made. D (W-Sa), Br (Su).
Eight Sushi Lounge
Unluckily, Eight Sushi Lounge has remained somewhat under the radar since opening in Nov. 2015, thanks mostly to a misperception that its location is difficult and to the opening of a more buzzed-about sushi restaurant just a month later and just blocks away. The experience provided by Eight is modern and upscale without being absurdly expensive or pretentious. With stylish decor—including near-sculptural wooden partitions—and a creative menu, this restaurant brings a fresh energy to the Westside, which has quickly become a new hub for Atlanta’s young bourgeoisie.
Dim lighting will greet you during dinner service, creating the perfect setting for the chef’s flashy presentation. Spreads of nigiri, for instance, are served over ice that’s illuminated by LED lights underneath. Other dishes showcase a vibrant range of colors provided by fresh cuts of fish, floral garnishes and rich sauces artfully drizzled onto the plate. Every dish, flavor combination and plating technique feels creative and intentional, further elevating the dining experience.
Don’t miss our favorite small plate on the menu, the hamachi carpaccio. This simple yet masterful dish balances the robustness of seared hamachi with the addictive texture of crispy carrots and a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette to complement both sweet and savory flavors. The lightly battered “moshi moshi oysters” served with japanese tartar sauce are another must try. As for larger plates, you can’t go wrong with the extraordinary miso-glazed seabass, which is served with seasonal vegetables and sweet chili paste on a bed of grilled rice.
The bar program features seven specialty cocktails, which all include fruits and/or fruit flavors. These cocktails tend to be on the sweet side, so if that’s not your taste, try the sake, wine and beer list for a refreshing alternative.