The ones to watch
Innumerable names and faces deserve credit for keeping Atlanta well fed and for keeping this city on the national culinary radar year after year. Yet, there are select folk in the midst of pivotal moments.
Those having breakout years include entrepreneurs with dining concepts that resonate with the times. They are chefs who have been given (no, earned) keys to the kitchen and are demonstrating that they are up to the challenge. In the beverage world, we’ve got our eyes on a bartender giving cerebral thought toward cocktails and a brewer doing the same with beer.
Meet the up-and-comers who are shaking up Atlanta’s food and drink scene right now.
ANDREW TABB, EXECUTIVE CHEF, CHICKEN + BEER
Long having worked under the shadows of chefs Duane Nutter and Todd Richards at Hartsfield-Jackson fine-dining venue One Flew South, Andrew Tabb has finally been given his own wings to fly at new airport restaurant Chicken + Beer. And he’s soaring.
In his first executive chef position, Tabb might just be the busiest chef at the world’s busiest airport. Consider the challenges he contends with on a daily basis as he runs a scratch kitchen in an airport setting: Compliance with the Department of Agriculture, random night and safety checks, no steak knives (which means figuring how to prepare that flat iron steak so diners can eat it). And then there’s sourcing. How can he bring in product from local farms? Until he figured out a better system, that meant meeting farmers multiple times a day at passenger drop-off curbs. And let’s not forget all of this is for a time-pressed clientele. The clock matters with every meal order.
But the Atlanta native has come up with solutions to all these issues. The restaurant does some 350 covers a day, and Tabb’s team is averaging ticket times of six to eight minutes. “We can get you out of here in a maximum of 10 minutes,” he said.
That’s quite an accomplishment, especially considering that Southern-inflected Chicken + Beer is truly a chef-driven eatery, with poultry sourced from Springer Mountain Farms, and everything from stocks to condiments to cured pork belly done in house. Poke your head in the kitchen. You won’t find a microwave.
“I’m trying to change the idea of how people think of airport food,” Tabb said. Bite into the two-piece Southern Fried Chicken plate, and “airport food” is not what comes to mind. Rather, finger licking delicious is what your brain and tastes buds will register.
Since the restaurant’s debut last fall, Tabb has tweaked the menu to better suit patrons on the go. The C+B Fried Chicken Sandwich is one he launched recently. A perfect item to take on the plane, the sandwich has since risen to the top of the sales chart. “Last week, we sold 450 sandwiches,” he said.
Tabb has been around the airport long enough, clocking in at One Flew South from 2009 as a line cook, until last year as its chef de cuisine, to know how to keep frequent flyers happy. “I’m 31 years old. A good portion of my 20s, I was in the airport.” He’s clearly applying that acquired knowledge to food service at Chicken + Beer.
Tabb may soon be putting his touches on food outside the airport, as Chicken + Beer’s owner, the entertainer Ludacris, considers expanding the brand. And maybe, one day, Tabb will see his own restaurant concept come to fruition. “I do have a dream for a place of my own,” he said.
But for now, Tabb is poised to keep air travelers happy and fed on Concourse D.
Chicken + Beer, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (near Gate D5), 6000 N. Terminal Parkway, Atlanta. 404-209-3905, ChickenandBeer.com.
BRIAN SO, CHEF-OWNER, SPRING
Brian So, the 29-year-old chef at Spring in Marietta, is quiet and understated, both in the way he talks and cooks. But if you want to see him get riled up, just mistreat one of his strawberries.
“It really makes me mad when we get in these beautiful strawberries or beautiful anything, especially things that are fragile, things we pay good money for and that have been grown with such care by our farmers,” he says. “To see one of my cooks just plop it into a container and throw it in the fridge, it kind of rubs me the wrong way.”
That kind of respect for ingredients and attention to detail is obvious in the thoughtfully curated food he serves at Spring, be it chilled corn soup or watermelon salad, steak tartare or his famous chicken-liver pate on house-made brioche. Not long after So and his wife, Kerry Han, opened Spring last May, the restaurant caught the attention of critics. Earlier this year, the Kennesaw native and son of Korean-born parents was a semifinalist in the James Beard Foundation’s Rising Star Chef of the Year category.
He began his culinary journey as a high-school teen, working as a dishwasher at a Japanese restaurant in Marietta. He tried college but realized he was more interested in cooking than classroom studies.
So he took off for the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. After graduating, he worked at the Breakers Palm Beach, put in some time with chef Daniel Patterson at Coi in San Francisco, then returned to Atlanta, where he cooked with Robert Phalen at One Eared Stag and helped open the kitchen at the late Sobban.
The chef says the positive response to his first restaurant has been both unexpected, and deeply gratifying. And while he has plans to expand (patio seating, Sunday brunch, a cocktail program), he’ll never waver from his purist approach.
Every day, he writes a simple menu based on whatever fresh product is on hand. He makes sourdough bread and churns the butter to go with it.
He grew up eating Korean, but Southern food speaks to him just as much. Recently, he had a cold, and his mom brought him some of her napa cabbage soup, which made him realize he was craving Southern-style greens. Soon, he put braised collards on the menu, alongside quail and grits. His philosophy in a few words: “A lot of times, it’s really what I want to be eating and what is around for me to eat.”
Spring, 90 Marietta Station Walk, Marietta. 678-540-2777, springmarietta.com.
SARAH DODGE, PASTRY CHEF, 8ARM
Atlanta baker Sarah Dodge has worked as a caterer, photographer, food stylist and pastry chef, spending time at Octopus Bar, Little Tart Bakeshop, Ladybird Grove and Mess Hall and the Preserving Place.
But she’s probably best known for making simple cookies, cakes and other baked goodies that combine solid technique and rich flavors with a signature sort of unfussy charm. Along with an aura of wisdom-meets-whimsy, those things reflect Dodge’s quiet persona, too.
“I got into baking for a whole lot of reasons,” Dodge recently said. “But one of the main reasons was because it soothed my mind. I would get in the kitchen and start making things and I was instantly calm.”
Nowadays, Dodge can be found at 8Arm, the super-cool Virginia-Highland cafe and bakery co-founded by her late friend and companion, chef Angus Brown.
You’ll find the 8Arm pastry cases filled with Dodge’s muffins, turnovers, cinnamon buns and quiche. And at dinner, there might be a slice of her luscious buttermilk cake on the menu, served with seasonal fruit and a dollop of fresh whipped cream.
Be sure to look for them on the daily cafe menu, sliced and made into towering sandwiches loaded with the likes of bacon, eggs and pimento cheese.
8 Arm, 710 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta. 470-875-5856, 8armatl.com.
TRAVIS HERMAN, CO-FOUNDER AND BREWMASTER, SCOFFLAW BREWING
Travis Herman, the bearded, wild-haired brewmaster of Scofflaw Brewing, has become a force to be reckoned with on the Atlanta beer scene — most surprisingly at a brewery that’s only been open for about nine months.
Flying under the radar before that, Scofflaw suddenly launched in August 2016, in a former warehouse space on MacArthur Boulevard, where Herman and co-founder Matt Shirah built a sophisticated 20-barrel, four-vessel brewhouse, designed to grow bigger with “plug-and-play” components and tweaks.
Herman’s background as a microbiologist and University of California, Davis brewing science grad, plus stints at two of California’s most revered breweries, Lost Abbey and Russian River, lent important expertise to the startup.
“I see beer as an art and a science,” Herman said during an early tour. “That’s why one of the first things I made sure we had was a fully functioning lab.”
The first beers Scofflaw released were not only bold but notably thoughtful and well-made IPAs, including Basement, a hazy, tropical Northeast-style; Westside, a clean, piney West Coast-style; and Double Jeopardy, a big, imperial IPA that reflected Herman’s California brewing pedigree.
Gaining even more notoriety outside of Atlanta, Scofflaw was named among the 2016 Best New Breweries in the U.S. by Beer Advocate readers, which hasn’t helped Herman and his crew keep up with demand.
But this year should bring more offerings from Herman and his barrel-aging program. And maybe he’ll be producing some promised sour beers by Scofflaw’s first anniversary.
Scofflaw Brewing, 1738 MacArthur Blvd. N.W., Atlanta. scofflawbeer.com.
JASON LIANG, CHEF-OWNER, BRUSH SUSHI IZAKAYA
When customers sign up for an omakase seating at Brush Sushi Izakaya in Decatur, Jason Liang wants them to have a transaction somewhere between the spiritual and the artistic.
“I will guarantee you that your experience for enjoying my omakase will be very different from other restaurants,” says the 32-year-old chef and owner, “or at least it will be one of the best meals of your life.”
That statement is perhaps more a tribute to the self-confidence and precision of a young sushi master than a brazen flash of egomania.
Just as Liang tries to build suspense and surprise into every piece of nigiri he touches, he’s equally absorbed with every detail of his kitchen, from the complex broths that go into his ramen to the chicken he breaks down into 16 parts and threads onto skewers for yakitori.
Though reviewers and regulars rave about his rarefied omakase service, Liang has no intention of streamlining his menu to focus solely on the exclusive, chef’s choice format, which ranges from $95 to $135 (plus drinks and tip).
Brush, after all, was conceived as an izakaya, a traditional Japanese pub, where snacks and little bites are meant to be savored with drinks. So he wants his diners to have plenty of inexpensive options as well. (He recently added brunch.)
Liang has been studying Japanese food since he was a young boy. He was born in South Carolina to Taiwanese parents who came to the States so that his dad could earn his Ph.D. in chemistry. When he was 4 or 5, his family returned to Taiwan, where the influences of being a Japanese colony (1895-1945) endured.
“Whatever my grandma was cooking was somehow related to the Japanese cuisine,” he says. “That’s how I kind of fell in love with soy sauce, dashi, all kinds of Japanese cooking.” At 19, he started three years of training at the Regent Taipei; he moved to Atlanta to live full time in 2006.
Last May, Liang and his pastry-chef wife, ChingYao Wang, decided to open their own spot. They named it Brush: a reference to the Japanese art of calligraphy and the craft he brings to every sliver of fish he touches.
Brush Sushi Izakaya, 316 Church St., Decatur. 678-949-9412, brushatl.com.
TODD HOGAN, CHEF-OWNER, BRANCH & BARREL, BRANCHWATER, INDIGO
Chef Todd Hogan has been cooking since he was 14 years old — a passion that has taken him all over the country, working in Summerville, S.C. (just outside Charleston), Dallas and Miami before returning back home to Atlanta to start his own restaurants.
In 1997, he opened his first restaurant — Wildberries, a Bistro — in Duluth, followed by sister restaurant Wildflours Bakery Café in Duluth, then Indigo Restaurant & Lounge in Roswell in 2008 (which burned down in 2011), and Branchwater in Cumming. Soon after, Hogan partnered with Ron Wallace and John Adams to open Branch & Barrel in Alpharetta’s Avalon and then a reimagined version of Indigo in the downtown Crabapple area of Milton just last year.
And his OTP restaurant empire doesn’t stop there. Hogan’s next restaurant will be located in Liberty Hall in downtown Alpharetta, offering two dining room components: a cellar with a full-service casual atmosphere raw bar and full bar, and a main restaurant — called the Republic — that will serve top-quality steaks and seafood with an upscale yet everyday vibe.
Hogan’s restaurants not only serve consistently delicious fare, but it’s his concepts like Branch & Barrel and Indigo that also boast an ITP vibe OTP, delivering a total atmosphere (think moody lighting, sexy decor and plush details) that keeps diners flocking to their tables.
His restaurant concepts all share similar keys to success, Hogan says, including highly visible locations, commitment to quality (for both food and hiring qualified people) and treating his team with the same respect he treats his guests (in fact, many members of Hogan’s staff have been with him for years, following him from restaurant to restaurant).
When it comes to guests, Hogan explains that a guest is only a guest the first time in — from then on, they are friends. He firmly believes in this approach, as his dear friend Larry Beasley once advised him that you build a business “one person at a time.” “A guest will come and go,” Hogan says. “A friend will come and stay and bring others.”
In the kitchen, Hogan keeps things simple, believing in the history of cooking and sticking to the rudiments of old-world techniques. “If you can master this approach, then by all means use (a) new-age approach,” he adds, “but you have to know where you come from in order to set your sights on new beginnings.”
His biggest inspiration in the kitchen is his wife and children — they’re actually his toughest critics. “If I can create a dish that makes them smile, it surely will make our restaurant friends happy,” he says.
With numerous popular restaurant concepts spread across the burbs and a new one coming soon, Hogan is about to make a lot more new friends.
Branch & Barrel, 4100 Avalon Blvd., Alpharetta. 678-436-5655, experienceavalon.com/restaurants/branch-barrel.
Branchwater, 5820 S. Vickery St., Cumming. 470-253-7910, Facebook: Branchwater.
Indigo, 12635 Crabapple Road, Milton. 770-674-7671, Facebook: Indigo Restaurant, Crabapple.
MIKE AND SHYRETHA SHEATS, CO-FOUNDERS, THE PLATE SALE
“Good food, good drinks, great people.”
This is how Mike and Shyretha Sheats described the premise behind the first Plate Sale on Aug. 8, 2016. They advertised the dinner on Instagram and hoped to draw a modest crowd of 50 people to East Atlanta’s Octopus Bar. When the doors opened, 50 people were already waiting. And they kept coming. By the end of service, dinner, drinks and music you could eat (and dance) to had been served to 125 people.
The Sheatses, who work at Staplehouse, have hosted three more dinners throughout Atlanta since that Monday evening last summer; including a family-style throwdown at B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue with longtime friend Bryan Furman. The dinners were inspired by their childhood memories of communal cookouts or plate sales that served as fundraisers for members of their community in Athens.
Mike, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu who has worked at Muss & Turner’s and McCrady’s in Charleston, says the Plate Sale affords him the opportunity to play with ingredients and explore ideas. He admits he has to get creative with his dishes as the menus are often at the mercy of the host kitchen’s facilities. For the October Sale at the creative co-op Elevator Factory, Mike cooked the entire service on a burner and yakitori grill. With two simple heating elements, he created dishes like baby celeriac charred over coals.
Shyretha’s marketing degree and work as a bartender have her performing the roles of both general manager and beverage director. When she’s not setting up ticket sales, handling PR or hosting, she’s partnering the Plate Sale with local breweries like Creature Comforts, attending wine tastings or collaborating on cocktails with fellow Staplehouse bartender Ben Richardson.
While the Sheatses admit the positive response they’ve received is exciting, they’re reluctant to grow the Plate Sale too fast. With it still advertised only on Instagram, the couple is enjoying the underground vibe of the series and the like-minded Atlantans who gather for dinner, drinks and music you can eat (and dance) to on a Monday night.
Upcoming dates: Sweet Auburn Curb Market May 22, the Old Pal in Athens June 12. Follow @theplatesale or instagram.com/theplatesale on Instagram for updates and tickets.
JONATHAN TURNER, BARTENDER/BEVERAGE DIRECTOR, GRAIN, TAVERNPOINTE, CAMPS KITCHEN & BAR
Jonathan Turner, who runs the bar programs at Grain and Tavernpointe in Midtown and Camps Kitchen & Bar in east Cobb, is a bartender and beverage director on the rise. And with his slicked back hair and natty dress, he looks every bit the part.
Turner’s background includes working the bar at Seven Lamps, 1Kept, and Cibo e Beve, where he first started teaching cocktail classes.
At Grain, where he’s most likely to be found, Turner presents an ongoing series with titles such as “The Evolution of the Old Fashioned.”
It’s a convivial, hands-on experience, as he invites participants to mix their own drinks, while he works in a bit of history and technique, along with some fun stuff like concocting coffee-infused liquor in a cold brew tower.
“My style of bartending is to kind of bring it back to the people, making quality drinks that people love,” Turner once told me. “I want to host you, not just serve you.”
At Camps, he was challenged with creating a beverage menu for a suburban neighborhood watering hole, while introducing some of his own drinks.
To that end, you’ll find everything from a simple $2 Genesee Cream Ale on draft to the more sophisticated, off-the-menu Bonfire — a Templeton Rye cocktail for in-the-know regulars that’s served in a pour-it-yourself flask.
Grain, 856 W. Peachtree St. N.W., Atlanta. 404-881-5377, grain-bar.com.
RYAN PERNICE, RESTAURATEUR, TABLE & MAIN AND OSTERIA MATTONE
Roswell native and restaurateur Ryan Pernice opened his first restaurant, Table & Main, at just 25 years old. Debuting in 2011 in historic Roswell on bustling Canton Street, the restaurant’s hometown location made perfect sense to Pernice, who moved there with his family in 1994 and witnessed Canton Street boom into an exciting destination over the years.
After graduating from Roswell High School, Pernice attended Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration (where he graduated with highest honors in 2007), and then went to work as a restaurant consultant for a couple of years before teaming up with award-winning restaurateur Danny Meyer in 2009 to help him open the acclaimed Maialino restaurant in New York.
Drawn to hospitality for its fast-paced nature and the constant challenges of playing so many different roles (dealing with accounting, marketing, HR and menu engineering, all before dinner service), Pernice applied his hospitality acumen at Table & Main, which serves simple, seasonal, Southern fare, and then at his second restaurant, Osteria Mattone (just down the road on Canton Street) — which offers a menu of regional Italian cuisine with a Roman focus — in 2013.
His next venture, Coalition Food and Beverage, will open this summer in downtown Alpharetta. The OTP dining scene has certainly exploded in recent years, as more chefs and restaurateurs realize that the vibrant communities outside the city have tremendously attractive demographics and opportunities, Pernice explains. So while the lure of an intown location looms in his mind, the fertile ground OTP affords him and his team the ability to bide their time for the perfect opportunity. “We’ve got our hands full out here!” he jests.
The idea for Coalition came about after a conversation Pernice had with his brother Daniel Pernice, also Osteria’s co-owner, and Table & Main’s executive chef Woody Back. They were drawn to American cuisine and the idea of presenting familiar food and drink in a fun, high-energy setting, while bringing the hospitality-driven guest focus they’ve become known for to the table.
“Many of the cities around our home base of Canton Street are developing these amazing downtown centers that will bring such energy to the community,” he says. “We wanted to create a restaurant concept that taps into that sense of excitement. Coalition Food and Beverage believes in strengthening vibrant communities by offering a special place for families and neighbors to gather for a common purpose. At our restaurant, that common purpose is enjoying expressive, chef-driven American cuisine, carefully crafted drinks, and the spirited companionship of our guests.” The concept will feature a wood-burning grill as the kitchen’s centerpiece, and a beverage program led by Daniel that will include a wine list of “hidden” gems that don’t break the bank.
Along with launching Coalition, Pernice has also just started a hospitality group, R.O. Hospitality, which stands for “Reckless Optimism,” a lifestyle ideal he says he’d like to strive for in his day-to-day life. “I’d like to be more brave and adventurous than I probably am and live in a spirit of ‘reckless optimism,’” he says.
With two uber-popular restaurants under his belt and a third in the works, Pernice believes the recipe for success relies on several factors, including having a clear, compelling concept, because “Italian food” doesn’t cut it — “’concept’ and ‘cuisine’ are not the same,” he points out. Another key component: a team he can rely on to execute the restaurant’s vision and an understanding that the path to success lies in making the guest happy and eliminating any obstacles to that goal.
“I’m very much a people pleaser, so I spend a lot of time worrying about making sure our guests are happy, that our employees are happy, that our managers are happy. … I’ve not chosen a profession where I get to pack up after eight hours, call it a day, and move on to the next project. We get to make people happy for a living. I think that’s a pretty good gig. If we can do that day-in-day-out and make a little money in the process, I’d say that’s success.”
Table & Main, 1028 Canton St, Roswell. 678-869-5178, tableandmain.com.
Osteria Mattone, 1095 Canton St., Roswell. 678-878-3378, osteriamattone.com.
SAVANNAH SASSER, EXECUTIVE CHEF, HAMPTON + HUDSON
“She has a presence about her, and respect from cooks and chefs,” said restaurateur Billy Streck.
He was speaking of his recent hire, Savannah Sasser, who took over the kitchen at his Inman Park restaurant Hampton + Hudson in mid-March.
Sasser, 31, has earned every bit of that respect from chefs and cooks. Just look at her handiwork that she leaves behind at Twain’s Brewpub & Billiards in Decatur. For nearly the past five years, she worked there to establish a kitchen that did not make just “typical food pub,” but rather of a quality to rival the beer. It meant sourcing all proteins locally, taking spent grains used for brewing and turning them into tasty cheese straws and cornbread. When she departed from Twain’s for her new job at Hampton + Hudson, Twain’s was a scratch kitchen. The menu was seasonal instead of static.
She’s now been given the keys to take the 1-year-old Hampton + Hudson to new heights, and she’s already making change happen. Her new spring menu recently launched. It features her style of playful new American but Southern-minded dishes-with-a-twist, but also product — like octopus — she couldn’t work with at Twain’s, because it didn’t resonate with that clientele.
Knowing her diners and dishing up what they want is something Sasser does well. Considering Hampton + Hudson’s proximity to the Beltline, she’s catering to the pet-loving crowd by making doggie cupcakes and hard doggie biscuits, with plans to start regular doggie mingles on the restaurant’s patio. The monthly vegan dinner she had expected to launch at Twain’s is still a go, just at her new workplace. “I’m passionate about vegan food and making it something different than the average ‘here’s some roasted vegetables,’” said the former vegan.
And while these are all part of her efforts to push Hampton + Hudson “to its full potential,” the community-minded chef is doing her part to make a culinary statement for the state. Since 2015, she’s served as a Georgia Grown chef, a group of chefs who work to create awareness about products grown or raised in the state and who foster relationships with farmers. In June, she’ll accompany other Georgia toques on what will be her third trip to the James Beard House in New York to serve up an all-Georgia meal.
Sasser’s “passion for food and her trade,” is precisely why Streck hired her. “Sky’s the limit,” he said of her potential. “She is going to do great things.”
Hampton + Hudson, 299 N. Highland Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 404-948-2123, hamptonandhudson.com.