King + Duke is set to open from Ford Fry and executive chef Joe Schafer in next month. They're hosting a preview dinner on Friday, May 17, and should open shortly after on Buckhead's Peachtree Road. Below, Schafer talks about the restaurant's open-hearth cooking, menu, and more.
Tell us a little about the concept. Earlier, everyone was calling it 'colonial American,' but you've moved away from that into 'open-hearth cooking.'
The thing with that term in particular is that Ford said "colonial American" in some interview a while ago, and what he was referring to was the style and the technique, because we're essentially cooking everything over an open fire. We do have a small prep kitchen that'll have gas equipment and ovens and things that you need to be successful. But for the most part, just about every item is coming out of this big 24-foot open fire hearth, where we'll have a couple different styles of grills— two coal-burning grills and one huge wood-burning grill— and a couple rotisseries, Dutch oven, cast-iron— I guess that's where the colonial thing came from. But we have people asking us if there are going to be servers walking around looking like Benjamin Franklin. That's not going to be happening.
What's the inspiration for the menu?
The Supper Series menu is a test run of a lot of things we'll be serving at the restaurant when it opens. A couple dishes will be directly off of the 'real' menu, and I'm going to do a few things that are a little more adventurous to see how they go over.
The menu is based on that wood-burning sort of experience. I'm passionate about finally getting to— you know, I don't do a whole lot of modern stuff, I'll use those techniques on occasion when it makes sense, but that's not really what I'm all about. I like to do things a little more primitively, I just really enjoy that smoky flavor you get working with coal and wood. A lot of the items that we're going to have are essentially cooked earlier, pre-service, so we'll be holding these big roasts that we can slice big chunks out of, give them a little kiss on the grill, and send them out. The garnishes that come with the plate are minimal— it's going to be all about the protein.
What about vegetarians?
I love vegetables, and I think a lot of vegetables benefit from that same cooking technique. We'll have a veggie plate based on what we have seasonally and on a daily basis. We'll also have lots of vegetarian sides— we'll have a big side item menu— so that you can piece together a lot of things, or you can actually order the veggie plate. The basis of that plate is the ricotta dumplings that we make and a little homemade onion puree. Then the vegetables, which will just be whatever's in harvest. Instead of tossing them in a pan with a ton of butter, we'll be pulling out that smoky, woody flavor.
I haven't seen the actual cocktail list yet, just the wine, but they'll be very simple, very clean. I don't know if they'll be implementing any smoke into the drinks, but we can work on that.
How is this restaurant different?
The main reason, of course, is the is the hearth cooking. The whole lineup that we have is probably a one of a kind, at least to my knowledge. The depth that we have cooking in that technique— essentially, a lot of our coal-burning equipment is set on a fire brick table. There are all these open spaces, so the station or area that you're working in can kind of morph or evolve as you need it to, because you have a lot of that open space. You can move coals over here to the right, stack up bricks, and put up a Dutch oven. Then tomorrow, if you're not doing that, you can have a tiny little yakitori-style grill on the coals. It's going to be cool.
The difference in terms of Ford concepts— I think he likes his restaurants to be strikingly different. JCT is obviously Southern farmstead, dining with family, Sunday Suppers, you're sitting close to everyone around you, there's a communal aspect. No. 246 is casual Italian, and the Optimist has sustainable seafood, that beachside deal. King + Duke is taking you back to that sort of primitive style. All you see on the menu is what you're getting on the plate, there isn't going to be anything fussy about it.
So no molecular gastronomy?
I do have a circulator, but mostly for eggs. I feel like that's the best way you can cook eggs, but that's all we're using it for. I only have one— you can't do much with just one in a high-volume restaurant.
You're kind of going back to basics.
Ford just has a mind for what people want, and taking such a bracing out-of-the-box concept (even though it shouldn't be considered out of the box, it's just the old school way of cooking) to an area like Buckhead, where you typically see a lot of similar menu items in different restaurants around that part of town— lots of big steakhouses, lots of power lunches— taking this concept there is new. But the way we wrote the menu, I can see anybody in Buckhead walking in here and being comfortable with what we have.
What's the space like?
The patio is awesome. It's probably going to seat 55 to 60. There's an exterior bar and a big loungey sort of area. That corner is great— you're sitting in one of the busier corners of Buckhead, a hot spot, but it's a bit back from Peachtree so it's not very loud. The restaurant itself is going to cap out at about 200. If we go with the original table layout, it'll probably be 200-220.
When will King + Duke open?
It shouldn't be too far into May. I can't quote anything, but we haven't been pushed back too much. We just can't call the health inspector until all the fixtures are completely in place, so we're waiting on that— if you call them and say you're ready, you better be ready.
And are you ready?
I'm excited. There's an anxiety, but I don't think I'm nervous. [At the first dinner] we're going to be able to showcase things out of the gate to people that are little more open and who are looking forward to what we're going to be doing. It'll start very progressively, with lighter dishes at the beginning and heavier things at the end. My pastry chef, Chrysta Poulos is working on some desserts, we're going to pair some great wines.
This is an interesting time for us. I've been done with my test kitchen stuff for about a week, so since then, I've just kind of been seeing how things are going at the space, but I'm starting to feel displaced. I'm just ready to start cooking.
· All King + Duke Coverage [-EATL-]
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· Preview Ford Fry's King + Duke Before It Opens in May [-EATL-]
· The First Supper: King + Duke [SS]