Since late 2013, Jeffrey Gardner has been running the kitchen at Common Quarter, serving up his take on modern American and Southern cuisine in East Cobb. Gardner's Southern roots run deep: He grew up in Natchez, Miss., and his cooking experience includes local eateries South City Kitchen and Alma Cocina. Here, Gardner discusses what he likes to eat around town when he's not in the kitchen, from dim sum breakfasts to late-night tacos.
Royal China. My wife started taking me here for dim sum not long after we first started dating, and I'm always impressed by both the variety and execution. If you've had too much fun the night before, this will definitely set you right.
Muss & Turner's. Yeah, yeah ... I know it's our sister restaurant, but I've been a fan since 2007. They're fast, efficient, and most importantly, delicious. I think I've pretty much eaten the entire menu at this point, but I find myself rotating between the Reuben, Gobbler, and that perfect medium-rare cheeseburger. Charlie, their sous chef, has recently been making some magic happen in that pastry case.
I've tried all of the usual suspects, and Fox Bros. seems to have the complete package nailed down. They're consistent too, which I always appreciate.
BoccaLupo — I fell in love with Bruce Logue's food at La Pietra Cucina, but the old space never really did it justice. I crave pasta on a regular basis, and his are just extraordinary. I also happen to love neighborhood restaurants that overachieve, as BoccaLupo does in spades.
Too many to list, but I love everything about Taka. His sushi is always on point, but it's the hot dishes that I love the most: the hamachi kama and okonomiyaki are my two particular favorites. I'd also like to give an honorable mention to a dish called Lahori choley at Lahore Grill in Smyrna. That, on top of some basmati with their aloo paratha (potato-stuffed flatbread), is the stuff dreams are made of.
Late-night snacks and booze
The perfect late night out for me would be having drinks with friends at GA Chapter Room (it will always be The Fred to me). The beer list is amazing and every seat in the room is comfortable. Immediately afterward, I'd head a few yards away to El Taco Veloz for barbacoa and chile relleno tacos, plus horchata. It's the best fast food experience ever.
Fancy night out
I was completely blown away by my last experience at St. Cecilia. Every component on every dish had a purpose for being there, and was executed flawlessly. Craig Richards is cooking very inspired food right now, and GM Matt Crawford has compiled a wine list to perfectly complement the food. I would put them up against Esca and Marea in NYC any day.
Top five not mentioned above
The General Muir: Todd Ginsberg is one of my favorite chefs in the city. His food has no pretense, is always consistent, and nails the small details. It's food with soul that deserves to be celebrated.
Alma Cocina: I'm a little biased since I was the opening sous chef, but Chad Clevenger is doing things with Mexican and Latin cuisines that no one in the city comes close to touching. The huitlacoche empanadas are just stupid good. And perhaps most importantly, the staff is knowledgeable, warm, and gracious.
King and Duke: EJ Hodgkinson's food is always so thoughtful, and this just helps show off his versatility.
Table & Main: The food is rock solid, but it's the hospitality of the service staff, led by Ryan Pernice, that keeps me coming back.
La Tavola: It's been one of my favorites for years — consistent every single time (that's huge with me) with great service in a comfortable space. What more can you ask for?
Out-of-town favorite (regional)
It may not seem inherently obvious to seek out Italian food when you're in New Orleans, but everyone I've brought with me to Domenica has become an instant fan. For a bit of nostalgia, I always have to hit up the Donut Shop in my hometown of Natchez, Miss. My mom used to take me there before school on Fridays as a little kid, and the doughnuts are still just as good as I remember. Alton Brown even gave it some air time on "Feasting on Asphalt." And I don't know what third circle of hell spawned the idea of putting donuts and hot tamales together on a menu, but it somehow makes sense.
Out-of-town favorite (national)
Since I'm mourning the loss of Incanto in San Francisco, I'm going to give the nod to Longman & Eagle in Chicago: nose-to-tail cuisine, locally sourced ingredients, a massive bourbon list, loud punk rock, and a Michelin star. What? It's off the beaten path, but well worth the drive.
Chez Black in Positano, Italy. This part of the Amalfi Coast will take your breath away, but eating mind-numbingly fresh seafood on the beach of the bay in which it was caught was an experience I'll never forget.