Old Fourth Ward's Staplehouse has been receiving steady praise since opening last September, and this week, the buzz reached a new level. The restaurant was named as a nominee for the James Beard Foundation's Best New Restaurant award, and in his review for Atlanta Magazine, Corby Kummer awarded a "superlative" rating of four out of four stars. It's the first four-star rating Atlanta has given out since Bill Addison, now Eater's national restaurant critic, bestowed the honor upon Bacchanalia in 2010.
In his review, Kummer notes Staplehouse is the kind of restaurant that Atlantans might have a hard time embracing, but he begs the locals to pack its dining room at all hours.
The talent and generous spirit Smith unfolds course by course is enough to make you think, Here's a chef worth making a trip for. I mean a plane trip. But the real question is whether the diners who can and should keep Staplehouse alive will drive from Buckhead, Alpharetta, or Johns Creek to the Old Fourth Ward. In the restaurant's rocky first few months, as dining editor Evan Mah recently chronicled in a Q&A with Smith, the answer was, maybe not. In November, mere weeks after opening, sometimes only four tables were full. When I dined in subsequent months, I was alarmed to still see empty tables on weeknights (business picked up on weekends, Smith told us, and the restaurant has stayed crowded). Let me say: This is a restaurant that should never be anything but fully booked — and with a line out the door.
Kummer does have a couple of qualms: "some of the gelled dishes, like the chicken liver mousse cut into strips served on the first tasting menu, are gummy" and "the monkfish's lemon and peppercorn dressing has an unpleasant acidity." But, he says those are relatively insignificant considering the many highlights.'
Take the guinea hen, previously offered on both menus. A la carte it was the leg, whose blackened, crisp skin and gamy dark meat was the result of simmering in a winey stock and flash-frying. Each time I dined, the server said it might be the last of the season. The threat worked: One night, overcome by the fear I might never have the dish again, I ordered a second leg (a good thing, too; it was soon replaced by duck). ...
More important than being on-trend is what Smith achieves, with perhaps too many techniques but not, thankfully, too many ingredients. He roasts broccoli with bits of home-cured bacon, roasted peanuts, and a smear of ivory-colored béchamel flavored with a rich soy sauce; the flavors are bright, distinct, and deepened by the soy, with staccato notes of salt and smoke from the bacon. Just-softened baby collards and kale appear as components of other dishes, in a light sauce of oil and butter emulsified with pan juices. Along with the hen, the broccoli goes on my list of dishes of the year.
Kummer, who often tempers praise for local eateries compared to other critics in town, says it's only a matter of time before Staplehouse becomes a national destination. He hopes Atlanta will take ownership of the restaurant before that happens.
Staplehouse is a restaurant that's genuinely exciting, and the rest of the country should and will discover it. Don't let out-of-towners anoint it. Make Staplehouse the hometown-conquering hero it deserves to be.
Over at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Wyatt Williams offers a glowing review of Bread & Butterfly, awarding Billy Allin's Inman Quarter French bistro three out of four stars. Williams believes, thanks to Allin and executive chef Bryan Stoffelen, Atlanta finally has a Parisian-inspired restaurant that's up to snuff.
There's an old video of Jacques Pépin that begins with the iconic French chef looking directly into the camera and saying, "If I had to judge how good technically a chef is, I probably would ask him to do an omelet. It is difficult to make a real good omelet." ...
If Pépin were to order the omelet at Bread & Butterfly, I believe he would approve. Billy Allin's new French bistro is a place where the eggs demonstrate the prowess of a kitchen run by Bryan Stoffelen. After two and a half years at Allin's side as the chef de cuisine of Cakes & Ale, Stoffelen is helming Atlanta's best evocation of casual Parisian delight.
THE ELSEWHERE AND THE BLOGS: Creative Loafing's Angela Hansberger takes a first look at The Mercury, the mid-century-inspired Ponce City Market restaurant from The Pinewood team. Atlanta Food Critic says Doug Turbush's Drift Fish House is a welcome addition to Marietta. Burgers, Barbecue & Everything Else enjoys a fun, filling dinner at Craft Izakaya. Fried Chicken Lips says Shoya still kicks ass. Hot Dish Review is happy to be a member at Ticonderoga Club. Atlanta Restaurant Blog says Porch Light Latin Kitchen has got it going on.