Like many of his culinary ambitions, Linton Hopkins’s plans for C. Ellet’s, his forthcoming steakhouse opening at the Atlanta Braves’ new Cobb County ballpark, are rooted in memories from his youth.
“I remember as a boy going to Bone’s, at 16,” Hopkins tells Eater Atlanta. “It was a friend of mine’s birthday party ... it was like an entry going into the adult world, that steakhouse. I didn’t know I was going to go into the restaurant business, but it was really magical.”
C. Ellet’s, named for Hopkins’s great-grandfather Charles Ellet will take up residence in the Battery mixed-use development that is rising adjacent to SunTrust Park. Big cuts of beef will be the main attraction, but Hopkins is also drawing inspiration from traditional New Orleans fine dining, and cuisine found throughout the entire South. At 6,500 square feet and with seating for 180 to 200, it will be his biggest restaurant to date.
Hopkins hopes to have C. Ellet’s open for business in time for the Braves’ opening weekend on April 15, but he’s planning a preview get-together for a spring training game against the New York Yankees on March 31. Here, the James Beard award-winning chef and restaurateur explains what diners can expect from his newest venture.
Why did you name the restaurant C. Ellet’s?
I like to ground things in an idea, and that’s why we chose the name Charles Ellet. He was really sort of a classic American original. He lived in the early 1800s, he was a bridge builder, worked on the Mississippi. He was a U.S. Army Corps Engineer, built a wonderful bridge over the Ohio [River], the Wheeling Bridge. He actually won the Battle of Memphis for the Union Navy, died in the battle. He helped build the New Orleans waterfront.
So it’s really a steakhouse grounded in that American, Southern tradition a la Mark Twain and named after my ancestor. I’m also drawn to how Mark Twain, when he went to Europe, would bemoan the fact that he didn’t have the great foods he loved. So for me, it’s grounded in being this Southern, truly American steakhouse.
What kind of beef will be on the menu?
I was testing tomahawk chops, these big cuts of meat on the bone, kind of pieces of classic Nebraska corn-fed beef. It’s got to be all about the beef; it’s a steakhouse. I know, for example, White Oak Pastures grass-fed beef — I love his beef for our raw preparations. I find it has an amazing iron quality to it, so of course our tartare will be White Oak Pastures.
When we get into the steak cuts, we’re going to have a wagyu. Probably, we’ll go with a coulotte for that. I want to get into some cuts that offer some different price points. So I know I want to have flat-iron and coulotte and even shaving the short rib as a steak.
The Southeastern Family Farms program is going to be a bulk part of our program. The Cox Family Farm near Huntsville in north Alabama, they raise all their corn for their beef, and it’s grass-raised and then corn-finished. Expect a big 32 ounce dry-aged porterhouse. I love those. I love how Peter Luger does it, where it’s beef for two, beef for three, and it’s really just a porterhouse. Of course, [we’ll offer] the tenderloin in two different sizes. I’m immersing myself in beef-steakhouse culture, the idea of what’s a Delmonico, what’s a Kansas City? All these cities started developing their own names for, say, a bone-in rib eye or a bone-in strip.
We’re doing cast-iron skillet cooking as a primary method for beef. Bone-in, though, I don’t think that works as well on the cast iron; that’s going to be a broiler beef. So we’ve got the classic steakhouse broiler, five gazillion BTUs that really creates that amazing char on it.
Will there be a burger?
We get to play around with another style of cheeseburger. So unlike the Holeman & Finch cheeseburger, which is the classic homage to the American diner, which I love so much. I also love the steakhouse burger. This is where you take your scraps from your beef program, your dry-age program, your prime beef, and it’s more of a bigger burger: 8 ounces, looking at a a different bun, maybe a sesame seed bun. We haven’t finalized it, but a steakhouse burger has to [have] its own true identity. Instead of American cheese, it’s probably going to be a big cut of Georgia cheddar.
What else will be on the menu?
I do want this amazing, seasonal vegetable and seafood program. I’m having a lot of fun revealing the menu to myself; it’s not finalized yet. But it’s sort of grounded in those things like, ‘yeah, I want to eat a bowl of shrimp.’ I’m going to have a gumbo menu. I love New Orleans food so much, and it will be part of that menu, but I wouldn’t say this is a Creole steakhouse; this is really about being a Southern-American steakhouse.
How will the beverage program work?
Gina, my wife, is a sommelier, and she’s working with our team of somms at [Restaurant] Eugene to really make a commitment to a deep, rich selection of great wines. From friends of ours out of Napa like Dave Minor and Sonoma like Andy Peay, all the way to some of the big-boy classics from Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Cocktails — just like we do at all of our bars, it’s about knowing the spirits. A [cocktail menu] can be anywhere from seven to 22 [drinks], and we really think the sweet spot is right around nine. It’s a steakhouse, so you have to have the most amazing martini. It’s got to be that James Bond kind of thing. You’ve got to have multiple kinds of olives, the pimento-stuffed olive, I love the bleu cheese olive. You’ve got to have that club service. It’s no soda gun, it’s all club service. A great steakhouse bar has the best martini.
I’m working with our team right now on our beer program, so of course I want it grounded in Terrapin and Orpheus and what’s going on in celebrating our Southern-American artisans. We’ll have about six beers on draft.
I want to be a place where Mark Twain was like, “This is a great steakhouse.” It’s not a museum. For me, my arbiter on a great bar program is, would Ernest Hemingway want to punch me or kiss me?
Who will run the kitchen and bar?
At the beginning, it’s me. I really see immersing myself with whoever we hire. I want to live there for a while. I want a chef who’s really going to collaborate with me. It’s going to be me as executive chef with a chef de cuisine. Because of the size, it’s going to be that full Escoffier brigade.
We’ll have a beverage director. There will be a sommelier under them, and there will be a head bartender under them.
How will service work? What can Braves fans expect on game days?
We’ve got a main dining room that is shaping up to be a true a la carte steakhouse experience. It’s the steak on a plate, order a bunch of sides [format]. Even the salmon, or the piece of grouper would just come on the plate, butter-basted with herbs and garlic. The bar, though, has more plates. At lunchtime, that’s where you’re going to have sandwiches. I love the half-and-half po’ boy — half shrimp, half oyster, I just love that.
We have this oyster line that faces outside the fan plaza area. We think it’s going to be so many people walking around, like Ponce City Market, that don’t sit down, they just snack. You can get the oyster of the day, shucked by the piece like in New Orleans and then get a pint of beer or a half-pint. You’ll be able to walk around that whole plaza with your beer.
At the bar, we’ll have televisions behind two-way mirrors so when they’re off, they’re off. But you’re going to be able to sit there and watch pre-game coverage. You’re wearing your Braves jersey, you’re about to go into the game.
This interview has been edited for clarity.