“I’m originally from Bermuda, and I was cooking dinners with my mother when I was 10 years old,” Nick Leahy, executive chef and partner at Brookwood Hills’ Saltyard recalls of his upbringing. “We traveled a lot, and what we ate influences the dishes I create today.”
This says much about the food at Saltyard, located in the luxury, mixed-use high-rise The Brookwood on Peachtree Street. Unlike the restaurant’s Southern food-focused neighbor, Watershed on Peachtree, Leahy’s dishes at Saltyard skew smaller and shareable while blending the well-traveled chef’s globally tuned palate with local, seasonal ingredients. Leahy says he often finds inspiration within the memories of his childhood kitchen and travels throughout England and Europe.
Leahy began his kitchen career in Atlanta working under Fifth Group Restaurants executive chef Chip Ulbrich at the company’s former restaurant Food Studio (now event space Bold American.) He credits Ulbrich for issuing a “crash course” in taste and technique without creating overly complicated dishes. Not overthinking his food has proven successful for Leahy, who has worked with Pacific Kitchen and Two Urban Licks before moving to London to become the executive chef at Daylesford Organic. At Daylesford, Leahy gained a passion for cooking with farm-fresh, local ingredients. All of the vegetables, fruits, and proteins are grown nearby on the restaurant’s farms. The use of these ingredients fused with his tutelage from his mentor Ulbrich clicked with Leahy, transforming his cooking philosophy and the dishes he now creates nightly.
Upon his return to Atlanta, Leahy partnered with his former Two Urban Licks colleagues Christian and Kristy Favalli to build and open Saltyard. The restaurant is a culmination of Leahy’s experiences in the London kitchen, his world travels, and his commitment to uncomplicated, seasonal dishes through the use of locally grown food. Here, now, Leahy shares where he likes to eat when he isn’t on the clock.
I’m usually at Saltyard or with the family around lunchtime if I have the day off, but if not, I love Ton Ton at Ponce City Market (get the dan dan noodles). Also, the burger shop in the back of Candler Park Market has the most underrated burger in Atlanta. I forget the name, but it has cheese and jalapenos on it. It’s the deal. I cannot stress this enough.
I’ve had my birthday dinner for the last three years at Chateau Saigon on Buford Highway, if that says anything. Also, Wrecking Bar has great food and I always like to pay my buddy Terry [Kovall] a visit.
If I’m craving international fare, I like to do it right with a Buford Highway food crawl. Grab some tacos/tortas and then end up at Sweet Hut for dessert.
Cocktail/beer of choice
I’m a big IPA drinker and love Life.Death.Life.Truth. from Orpheus. For a cocktail, a classic negroni is great.
Fancy night out
If the wife and I are feeling fancy, we like to pay the godfather of Atlanta, Gerry Klaskala, a visit at Aria. They never disappoint.
One of my favorite things to make at home is a beautiful, simple roast chicken. It makes the whole house smell good. Usually, though, I make whatever my wife requests, and her most requested meal is pho, so that is in our regular rotation.
Top five Atlanta restaurants not mentioned above
Out-of -town favorite (regional)
I can’t name how many people I’ve sent to Local 11 Ten in Savannah. They are a favorite, for sure. Poogan’s Porch in Charleston is also great.
Out-of-town favorite (national)
Lilia blew me away on my last trip to NYC. They have these fried white bait (tiny little whole fish) that are superb. Definitely try some pastas.
My favorite international choice is Daylesford Organic in London — a restaurant and farm that solely uses its own homegrown and organic ingredients (including fruits, vegetables, dairy, and cattle) from its farms outside of the city. I may be a little biased since I was executive chef there before opening Saltyard.