Redbird, a new restaurant from former Watershed chef Zeb Stevenson, will open in the old Bacchanalia space at Westside Provisions District (WSPD) on Howell Mill Road next summer. Stevenson, who is partnering with former Watershed owner Ross Jones in the restaurant, made the announcement over the weekend. Redbird joins two other new restaurants at the complex: Aziza, an Israeli restaurant from Tal Baum of Ponce City Market’s Bellina Alimentari, and a yet-named restaurant from the owners of Storico Fresco, located underneath Redbird. All three should open next year, breathing new life into WSPD’s somewhat stagnant restaurant scene.
Stevenson alluded to his new venture with Jones back in April, following the sale of the revered, 20-year-old Atlanta restaurant, owned by Jones and Indigo Girls’ Emily Saliers, to chef Matt Marcus. Saliers is not involved with Redbird. The sale freed up Stevenson to finally pursue his dream of opening a restaurant.
But, Redbird is not a Watershed redux.
Unlike its fine dining predecessor, Bacchanalia, Redbird will be “come as you are” casual and include Stevenson’s “free-spirited” takes on food. When asked to define “free-spirited” cuisine, the chef describes it as almost experiential — “a positive experience of being able to take great ingredients that inspire you and turn them into dishes that inspire other people.”
This approach to cooking should come as no surprise to his longtime followers. One of Stevenson’s most talked about food events when he was head chef at the Livingston in Midtown was his blood dinner — a coursed dinner exploring “the boundaries of blood as food.”
Just how this free-spiritedness will translate onto the menu at Redbird remains to be seen. But, without the constraints of being defined by a specific cuisine like Southern, such was the case at Watershed, Stevenson can cook what and how he wants.
“When I was putting together the idea for the menu at Redbird, I started thinking of places I love to dine. The restaurants that come to mind offer free-flowing menus and don’t really define their food. It’s all about creativity and letting go. They don’t make assumptions about the way you [diner] want to eat.”
Redbird will serve lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. Stevenson says to expect large entrees such as whole roasted chicken and sizable steak dinners on the menu, along with smaller dishes meant for sharing or for simply slipping in for a quick bite and a glass of wine.
“I don’t want to pigeonholed into a special occasion restaurant. I want to see the same people in that dining room a lot. We want it to be accessible. Many of the dishes will be affordable and casual,” says Stevenson. “You can still come in and throw down with a big steak but, sometimes I go to Ticonderoga Club and have a glass of wine and a Cobb salad. And, that’s what I want people to feel like they can do here. No judgement.”
Redbird, designed by Smith Hanes, will seat 80 people in the dining room, 15 at the bar, and 40 people on the courtyard terrace. The restaurant also includes an intimate kitchen counter, which seats eight and is just steps from the restaurant’s entrance. This is where diners will find Stevenson on most days, giving a wink or a wave to people as they come through the front door, now located on the terrace of the courtyard.
“I’ve been looking for a restaurant space for a year and a half now that would allow my kitchen to be ten feet from the front door, so I could greet people as they enter. That’s really important to me.”
Stevenson and Jones plan to open up and brighten the previously dark space, which was partitioned off by curtains. The newly designed kitchen allows diners to see straight in, part of Stevenson’s no boundaries approach to cooking. It also affords him the opportunity to access any point in the dining room quickly.
The Redbird partners first met when Stevenson was hired as head chef of Watershed in 2014. What began as an employer-employee relationship, turned into a friendship. Jones understands what makes Stevenson tick as a chef, and as a person. Redbird’s name comes from a shared fixation between the two with cardinals. They both see the bird as a guardian and a good omen. Stevenson has two cardinals tattooed on the back of his neck
During a short sabbatical at the beach, Jones spied two cardinals on a branch in the backyard. She took the birds as a sign that all would be well. Upon her return to Atlanta, Jones told Stevenson about the birds.
“Meanwhile, I had gotten the tattoo done while she was away. I pulled down my shirt collar, ‘You mean like these?’ It was a weird moment, but a sign everything was going to be ok. The names fits.”
Everything about Redbird is personal for Stevenson and Jones, even the logo, which the chef wrote in his own hand.
“It’s been hard being out of the kitchen these last few months. You don’t just do something every day of your life for over 20 years and then suddenly stop doing it and be ok,” the chef admits. “It’s been hard, but at the same time, I’ve been forced to sit with myself in a way I’ve never been able to during in my adult life. It’s made me reflect on who am I and what I bring to the table as a chef.”
For Stevenson, Redbird is finally the moment he gets to happily cook the food he’s waited 20 years to serve Atlanta.