Empire State South owner chef Hugh Acheson describes the food at his latest restaurant, By George, as “decidedly French.” But that’s not to say dishes on the menu here don’t carry Acheson’s proclivity for using ingredients that help bring a little local character to the food.
The all-day French restaurant debuted this week in downtown Atlanta inside the historic Candler building, now a 265-room boutique hotel on Peachtree Street. Located on the first floor of the circa 1906 building in the former Central Bank and Trust, By George serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
“By George is meant to evoke French food, but not the French food we’ve been led to believe is the only French food, which is kind of ubiquitous brasserie food,” Acheson says. “I’m not going for a Balthazar [New York City] redux. That doesn’t interest me at all.”
Instead, Acheson and his executive chef Ian Quinn hope to bring old school French classics to life at By George such as beautiful, custardy quenelles of fish, light salads, and pâté en croûte. Catfish rather than pike comprises the quenelle on the menu, finished with a bisque-like crawfish sauce. Leeks used in dishes might come from the Athens-based farm Woodland Gardens.
As with Acheson’s other restaurants, beverage director Kellie Thorn and sommelier Steven Grubbs are both on board at By George.
The wine list leans predominately French, with plenty of burgundies and wines from Alsace and the Loire Valley. Grubbs also offers a few surprises on the menu in grape varietals and wines from regions of France many don’t often associate with the country.
One of the original bank vaults beneath the restaurant by the kitchen now serves as wine storage due to its nearly airtight interior and steady temperature.
As for cocktails, Thorn is incorporating cognac, armagnac, eau de vies, and calvados in the drinks she creates for By George. Thorn has spent the last five years traveling to France for cognac tastings and seminars in order to educate herself in these spirits for use in cocktails as well as offering them by the glass. Her love of cognac and armagnac began behind the bar at Empire.
“The maturation of Kellie as a bartender means her cocktails right now carry a delicate touch,” says Acheson. “They’re not knock-you-out drinks. That’s not who she is or what people really want now. They’re beautiful, light, and balanced, and really showcase these French spirits.”
However, Acheson stresses By George still serves a great Old Fashioned.
While the previously announced caviar and champagne service is in the works for the future, Acheson wants to focus on the smaller selection of fruits de mer currently on the menu like the Sapelo Island clams and Southern oysters.
Breakfast will seem more familiar to those who frequent Empire in the morning, with dishes such as a scrambled egg croissant sandwich topped with gruyere cheese and a duxelles mushroom and herb mixture or grain bowls like the farro verde comprising of sheep’s milk feta and squash topped with pistachios and fine herbs.
“Like Empire, By George is meant to be a place to come to at any point in the day. I’ve never found myself wanting to call ourselves anything other than a restaurant,” Acheson explains. “What I found at Empire, there are so many neighborhoods that abut to it in Midtown. A lot of residents walk over every night for dinner or drinks. But, it’s also a destination for some people. In the end, it’s about feeding people — that’s what we do.”
Take a look at the menu for By George:
By George and the Candler Hotel are accessible via the Peachtree Center MARTA station one block north, the #40 MARTA bus line along Peachtree Street, and the Woodruff Park stop of the Atlanta streetcar one block south.
Open daily. Breakfast: 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.; Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
127 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta. curiocollection3.hilton.com.