The one constant within Atlanta’s dining scene is change. A restaurant institution today can be gone tomorrow (RIP Restaurant Eugene) and something new opens in its place. While Atlanta said goodbye to several restaurants in 2019, new food trends took hold this year. Some, like the CBD craze, were fleeting, while others continue to transform Atlanta’s dining landscape.
Eater Atlanta checked in with a few of the city’s best and brightest chefs and bartenders to get their thoughts on the 2019 dining and drinking scene.
Atlanta’s Food Diversity Shines in 2019
Ron Hsu, executive chef and owner of Lazy Betty in Candler Park, feels the spotlight was shining on African cuisine this year through pop-ups and restaurant openings around Atlanta. Ebi Chop Bar, a series of dinners organized by Miami transplant chef Cleophus Hethington, explored the cuisines of the African diaspora through dishes like Ghanan red red (traditionally a black eyed pea stew) presented with bucatini, breadfruit, and pecorino. Afro-Caribbean restaurant and bar Rock Steady opened along busy Marietta Street and Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen brought Gullah Geechee cuisine to College Park.
Hsu is also excited to see Vietvana open in Avondale Estates. “I thought it was cool to see a [Vietnamese] spot like Vietvana open up out there in Avondale. ...I like seeing a lot of these what would be considered hole-in-the-wall spots open in little towns where generally those kind of hole-in-the-wall spots are nestled in the little alleyways of big cities, right?”
Restaurant Pop-Up Explosion
Restaurant pop-ups aren’t new to Atlanta. Staplehouse and the now shuttered Home Park restaurant Better Half began as pop-ups years ago. But 2019 saw an explosion of pop-up experiences throughout Atlanta, from coursed dinners held at restaurants to niche foods like cookies from Larissa Neto’s Bakey Bakes, cakes from Vy Howard’s Syndesi Desserts, and the growing popularity of Sarah Dodge’s Bread Is Good.
“I think it’s awesome that they [pop-ups] cover a whole wide spectrum, not just full-on tasting menus,” Hsu says. “They do their own kind of niche, cool, little focus on one-of-a-kind things, and do it well.”
8ARM executive chef and Chicomecóatl pop-up owner, Maricela Vega, also believes Atlanta’s pop-up culture grew and infused even more diversity into the city’s dining scene this year. “Everybody’s becoming an entrepreneur. I think we kind of have to shift to that business model to have your creative freedom and to see if your idea will work out,” says Vega.
A Vegetable Renaissance
Vega feels vegetables took center stage in 2019 at more restaurants around Atlanta. She believes that even three years ago, diners would have been hard-pressed to find a “vegetable-forward” menu at an Atlanta restaurant that wasn’t strictly vegan or vegetarian. 8Arm’s current menu is mostly vegetarian and vegan, and vegetables are the stars on the menu at chef Zeb Stevenson’s Redbird at Westside Provisions District.
James Beard award-winning chef Steven Satterfield, who just celebrated the tenth anniversary of Miller Union, agrees with Vega’s take on Atlanta’s vegetable renaissance in 2019. “I think there’s still so much to be discovered. Vegetables have a lot of possibilities for being different things whether they’re manipulated or not,” says Satterfield, who is known for creating dishes where vegetables are often the main attraction.
Why more vegetables? Vega believes more restaurants are now sourcing locally and working directly with farmers. Within her own network of chef colleagues, produce from farms like Hickory Hill, Pinewood, and Grow Where You Are are beginning to appear with regularity on Atlanta restaurant menus. Going into 2020, Vega says chefs will likely be working consistently with farmers to plan out their gardens and committing to local produce. “[Farmers] are trying to make it easy, and we’re [chefs/restaurants] responding to that as well. It’s a two-way relationship, for sure.”
The 2019 Atlanta Drinking Scene
Bartender and cocktail consultant Tiffanie Barriere feels frozen drinks ruled Atlanta’s cocktail scene in 2019. At places like Establishment in Midtown and Seven Lamps in Buckhead, she is finding creative frozen drinks beyond the daiquiri on the menu. Seven Lamps, for example, has the Mistmaster Dugan made with vodka, cayenne and ginger kombucha, green apple, lemon balm, mountain dew, and moscato mist.
Barriere believes coffee cocktails are also having a moment, thanks to Atlanta’s thriving coffee scene. “Amaros and sherry have been around for a while. It’s sitting on shelves, but they go great in coffees. I’ve seen some bartenders really expand the coffee flavors,” she says, pointing to Full Commission in Grant Park, which offers two coffee cocktails on its current menu.
While nonalcoholic cocktails seemed to be trending up in 2019, Barriere disagrees. “I don’t know if it’s a trend. It’s a new option,” she says. “The consumer is more comfortable with ordering a ‘mocktail’ and not feeling like they’re weird.” Trend or not, Barriere says people are now able to comfortably order nonalcoholic drinks thanks, in part, to bartenders having ingredients at their disposal to create better zero-proof drinks.
Sarah Pierre, owner of 3 Parks Wine Shop in Glenwood Park, suspects low ABV (alcohol by volume) options, like cider, will continue to grow in popularity throughout 2020. As for 2019, Pierre saw Atlanta restaurants curating wine lists with much more variety and diversity. From 8Arm and “modern Israeli” restaurant Aziza to The Painted Duck and the Stanky Wine pop-up at Brush Sushi Izakaya, wine lists are starting to go beyond the basics at Atlanta restaurants.
“You want to see a little bit from Italy, a little bit from Jura [France], a little bit from Loire Valley [France], maybe something from Slovenia,” says Pierre. “Just something a little bit more interesting. Because if we’re all doing the same thing, what separates us?”
- All Year in Eater coverage [EATL]