Native New Yorker Scotley Innis has taken quite a journey as a chef to arrive at Continent, his new Afro-Caribbean restaurant and cigar lounge now open on Buford Highway in Chamblee. After 16 years working in kitchens at Atlanta restaurants like Ormsby’s and South City Kitchen, and appearing on a season of Hell’s Kitchen, Innis is finally ready to debut his own restaurant exploring Afro-Caribbean dishes along with those found in countries from around the globe.
Innis discovered his culinary talent early, sparked in the kitchens of Jamaican restaurants in New York City at the beginning of his career. His global culinary curiosity stands out on the menu at Continent and matches both the energy and kaleidoscopic diversity of the food found in restaurants throughout Chamblee and metro Atlanta.
Planning for Continent began in March 2020, right as the pandemic began in the United States. Prior to the health crisis, Innis was hosting a variety of themed pop-up dinners and says he was considering his next move after spending nearly two years serving as executive chef at 5Church in Midtown.
When Gov. Brian Kemp ordered restaurants and bars to shutdown and shift to takeout last spring, Innis decided to open Scotch Yard first — a takeout restaurant serving Jamaican fare operating out of the Forrest Eatery ghost kitchen facility in Berkeley Park. Meanwhile, the chef continued to hone his plans for Continent.
“I was presented with the opportunity to have a to-go kitchen, when most restaurants shut down,” Innis says. “Where Continent came in is when I had to think about how I was going to still cater to my clientele when they wanted something more intimate.”
Inspired by his travels and love for the diaspora of African cuisine, Continent finally provides Innis the chance to showcase his vision for food from these regions and around the world at his own restaurant.
“My background is in Jamaican cuisine, but anybody who’s been following me knows I like to infuse it with a lot of Asian flavors,” says Innis. “Those were really my staple ingredients, and I add a little flair of African spices, and I show some love to my folks from South America. Being a chef in the South, I always pay homage to Southern cuisine and Atlanta, because Atlanta helped me become the chef that I am,” he adds. “I had to kind of figure out how to construct all of those flavors and generate that in my menu to keep people intrigued and to come up with something new using bold flavors from around the world.”
Examples of the chef’s cross-cultural cuisine ranges from starters like Yardman oysters (similar to oysters Rockefeller) layered with the leafy Jamaican vegetable callaloo, duck bacon, garlic butter, and parmesan cheese to oxtail lo mein, which mixes the savory braised meat with baby bok choy and chambray onions.
Continent’s cigar lounge includes black leather banquettes and vivid indigo blue lighting on the exposed ceiling to turn up the cool in the space. Innis serves a menu of small plates from the restaurant here paired with cocktails, Macallan scotch flights, and rare spirits, like the pricey Remy Martin Louis XIII cognac. People can sit and enjoy a drink with Cohiba, Rocky Patel, or other hand-rolled cigars, including a signature Continent cigar with a choice of Connecticut or Maduro wrapping.
The design in Continent’s dining room skews warmer and spicier, featuring stone panel flooring and ruby-red velvet booths set against tan walls, which are accented with stained wood paneling, silver shell-shaped sculptures, and a life-giving painting of singer Bob Marley.
Innis says while other Atlanta restaurants have similar Afro-Caribbean concepts and menus, the cigar lounge allows Continent to stand out and offers guests more than one way to experience his food.
“It separates Continent from everybody else,” he explains. “Where after dinner you can indulge in high-end spirits and cigars from around the world.”
Check out three dishes from the menu and two cocktails, created by general manager Mike Haze, Innis recommends trying at Continent.
Lamb Suya Chops
Using house-made suya spice rub and Innis’ own jerk marinade, these lamb chops are smoked, then rubbed, then grilled to a customer-preferred temperature. The lamb chops are topped with chard, red onion, cherry tomatoes, and additional spices, which Innis describes as a “nutty, smoky, spicy balance” of flavor. Innis says he knew he had succeeded with the recipe when a group of African gentlemen visited Continent for a private menu tasting recently, and were impressed by the lamb chops.
Innis says he wanted to incorporate his Jamaican background into this dish. “I try to stay in my own lane. I love callaloo. I love potato gnocchi. I feel like the combination balances the dish,” he says. Innis cooks the callaloo as if he was making saltfish and ackee (the national dish of Jamaica,) and mixes pureed Scotch bonnet into the gnocchi. But he insists those averse to spice need not panic. “When everybody sees a Scotch bonnet, they automatically think ‘hot’,” he adds. “No, I don’t like to make my food overbearing. It has a hint of heat because I want the dish to be well-balanced against the butter sauce with white wine, vinegar, shallots, and garlic.”
Jerk Lobster and Grits
Served only at brunch, this seven-ounce lobster sees the tail split in half. It’s then marinated in house jerk with what Innis describes as “aiko” roasted bell peppers, showcasing “the rasta colors, Ethiopian red, gold and green.” The dish incorporates caramelized onions and a cream sherry beurre blanc. “That’s where that sweetness comes into play, to take away some of the spice, but you still have a little bit of sharpness in it,” says Innis.
Strong and sturdy, this cigar-ready cocktail is a blend of Remy Martin V.S.O.P., Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters, and simple syrup accented with an absinthe rinse.
Give ‘em Flowers While They’re Here
An off-menu cocktail available only in the cigar lounge, this spritzy beverage is made using Ketel One grapefruit and rose botanical vodka, Aperol, and sparkling rosé and aromatically garnished with a mint stem and a grapefruit peel in the shape of a rose.
Check out the full menu here.
Open Tuesday - Saturday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. Reservations highly encouraged. Masks highly encouraged. Temperature check prior to entry.
4300 Buford Highway, Atlanta. thecontinentatlanta.com.