Tucked away in a Peachtree Corners shopping center behind three fast food restaurants, and next to a beauty supply store, Eating Americana could easily be overlooked from Peachtree Parkway.
Nothing about this particular strip mall stands out. It resembles any number of such shopping plazas dotting the busy roads around suburban Atlanta. But regulars continue to seek this restaurant out for a reason, and that’s to partake in dishes chef and owner James Chien describe as his love letter to American comfort food.
Chien moved to New York City from Hong Kong when he was six and grew up eating a broad range of foods living in Manhattan. With two working parents, the family often dined out at restaurants around the city during the week. His mother, who attended culinary school, would make traditional Chinese dishes when the family did eat at home. But there was just something about American comfort food that grabbed Chien’s attention from a young age.
“My cousins were all born here, and there would be a lot of times I spent at their households, and they cooked [fried] chicken cutlets and grew up eating spaghetti,” says Chien.
After working in fashion for nearly a decade, Chien departed the industry in 1988 to embark on his own culinary journey. He moved to Atlanta and began working for Bud Deslatte at Taste of New Orleans. Deslatte cooked New Orleans-style food, having studied under famed chef Paul Prudhomme, who was considered the father of modern Cajun and Creole cuisine. Chien learned everything he could about Cajun and Creole cooking and especially enjoyed the big, bold flavors after making labor-intensive dishes like etouffee or jambalaya. However, he found that many diners unfamiliar with these cuisine styles scoffed at the spiciness of the dishes.
For much of his restaurant career up until opening Eating Americana, Chien centered his cooking on Cajun-influenced foods. This included owning now-closed, Atlanta-area restaurants Some Like It Hot and Alligator Blues. But at age 61, Chien finally chose to lean into what he really wanted to cook: American comfort food.
He opened Eating Americana on March 16, 2020, the same day a national emergency was declared over the COVID-19 pandemic. For nearly two years, Chien essentially ran the Peachtree Corners restaurant himself, until he was able to hire some help.
“In the beginning, I served customers, I answered phones, I waited tables, I cooked the food, I delivered the food, and then I cleaned up afterwards,” says Chien. “That was the only way to survive, and now we’re almost four years later.”
Eating Americana is no frills inside. What little decor there is pays tribute in photos and paintings to both Cajun and American dishes lining the walls, including bread pudding, oysters, and a shrimp po’boy. There’s vintage Coca-Cola signs and kitschy throw pillows sporting the American flag set along the black wooden benches. People don’t come to Eating Americana for its design, they come for Chien’s food. It’s a point clearly seen in the numerous food pictures in reviews left on Yelp and Google by people who’ve dined at the restaurant.
Chien’s bone-in fried chicken is the superstar on the menu at Eating Americana. It takes about 20 minutes to prepare. You can choose between a breast and leg or thigh or wing combo, or even get a boneless fried chicken dinner. The chicken hits the table piping hot. The breading is crisp and golden with a subtle kick that gives way to the juicy meat underneath. It’s served alongside Chien’s rich mashed potatoes and a side of green beans. When asked to divulge the recipe for the seasoning of the fried chicken breading, Chien naturally declines, holding that secret close to the vest.
“I can tell you there’s salt and pepper, and I’ll leave it at that,” says Chien. He prides himself on taking a simpler approach to his fried chicken, eschewing buttermilk. And he’s not surprised the dish has become such a hit for him at Eating Americana. Chien says the key to its success is “being hot, fresh, and consistent” each and every time it’s served.
There are other standouts on the menu, too, like weekly dinner specials of meatloaf drizzled with brown gravy, macaroni and cheese, comprising a variety of cheeses mixed with a hearty amount of half and half, and garlic parmesan mashed potatoes. The seafood pasta, which combines shrimp, lobster, and crawfish, is served in a tomato cream sauce.
Chien might whip up a Cajun-influenced omelet with andouille sausage or crawfish etouffee and jambalaya. The dramatic presentation of the crawfish stuffed soft shell crab, fried to crispy perfection, stands erect, claws outstretched, atop the aforementioned mashed potatoes. It’s a seasonal favorite. Then there are desserts, such as freshly made pies in flavors like key lime, peanut butter, and white chocolate banana cream.
Chien admits it’s not the lightest fare to serve at a restaurant, especially when several dishes call for using heavy cream and lots of butter. That’s not the point of comfort food, he adds, “but it definitely tastes good.”
Lunch: Tuesday - Friday, 11 a.m. to 2p.m. Dinner: Tuesday - Thursday, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Brunch: Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
5450 Peachtree Parkway, Norcross. eatingamericana.com.