Gene’s is bringing Viet-Cajun-style barbecue, boudin egg rolls, and frozen drinks and Jell-O shots mixed with Flora-Bama beach dive vibes to East Lake when the pop-up opens as a restaurant next spring. The popular pop-up from Avery Cottrell, known for its zesty riffs on barbecue and sides of beef tallow refried beans, is taking over the former Salaryman space beside Poor Hendrix at Hosea and 2nd.
Regulars to the convivial pop-ups hosted at Kimball House, Bogg’s Social and Supply, Talat Market, and his current employer, Poor Hendrix, know the real magic behind Gene’s is Cottrell. When asked to describe the food, Cottrell simply says “it’s just Gene’s.” With his pop-ups often selling out, not defining the food or boxing himself in as a cook has made Gene’s successful. Cottrell intends to continue that ethos at his East Lake restaurant, which will feature everything from brisket plates and dinosaur beef ribs to reubens, cacio e pepe corn, and pork rind deviled eggs.
“The goal is to have a fun spot for everybody throughout the entire day,” says Cottrell. “Gene’s is kind of like if Pee-wee Herman created a dive bar with Flora-Bama vibes.”
Gene’s is named for Cottrell’s 35-pound orange and white cat — a friendly feline who is “happy and lazy and totally living his best life.” That’s Gene and Gene’s to a tee, he says. The cat serves as both mascot and logo inspiration for Gene’s, joining an elite group of beloved pets in similar roles at restaurants and breweries around Atlanta.
Cottrell is partnering in Gene’s with John Ward of Victory Brands restaurant group, as well as with the owners of Kimball House. He first met some of the owners years ago while working together at Brick Store Pub in Decatur, later reconnecting with the crew working in the kitchen at Kimball House.
“It all started with barbecue at Kimball House and my friendship with co-owner Matt Christensen,” Cottrell says of the origins of Gene’s. “I was working in New Orleans at a barbecue restaurant in 2017 and we started talking about doing something at Kimball House the next time I was in Atlanta.”
Cottrell did some barbecue pop-ups at Kimball House, driving back and forth between New Orleans and Atlanta. It was a grind, but the goal was to eventually open his own restaurant. Despite the pandemic causing him to press pause on those plans, Cottrell moved back to Atlanta with his wife and young daughter, began working at Poor Hendrix, and continued popping up with Gene’s on his days off.
Rather than doing straight up barbecue, Cottrell draws inspiration from his time in New Orleans. This includes leaning into Viet-Cajun flavors and ingredients and recreating dishes from family living in Louisiana. His grandmother’s crab claws are marinated in lemon juice, chili peppers, and fresh herbs accompanied by slices of pickled peppers. Tapping into Viet-Cajun cooking techniques for the barbecue at Gene’s means heavy smoked meats are tinged with bright and herbaceous flavors and a hint of heat.
Cottrell also deviates from traditional barbecue sides at Gene’s, serving sides like smashed cucumber salad tossed with mint and rice wine, coal-roasted beets with whipped goat cheese, and serrano pepper coleslaw. Gulf fish dip is garnished with pickled chilis and fresh dill served with seasoned Saltines. People should expect five or six side dishes and a selection of seasonal specials at Gene’s in East Lake.
In addition to Gene’s popular Biscoff banana pudding, which Cottrell can’t seem to make enough of these days, his wife Elizabeth will also be baking pies for the restaurant. A late-night menu on the weekends will see Gene’s turn divey, serving boudin egg rolls, Daytona hot wings, and other bar snacks. The whole menu flips for a barbecue brunch on Sundays, which Cottrell says will offer barbecue shrimp and breakfast burritos stuffed with smoked meats and vegetables. A kids menu will feature Gene’s chubby feline face with its cheeky grin drawn like a maze.
With the team behind Kimball House as partners, Cottrell is taking advantage of the talent behind the bar at the award-winning Decatur restaurant. Veteran bartender and Kimball House partner Miles Macquarrie is consulting on the beverages for Gene’s. Look for cocktails and frozen drinks, Jell-O shots, and a few cheap beers befitting a beach dive.
As to whether he feels Gene’s will compete with neighboring Poor Hendrix, Cottrell says the restaurants are bringing different options to East Lake, but both are still centered on being part of the community.
“I work at Poor Hendrix. It’s the best, and so are Aaron and Jamie [Russell]. They are so good to work for and actually encouraged me to check out the space when Salaryman closed,” he says. “I’m taking inspiration from them on handling Gene’s. I want it to be a great place to work and visit.”
“I’ve been a cook all my life. For me personally, Gene’s is going to be a true representation of myself through the lens of barbecue and my style of cooking,” Cottrell adds. “It’s going to be fun and a cool, weird little spot to hang out in East Lake.”