Ask the Expert: Atlanta's Dining Scene

Ultimate epicure Kate Parham Kordsmeier sat down with Where to share insight into Atlanta’s sizzling foodie culture.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier spends her days sampling the nation’s best restaurants, rubbing elbows with acclaimed chefs and writing about her experiences in over 100 publications. A Georgia native, Kordsmeier recently wrote her own cookbook, “Atlanta Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes From the Big Peach,” featuring recipes and stories from Atlanta’s most popular chefs. This ultimate epicure sat down with Where to share insight into Atlanta’s sizzling foodie culture.

Atlanta Chef's Table

What was the most surprising part about writing the book?

The most surprising thing was seeing how easy some of what they do is and on the flip side how something that seems so simple actually takes so many different steps. [Chef Steven Satterfield] gave a squash ragu recipe [from Miller Union] and on the surface it sounds very simple, but the recipe is very long and complex, and it makes you realize how much work and thought and attention to detail goes into every single recipe. On the flip side ... The Spence [now closed] did one of my all-time favorite dishes, which is a brussels-sprouts dish. I’ve actually gone home now and made the sauce—it’s a Thai-style vinaigrette that they toss the brussels sprouts in when they’re done cooking. I made a big jar of it and I just keep it in my fridge at all times. It’s awesome to throw on any kind of vegetables or meats or anything like that, and it’s super easy.

How does Atlanta’s dining scene differ from other major foodie destinations?

Atlanta has a very tight-knit community. In the restaurant industry all the chefs are friends and know each other. That doesn’t always happen, especially in cities like New York that are more cutthroat [where chefs] see each other as competition. Atlanta’s really great because the chefs realize they can coexist and both be successful.

Also, there’s so much diversity here, which is true of a lot of bigger cities. Buford Highway is a great example of the ethnic diversity you find here. Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean are probably the three biggest Asian populations we have and as such there’s many of those restaurants. We’re starting to see a lot more modern interpretations of that open up like Makan in Decatur. I love that there’s so many people from other places that come to Atlanta. It’s such a melting pot that you get to eat food from all of those other countries. There are some cities that are more insulated from that and don’t get as much of that cultural diversity. I love that about Atlanta.

Chefs at AF&WF

How would you characterize Atlanta’s chefs?

Collaborative, friendly, open. Chefs are known for having big egos. [Laughs.] There’s certainly some of that in any city. Atlanta is not excluded from that. But overall, a lot of the chefs here are really down to earth. There are, of course, some celebrity chefs who you won’t find in their restaurants. But, for instance Bruce Logue is one of my favorite chefs. He’s at BoccaLupo. He has never once missed a night of cooking in his restaurant and they’re open six days a week, I believe. And he’s never once not cooked. I think that’s really impressive. Maybe not to that extreme, but I think you find a lot of chefs who are actually the ones cooking. That’s really unique and special.

What are three must-try restaurants in Atlanta?

It’s so hard to give three. I could give you 30!

Umi is a must-try for Atlanta, because not only is it my personal favorite sushi restaurant, but even after traveling to Japan and eating my way through many different sushi restaurants there, I still think that Umi is the best sushi I’ve ever had. Americans think of sushi restaurants as over-stuffed rolls that are masking poor-quality fish drenched in sauces. That’s not sushi. Umi provides a place that is very authentic, even though they do have a lot of modern techniques and creature comforts ... that you wouldn’t normally find maybe at a sushi restaurant in Japan. [Chef] Ito is a character. He loves interacting with customers. Sushi chefs, in general, have the tendency to be very reserved and quiet behind the station, but he wants to talk to everybody. He wants to learn what you like and dislike, and learn your habits and your tastes and get you to try new things.

Gunshow, Atlanta, GA

[Gunshow] is a totally different concept. It’s kind of this dim sum-meets-Brazilian churrascaria-style restaurant. The coolest thing is that the chefs are each responsible for a certain number of dishes every night. They’ll make a batch of maybe three to five at a time, and they’ll just walk it around the dining room. You get to see it, smell it, ask questions. I think you end up ordering a lot of things you never would have tried before, because maybe the menu description isn’t as appealing or you think it doesn’t sound good or it’s boring or too adventurous. But then when you see it, it’s very difficult to say ‘no.’ I'm always spending too much money there!

BoccaLupo. Every chef that I interviewed for this book I asked who they thought was making the biggest impact on Atlanta cuisine and the dining scene here, and almost every single one said Bruce Logue. It’s true. Everything is made from scratch and he does a lot of extruded pastas and a lot of things that are unique ... and you can just taste it. Everything he touches is full of flavor. The most surprising thing is he gave us his bucatini recipe. It’s short. It’s less than 10 ingredients, it’s a paragraph of instructions and it is just bursting with flavor. Make it for a dinner party and you’ll be golden.

Chai Pani, Atlanta, GA

Which are your three favorite recipes from the book?

The brussels sprouts from The Spence, because that sauce is just so addicting. You can make a big batch of it and use it on everything. I love Chai Pani very much, and there are a couple recipes that are Indian twists on classic American dishes like sloppy joes—theirs is the sloppy jai. It’s filled with flavors you would find in that cuisine, such as cumin and coriander and turmeric. One Eared Stag is one of the great restaurants in Atlanta. Their celery and apple salad is one of my favorite dishes. It’s fairly easy to replicate at home. I don’t even like celery and it’s one of my favorite things. I love it.

Seven Lamps is another one of my favorite restaurants in town, and they’re such a hidden gem. They’re tucked in a corner in the Shops Around Lenox and it’s not something you would see from the street. It’s around Lenox Square Mall so you would just assume it’s a chain, but it is so delicious and it’s one of those places where I’ve taken so many different friends and family members. Anyone can find something to eat, whether you want to be adventurous and try something you’ve never heard of before or you just want to go and order their off-menu burger.

They gave a recipe of this salad of new potatoes and spring peas. I imagine serving it at barbecues and cookouts. It’s a great dinner-party dish you can make in advance. They grill the cucumbers and it adds this really unique quality—that charred flavor to the dish is really interesting. It’s perfect for springtime with all the spring peas in season. It’s delicious.

Joey Ward, Gunshow, Atlanta, GA

Who are the chefs to watch in Atlanta?

George Yu at Makan. What they're doing with Chinese and Korean food is amazing. People think of it as Asian fusion, but it’s not. They’re not claiming to make their grandmothers’ recipes, but it is authentic food served in this setting that you don’t normally find Asian food. Joey Ward at Gunshow is working at one of the city’s hottest restaurants, but he’s under 30. I think it’s very impressive what he’s been able to do so far. Same with Guy Wong who [owns] Miso Izakaya and just opened Le Fat on the Westside. It’s really good to see ethnic food becoming more approachable but still staying true to its roots.

What do you think will be Atlanta’s biggest food trends this year?

Asian-American chefs opening up places that are serving authentic food in a Westernized setting. Asian fusion has been going on for a long time, but I think it’s moving away from mashed potatoes with wasabi and calling it Asian food. Now we’re actually eating ramen and not the packets that we [ate] in college.

Also, comfort food done in a refined setting. Serpas does pigs in a blanket. Cooks & Soldiers has an awesome version of pigs and a blanket, also. Instead of dumbing down food, we’re now going the opposite direction of taking something that already was dumbed down and elevating it.

Ponce City Market, Atlanta, GA

Which restaurant opening are you most excited for?

I’m very excited for Ponce City Market. These kind of mixed-use, warehouse-style buildings that have food stalls and butchers and bakers and even full-service restaurants and little boutiques, that’s been a trend going on around the country. It’s exciting to see Atlanta getting in on that. Of course, we already have Krog Street Market but Ponce is another one that I’m very excited for. This is like the tagline for Ponce City Market, but there’s four James Beard nominees going in there, which is pretty cool to think about.

What does your perfect food-fueled day look like?

If I was going to start off with breakfast or coffee, I would probably go—and these are sister restaurants—to either The General Muir or West Egg Cafe.

Bocado has a great lunch. Their burger is, in my opinion, the best burger in town. That’s a heated debate. What Chef Adam [Waller] does there with produce is amazing. Not a ton of places, especially on the Westside, are open for lunch.

For a snack, I’m always partial to Empire State South. They did my wedding. Those guys are awesome and so much fun. The food is just amazing and the cocktails are so good ... and will get you in trouble. I’d go there for drinks and appetizers—pimento cheese, of course.

I’d have to include sushi at Umi for dinner—that’s my go-to spot.

Krog Street Market, Atlanta, GA

I’m leaving out so many of my favorites! One easy answer is go to Krog Street Market. You can literally spend the entire day [there] and have a totally different experience at each of those places. You can get everything from charcuterie to sushi to beer. The sandwiches at Fred’s Meat & Bread are out of this world. Todd Ginsberg, who is the chef at Fred’s, is responsible for creating the Bocado burger, so the burger at Fred’s is delicious.