A few weeks ago I had a good/bad meal replete with friendly but awkward service at a new restaurant under review. Afterward, I needed a nightcap and a few minutes to replay the meal in my mind and calibrate the angle of my thumbs.
I grabbed a bar stool at Cakes & Ale in Decatur, my favorite neighborhood haunt, and before long I saw chef-owner Billy Allin making the rounds in his usual get up of T-shirt, shorts, clogs and a clean but unfancy apron.
“What are you up to?” he asked.
“Trying to decide if I like a restaurant,” I answered candidly. Perhaps too candidly, though I didn’t name the place.
“There’s a lot to choose from,” he said, adding, “It seems like Atlanta finally has a dining scene. People have been saying it’s been coming for years, but it’s really here now, don’t you think? There are so many places I want to try.”
Allin was right. I’ve been tracking and promoting the burgeoning dining culture of this city for most of the 18 years I’ve lived here. Now that I’m signing off on my last dining guide, I can see that the change this time is different.
There’s a fresh energy, a kind of post-recession, post-farm-to-table spirit that celebrates creativity, vision and technique. It flows through the new high end (Buckhead’s luxe Atlas), the new bistro (Inman Park’s fabulously meat-crazed the Cocktentrice) and the new low-key (Decatur’s funky Dish Dive).
Restaurateurs like the Last Word’s Bernard Moussa are looking to their own ethnic heritage for inspiration, while chefs such as Cooks & Soldiers’ Landon Thompson are really doing the research to bring a region, such as Spain’s Basque country, to life.
Here are the best new restaurants in Atlanta this season. I’ve organized this guide around some of the themes and trends that are remaking the city’s dining culture. Included on the list is Buckhead’s new American Food and Beverage, the place I was contemplating at the Cakes & Ale bar, and which I’ve decided I do like, overall. It has some work to do and plenty of competition to keep up with if it can sail in the big race. But during this delicious spring 2015 in Atlanta, the rising tide raises all boats.