In August 2017, former Portofino executive chef Matt Marcus partnered with Andy Lasky to open Bluetop on Peachtree Road in Chamblee.
While that turn of events was surprising, in early April, Marcus figured in some even bigger Atlanta dining news, suddenly becoming the new chef/owner of Watershed on Peachtree in Brookwood Hills.
One of Atlanta’s true legacy restaurants, Watershed was founded in Decatur in 1998 by Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls, with Ross Jones and their business partners.
Anne Quatrano of Bacchanalia was the opening chef, before Scott Peacock took over in 1999 and made it a nationally recognized bastion of Southern-inspired farm-to-table cooking.
Watershed left Decatur and moved to Brookwood in 2010, where Joe Truex, and then Zeb Stevenson , continued the tradition of creative cooking with nods to the likes of fried chicken and biscuits.
Last week, sitting at the bar at Watershed, Marcus talked about the changes that led him there, and what changes he was making now.
“Some unfortunate things happened in Chamblee, and I got really depressed for a little while,” he said. “So I licked my wounds for a little bit, and then I started looking around for investors to do it again.
“I decided I wanted to look for a turnkey because I really didn’t have time to build again. I didn’t want to be out of the kitchen that long. That would have made it like three years of me in demolition and construction. That’s not the business I’m in. I’m in the business of cooking food and making people happy.”
To assist him in his search, Marcus contacted local restaurant real estate brokers Harold Shumacher and Steve Josovitz of the Shumacher Group.
“Late one night, Steve called me and said, ‘I need you to sign this nondisclosure agreement, because as soon as you sign this, you’re going to want to act on this spot,’” Marcus recalled. “Once I signed, I found out that Watershed was being shopped around a little bit.
“There were some very specific criteria, though. They wanted to keep the integrity of the menu and the concept, and still be sustainable. They wanted somebody who was going to bring their heart and soul into the building. I was ready, and I made my offer, they accepted my offer, and had it within a month.”
After that, it was full speed ahead for Marcus, who said he reopened Watershed after being closed for only a week to make the transition.
“I think the universe kind of pushed me into this situation,” he said. “Being born and raised in Atlanta, I carry the kind of cooking Watershed represents in my soul. My techniques are a little different, and I like to be a little more progressive, but really the products are the same.
“Actually, I expected a little more pushback than what we’re seeing. People seem to be really excited about what we’re doing. The menu reads a little differently, but once you get the food in front of them, everybody seems really happy.”
As far as the specifics of the menu, Marcus said he’s changing it and tweaking it every day, with an eye toward what’s available from farmers. Spring peas, spring onions, sugar snaps, asparagus, bibb lettuce and brassica currently show up in several items.
“Vegetables are hitting big right now, and we have a few vegan items on the menu,” Marcus said. “But I’m also doing tater tots, and lamb kibbeh. There’s a lot of Southern history in this menu, like chicken and dumplings and pork chops with black-eyed pea ‘panisse.’ And then there’s a lot of whimsical and playful things.”
One of the things along those lines that’s attracted the most attention is french fries with sea salt, and a 750-milliliter bottle of Krug Brut Rose, priced together at $350.
“We are getting people talking about our french fries — and we’re selling them,” Marcus said. “But it’s not that crazy. That’s a back vintage bottle of bubbles that’s hard to find in a lot of places, and if you’re finding it on somebody else’s list, it’s way more than that. So we’re giving you a discount. And we’re giving you french fries.”
1820 Peachtree Road NW, Atlanta. 404-809-3561, watershedrestaurant.com.
More images from a First Look at Watershed on Peachtree