Chefs Angus Brown and Nhan Le built a reputation for edgy sophisticated cooking at Octopus Bar, their East Atlanta Village after-hours sensation. And they broadened the appeal when they opened Lusca in South Buckhead in 2014 .
The seafood-centric restaurant quickly became an Atlanta critics’ darling, was named a 2015 James Beard Awards semifinalist for Best New Restaurant, and landed on the GQ list of 25 Most Outstanding Restaurants of 2015.
Then, seeming not to enjoy the neighborhood or all the attention, Brown and Le suddenly closed Lusca, and started planning a new, more casual seafood spot, called AMA , in the Paris on Ponce market space near the Beltline and Ponce City Market.
That restaurant is still several months from opening, according to Brown. But he’s back in the kitchen every night at 8ARM Poncey-Highland, another project with Le, which serves as a boutique coffee shop and counter service breakfast, lunch and grab-and-go spot by day.
If you stop in after 7 a.m., you’ll find baked goods from pastry chef Sarah Dodge, including cinnamon buns, biscuits with pimento cheese, and a daily quiche. At lunchtime, there’s a grain bowl, avocado-crab toast and maybe a tuna melt or oyster po’ boy, plus several sides.
Brown’s full-service dinner menu kicks in at 6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, with eight offerings that change according to what’s in season and the whims of the chef. But expect several vegetable dishes, a pasta, and some sort of rustic fish preparation.
Last week, Brown was serving a whole grilled mackerel, plated head-to-tail with a bright marinated tomato, cucumber and red onion salad topped with fresh herbs and finished with Italian olive oil and sea salt.
“I love this kind of fish,” Brown said. “They’re really fatty, and flavorful and healthy, and they have a lot of character. You don’t need to add much to them, so you can be really minimal. Tomatoes are still coming in, some of the best I’ve seen this season, so I’m going to hold on to summer as long as I can.”
Another dish of the night was an artfully tangled pile of fresh house-made tagliatelle topped with fried zucchini, Parmigiano-Reggiano and bottarga, an Italian-style salted fish roe. And Brown said the toppings for a whole roasted Delicate squash, with sage, hot pepper and Tomme cheese, were inspired by the flavors of pizza.
“I’m trying to focus on sourcing and technique and making things that are simple,” Brown said. “As a chef, that’s hard sometimes. I keep on wanting to add another thing. But I’m being very strict with myself.”
Much like the food, the 8ARM space is minimalist, evoking Japanese and Scandinavian design with concrete floors, white walls and pine and metal furnishings. Outside, there’s a patio in the works, with a shipping container that will soon be made into the bar area.
As it turns out, 8ARM came about mostly because AMA was stalled by permitting and construction issues, Brown said, and that was fortuitous.
“We’d been trying to get to this neighborhood way before we were even thinking about Lusca,” he said. “We really wanted the energy of this part of the city, and when we saw Paris on Ponce, that was it. But now, we’re really going to get this place established before we open up there.
“The size is right for me right now. This is 40 seats and I can cook, and I can expedite, kind of like Octopus Bar, but even smaller. I realized this was the way for me to be happy. Having a menu that’s eight items and changes a little bit every night, I can get back to the basics of just feeding people.”
More images from a First Look at 8ARM.