AJC Spring Dining Guide 2015: Atlanta’s dining culture comes of age

Chief food writer John Kessler unveils the themes and trends that are remaking the metro area’s dining scene this spring. It’s a delicious time of year to enjoy the best the city has to offer

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.

» The new global obsessions

» Big plates are back on menu 

» Service at the next level 

» The return of technique

» AJC's list of top restaurants

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Food

Glamping up your campfire cuisine

For some of us, the concept of campfire cooking calls to mind hot dogs char-bubbling on sticks and gooey s’mores scorching the roofs of our mouths. But for Sunny Jin, the campfire cooking menu is a little more involved: cast-iron-seared foie gras over oak embers; beer-simmered bison roast; marshmallows soaked in Scotch and warmed fireside. Jin...
Iconic Ethiopian food: 5 recipes
Iconic Ethiopian food: 5 recipes

I still remember the first time I ever had Ethiopian food. It was at Mama Desta’s Red Sea restaurant in Chicago, where I took an ex-flame that I was desperately trying to rekindle. I don’t remember what we ate, but I was blown away by the expert melding of flavors and textures in the stewed meats, the rugged earthiness of the cooked vegetables...
These fudgy, flourless brownies are a chocolate-lover’s dream
These fudgy, flourless brownies are a chocolate-lover’s dream

I suspect you’ve never eaten a brownie and thought, “Hmm, there’s too much chocolate in here.” That’s the point of a brownie, right? A delectable, indulgent, classic Chocolate Delivery Vehicle, or CDV.* (*Trademark pending). That pure chocolate flavor is the defining characteristic of these gluten-free brownies from cookbook...
The sweet secret of spiced-pear muffins
The sweet secret of spiced-pear muffins

Lately I’ve been playing around with date sugar in my kitchen, and I’ve become increasingly sold on it as an alternative sweetener. Date sugar is not a true sugar; it is a naturally sweet dried fruit - dates - finely ground to resemble white granulated sugar, and it can be used to replace true sugar in many recipes. Because date sugar contains...
Autumn days beg for slow-simmered foods, like a pot of beans
Autumn days beg for slow-simmered foods, like a pot of beans

Autumn weather practically begs for slow-simmered foods. Yum. Beans, for example. Beans prove an excellent source of lean, inexpensive protein. Their versatility and adaptability means they can play prominently in main-dish salads, creamy soups and hearty stews. They pair terrifically as rustic side dishes to our fall grilling and roasting recipes...
More Stories