by Jonathan Baker - 319 Reviews - 185 List
This year saw Atlanta's burger obsession hit a new level, a comical and delicious pizza war and Buford Highway's emergence as a serious ethnic haven. Attention wasn't just being dished to the expensive or gourmet. From cozy-cool tapas bars in Decatur (Iberian Pig, pictured) to a gastropub run by beer enthusiasts, we give you our top 10 new restaurants of 2009. And we don't mention ?locally sourced, Southern farm-to-table cuisine? once. Enjoy.
Updated: December 10, 2009
The last of the NY badasses (after Jean Georges, Tom Colicchio, Sasha Petraske) to open up an Atlanta outpost of a Manhattan mainstay, Laurent Tourondel's BLT Steak is quite possibly the best transplant. Steaks come sizzling in skillets topped with herb butter, giant popovers are instantly addictive and the setting (in the W Downtown) is one part masculine, one part sleek-chic. Bones and Chops have the Atlanta history, but BLT sure made a strong opening statement.
Decatur's Brickstore Pub has cultivated a massive, adoring fan base over the years. So, you can imagine the buzz when it was announced that owners of the bar that people love to love would be opening a gastropub. Leon's easily fulfilled the hype-machine, boasting a great beer list, amusing but well-executed gastro-cuisine and the best design of any restaurant in 2009. Drinking beer, eating burgers, playing bocce ball: good times provided by Leon's.
Talk about madness! Antico Pizza opened quietly in September and then, amidst a tidal wave of blog praise, instantly became Atlanta's most-talked-about restaurant in 2009. There were no seats, they often ran out of dough and didn't serve booze. And people couldn't stop raving about it. They've since added a communal table, they can supply `za to the masses and it's now B.Y.O.B. And the pizza? It's mind-boggling.
Decatur is such a charming, cozy neighborhood, and the Iberian Pig is an absolute perfect fit for the Square. Tapas are where the restaurant really shines, with wonderfully hearty versions of potatas bravas and grilled octopus. Wine is affordable by the glass and the bottle, and the namesake ham (jamon iberico) is buttery, nutty and delicate. It's an instant classic.
Another burger joint? And it's in the Sweet Auburn Curb Market? This looked like disaster, but it quickly became Downtown office hounds? crave-worthy go-to. Only open for lunch, it nicely resembles NY's Shake Shack: the menu is pointed and the burgers are served on super-soft potato buns. They're properly loaded with gooey cheese and mildly soft patties; ?melt in your mouth? is an understatement.
A whole-animal concept (every foodie's favorite in ?09!) delivered by the Bacchanalia people in a warehouse that feels like a farmhouse? It obviously didn't take long for this one to get launched to the top of the super-buzzed-about charts. For the adventurous gourmand, there's plenty of offal and, for the meat `n? potatoes crowd, there's plenty of ?not-weird food? on the menu. And, frankly, all of it is outstanding.
With his underground pizza parties reaching cult status, obsessed NY pizza blogger Jeff Varasano opened his restaurant with crazy hype swirling around it ("New York Times," cover story of the "AJC"). And, despite being looked at under a microscope, his shiny SoBu spot has just about lived up to it, dishing wonderfully unique pizza that lands somewhere between a NY street slice and a Naples-style pie. He's a bit of a drama queen, but that's part of the charm!
One of our favorite foodie trends in 2009 was the gourmet-market-that-serves-a-good-sandwich movement. (Because gourmet to go and fancy sandwiches rule!) While Noon, Mercantile and Le Petit Marche all bring the thunder, our favorite is Tiny Bistro. Their Cuban is one of the best in the city, and the fact that they also have an in-house catering company (Figs and Honey) means you can expect their take-home dishes to be outstanding, too.
Buford Highway is Atlanta's ethnic promised land and Bo Bo Garden is this year's splashy newcomer. (A splashy newcomer off Buford Highway? Who?d have thunk it?) Falling somewhere in between Wan Lai and Canton Cooks, this snappy spot is one of the few places in Atlanta that does traditional Cantonese rice casseroles served in steaming clay pots. The decor isn't much to look at, but that's not why you came.
While it's obvious that Atlanta has shifted into more of a hip-gourmand gear in the fine-dining scene, we still love a classic high-brow restaurant. And no restaurant made a fancier splash than Livingston. Gary Mennie (of Canoe fame) brought his well-executed, high-end American fare to an appropriately elaborate setting inside the Georgian Terrace. It's a restaurant that perfectly accompanies a show at the neighboring Fabulous Fox.