A culinary tour of Atlanta’s food halls
01.25.17 - Elysian Magazine
By Hank Sforzini
If it’s true there is no sincerer love than the love of food, the food hall is the ultimate billet-doux.
Food halls, which are typically indoor markets showcasing a variety of homegrown food vendors, are one of our country’s hottest culinary trends. While they offer chefs and restaurateurs a platform to launch new concepts, they provide patrons with communal dining experiences featuring locally-sourced, artisanal chef-driven meals. And the food hall trend shows no signs of slowing. New developments continue across the country, especially in the Southeast where projects in cities such as Lexington, Kentucky and Birmingham, Alabama are well underway.
Atlanta, often referred to as the South’s culture capital, is home to two of the country’s most popular food halls — The Central Food Hall at Ponce City Market and Krog Street Market.
Ponce City Market
Ponce City Market (PCM), located in the fully renovated Sears, Roebuck & Company building that was originally constructed in 1926, reopened in 2014. The mixed-use development is nestled in Atlanta’s burgeoning Old Fourth Ward neighborhood on the Beltline — a network of public parks, multi-use trails and transit created from historic railroad corridors circling downtown that connect 45 neighborhoods directly to each other.
At the heart of PCM, the Central Food Hall is one of the most vibrant in the Southeast. Here, several established James Beard Award-winning chefs along with emerging talents offer everything from Georgia and Carolinas-caught seafood to classic burgers and locally-made kimchee and Korean steamed buns.
What to eat
From James Beard Award-winning chef Linton Hopkins, H&F Burger serves the same burger made famous by Hopkins’ Atlanta restaurant Holeman and Finch Public House, which has collected national accolades, including from Food & Wine, since people first stumbled upon it.
The origins of the burger began as a kind of cult phenomenon as a special offering for restaurant industry workers. Each night at 10 p.m., the restaurant would make only 24 burgers — the griddle could only fit 12 at a time. Based on Hopkins’ belief that “good food runs out every night, and we make it fresh the next day,” he believed 12 was too few and 36 was too many. There are stories of people waiting hours to purchase a patty, and offering $100 for the last burger of the night.
Thanks to Hopkins’ outpost in PCM, the burger is now more readily available. The original griddled double cheeseburger is made with a blend of chuck and brisket, topped with red onion and house-made pickles, served on a freshly baked pan de mie bun from their bakery, H&F Bread Co., and served with from-scratch ketchup, and mustard on the side. The bun, sized with ideal bun-to-burger ratio in mind, is butter-toasted on the griddle for crispy golden edges and is alone worth the price.
Hop’s is Hopkins’ second PCM restaurant, a stall adjacent to H&F Burger that serves “honest, clean” deep-fried chicken. The menu is modest, serving fried chicken pieces or on a biscuit or sandwich along with a handful of sides. Whether you prefer individual pieces or your chicken between bread, opt for it Nashville-style hot if you like spicy. While it’s not identical to what’s served at historic Nashville hot chicken spots, it’s the closet thing you’ll find to Music City’s namesake yard bird outside the city that made it famous. “Hop’s is my favorite fried chicken in Atlanta and the only place to get true Nashville hot chicken,” said Matt Benard.
Spiller Park Coffee
This kiosk from Hugh Acheson and Dale Donchey offers freshly brewed artisan coffee, espresso, tea, baked goods, and packaged ground coffee.
If Acheson’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the James Beard Award-winning chef who’s helped define a new breed of progressive Southern cooking with his four Georgia restaurants — Five & Ten and The National in Athens, Atlanta’s Empire State South, and The Florence in Savannah. He’s also served as a judge on Top Chef.
Acheson is a self-proclaimed “huge baseball fan,” and the name is a nod to Spiller Park, another name for Ponce De Leon Park, which was located across the street from PCM and home field for minor league baseball team the Atlanta Crackers for six decades.
The 500-square-foot coffee shop seats approximately 25 people and uses beans sourced both globally and domestically from providers, including George Howell, Phil & Sebastian, and 49th Parallel.
W.H. Stiles Fish Camp
W.H. Stiles Fish Camp is a modern, urban fish shack serving freshly caught seafood mostly from the South. Named after Chef/Owner and Beard-award winner Anne Quatrano’s great-great-great-great grandfather, W. H. Stiles, Fish Camp is affectionately referred to as “Dub’s.”
For those familiar with the Atlanta restaurant scene, Quatrano’s name may sound familiar. She and her husband and business partner Cliff Harrison’s flagship, Bacchanalia, has been one of Atlanta’s most-celebrated restaurants since it opened in 1993 and serves as a touchstone for all other fine dining in the city.
Dub’s features a raw shellfish bar with a rotating selection of oysters, and clams; sandwiches including po boys, lobster rolls, and the catch of the day; steamed fish bowls; and salads.
“Dub’s is my favorite spot at Ponce City Market because the fast, fresh seafood reminds me of other great markets like Faneuil Hall in Boston and Pike Place Market in Seattle,” said Meredith Pierce. “I love being able to sit at the oyster bar and people watch, or take a lobster roll or cup of she crab soup to go.”
Ton Ton, which is affectionately known as the “little wooden jewel box” in PCM, is Atlanta’s newest entry into the ramen boom that has captured America’s interest in recent years. Restaurateur Guy Wong’s latest spot is a Japanese concept that serves ramen, sushi and yakitori, a Japanese style of skewered chicken.
Wong, who spent his boyhood taking to-go orders and assisting delivery drivers at his parents’ Chinese restaurant in an Atlanta suburb, is well known throughout the Atlanta scene for his restaurants Miso Izakaya, which was influenced by his apprenticeship at a local izakaya in Japan in 2007, and Le Fat, his Vietnamese brasserie draws from his mom’s Vietnamese-Chinese heritage.
A separate sushi kiosk, similar in size to Spiller Park Coffee, is planned for the opposite end of PCM.
Brezza Cucina is the casual Italian concept from celebrity California cuisine pioneer and James Beard Award-winning chef Jonathan Waxman.
Waxman’s presence in PCM’s industrial space makes sense. After all, his chic Manhattan Cal-Ital restaurant, Barbuto, is in a former garage with paned glass windows similar to those at PCM, and the exposed brick walls of his Nashville spot, Adele’s, bring to mind PCM’s atmosphere. Brezza Cucina, the largest restaurant in the hall, is an airy, sparsely decorated space with high factory ceilings and large windows that allow an abundance of natural light during the day. At night, string lights and the wood-burning oven provide a warm ambiance.
The menu offers a variety of small plates, large plates, pizzas and desserts. Perhaps the most popular dish is the JW Chicken, a half bone-in chicken cooked in the wood oven and then finished with a bright Italian salsa verde made with anchovies, capers, garlic, olive oil, parsley and vinegar.
Krog Street Market
Also near the Beltline and only a short walk from PCM, Krog Street Market (KSM) is a 9-acre development in the Inman Park neighborhood. The hall is located on the former site of Atlanta Stove Works, a potbelly stove and iron-pan factory that opened in 1889 and was an Atlanta institution for nearly 100 years.
In a brief written history of Atlanta Stove Works, “the Atlanta Stove Works brought to Atlanta a revolutionary idea in the field of cooking the Barrett Range, made of cast iron, would burn wood or coal and the fire looped the loop around the oven before going out the flue. It was an entirely new approach to modern cooking for that day.”
As KSM was designed to be as authentic as the 1920’s warehouse it occupies, it is fitting this space would house a food hall, which has ushered in another new culinary approach.
What to eat
Fred’s Meat & Bread
Celebrity chef Alton Brown recently put the City of Brotherly Love on notice when he proclaimed, “I’m so sorry Philadelphia, but the best cheesesteak is now in Atlanta,” referring to Chef Todd Ginsberg’s signature juicy 10 oz. rib-eye cheesesteak at Fred’s.
Ginsberg, who is also behind Atlanta’s General Muir, a contemporary twist on a traditional noshery, creates both eclectic and old-fashioned sandwiches at his newest eatery. Fred’s, a stall in KSM, is reminiscent of old school soda shops with its pull up counter that serves everything from Korean fried chicken sandwiches to oyster po’ boys, hand-cut fries and old school sodas.
Established in December 2010, Gu’s Bistro on Buford Highway, Atlanta’s popular 49-mile stretch of international culinary bliss located on Georgia State Route 13, quickly became one of Atlanta’s favorite Chinese restaurants. Now, Chef Gu’s spicy Szechuan cuisine can be found at Gu’s Dumplings in KSM.
“The sauce Gu’s uses on their dumplings is phenomenal. It’s spicy but the heat doesn’t overshadow the garlicky, robust flavor. And the sautéed green peppers are borderline addictive,” said Laura Rispin.
Natives of the birthplace of Szechuan cuisine, Chengdu, Szechuan province in southwestern China, Chef Gu and his wife bring a combined 70 years of culinary experience to the Gu’s Dumplings kitchen.
The stall’s most popular dish is its Zhong-style dumplings. They also serve an array of noodles, soups, and entr ées such as spicy dried eggplant and spicy crispy beef.
Superica is a “Mex-Tex” concept influenced by mega-restaurateur Ford Fry’s Texan roots.
Fry, a James Beard Award-nominee whose portfolio of restaurants total 10 in Atlanta and Houston, has been called nationally “one of the most prolific chefs and restaurateurs” in the United States. In 2013, Fry’s The Optimist was named one of Bon Appetit’s best new restaurants in America, and The Optimist and King + Duke were recognized as best new restaurants by Esquire in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
Superica is getting rave reviews from area diners, too. “The mole is to die for and the warm house-made tortillas are delicious,” said Nina Bloch. “I grew up in the Southwest, and I can confidently say outside of New Mexico, this is some of the best Tex-Mex food you’ll find anywhere. My fiancé’s favorite dish is the pork belly carnitas. The food is exceptional and is worth the wait for a table.”
At Superica, Fry reinterprets classic Tex-Mex fare, including tamales, puffy tacos, flautas, fajitas and nachos.
The final KSM anchor restaurant is named after an 18th-century French fort in upstate New York near Greg Best’s and Regan Smith’s, two of the restaurant’s five partners, hometowns of Poughkeepsie and Binghamton.
Prior to opening, the concept of Ticonderoga Club was shrouded in mystery. Now that it’s open, the best way to describe it is quirky and random — Christmas lights strewn above the bar, nautical elements including a captain’s chair amid bar stools, and a framed picture of John Travolta. The menu shares a similar disparate sensibility, largely influenced by Chef David Bies’, who is best known as the former chef de cuisine for Linton Hopkins’ Restaurant Eugene, three years traveling in Europe, Central America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia.
The playful, casual restaurant serves comfort eats with a seafood focus, backed by sophisticated signature cocktails, wine and craft beer. E
Ponce City Market is located at 675 Ponce de Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, Georgia 30308 and Krog Street Market is located at 99 Krog St NE, Atlanta, GA 30307. Hours of operation vary.