2018 Atlanta Rising Stars: Why They Shine

2018 Atlanta Rising Stars: Why They Shine

Dining in the South is in beautiful flux, and bustling, international Atlanta is at the center of that change. The chefs and tastemakers pushing forward this city of 5.7 million are grafting their own heritage and style onto Southern ingredients and traditions—whether it’s a funky-fresh Thai salad made with sweet Georgia peppers, French pastry that substitutes pecans for almonds, or boiled peanuts making appearances in conceptual fine dining. 

The immigrant cuisine of Buford Highway has been a long-time draw for the industry, but greater Atlanta has a new appetite for Asian cuisine, and cooks have a broader range of ingredients and techniques they can use in the own restaurants. Shifting palates also are helping young Asian chefs gain the momentum they need to open restaurants that reflect their heritage.

Atlanta’s beverage scene has grown immensely in the year’s since StarChefs last visited. With Georgia’s newly relaxed brewery laws, the city is in the early phases of a micro-brewery boom. Third wave coffee roasters are starting to see traction in restaurants, cafes, and in, of all places, churches. And even though stand-alone bars don’t really exist in the city (still), establishments like Ticonderoga Club and Kimball House have made a national name for their cocktails and hospitality. 

Best of all, the Atlanta restaurant community is not only adapting and affecting change, it's leading the way. Chefs are feeding new neighborhoods, the concept restaurant is evolving, and restaurant groups—big and small—are growing gangbusters, all in the name of better food and drinks for their city. Here are the 23 restaurant professionals with the freshest voices, most exceptional dishes and beverages, and the energy to shape the city for years to come.

Chef: Brett Ashcraft, Queenie's

Tired of Atlanta traffic but still hungry for great food, Brett Ashcraft helped launch Queenie’s in Canton. Styled after an old-school meat and three joint, Ashcraft makes resonant Southern comfort food with ample technique hiding just below the surface. Meatloaf sausage, Jack and Coke chicken liver paté, and pimento cheese (with a kick of fish sauce) all nod to your grandma’s Sunday table and then fly right past it. Not everybody wants to brave 575 to I-75 to eat dinner, and in the years to come, Ashcraft will give Canton diners plenty of excuses to dine—with heart—in their hometown. He’s a model for any chef who wants to bring superb to the suburbs.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Chicken Liver Pâté, Jack and Coke Syrup, Biscuits, and Cornbread
  • Meatloaf Sausage, Braised Collards, Braised Pinto Beans and House Chow Chow
Chef: Spencer Gomez, Holeman & Finch

Give him a whole animal and a pick-up truck full of produce and Spencer Gomez will deliver a smart, crowd-pleasing menu for diners at Linton Hopkin’s beloved Holeman & Finch. Originally from Colorado’s Western Slope, Gomez’s flavor memories aren’t mired in cracklin’ clichés, and his plates—shishitos with creamy Tennessee cheese and celery or charred cabbage dressed with peanuts-bacon ragout—have a warm, generous heart. Gomez works to build citywide and national community by bringing chefs into Holeman & Finch for collaboration dinners, immersing his peers in the restaurant’s ecosystem of curing and put-by brilliance. From those ties and ideas, and an innate creative streak, Gomez has developed into a leader and original voice for Southern cuisine. 

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Charred Napa Cabbage, Braised Georgia Peanuts, and Benton’s Bacon
  • Shishito Peppers, Celery, Blackberry Farm Brebis Cheese, Squash Blossoms, and Sesame
Chef: Jonathan Kallini, Bacchanalia

Intention, precision, and excellence are the central tenets of Chef Jonathan Kallini’s cooking. As executive chef of Anne Quatrano’s fine-dining Bacchanalia, Kallini presides over one of Atlanta’s most important and storied kitchens, composing exquisite, rooted tasting menus. Having Quantrano’s Summerland Farms as an endless source of inspiration, Kallini balances a product-first approach with layers (and layers) of technique. He seamlessly, subtly mixes luxe ingredients with more humble product: halibut, cabbage, castelvetrano olives, and truffles. Kallini believes in fine dining’s power to transcend, to push cooks and guests to their experimental best, and his work at Bacchanalia is enough to convince us he’s right. 

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Fruits de Mer: Nantucket Bay Scallop, Monkfish Liver Torchon, John’s River Oyster, Steelhead Trout Belly Tartare and Shiso, Hiramasa Crudo, Maine Uni Panna Cotta and Polanco Caviar, and Razor Clam Ceviche
  • Maine Halibut, Summerland Farms Cabbage, Castelvetrano Olives, and Périgord Black Truffle
Chef: Jason Liang, Brush Sushi Izakaya

Authenticity is Jason Liang’s primary aim. With Brush Sushi Izakaya in Decatur, he offers Tokyo-style sushi and sashimi, spectacular omakase, ramen, and robata-grilled izakaya fare. It’s the sushi, though, that defines Liang. He believes in sourcing peak season seafood, instead of pandering with ubiquitous tuna, salmon, and yellowtail. And in line with Tokyo’s counters, his omakase isn’t about freshness—it’s about coaxing fish to its best state though aging, curing, marinating, or smoking with hay. Fortunately for Atlanta, Liang also make a mean kara-age and chicken-seafood ramen, and he’s opening a second quick-serve concept, Momonoki, to expand his reach and share Japanese traditions with greater Atlanta. 

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Omakase Sushi: Arrow Squid, Gizzard Shad, Silverskin Fish, Flounder Fin, Golden Eye Snapper, Tuna, O Toro Tuna, Iwashi with Ginger and Scallion, Eel with Onago Sauce, Maine Sea Urchin, and Shrimp-Mountain Yam Tamago 
  • Chicken Karage Don, Soft-boiled Egg, Wasabi Aioli, and Rice
Chef: Richard Neal, Five & Ten

Richard Neal always pushes for more—whether it’s the caliber of restaurant he works in, the inventiveness of his dishes, or how long he asks a farmer to ripen a pepper crop for his Georgia togarashi. What’s good today will be exceptional tomorrow. Now, as executive chef of Hugh Acheson’s landmark (18-year-old!) Five & Ten, Neal is helping narrate a new and open interpretation of Southern cuisine, one where boiled peanut tahini nestles up to crunchy beef tendons and cured radishes and turnips (inspired by Adoni Aduriz, no less). Neal finds inspiration all around him and applies it with rigor and finesse. He’s a progressive chef in pursuit of modern, exceptional cuisine made in the South.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Cured Turnips and Radish, Boiled Peanut Tahini, Beef Fat Dressing, Pickled Turnip, and Puffed Beef Tendon
  • Guinea Fowl Pressé, Lemongrass Gel, Matsusake Cream, Dried Matsusakes, Cracklins, and Rutabaga Thinnings
Chef: Parnass Savang, Talat Market

It’s a Friday night, and there’s a line around the block to get into Talat Market, the three-night-a-week Thai pop-up from Chef Parnass Savang. Savang has struck a chord with Atlanta diners by showcasing his heritage, straight from the mortar and pestle to the plate. For Savang, that means blending his Atlanta upbringing and local produce with classic Thai ingredients and techniques to produce spicy curries, nuanced crudos, and funky-fresh salads. His current space at Gato in Candler Park won’t contain Talat Market for long. Watch out for Savang and his idiosyncratic cooking to find a bigger home in Atlanta and the hearts of American diners. 

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Pla Chae Nahm Pla: Madai Sashimi, Finger Limes, Mint, Fried Garlic, Arugula, and Thai Chiles
  • Geng Dang Muu Sam Chan: Pork Belly Red Curry, Sunchokes, Shishito Peppers, Thai Basil, and Jasmine Rice
Chef: Joey Ward, Gunshow

Joey Ward is captain of a pirate ship: Gunshow, Kevin Gillespie’s anything-goes dim sum restaurant. It’s the kind of kitchen where imagination runs wild, and where Ward plays the role of technical mastermind and editor. Ward’s artistic, innovative sensibility is limitless, and he mines flavor memories to keep it all grounded. A summer sandwich from his granddad becomes a tomato water macaron with Duke’s mayonnaise, and Buford Highway chicken wings morph into fried chicken with nước chấm maple syrup and peanut butter waffles. As Ward harnesses his staff’s energy and pushes them to create, he is working to build the next generation of experimental cooks in Atlanta. 

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Scallop, Corn-Coconut Milk, Watermelon Granita, Watermelon Rind Salad, Fish Sauce, Thai Chile, Toasted Peanuts, and Thai Basil
  • Kobe Beef Tartare, Brioche, White Truffle Emulsion, Egg Yolk Gel, and Chervil
Community: Adam Beauchamp, David Stein and Chris Herron, Creature Comforts Brewery

Just shy of 4 years old, Creature Comforts Brewing Co. produces 25,000 barrels a year, and its signature, juicy, aromatic Tropicalia IPA flies off shelves. In tandem with that growth, Partners Adam Beauchamp, Chris Herron, and David Stein have invested in the fairly standard brewery advancements: a larger production facility, a microbiologist’s salary, and all manner of advanced equipment. Most notably though, they’ve invested—with real dollars and time—in their community in Athens-Clarke County, even hiring a director of community and culture. One hundred percent of the profit from their Get Comfortable IPA benefits local nonprofits, and their Get Comfortable charitable giving program distributed more than $125,000 in 2017. Through exceptional beer and generosity, Beauchamp, Herron, and Stein are changing the brewing business paradigm. 

Beers that clinched it:

  • Tropicalia IPA
  • Classic City American Lager
Concept: Bryan Furman, B's Cracklin' BBQ

Bryan Furman doesn’t believe in shortcuts in life or barbecue. Furman’s whole hog empire is taking shape with locations of B’s Cracklin’ BBQ in Savannah and Atlanta. What sets Furman’s business apart are his hogs—heritage crosses he farms in South Georgia. He owns the meat means of production, and he’s dreaming up farming/slaughtering/meat delivery infrastructure that will supply pigs to a multitude of locations. That’s not to mention the sauces he’s developing, or the pitmasters he’s training to carry the torch. Furman is as unconventional in the restaurant world as his barbecue is traditional (and soul satisfying), and he’s bound to break rules and make new ones as he rolls out B’s Cracklin’ BBQs across the South.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Pulled Pork with Peach-Mustard Sauce
  • Mac and Cheese
Pastry Chef: Sarah O’Brien , The Little Tart Bakeshop

Little Tart Bakeshop is Sarah O’Brien’s love letter to Paris by way of Atlanta. Her menu reads textbook pȃtisserie: croissants, kouign-amann, gâteau Basque, gougères. O’Brien isn’t a purist, though. She set out to make recipes that would not only work in Atlanta’s weather, but would also celebrate the Southern pantry of her adopted hometown. That means Little Tart bostock has pecan rather than almond frangipane, and her breakfast sandwiches are built with local eggs and ham, plus Georgia-made cheese. O’Brien’s sourcing loyalties are the product of her early days in farmers markets, and when they’re combined with impeccable technique, you get Atlanta’s most loved, most delicious pastry, and a pastry chef defining standards and developing a style all her own.

Pastries that clinched it:

  • Bostock: Croissant Loaf, Pearson’s Pecan Frangipane, and Freeze-dried Raspberries
  • Kouign-amann
Artisan: Eric Arillo , La Calavera

Bread found Eric Arillo, and now it’s time for Atlanta to discover the joys his of long-fermented, naturally leavened, Mexican-accented breads. At La Calavera (“The Skull”), Arillo is dedicated to milling fresh flours and forming loaves by hand to build character and integrity. In a field dominated by European traditions, he layers in new world flare, such as sprouted grains and his proud Mexican heritage. Bread is a calling for Arillo, an honest living, a craft through which he can feed and nourish (and help people understand that gluten and flour are not the enemy!). La Calavera is a hidden Decatur gem, and Arillo is a singular baker with a distinct perspective and much teach about baking with heart.

Breads that clinched it:

  • Super Sourdough
  • Sprouted Whole Wheat
Artisan: Jared Karr, East Pole Coffee Co.

Jared Karr is the rare combination of dreamer and doer, and he’s on a mission to put Atlanta on the map for its third wave coffee scene. Not yet 30, Karr has been roasting since 2015, and he opened a bright, hip roasting facility just two years later with the space tripling as a coffee bar and training center for baristas and other roasters. It’s a model designed to propel wholesale business, and it’s working. In Atlanta’s post-Octane landscape, East Pole is leading growth and Karr’s roasting is a barometer for quality—whether its his sweet third-wave-gateway coffee, Traffic, or a bright, floral Ethiopian. What’s the future of Atlanta coffee? Jarred Karr and his homegrown, exceptional East Pole Coffee. Co. 

Coffees that clinched it:

  • Werka Chelchele, Ethiopia, Washed
  • Traffic Blend, Huila, Colombia
Artisan: Elaine Read & Matt Weyandt, Xocolatl Small Batch Chocolate

Elaine Read and Matt Weyandt are making five to six tons of chocolate each year from their 220 square foot micro-factory: Xocolatl Small Batch Chocolate. It’s an enviable bean-to-bar-to-real-estate ratio, made only more noteworthy by the character of their single origin chocolates. Read and Weyandt hunt for flavor, working to resurrect heirloom varietals, roasting beans to best express terroir, and amping up bars with thoughtful inclusions. They’re also helping build new chocolate experiences through local coffee, beer, and pastry collaborations, and soon enough, through an expanded space and cafe where they will continue to experiment and push the craft of chocolate making. 

Chocolates that clinched it:

  • Peru 70%
  • Nicaragua 72%
Bartender: David Chapman, Kimball House

David Chapman is obsessed with the details: the icy chill of glassware, the clarity of his juices, the order in which to spritz multiple citrus oils on a cocktail. As head bartender of Miles Macquarrie’s Kimball House, he shows stylistic virtuosity and detexerity. Chapman takes equal joy in tinkering with classics, as in his picture perfect Cherry Martinez, and going wild with new formats like his Ice Age inspired by Fäviken Chef Magnus Nilsen. He’s also a natural leader, challenging and coaxing the best from his staff and collaborating with the back of house to build mise-en-place and a more holistic dining experience. Just as Chapman works to elevate Kimball House and its cocktail program, he’s setting the bar for bartending in Atlanta. 

Cocktails that clinched it:

  • Sailor Martin: Plantation 3-Star Rum, 5-year Barbados Rums, Caribbean Tonic, Angostura Bitters, House Grapefruit Bitters, Pineapple Syrup, Clarified Citrus, and Citrus Oil
  • Cherry Martinez: Ford’s Gin, Schladerer Kirschwasser, Maraska Maraschino, Cherry-infused Vermouth, Boker’s Bitters, and Lemon Oil
Bartender: Evan Milliman, Ticonderoga Club

From Ticonderoga Club, Bar Manager Evan Milliman has made it his mission to ensure the right drink slides toward each of his patrons—whether that’s a beer, cider, or an expertly crafted cocktail. Hospitality and goodwill are his M.O., and so goes the menu. Ticonderoga’s cocktails are approachable with an industry wink. Milliman combines Genesee cream ale with Spanish vermouth, sparkling wine, lemon, and Angostura; his New York Sour riff has an applejack base with house amer “ticon” and a Matthiasson Tendu red wine float. His drinks and philosophy  position Ticonderoga at the center of the Atlanta bartending universe and Milliman as its unpretentious champion and hero. 

Cocktails that clinched it:

  • Belleville Rendezvous: Amer Ticon, Laird's Applejack, Lemon, Sorghum, and Tendu Float
  • Champ-Ale: Crémant, Genessee Cream Ale, Casa Mariol Sweet Vermouth, Lemon Juice, Cane Syrup, and Angostura Bitters


Sommelier: Melissa Davis, Staplehouse

Melissa Davis’ energy is electric. Talking about wine, she can barely keep up with herself in the swirl of producers, obscure varietals, mountainside soils, and quirky vintages bursting from her brain. That’s before she even gets to the plate and Chef Ryan Smith’s provocative, fermentation-driven Southern cuisine at Staplehouse. In the spirit of the small, intimate restaurant, Davis’ list is off-the-beaten path and personal. Her California Cabs are from Matthiasson and Le P’tit Paysan; Gut Oggau’s Josephine blend is her “flying machine.” Davis’ pairings are as racy and unexpected as a raisin-y 1985 Frei Joao Vaga from Portugal with vegetarian vadouvan carrot curry. Boom! She’s young, talented, and free to make her mark on any program or city open enough to let in Davis’ wine sunshine.

Pairing that Clinched It:

  • Vadouvan Carrot Curry with Red Blend, Caves Sao Joao,  Frei Joao Vaga, Portugal, 1985
Restaurateurs: Todd Ginsberg, Shelley Sweet, and Jennifer & Ben Johnson, The General Muir

Ben and Jennifer Johnson, Todd Ginsberg, and Shelley Sweet have six-going-on-seven restaurants, and they’re nowhere close to being done. The team debuted The General Muir in 2013, focusing on deli favorites, and the concepts kept flowing: TGM Bread, sandwich-focused Fred’s Meats, Yalla for fresh Middle Eastern fare, and TGM Bagel (and it’s a damn good bagel). What the Johnsons, Ginsberg, and Sweet understand is that diners want exceptional food and polished service at all kinds of price points and locations. They crave community, consistency, and pastrami-spiked biscuits. And that’s what team TGM delivers through all-day dining, a wholesale bakery, fast-casual counters, and its very own micro-food hall. Barbecue is up next. We doubt there’s a format that they can’t tame, monetize, and improve upon, all the while strengthening Atlanta’s and the national restaurant scene.