5 Signs of Innovation in Atlanta's Dining Scene

By Christopher Hassiotis  |  January 6, 2014
Credit: Angie Mosier

Innovation isn't just thinking of fancy ways to do new things - molecular gastronomy, crazy ideas and untested recipes. It can also be a willingness to break from what's trendy, confident that a risky idea just might work. Whether it's individual chefs or entire restaurant groups, you'll find plenty of envelope-pushing in Atlanta's dining scene.

  • The Innovative Organization: The Giving Kitchen

    The hospitality industry isn't always the most stable, and few organizations offer health benefits to employees. Pair that with a jobs that are easy to pick up or abandon, and, well, there's a lot of flux. That makes financial planning hard, especially in times of crisis. The Giving Kitchen's non-profit mission is to provide crisis grants to members of Atlanta's restaurant community who face unanticipated hardship, and there's not much else like it in the country. It's a direct result of Atlanta chef Ryan Hidinger's current struggle with cancer; as support for Hidinger grew, the local community saw that coming together was not just possible, but necessary.

    How to Lend a Hand: Interested in contributing or helping with the Giving Kitchen? E-mail Jen Hidinger at jen@thegivingkitchen.org

  • The Innovative Restaurant: Gunshow

    This Glenwood Park restaurant has been the talk of Atlanta's culinary scene over the past year, and love it, hate it, like it or dislike it, it's certainly an experience to try. The churrascaria/dim-sum-style service by the very people who prepare the food eliminates a level of remove between diner and chef, and executive chef and Top Chef fan-favorite Kevin Gillespie savors his interactions with his guests. The system's not perfect, the communal seating's not for everyone, but diners who toss out expectations and go in with an open mind seem satisfied.

    Where to Sit: Reservations can be tough at Gunshow. Ask the host if the bar-like Kitchen Counter, an area reserved for walk-ins and solo diners, is available.

  • The Innovative Menu: Sobban

    Korean food with a Southern twist? Southern food with Korean ingredients? A little bit of both, really. This recently opened Druid Hills restaurant blurs lines in delightfully delicious ways thanks to restaurateurs Jiyeon Lee and Cody Taylor of Heirloom Market BBQ. Why it all makes sense: a Western-style restaurant with Eastern-style ingredients, and a love of comfort food from both sides of the aisle.

    What to Order: The nori corn dog - there's seaweed in both the sausage and the batter - encapsulates everything that's fun about Sobban.

  • The Innovative Chef: Allen Suh, Gato Arigato

    Can someone who so wholeheartedly embraces tradition be innovative? Totally. Allen Suh (ex-One Flew South, Restaurant Eugene) and his nighttime pop-up Gato Arigato, located in Candler Park breakfast joint Gato Bizco prove that's the case. Suh's deft hand with ramen, okonomiyaki pancakes, sashimi and other Japanese classics is super satisfying. But what's really innovative is his confidence - opening a pop-up restaurant with no online presence in a quiet neighborhood on Mondays through Wednesdays? That's daring. And it's worked.

    When to Go: There are no reservations at Gato Arigato, and seating for just about 30, so show up on the early side of the 7-11 PM window.

  • Credit: NBC

    The Innovative Concept: Pallookaville

    A lot of chefs profess love for low-brow food, but only occasionally work that inspiration onto their menus. Jim Stacy goes all out at Pallookaville, his glorious temple to classic American carnival food. It started as a corn dog hand truck, then became a food truck, and late last year a brick-and-mortar eatery in Avondale Estates. But unlike the over-the-top fried foods at carnivals now (deep-fried gravy, etc.), his food is actually delicious thanks to a commitment to local ingredients and a clear passion for the culture. And lately Stacy's been spreading the gospel far and wide - that's him teaching Jay Leno how to make a corn dog recently.

    What to Eat: The Fryinstein Monster is hard to pass up - a beef frank, Italian sausage and Polish kielbasa all bundled together in one massive corn dog.