First Look: Big Sky Buckhead

By Christopher Hassiotis  |  February 21, 2014

There was a lot of moping in Atlanta when chef Hector Santiago closed Super Pan, his sandwich shop located right behind his popular pan-Latin restaurant Pura Vida. And then when Pura Vida announced it was closing, a collective "Come on!" was heard across the city. Such is the tale of rising rents. But Santiago - a longtime Atlanta cook who gained significant attention after appearing on Top Chef Las Vegas - moved on to an executive chef role at Abattoir. While he's brought some of his Latin flourishes to that menu, Abattoir is an established restaurant with a menu that wouldn't lend itself to a complete overhaul. Enter Big Sky Buckhead, opening this week.

Big Sky, located right off Roswell Road in the East Andrews nightlife district, aims to bring many of Santiago's past creations to a lively, casual, food-and-bar environment in Buckhead. Some favorites make the transition - fans of Santiago's coconut steamed buns with crispy pork belly can rest easy - but new, creative reworking of pub favorites also show up. Sriracha chicken wings and Asian-inflected guacamole, anyone?

"The menu is basically a revival of some of the items of Super Pan," says Santiago. "We're doing different versions of them, and a lot of the flavors are available in buns sandwiches or bowls. We want big flavors, enough to fill you up, but keeping it very casual."

Santiago had a hand in most of the menu items, but Pedro Matos, who Santiago has mentored for almost a decade in the kitch, will be Big Sky's executive chef.

"After Super Pan [closed], Pedro went to Cakes & Ale," says Santiago. "He's gonna be basically taking Big Sky. He used to be a bartender and server for us for a long time, 15 years ago, and I started him eight years ago in the kitchen. Basically he's been getting into baking and dessert making, and took over Super Pan too. He's doing a lot of the menu designing and putting together food. Also he's from Puerto Rico, so we have a background in the same flavors, so it's easy for me to explain to him what I'm thinking."

Big Sky Buckhead opened for lunch yesterday, with lunch service running weekdays from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM. The restaurant rolls out its dinner, brunch and bar program over the next few days. Here's the schedule:

Grand Bar Opening: Saturday, February 22
• Open at 11:30 AM for lunch service
• Closes at 2 AM after all-day bar service

Sunday Brunch Opening: Sunday, February 23
• Open at 11:30 AM for brunch service

Seated Dinner Service: Monday, February 24
• Open at 6 PM for dinner service

3201 Cains Hill Place NW; 404-481-5168

  • The restaurant takes up two floors and is about 4900-sq.-ft. With both indoor and outdoor seating, Big Sky Buckhead's design and décor are "inspired by the grand lodges found in Montana," according to owners Juan Calle and Adam Berlin. Large, garage-style glass doors provide lots of natural lighting, and the back bar patio located on the second floor offers significant views of the Buckhead skyline.

  • Latin-Asian inspired steamed buns made with coconut milk, coconut water and coconut oil. Fried chicken is brined in buttermilk and ginger for a full day, then served with a wasabi avocado spread and spicy basil jicama slaw.

  • Big Sky will serve up housemade aguas frescas. Expect flavors like carrot-passion fruit, beet-orange-blackberry, horchata and more.

  • “I've always felt that the energy and passion of our team was reflected in our food," says executive chef Pedro Matos, "and I'm looking forward to introducing our menu to the Buckhead community. I want pork belly and steamed coconut buns to be synonymous with the Buckhead lunch."

  • Bringing an international approach to bar snacks, Big Sky will serve pan de queso - fried bread balls made with queso fresco and cornstarch, served with a chive cream.

  • Continuing the bar-food theme, chicken wings come fried and tossed with either Sriracha buffalo sauce or a sweet mustard barbecue sauce.

  • Borrowing from what fast-casual places like Chipotle quickly learned, Big Sky will offer lunch bowls for those looking to avoid bread. Black beans are stewed with a Caribbean sofrito and served on white or brown rice with slow-cooked beef.

  • Dessert? "Donuts," says Santiago. "We take the same bread dough we use for the coconut buns, fry it up, do it with a coulis, mango, chocolate, dulce de leche, avocado cream, coconut… We eventually will bring in the flans, but right now we're doing just the one bread in the kitchen. Eventually we want to do more baking."

  • Santiago says he's excited about Big Sky's brunch. "Pura Vida had a brunch menu. I'm a fan of brunch. I love to eat brunch! And to work brunch. It's a difficult shift to work, but I like it." The breakfast bowl will feature eggs - scrambled, hard-boiled or slow-cooked Japanese onsen style - along with sides like bacon and French toast.