By Marsha Fottler –
The Buckhead district of Atlanta, Georgia, has been chic, trendy and full of places that are fun to explore since about the early 1900s when the already rich and the aspirational wealthy built big homes in the area and then demanded the social amenities that went along with their chi-chi lifestyle. In time fabulous shopping malls such as Phipps and Lenox emerged along with high-rise hotels, art galleries, antiques shops, urban pocket parks, public art and the Atlanta History Center. Then there are the famous restaurants such as Buckhead Diner, Aria, Pricci, McKinnon’s and two that I discovered recently.
Nava is all about Southwestern food so authentic and prepared with such elan that you believe you’re eating haute Santa Fe when you enter this stylish restaurant that offers both indoor and outdoor seating. Parking in the area isn’t easy but
do your best and know that your stress levels will decline as soon as walk through the ornate double doors. Then you’re in a completely different world. The ambience at Nava is truly award winning for design and installation. Look at the ceiling, the pillows, the artwork, the niches and the walls – a feast for the eyes and absolutely supporting of the menu. The fish tacos have heat and the pork two ways will surprise you with juicy tenderness and full flavor. Order an entree or compose a meal of small plates. It’s all good. And linger long enough to really appreciate the surroundings.
Linton Hopkins, the executive chef at Restaurant Eugene, is the 2012 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef Southeast. He deserves it and you deserve to taste what he’s doing at this polished and comfortable modern restaurant where the setting and the service support and match the cuisine. Chef Hopkins composes his menu of local seasonal ingredients that elevate southern classics without losing their elemental appeal. That means Eugene serves food you want to eat. The duck is surrounded by spoonbread puree with foie gras butter, red hominy, ramps and herb salad. The rabbit is a sous vide revelation, and so is the sorghum glazed pork belly with loring peaches and charred Vidalia onions. Chef also conjures a tasting of summer vegetables, including pickled sunchoke and blueberry-glazed beets. Order meat, fish or game entrees or opt for the chef’s five or seven course tasting menu with paired wines. It’s the easiest way to go and you’ll sample amazing flavors that had a good start on local farms and dairies. During our meal Chef Hopkins came out of the kitchen to make the rounds of the room and chat with diners. How lovely and unexpected. Restaurant Eugene makes the hospitality industry proud.
The district of Buckhead went through a seedy patch in the late 1990s with lots of tacky bars and dives giving neighborhoods an unsavory reputation. But, alarmed local residents and city officials (and the fact that the sewer lines need replacing) lobbied for a construction renaissance of Buckhead. Things got torn down, a big new retail and commercial center is under construction (four tall cranes working hard) and lots of new places with plenty of funky-local character have sprung up such as the Kai-Lin Gallery where I saw an impressive show of modern Mongolian paintings. And the young-fun art crowd was a sight to behold too. Body art is really fascinating!
Another favorite place that I made pilgrimages to is the amazing Container Store. This national emporium that is dedicated to making us all better organized and more efficient has found a huge welcome in Buckhead. Students attending Emory University are in there for dorm organization and storage help. And with more than a half dozen hotels in walking distance of the Container Store, the place has become a genuine tourist attraction. Walk up and down the aisles (beautifully organized by category) and you hear a dozen different languages and American regional accents. It gives you hope about how everyone’s mud room, loft, pantry, kitchen or garage could someday look all over the world. There’s something in Buckhead for everyone.