Hang a right at the International Market and you’ll find Kozmo Gastro Pub tucked in an out-of-the-way strip mall, next to the tattoo parlor and the head shop.
Not exactly the directions you’d expect for a night out in Johns Creek, huh?
Owner Oswald Morgan isn’t new to the Atlanta dining scene. Many know him as one of the partners from the oft-lamented Globe in Midtown. After closing in late 2008, Morgan set his sights on the Alpharetta-Johns Creek area.
The space has a clean, modern feel, with industrial lighting and oversized chalkboard menus scrawled with weekly specials on the walls. Kozmo has built a loyal crowd that’s looking for a hip, upscale feel without leaving the suburbs.
Morgan certainly took a few liberties when adding “Gastro Pub” to the restaurant’s name when it opened n early 2009. The menu has its share of small plates, though no more than any other restaurant’s appetizer section. However, spend more than a few minutes in there on a Friday night and you won’t question that the packed bar is a draw.
The beer list is decent, though I wouldn’t mind seeing an expanded selection of craft beers on tap, and the wine list probably won’t titillate oenophiles.
More care goes into the cocktail selection, though Kozmo doesn’t win many points for creativity, and the nonspecific drink descriptions do more harm than good. Calling the Kozmorita ($7) a mingling of “New England with the fire of Mexico” oversells an otherwise tasty margarita with a splash of cranberry juice. The delicious Ginger Mule ($9), with a no-nonsense description of single-batch bourbon, lemon juice and ginger liqueur, does the best job of speaking for itself.
All conceptual grievances aside, Kozmo delivers its fair share of highlights. The none-too-humble declaration that the Kozmo Burger ($10) is the “best burger in town” pricks the skeptic in me. However, after biting into my medium-rare sirloin and brisket patty topped with caramelized onion, white cheddar and mayonnaise, all cynicism runs out of me like so much juice down my chin. I’m not ready to back their claim of being the best in town just yet, but it certainly makes ordering anything else difficult.
Instead of adding a side of fries ($4) with your burger, enlist a friend and upgrade to an order of the House Poutine ($12). Carefully layered with hunks of braised beef and mozzarella, the thin, savory gravy coats each fry with an abundance of flavor without saturating them to mush.
If the menu has a theme, it is comfort food. I would happily dive into a bowl of the Duck Confit Pappardelle ($20) on a cold winter night. The fresh pasta and caramelized onions soak up the savory jus of fork-tender duck, making for a hearty bowl begging for a nearby fireplace.
Or opt for the White Velvet Mac and Cheese ($4 side, $13 entree). This belly-warming blend of parmesan, mozzarella, white cheddar and blue cheese is creamy and satisfying, though I wish the blue cheese didn’t take such a back seat. An extra note of sharpness would elevate an already strong bowl of pasta to a truly remarkable one.
A few of the menu items feel a little dated, and I wonder if they would have undergone more revisions had Kozmo tried to keep its city feel in the actual city. Though the reliance on truffle oil in the Parmesan Truffled Tempura Mushrooms ($9.50) may be played out, I’m glad Morgan kept this one around. The crisp, salty tempura batter dipped in the lemon aioli works well with the earthy truffle oil, and makes for a great little bar snack.
I have long since stopped perking up when I see “fried calamari” on a menu, but I can’t knock Kozmo’s well-executed version ($9.50), served with a sweet and sour chili lime sauce.
If you have room for dessert, you won’t go wrong with the Vanilla Lava Puffs ($6), Kozmo’s take on a beignet. After a quick flash-fry, these golden brown treats burst with molten vanilla cake batter, and a dip in caramel and chocolate sauces makes for an eye-rolling indulgence.
Kozmo may not be an innovator, but the kitchen consistently executes very well and turns out satisfying comfort food. The atmosphere makes this an urban oasis deep in the heart of suburbia and certainly deserves a visit from those in the area.KOZMO GASTRO PUB 11890 Douglas Road, Alpharetta, 678-526-6094 Food: Eclectic comfort food Service: Friendly Best dishes: Kozmo Burger, House Poutine, Vanilla Lava Puffs Vegetarian selections: A few salads and sides Price range: $$ Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Saturdays, 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Sundays. Children: Fine, but come early Parking: Very tight, may spill over into adjacent parking lots. Complimentary valet on weekends. Reservations: For large groups Wheelchair access: Yes Smoking: No Noise level: Moderate to loud Patio: No Takeout: Yes