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The Optimist named “Restaurant of the Year” by Esquire Magazine

esquire-logoEach year, Esquire magazine food writer John Mariani calls out a score of eateries on his annual list of the “Best New Restaurants in America.” This year the biggest award went to The OptimistFord Fry’s West Midtown seafood restaurant, which opened to good reviews and brisk business this summer.

Citing it as the “Restaurant of the Year,” Mariani writes:

“A soaring, convivial spot, the Optimist has a hip oyster bar shaped like a surfboard, a first-rate cocktail program, and seafood cooked with old-school expertise over a wood fire. Though everyone knew chef Ford Fry’s new place would be a big deal, the Optimist is far more than a resounding local success; it is an overnight totem of all that is wonderful about American food today.”

The Optimist’s chef is Adam Evans.

In his discussion of the year’s big trends, Mariani writes “the South is having a moment,” and he includes The Macintosh and Carter’s Kitchen in Charleston as well as The Southern Steak & Oyster in Nashville among the year’s best.

Mariani, who has been writing about restaurants for more than 35 years, has been accused of breaches in  his ethics policy by chefs and other food writers, accusations over which he got into a memorable tussle with Anthony Bourdain on this blog.

– by John Kessler for the Food & More blog

53 comments Add your comment


October 5th, 2012
10:20 am

Good for Atlanta for getting a nod but The Optimist is too loud and over priced. I think we have far better new restaurants in town that could’ve been featured.

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October 5th, 2012
11:12 am

SP, like what -give me some ideas to go try!


October 5th, 2012
11:28 am

I’ve been three times for lunch in the past two months. It’s a good restaurant, but if this is the restaurant of the year then it must have had some really piss poor competition. I’ve never had an issue with service, the food is good, and it has a nice atmosphere. Prices aren’t cheap, about what you would expect to pay at a quality seafood restaurant.

#1 Foxy Lady

October 5th, 2012
12:13 pm

has he tried costco hotdogs?

I WUZ Somebody!

October 5th, 2012
12:17 pm

#1 Foxy Lady -

Or tried Costco Polish Sausages?

Or QuikTrip taquitos?

Or RaceTrac Boiled Peanuts?

Y U M !


October 5th, 2012
12:24 pm

decent, but way overpriced and weak drinks.

I'm Lost ...

October 5th, 2012
12:31 pm

44 years of “Atlantan” in my bones; however, I’ve recently moved away from the Chocolate City (thank god), and I’ve never heard of WEST MIDTOWN??

Is this yet another attempt to cloak a minority-influence, high-crime low-property-value area in “class”? Hilarious.

Tantamont to addresses in SMYRNA or DUNWOODY now trying to claim they are in “Vinings” or “Buckhead”.

Sal Monella

October 5th, 2012
12:33 pm

Nice but too loud to be as pricy as it is. Needs some soundproofing. Sounds like a cacaphony of clangin’ and bangin’ dishes over drunks hollerin’ at each other most of the time.

Howard Duane

October 5th, 2012
1:45 pm

If it’s as loud as SP and Sal state, count me out.

Shiloh Morgan

October 5th, 2012
1:52 pm

I’m glad that Atlanta is on the map with a good food eatery..although I think there are so many more that they could have chosen. However, the food there is really good IF and thats a big if, you can take the noise and don’t mind screaming across the table at your dinner mate. But good seafood in this area is really hard to find.

Mary Brewster

October 5th, 2012
2:02 pm

@Fully Employed – My husband owns a heating and cooling company. He also has a master’s degree in electrical engineering. I’m a writer. Your comments came off as more than a little snobbish. Paying for dinner at a place like The Optimist wouldn’t really change our world, nor would it impact our ability to pay for our house on St. Simons Island.Or any of the others we own. People are silly.


October 5th, 2012
3:07 pm

I am assuming the moderator is deleting comments based on the non-sequitors.
Anyway, I just wanted to say something (that apparently was already said and deleted).
1. If you can’t afford it just go to Applebees and use a coupon. It’s not “overpriced” if people happily go there and pay for it. Sometimes prices reflect cost and sometimes they reflect a desire to keep out riff-raff. I think there is value on both formulae.
2. I hope the notoriety does not cause a bunch of fatties to go here for the food. The food is not that great. It is good and it is novel. The drinks are actually very good and the place is hip. So if you love french fries and hate exercising go somewhere else so we don;t have to walk around you when we go to the bathroom.


October 5th, 2012
3:07 pm

@I’m Lost … Nice try at race baiting, smart ones hopefully won’t fall for it. Atlanta won’t make everyone happy as neither would New York or LA. The sooner people like you relocate, the better. Chocolate CIty? So what would a minority call any city in Montana or Wyoming…Sounds pretty childish doesn’t it??


October 5th, 2012
3:12 pm

Also, to “I’m Lost,” West Midtown has been the cute name for Howell Mill/Marietta/14th Street corridor running from Homepark to Chatahoochee for about the last five or six years.
It’s basically the White Provisions building and everything west of there.
I live in West End and when I try to tell people where I live they get confused and say oh yeah Castleberry Hill even though I just told them pretty much exactly where I live.
I suspect you are one of those people. Happily “lost,” probably always looking for excuses to cover the fact that you’re just not that smart.

Delta ready

October 5th, 2012
3:15 pm

So what would a minority call any city in Montana or Wyoming…? Republican, because they are all white.

I agree, Chocolate City has a case of white flight. Thankfully, I am heading to Montana soon.


October 5th, 2012
3:18 pm

I love Fry’s other restaurants, JCT and No. 246, but for me, The Optimist just misses the mark. The space is gorgeous, as are all his restaurants. The quality and the creativity of the dishes don’t match the high menu prices.


October 5th, 2012
3:20 pm

Its interesting that Kessler only rated the Optimist with 3 stars, but Mariani found it to be the Best New Restaurant in the country. Give me a brake!


October 5th, 2012
3:21 pm

New Orleans is the “Chocolate City.”
If you are referring to Atlanta by that name, you are really annoying and misinformed.


October 5th, 2012
3:22 pm

@Deletedcatessen Or maybe they just don’t care about the dumb, made-up neighborhood names people come up with in this city.


October 5th, 2012
3:27 pm

I love seafood, and this is THE place to go in Atlanta for seafood, great food, great drinks, great atmosphere. Restaurants are often lively and loud. If you want a quiet, romantic place, go there. The Optimist is fun and it rocks.


October 5th, 2012
3:39 pm

Mary Brewster is calling someone snobbish then popping off about her real estate holdings. I’m pretty sure she’s held a lot more than that in her day…


October 5th, 2012
3:42 pm

I’m Lost…
Your onlike moniker here apparently describes you to a T.

John Kessler

October 5th, 2012
3:48 pm

mmm, vitriol…what a nice way to start a beautiful fall weekend.


October 5th, 2012
3:49 pm

Personally I think 6 Feet Under (1 block away) has great seafood for about 1/5 the price. Plus the Optimist charges $4.50 for a 12oz. Miller High Life. The main reason I avoid this place is because of all of the flimsy chicks trying to scam a free dinner for a quick hookup at their condos next door.


October 5th, 2012
3:52 pm

Delta Ready,
You haven’t been paying to the census data & the City of Atlanta population trends of the past 2 decades have you?
The flight out of the city is now largely black & the movement in is now largely white. The projections are that the present minority/majority status roles will more than likely be reversed by the time of the next census count in 2020.
Now can we get back to discussing the restaurant scene?

Truly Confused...

October 5th, 2012
3:54 pm

I thought this was a restaurant commentary, how did the topic turn to race, socio-economic status and politics? Everybody eats, right?

Anyway… As someone who is a quasi foodie always looking for a new experience, I took a look at the menus and they look appealing and resonably priced for the offerings. I may just give it a whirl. I just hope the recognition from the article doesn’t turn it into one of those places with a 6 hour wait or require a $1200 deposit to make a reservation. Does anyone else here remember BED?

Got a life

October 5th, 2012
3:54 pm

I have a sense of humor almost as large as my love of food, and I think this blog and its occupants are definitely worth the price of admission.


October 5th, 2012
4:12 pm

I like No. 246, but I find Optimist to be too uncomfortable. Surely some restaurant designers could investigate how to ameliorate the noise levels in their grand creations? As someone else mentioned, I’d rather go down the street to Six Feet Under where I can get equally good food for much less money and a more comfortable setting.

The ATL deserves more recognition

October 5th, 2012
4:24 pm

It is good to see the Atlanta (Westside) food scene get some props. If you haven’t noticed, over the past few years, scores of GREAT restaurants have opened. Some are great due to celebrity chefs (that makes a good place great apparently- ie ESS, anything with Richard Blaise involved), while others just churn out tasty consisent food day in and day out (Miller Union, SEED). I went to The Optimist the other day and really enjoyed it. I thought it was one of the better new places (The new Watershed on Peachtree is still my new Fav).


October 5th, 2012
4:32 pm

Matthew’s Cafeteria is the best. What is Esquire Magazine?

Not bad

October 5th, 2012
4:39 pm

Atlanta isn’t bad. No worse than cities like Cincinnati or Saint Loius. Maybe a cut above Tampa if you don’t like the ocean or beach.


October 5th, 2012
4:50 pm

Not Bad- did you mention Tampa? I guess Tampa’s “not bad” if you like chains. Atlanta has a bit of everything. Tampa may have the best steakhouse, but that is about all.

gunga din

October 5th, 2012
4:53 pm



October 5th, 2012
5:00 pm

a) Who really cares what a “food critic” thinks?
b) @Deletedcatessen: don’t you have anything better to do than submit multiple comments to this inane topic?
c) Feel free to respond to me, but know that I probably won’t read it :)

Metallica Rules

October 5th, 2012
5:15 pm

I still love Steamhouse! Counting the days until Oysterfest 2013!


October 5th, 2012
5:27 pm

I don’t know Mary Brewster (and really don’t care to), but with only seeing one side of the conversation that she is having is rather difficult to follow. What I surmised was that someone inquired as to what the word “snobbish” meant, and she gave some perfect examples of how she herself is snobbish. Adults learn better this way, so thank you.

@frank: You mean give me a “break.” Unless your car is failing, of course.


October 5th, 2012
5:40 pm

This blog is the best laugh I’ve had all day.

david c

October 5th, 2012
5:59 pm

Deletedcatessan, you probably call The Tabernacle “The Tabby”. And who is misinformed, lost and pathetic? I’ve lived here for twenty years, and your trite “colloquialisms” just suck. We all know where we live.


October 5th, 2012
6:24 pm

I’ve only been to one of the other restaurants that were in contention, but based on that, I can vouch that Mariani doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The Macintosh just blows the Optimist away. Infinitely cooler atmosphere. A bar that shows the Optimist’s to be just a pretender (Optimist–the weakest Manhattan I’ve had in years, Macintosh–The Mac-hattan: Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Vya Sweet Vermouth, Bitter Truth and Peychaud’s bitters, served ON TAP!! Come on, how cool is that?). The Deckle steak. The Pecorino truffle frite. Clammer Dave’s clams. It’s honest and quirky to the Optimist’s corporate.

Clearly Mariani got a bigger freebie meal from Fry than from Jeremiah Bacon. He’s irrelevant and so is his review.


October 5th, 2012
6:54 pm

@ Deletedcatessen, any metropolitan U.S. city with a majority African-American population is coined a “Chocolate City.” That moniker doesn’t just apply to one.


October 5th, 2012
7:32 pm

Will somebody, anybody tell me what the hell does any topic that Atlantans comment on here, be it food, art, music, math, money, dogs, cats, turtles, gerbles, snakes, scorpions, leaves, grass, the sun, the sky, the solar system, our galaxy, or Adam and Eve, leads to someone bashing Atlanta’s black residents? Black may have an affixiation regarding skin pigmentation primarily because historically the issue of race has often come down on them(in the South) like a ton of bricks. What’s the excuse of others who do not share that history?


October 5th, 2012
7:33 pm

If I want great seafood at reasonable prices, Atlanta Fish Market on Pharr Road still sets the standard for Atlanta dining.


October 5th, 2012
9:55 pm

Ford Fry also started the restaurant called No. 246 in Decatur…awesome eats

Woofy One

October 6th, 2012
10:11 am

The Optimist is good but the Atlanta Fish Market has a more robust selection of seafood every bit as fresh.


October 7th, 2012
3:11 pm

Can anyone suggest a place to get good, safe peel and eat shrimp for less than the $24 per pound charged at the Optimist?


October 8th, 2012
7:03 am

Are you curious about the bitterness of human nature when they see another have success? Just read the comments section in the food blog…

Congratulations to the Optimist – beautiful restaurant and I enjoyed my lobstah roll the one time I ate there. It was as good as you get in Maine and better than the famed Mary’s Fish Camp and about $20.00 less… Glad to see entrepreneurs investing and doing well in West Midtown – it has changed drastically for the better since 2000.


October 8th, 2012
10:52 am

Been to The Optimist. They served some wonderful stone crab claws but failed to bring anything to put the shells in. Then they brought sides for the table to share but failed to provide serving pieces. Was I supposed to use my dinner fork to serve myself the field peas before passing the dish to a dinner companion?


October 8th, 2012
11:45 am

@Truly Confused… I remember BED. I laughed when I tried to make a reservation and they told me the stipulations. I couldn’t beleive they were serious. I guess the city of Atlanta had the last laugh in the end.


October 8th, 2012
5:18 pm

@ #1 FOXY LADY…thanks, I needed that laugh. Costco hot dogs are good…..


October 8th, 2012
10:36 pm

Perhaps congratulating a business built for the locals by a local and not a chain would be a good start. To hijack a review and turn it into a soapbox is a waste.

Great job guys – congratulations.

Bama Man

October 8th, 2012
11:32 pm

This is why I don’t read Yelp reviews, most of “you people” have no idea what the hell you are talking about. I am 32 years of age and I find most of my generation a bunch of spoiled brats that pick knits over moronic things. Wah..parking was valet only, wah…it was loud. The fact is, y’all have no damn idea what the hell you’re talking about. So go back to your kick ball leagues and stfu.

Matt Chongo

October 11th, 2012
2:18 pm

The optimist is a lovely space, the staff is cute and sometimes friendly, the food is really average and totally inconsistent but then again, is the food and service at all of his restaurants. Ford is lucky and must have a heap of cash backing him? Funny to see so many places like this, trendy, tragically hip and full of hype arrive and fade away. Time will tell if this place lasts and has staying power. The best restaurants that embrace full service are built and thoughtfully conceived with longevity in mind. The optimist feels like a quick romance and id bet lacks the integrity and richness to make the long haul. The esquire award the past few years is showing its weakness. Like a guy with a severe midlife crisis, John Mariani has blown his wad and just opted for Miley Cyrus in a red corvette over Catherine Deneuve in a Deusenberg. Let the laurels lay down on Broadway …then let’s see if the optimist has a bullet proof soul and the fishermen that can weather the storm.