Ford Fry was chosen by Food and Wine magazine as one of the restaurant “Empire Builders 2012,” with his Southern-tinged, JCT Kitchen, Italian-American, No. 246, and fish camp-meets-seafood palace, The Optimist, which he opened to major fanfare last year.
Now Fry is set to open King + Duke in the former Nava space in Buckhead, with a bold new concept focused on wood-fired cooking on a 24-ft open hearth filled with hot coals.
“We’ve already started training,” Fry said during a conversation yesterday. “We’ve got the CO and health permit, so we’re doing friends and family on the 10th and 11th, Friday and Saturday, with mock dinner services, going quiet on Sunday, and opening the doors on Monday, the 13th, for lunch and dinner.”
Fry and his King + Duke team, executive chef Joe Schafer and chef Kevin Maxey, have been previewing some smaller menu items at charity events around town — including the recent Hambidge Art Auction at the Goat Farm Arts Center, where Schafer offered up a crispy lamb belly bite.
“Joe and myself and Kevin have been cooking out of the Optimist and doing a bunch of stuff,” Fry said. “We’re doing the lamb belly on grilled flat bread, with sheep’s milk feta and spicy cucumbers. That will be a fun little appetizer.”
Other bites they’ve been working on include a couple of bone marrow-based dishes, roasted French onion soup with kale, crusty croutons and Spanish Mahon cheese, sticky-sweet-spicy smoked chicken wings, and rustic crudite with housemade buttermilk ricotta.
Among the bigger menu items, there’s a whole stuffed and roasted rainbow trout, and a slow-roasted bone-in ribeye, called the King. At lunch there will be the likes of a wood-roasted turkey sandwich and a pork roast French dip.
Fry has explained the King + Duke concept in various ways, but basically it all comes down to burning wood, he said.
“I’ve always liked cooking over wood,” Fry allowed. “Watching what was going on in Spain, there are these old guys cooking over burning wood. I remember this one guy, shoveling the coals around, working the fire with all these cool utensils, and cooking these little baby eels. It was an inspiration. I thought let’s go that way.
“It’s pretty impressive when you see [the hearth at King + Duke] all lit up. It’s like the main line that you’d see in a restaurant. But there’s no gas. There’s no burners. It’s just a fireplace. And we’ll do it all off that wood grill. I love cooking on wood, but think Joe may have me beat. He’s a real wood man. He even makes his own charcoal.”
— Bob Townsend, AJC Food and More blog.