On Wednesday afternoon, “Taste of Avalon” gave VIP guests and a few journalists and bloggers a sneak preview of the culinary aspirations of the upscale $600 million mixed use Avalon development, now under construction on 86 acres at Ga. 400 and Old Milton Parkway in Alpharetta.
Guided hard hat walking tours revealed the concrete bones of chef-driven Atlanta-to-Avalon restaurant destinations, including Ford Fry’s new Tex-Mex concept, The El Felix, another outpost of Shaun Doty’s Bantam + Biddy pastured chicken eatery, and Giovanni Di Palma’s Antico pizza and Caffè Gio transplants.
Among the samples on offer, Fry and Kevin Maxey plated a crispy “puffy” chicken taco with guacamole and salsa. Executive chef/partner Jeremiah Bacon of Charleston-to-Avalon Oak Steakhouse served slices of dry-aged strip steak with bone marrow bread pudding. Bocado owner Brian Lewis, who will open a new concept called Bocado Burger Bar, went in a different direction with a black rice, sweet potato and pistachio salad. And guests flocked to the Caffè Gio stand for scoops of gelato topped with sugar wafers.
Doty took a break from handing out foil wrapped fried chicken biscuits to walk around to his Bantam + Biddy site, which looks out on Old Milton Parkway and a new Whole Foods Market.
“I have an audience of people in this community who have followed me,” Doty said, explaining why he was attracted to Avalon. “They would drive downtown for years to visit me at Shaun’s in Inman Park and they followed me to Bantam + Biddy. Moving to a development like this, where you have a movie theater and a Whole Foods, is exciting to me. It’s like a one-stop intown experience.”
Doty is particularly happy with his front-and-center location at the entrance to the development.
“What I love about it is that if you’re coming to Avalon you’re driving past my space. You can park right outside my front door and sit on the patio. And I love being by high volume places like Whole Foods because I have lots of exposure.”
Later, in front of the “Taste of Avalon” crowd, Mark Toro, managing partner of Avalon’s developer, North American Properties, introduced Ford Fry as “the reining king of of the Atlanta restaurant scene.”
“I you want to have a fine dining experience, you’re going to go to Midtown or Buckhead and go to one of Ford Fry’s restaurants,” Toro said. “Starting with JCT Kitchen, No. 246, the Optimist, King + Duke, now St. Cecilia, soon Superica, and his concept here called The El Felix.”
Toro admitted that even though he’s friends with Fry it wasn’t easy to get him to sign on to the Avalon project.
“Not withstanding the fact that he lives in Roswell, he works almost exclusively intown,” Toro said. “And when he was presented with the opportunity to open a restaurant in the suburbs he was a bit concerned given the typical dining scene. But not only did he sign on, he helped us recruit other chef-driven restaurants.”
For his part, Fry said that attracting other chefs and restaurants that he believed in was crucial.
“It’s just been tough, because I’m a big believer in local talent, local business operators, local chefs who run their own restaurants,” Fry said. “I told Mark that I would do it but that they had to get the right people out here… And the people they got are just amazing.”
Talking about The El Felix, Fry called it a Tex-Mex sister restaurant to Superica, which is set to open in Atlanta’s Krog Street Market in the summer.
“It’s my nod to growing up in Texas,” Fry said. “I’m bringing back classic Tex Mex done from more of a chef’s perspective. Not meaning it’s going to be fancy. But it’s going to be respectful to what Tex Mex really is…
“Who knows if I’ll ever be in town any more? I may just be out here hanging out and drinking margaritas and eating chips?”
— By Bob Townsend, AJC Food and More blog.