While the news nationally is the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods, here in Atlanta it’s the opening of the Roast, a new fast-casual restaurant located adjacent to the recently remodeled Whole Foods Market on Ponce De Leon Avenue, near Ponce City Market.
Positioned as a first-of-its-kind dining concept for Whole Foods, the Brazilian-style churrasco offers a variety of build your own bowls, with fire-roasted proteins and vegetables, greens, grains and signature sauces, as well as vegetarian and vegan options.
There are also a half-dozen seasonal signature bowls, with chef collaborations a big part of the allure.
Right now, the featured bowl is Flavors of the Andes from Atlanta chef Kevin Gillespie of “Top Chef” and Gunshow fame. It’s layered with Peruvian Red Chicken over roasted Peruvian purple potatoes and golden beets, with aji amarillo pepper sauce, roasted peanuts and fresh mint.
The contemporary build-out features brick, rustic wood and graphic elements. Digital kiosks offer a quicker, high-tech ordering option. And the visibility of the fire from the churrasco grill and the chefs busy working the line to put together each bowl create a lively atmosphere.
Adding to the hang out and grab a drink vibe, there’a an area with two pool tables and a DJ booth, and a full bar with beer, wine and cocktails on draft.
Recently, Quentin Arndt, the South Region prepared foods coordinator for Whole Foods, was at the Roast to talk about the concept and the menu.
“At Whole Foods, we love to try new things, and this is one of the new innovations,” Arndt said. “Obviously, the concept is all about fire. We’ve been playing with the churrasco grill, which I love, for a while, and we wanted to find the right fit for it. That awesome piece of equipment was the inspiration.
“But when the Ponce store went through its remodel, we saw the perfect opportunity in the perfect place to really play with this grill. We had an opportunity to gain a space right next door and enhance the customer experience, especially with Atlanta being what it is as a food forward area with fast-casual dining and healthy options.”
As far as the menu, Arndt said the ideas came from a couple of very different sources.
“We looked at the origin of the grill in South America, and the cooking method, and then we tried to marry that with Southern cuisine, and we found the two paired amazing well, so it was love from there,” he said.
The signature Pork and Grits bowl, with rainbow chard, cheddar grits, corn, pickled red onion and okra, and molho sauce, is a good example of that fusion.
“We definitely wanted to speak to the South, which has an amazing food culture,” Arndt said. “And we definitely wanted to speak to the South American side, as well. Everybody is definitely loving the signature bowls. But I would say it’s split with the build your own.”
Arndt also noted that the bar is already a big draw, with eight local beers on draft, along with sangria and three seasonal cocktails.
“People love it, and I think it really adds to the food experience,” he said. “For this one, we also added craft cocktails and craft sodas, which are really nice. It’s the first time we’ve put this many options on tap in the South Region.
“But, overall, all the recipes here are new to us, and all the ingredients meet our quality standards at Whole Foods Market. The menu really speaks to our vision.”
Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m daily.
Signature bowls, $9-$12; desserts, $2-$5; beer, wine and cocktails, $6-$22.
650 Ponce de Leon Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 404-853-1681, wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/poncedeleon.