Southern Belle, Atlanta chef Joey Ward's debut as a restaurateur, opened last week in the Plaza on Ponce complex on Ponce de Leon Avenue. And Georgia Boy, essentially a second restaurant from Ward and his team, is set to open in an adjacent space on Wednesday.
A Georgia native, Ward brings an impressive resume to the twin projects, including six years as the executive chef at Gunshow, Kevin Gillespie’s innovative and celebrated modern dim sum-style restaurant in Glenwood Park.
Named for Ward’s wife and co-owner, Atlanta attorney Emily Ward, Southern Belle is an elegantly casual, no reservations concept, billed as serving “a collection of plates and libations reflecting the modern American South.”
It seats 45 inside, and 40 more on an outdoor patio. By contrast, Georgia Boy is connected to Southern Belle through a secret passageway, and offers an intimate 16 seats, with a contemporary tasting menu by reservation only.
To join him at both restaurants, Ward gathered several friends and familiar figures on the Atlanta culinary scene, including chef de cuisine Spencer Gomez (Gunshow; Holeman & Finch), pastry chef Billy Cole (Gunshow), and general manager and sommelier Cate Hatch (Holeman & Finch; Restaurant Eugene).
The Southern Belle menu features a changing variety of shareable plates. Currently that includes the likes of pork, beef, chicken, and veggie chicharrones; chilled blue crab dip with crusty bread and benne crackers; warm pumpkin bread with whipped Decimal Place feta and pumpkin seed agrodolce; and beef short rib braised in Dr. Pepper.
The restaurant’s seasonal cocktail program was designed by Greg Best and Paul Calvert of nearby Ticonderoga Club, with classics such as the Vieux Carre, and house specialties such as the Now Starring with Campari, reposado tequila, and blanc vermouth. The menu also includes zero-proof cocktails such as the Smoke +Pancake, plus local craft beers, and a biodynamic wine list curated by Hatch.
Setting the scene for the food and drink, the design by Atlanta-based Square Feet Studio takes what was once a florist’s storefront shop and transforms it into a homey parlor, with exposed brick walls, vintage furniture and place settings, and salon-style art, topped off by the original tin ceiling.
Last week, Ward sat down at a table at Southern Belle to talk about the opening, and some of the big ideas behind the concept.
“Southern Belle is the main chunk of the building, and we celebrated the vintage architecture inside by restoring the original tin roof and keeping the original exposed brick,” Ward said. “When I first walked inside, it really blew me away. It was sort of what I was imagining for Southern Belle. It just so happened that there was a connected space that was smaller. The landlord literally called it ‘the hideaway space,’ and that became Georgia Boy.
“The food at Southern Belle is sort of a straightforward collection of smaller plates getting up to something you could share with two people as a main. I wanted folks to be able to create their own experience. If you just wanted to come in and have a couple of drinks, or if you wanted to nosh on a couple of items, you could do that, or you could make a multicourse meal. But the menu is going to change frequently, depending on the season and what the farmers are bringing in.”
Delving deeper into the menu, Ward noted that it’s not only a reflection of the modern South, but Atlanta in particular.
“We have multicultural influences from around the world in this city,” he said. “It’s a great place for music, and art, and culture. And I love Buford Highway, so I wanted to bring a little sample of that, along with heirloom varietals, and local produce and meats to try and express what Atlanta is.”
As for finally owning and operating a restaurant, Ward said it was always the goal.
“This is the culmination of years, and years, and years of working towards opening my own place,” Ward said. “Early in my career, I was kind of bouncing around. I did a country club. I did a catering company. I did the St. Regis Hotel. And then I got into Woodfire Grill with Kevin, and I haven’t looked back since then.
“Gunshow was the best job I ever had, by a lot. I was in tears my last night, saying goodbye to everybody. Kevin was the best man at my wedding. We got married at Revival. But Kevin said it best. He said, ‘You’re never going to be truly happy unless you’re your own boss.’ And here I am now.”
1043 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-698-3961, southernbelleatl.com.
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