Chef Robert Phalen’s Inman Park restaurant, One Eared Stag, has been a critic’s favorite since it opened in 2011.
Lauded for his use of organic and sustainable ingredients, and way with inventive, sometimes unusual dishes, Phalen also is known for an addictive grass-fed burger known as the Meatstick. And the crave-worthy Monday night fried chicken special has been a long-running staple of his people-pleasing repertoire.
So it wasn’t surprising that Phalen’s much anticipated new restaurant, Mary Hoopa’s House of Fried Chicken & Oysters, has been packed since it officially opened on Feb. 5 in Atlanta’s East Lake neighborhood.
As the name announces, fried chicken and both raw and grilled oysters are at the top of the menu, with other dishes imbued with a bit of Southern flavor from his wife and mother-in-law’s Louisiana roots, including some recipes passed down from a family friend, Mary Hoopa.
In sections of “snacks” and “bigger stuff,” you will find Phalen’s signature cheffy-meets-homey touches. For example, whipped chicken liver is spread on rustic bread with a stack of slivered apple, pickled pepper, and fennel. And a bowl of polenta and collard greens swims in pot liquor with braised bacon and a fried egg.
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Pastry chef Kristia Paz’s witty desserts include a cannoli-flavored “Cioccolato Taco” and a Bundt cake “birthday cake” with sprinkles, plus “assorted ice cream novelties.”
Though the liquor license is not functional as yet, beverage director Mikey Kilbourne’s drinks menu is all about bubbles, with beer and Champagne, and sparkling cocktails such as the Guise, with mezcal, Amaro, Green Chartreuse, and grapefruit.
Atlanta’s Square Feet Studio designed Mary Hoopa’s, mixing a casual feel with contemporary elements, including salvaged heart pine floors, plywood paneling and white subway tiles around the kitchen pass and bar area. An oyster bar is the focal point of the wide-open dining room, and there’s a spacious patio in back.
One afternoon last week, Phalen sat down for a few minutes, before the first wave of customers arrived, to talk about the Mary Hoopa’s thing.
“Doing the fried chicken over at One Eared Stag, it was always in the back of my mind to make a spot just for that,” Phalen said. “But the whole thing with the naming of it was kind of a fluke. We were sitting down one Sunday having dinner with my family and my wife’s family and we were brainstorming and we started thinking about their family roots in Houma, La.
“They grew up on a farm and Mary was like a second mother to them. The stories about her chicken and dumplings and her ‘yard-to-table’ cooking came up, which I thought was pretty cool. And then we started doing some research and found other family recipes, and it snowballed from there.”
Asked about the menu, Phalen said adapting the chicken in order to cook it daily on a larger scale was the biggest challenge.
“The recipe is exactly the same; the only difference is that at the Stag, we do everything in cast-iron skillets with rendered fat. Here, we use fryers and canola oil, and we’ve dialed in the temperatures. We go from a higher fire to a lower fire to keep the color.
“The rest of the menu is nostalgic things, with a handful of recipes from the family that will stay, and then we’ll be changing things seasonally. I look at it as a hodgepodge of things that you want to eat all the time. We’re throwing them all on there, just to have a good time.”
As far as the space, Phalen, who lives close by in Oakhurst, said he’d had his eye on it for a long time, and knew he wanted it to have a welcoming atmosphere.
“I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 12 years or so, and this has always been vacant, and there’s always been talk of doing something with it,” he said. “Part of the design for the space was to make you feel like you were going into someone’s house.
“It doesn’t matter if things don’t match, you’re having communal time, and eating and drinking and chilling out. Square Feet really listened to what I wanted and did a really good job with it.”
2371 Hosea L. Williams Drive SE, Building 1, Atlanta. 404-254-5326, maryhoopas.com.
More images from a First Look at Mary Hoopa’s