Named for her grandmother, Rina, the new street food concept from Israeli-born Atlanta restaurateur Tal Baum and the Oliva Restaurants team (Bellina Alimentari; Aziza; Falafel Nation), opened last week in the Ford Factory Lofts on Ponce de Leon Avenue.
Located on the Eastside Beltline near Ponce City Market, the 2,700-square-foot build-out was designed by Smith Hanes Studio, taking inspiration from the lively boardwalk beach spots in Tel Aviv. The bar, dining room and open kitchen are all located in a bright, cozy space with tiled floors, a soaring ceiling and rows of large windows.
The walls are covered with art and photos representing Baum’s family. And up a flight of stairs, there’s a patio that looks out on the Beltline, and an order counter equipped with a dumbwaiter for takeaway service.
On the menu, Oliva executive chef Brandon Hughes and chef de cuisine Daniel Chance are mixing Baum’s traditional family recipes with their own takes on Israeli and Middle Eastern cuisine. Look for a dozen mezze offerings, including Moroccan Carrots, Za’atar Labneh, Eggplant Matbucha, Israeli Salad, Tabbouleh, Sumac-Cabbage Slaw, and roasted beets.
There are three different hummus combinations, and pitas filled with falafel, chicken, spiced lamb or spiced eggplant. Platters include Amba Chicken with Persian rice and charred vegetables; Beef Kebab with garlic pita, tomato brown butter, and sumac onion; and “Jaffa” Fish fried in falafel batter with fried shallots and herb tahini. Plus there are sides like halloumi with tomato brown butter and scallions, and french fries with Jerusalem spice and harissa mayo.
The drinks menu from Demario Wallace, who oversees the bar program at both Aziza and Rina, features an array of frozen drinks, boozy milkshakes, and draft cocktails such as the Tzuk with spicy tequila, grapefruit and fresh herbs. There are also some interesting Israeli beer and wine selections, including Goldstar lager and Dalton Estates rose and cabernet sauvignon.
Last week, Baum and Hughes gathered at the bar at Rina to talk about the project, which they agreed was both very personal and a lot of fun.
“So Rina is my grandma, and I decided that I wanted to dedicate this concept to her because so many memories, and so many childhood moments are related to her,” Baum said, “and the meals that we had together as a family, and the experiences that we had at her house around the big kitchen table, from Shabbat dinners to birthdays. We would make falafel together and bake, so it was a lot of fun, and I wanted to build this concept around those memories.
“For this space, we wanted to take people back to the beach in Tel Aviv, and have that light, bright, fun, colorful experience that will just transport them to a different world. It starts with the space. But then when you look at the menu, and you’re sipping a frozen drink, and you’re eating the fresh salads, and mezze, and pita, and people can imagine themselves sitting on the beach. I think the best compliment we got was from people who saw the space and said it didn’t feel like they were in Atlanta.”
Speaking about the menu at Rina, Hughes said it was a bit more traditional than the menu at Aziza, and in some ways, that might be challenging.
“I think a lot of people in Atlanta are still new to this cuisine,” Hughes said. “So there’s going to be a lot of explaining what some things are. And there are some pretty aggressive flavors for someone who’s never eaten it. It can be a load of flavor. But there are a lot of similarities between Israeli and Southern food, honestly.
“With the fried fish, we take a little liberty and change it to a beer batter, and we really heavily season it with the falafel spices. The beef kebab is more off in a Turkish direction with this very flavorful, super creamy tomato brown butter sauce. The falafel is the same as we’re doing at Falafel Nation. And we have the fries and the halloumi to nosh on, and the milkshakes are incredible, as well.”
“This is the most fun, and casual, and free, and bright concept we have done so far,” Baum said. “We are very committed to showcasing the cuisine and the culture that we represent in the most authentic way, and trying to do things right. But I honestly think if Aziza or Rina were in Tel Aviv, people would be impressed because it’s different and it has Brandon’s own spin on it. And that’s what makes it so special.”
699 Ponce de Leon Ave., Suite 9, Atlanta. 404-343-0362, rinakitchen.com.
Scroll down for more images from a First Look at Rina at the Ford Factory Lofts on Ponce
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