First Look: Star power at Two Birds Taphouse in Marietta

Opened in July at the quiet end of Powder Springs Street, off Marietta Square, Two Birds Taphouse has the look and feel of a place that’s been around much longer.

A study in rustic wood, brick and metal, the vintage storefront space was reimagined as a contemporary gastropub by actor Dan Byrd and his fiancee, Lauren Smith, with help from Atlanta architectural and design firm ASD.

It’s the first bar/restaurant venture from the soon-to-be-married couple, who made the move from Hollywood to start the business with Byrd’s parents, longtime Marietta residents Jeff and Rachel Byrd.

“It’s been a dream for us, and for my dad, and my mom sort of got roped into it,” Byrd said last week, sitting with Smith at a back table at Two Birds. “Dad is a big beer guy. We hired Justin Balmes, who is a great chef, to take over the kitchen. And Lauren has a restaurant background, mostly in the front of the house, so she takes care of that.

“A gastropub, in our eyes at least, is sort of like a beer-driven bar with an elevated food menu, which is where Justin comes in. We really didn’t figure out what our identity was until he came on board with a very distinct menu and a unique vision for the place.”

While Byrd is known for a string of TV and movie roles, including playing the son of Courteney Cox on “Cougar Town” and the title character in the indie film “Norman,” Balmes brings a bit of star power, too, as a former “Food Network Star” finalist.

“I’ve been involved with the Atlanta food scene in some way, shape or form since about 1998,” Balmes said. “I came up with Shaun Doty, and I’ve always been focused on honest, simple food. My personal philosophy is source the best and prepare it with respect.”

Balmes’ idea of pub grub includes dry-rubbed and smoked wings, topped with a flutter of grated manchego cheese, and plated with avocado, jalapeno and garlic dressing and baby turnips. His one-and-only burger, dubbed The Burger, is made with dry-aged, pasture-raised beef, melted Gouda cheese, bacon, charred sweet onions and smoked mushrooms.

But what may be Balmes’ signature menu item, pork loin schnitzel, is an homage to Doty, who featured a similar dish at his now-defunct Shaun’s Restaurant in Inman Park.

“It’s something that goes back to my roots, for sure,” Balmes said. “We use Riverview Farms local pork, with Gouda fonduta as the base, charred Vidalia onions and a lot of flavors of the season, with peaches, strawberries and Fresno chiles. But the overall menu will rotate with seasonal ingredients.”

The Two Birds bar program is a collaborative effort, with Jeff Byrd overseeing 20 rotating taps and a focus on craft beer from Georgia and the Southeast.

Signature cocktails, with imaginative names like Hello Darkness, My Old Friend and Ginger Byrdman, are concocted in consultation with the Atlanta bitters-and-mixers company, 18.21 Bitters.

“It’s a lot of shared plates, and we don’t do reservations, so it’s a very relaxed, easy style of service,” Smith said, summing up the atmosphere. “People can sit where they want, have some drinks and share some food.”

Asked about making the move from Los Angeles to Atlanta to open Two Birds, Smith was surprisingly effusive.

“We already have a really good clientele. We get the most friendly, happy, nice people in here,” she said. “I’ve been doing this since I was 15, and I’ve never been in a place where the customers were so great. It’s very refreshing. The last few places I worked were on the Sunset Strip and in Beverly Hills. I’ve got to say, the clientele here is a lot more friendly.”

More images from a First Look at Two Birds Taphouse in Marietta. 

Chef Justin Balmes (center), Dan Byrd (left) and Lauren Smith (right) at Two Birds Taphouse in Marietta. (BECKY STEIN PHOTOGRAPHY)
Chef Justin Balmes’ dry-rubbed and smoked wings with avocado/jalapeno/garlic dressing, baby turnips, radish, manchego. (BECKY STEIN PHOTOGRAPHY)
The Burger at Two Birds Taphouse with dry-aged, pasture-raised beef, Gouda, bacon, charred sweet onion, smoked mushroom on a brioche bun with a side of fries. You can add an egg, too. (BECKY STEIN PHOTOGRAPHY)
Peach and Blackberry Crisp with streusel, sweet corn ice cream and thyme. (BECKY STEIN PHOTOGRAPHY)

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