When Tiny Lou’s opened in the boutique Hotel Clermont on June 8 , it was the culmination of a long-time-coming project that included the complete renovation of the landmark Clermont Motor Hotel on Ponce de Leon Avenue, and the preservation of the world-famous Clermont Lounge in the basement.
The French-American brasserie is named for Tiny Lou, a famed dancer of yesteryear. It’s operated by managing partner Steve Palmer of Charleston’s Indigo Road Hospitality Group, which owns O-Ku and Donetto in Atlanta and Oak Steakhouse and Colletta in Alpharetta.
Situated in the lower level of the hotel, with entrances from a stairwell in the lobby or a doorway below street level, the elegant dining room has a sub rosa feel that celebrates layers of design and decor that go back to the building’s 1924 origins.
In addition to Tiny Lou’s, guests can find sustenance in the cozy lobby bar and the rooftop cabana bar, where AstroTurf, lawn chairs, street food carts and expansive views of the city create an open-air resort atmosphere.
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Veteran executive chef Jeb Aldrich and director of restaurants Nick Hassiotis oversee the food and drink, with a team that includes pastry chef Claudia Martinez and beverage manager Jordan Moore.
Last week before service, Aldrich, Martinez and Moore talked about Tiny Lou’s menus and how they are presenting French classics with some playful modern elements.
“First off, the property is such a huge part of Atlanta,” Aldrich said. “To see it revitalized is pretty amazing. At one point, there was talk that they were just going to tear it down. But you’re seeing these defined neighborhoods come together, and this is part of that now.
“As far as the concept, Steve (Palmer) had wanted to do a French restaurant for a long time, and this site was kind of perfect for that kind of food. I grew up cooking French food. It’s how I learned. It’s all technique-driven with simple ingredients. I worked for Joel (Antunes) for two years at Joel in Atlanta. The kitchen here is set up like the kitchen at Joel, but on a smaller scale, obviously, with the brigade system.”
Using the philosophy of the French kitchen, Aldrich said the Tiny Lou’s menu is broken down into a few key sections.
“We have meat, fish and vegetables, and then down the center, we have hors d’oeuvres,” he said. “We wanted to do a very approachable menu. We want anyone to be able to come in here and enjoy themselves, and not be just a special occasion kind of place. We have steak frites at $25, just to appeal to everyone.
“But there are a lot of basic principles to the menu, with some modern techniques thrown in. We’re using as many local ingredients as possible. We talk about Southern ingredients in a French brasserie. Our hors d’oeuvres are like small plates, so you can do that. And we have a burger that’s on the late night menu, as well. This is a hotel restaurant that you’d want to eat at. It’s a fun place. And I’m having so much fun working here.”
Speaking of fun, Martinez, who was most recently the assistant pastry chef at Atlas in Buckhead, is making desserts inspired by the hotel’s history and some of its more colorful characters. Ode to Blondie, named for the favorite Clermont dancer, is a flamboyant brown butter blondie with curried bananas flambé, buttermilk ice cream and hazelnut crémeux. Guests can request smaller items from a brass dessert cart that once rolled through New York City’s legendary Quo Vadis.
“I like doing plated desserts the most, but the dessert cart is another way to get a little something for a sweet tooth,” Martinez said. “We’ll have cookies, tartlets or a glazed cake sometimes. But I realized I could really have fun here, and push the colors and the glitter and the names, like Ode to Blondie, a traditional American dessert I played with for the Clermont.”
Moore, who worked at Indigo Road restaurants before moving to Atlanta, is doing similar things with cocktails in the lobby bar, which boasts lots of bourbon and takes on Prohibition-era cocktails.
“I’m really committed to proper technique, and history is really important in cocktails,” Moore said. “But I also want to maintain accessibility, so it’s a balance. I have modified classics and a couple of things that are completely off the wall.”
789 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta. 470-485-0085, tinylous.com.
More images from a First Look at Tiny Lou's at the Hotel Clermont