Of course, English has been a star chef since coming on the scene in the early ’90s, and opening iconic fine dining restaurants such as Olives in Boston.
More recently, the English brand has been associated with airports, hotels and cruise ships, and international ventures from Orlando to Mexico City and Abu Dhabi, not to mention the Todd English Food Hall at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.
But Todd English Tavern is a homecoming of sorts for English, who lived in Atlanta between the ages of 6 and 16, and attended the Galloway School.
“We moved to Atlanta in 1967,” English said during a recent phone call. “We lived in Ansley Park and I went to the Galloway School the first year it opened, then I lived in Chastain Park and Sandy Springs for a while.
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“It was a different place back then, but it feels really good to be back. Being here feels like home more than any other place, I guess because it was my youth.”
Asked about the challenge of opening a new restaurant next to a ballpark, English stressed the variety of his other concepts, and what it takes to make “eatertainment” legit.
“Maybe I’m giving away my age, but I’ve been doing this for a long time,” English said and laughed. “This is what I do. We’re bringing in the whole entertainment aspect of the world we live in. We want to go to places where we can be entertained and have fun, but we also want to have good food.”
The Tavern menu, which includes the likes of Georgia shrimp with creamed corn polenta, and a trio of pork belly, shoulder and tenderloin served family-style, is a broad mix of Southern and international influences, with many dishes cooked over a wood-fired grill.
Beyond flavor, the smoke and fire add a touch of drama to the exhibition-style open kitchen, where there’s also a marble-topped chef’s table.
Jimmy Reyes, who was the executive chef at English’s Bluezoo at Walt Disney World’s Swan & Dolphin Resort in Orlando, moved to Atlanta to helm the kitchen.
“Jimmy is very talented,” English said. “He really took over with the menu, and we have a whole book of seasonal dishes planned for when things begin to settle down. I think you will see a whole other level. But that was part of the challenge, being able to do something that was a notch above what you’d expect.”
Last week, Reyes was at the Tavern, where he talked about his background and shared his thoughts about the menu.
“Originally, I’m from Spain, but I’ve been in the United States for about 12 years,” Reyes said. “I was born in Malaga, so on the coast, where my exposure as a kid was seafood. My dad owned a restaurant and I started cooking at 14.
“This is one of those opportunities that comes once in a lifetime. Being so close to the stadium, and the kind of business that we do, and still being able to put out great food, you can’t really ask for anything better.”
Reyes also was obviously pleased to have such a big hand in developing the menu with English.
“Chef Todd is one of those who loves to give the guy on the ground a lot of power when it comes to the menu,” Reyes said. “So we worked very closely together on this one. But his brain doesn’t work like everyone else’s. He’s very creative. And I try to follow and make it happen.”
One example of that is Georgia Peanut Butter Chicken Wings with Thai satay sauce.
“Chef Todd loves the Asian influence and flavors with soy sauce and spice,” Reyes said. “We use those ingredients and a lot of different things like masa in the batter. Once the wings are fried and crispy, we toss them in the Thai sauce, and then we serve them with a spicy peanut sauce on the side. So it’s a great sweet and spicy take on wings.
“But we’re definitely going to be a seasonal restaurant, so probably in August, we’re going to change the menu again. We want people to understand that we’re going to be changing the menu a lot. We’re going to take some chances, and see how far ahead I can push my staff to make the kind of food I think we can make.”
825 Battery Ave. SE, Suite 600, Atlanta. 404-965-2511. liveatthebatteryatlanta.com/tenant/todd-english-tavern.
More images from a First Look at Todd English Tavern at The Battery Atlanta