When a restaurant opens its doors, its owners hope it will succeed. But in the case of Staplehouse, a restaurant located in an unassuming brick building at 541 Edgewood Ave., in the Old Fourth Ward, its owners probably never dreamed that their concept would garner such national aplomb.
Today, Bon Appetit magazine declared Staplehouse America’s Best New Restaurant of 2016. Staplehouse topped the food magazine’s Hot 10 list, which it whittled down from the 50 contenders it named earlier this summer. (Inman Quarter restaurant Bread & Butterfly was the other Atlanta restaurant included in that list.)
Since opening in September of last year, Staplehouse has earned high reviews, including three stars from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It was also a 2016 James Beard Award finalist for Best New Restaurant, with executive chef Ryan Smith getting a James Beard nod as a semifinalist for Best Chef: Southeast.
Staplehouse was also recently included in Eater’s annual list of the Best New Restaurants in America and named to the top of GQ’s Best New Restaurants of 2016 list.
The accolades are the culmination of a tragic story with a happy ending. The restaurant is the brainchild of Jen and Ryan Hidinger. Ryan Hidinger passed away in 2014 after a battle with cancer, but during his medical treatment, the Atlanta restaurant community rallied around the Hidingers to raise funds for his bills. Such an outpouring of support led to the founding of the Giving Kitchen, a not-for-profit charity that provides emergency grants to metro Atlanta restaurant workers. Staplehouse serves as the profitable arm of the Giving Kitchen.
Bon Appetit deputy editor Andrew Knowlton determined the magazine’s Hot 10 list along with fellow editor Julia Kramer. Knowlton stated that the Staplehouse story “tugs at your heart,” but that “you don’t have to know this story to appreciate a meal at Staplehouse.” He said it earned top honors because “the restaurant, the area, the food (Smith) was doing, flew in the face of all my expectations of Atlanta and the South.”
“I was so amazed with the complexity and layer of flavors,” said Knowlton, who grew up nearby in Alpharetta. Of Smith’s approach to new American cuisine, he said, “His food reads simple on the plate, but if you start asking questions, you are like, ‘Jeez, there’s a lot involved in that.’ That’s the brilliance of the food. Most people won’t find it intimidating. You don’t need a Ph.D. to eat it, but it has the technique of a high-end, Michelin-star (restaurant).”
Knowlton cited food, plating, wait staff knowledge, music and lighting among the determining factors for Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurants list, but also passion. “Passion starts with the chef, owner, maitre d’ and trickles down to the bartender, waiter and host,” said Knowlton. “At the end of the day, you can tell who is trying, and those people usually succeed.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.