Hawkers Asian Street Fare officially opened today at the new StudioPlex Alley on the Eastside Beltline near Auburn Avenue. The name was inspired by the street food vendors the four co-founders, Kaleb Harrell, Allen Lo, Wayne Yung and Kin Ho, encountered living and traveling in Asia.
The Florida-based brand debuted in Orlando in 2011. Since then, the company has opened Hawkers locations in Jacksonville, Neptune Beach, St. Petersburg and Windermere, Florida, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Four more locations are scheduled to open in 2019, including East Nashville, Tennessee, and Bethesda, Maryland.
The concept boasts a “from-scratch-only kitchen” turning out seasonal small plates, salads, noodle soups and rice dishes with Pan Asian influences, and many of the recipes were passed down from the founders’ families.
Look for the likes of Roti Canai, Salt-N-Pepa Ribs, Korean Twice-Fried Wings, Miso Pork Belly Ramen, Sichuan Wontons, Street Skewers, Crispy Tofu Bites, Steamed Baos, Kimchi Fried Rice, and Curry Laksa, on a sprawling menu that includes a variety of vegetarian, gluten-free, and pescatarian dishes, as well as sweets like Purple Coconut Sticky Rice and Cinnamon Roti A La Mode.
The surprisingly broad beverage menu features some 18 specialty and classic cocktails, Asian and local craft beers on draft, and wine by the glass or bottle — plus sake and Japanese whisky lists with selected flights.
The build-out of the 4,535-square-foot space by Atlanta architecture and interior design firm Studio SOGO incorporates raw materials from hawker stalls, with industrial metal, wood and concrete elements.
The eye-popping design evokes a panorama of street scenes and tableaux with a graffiti mural inspired by the Krog Street Tunnel, custom posters by Hawkers Senior Art Director Adam Smajstrla, neon signs, and gift shop-style displays of waving maneki-neko lucky cats.
Last week, Travis Collum, who is the executive chef at Hawkers in Atlanta, sat down to talk about the concept and the menu.
“I’m a coastal Georgia native from Brunswick,” Collum said. “I moved to Atlanta in 2005, and I worked at the Globe, and I helped open Kozmo Gastro Pub in Alpharetta. Then I went on to work for Fifth Group Restaurants, and later I worked for Marlow’s Tavern, and finally this place.
“I’d dabbled in Asian dishes on menus, but I’d never cooked Asian food in a full-on concept before this. What I really like about Hawkers is that it’s authentic family recipes, passed down from generations. And each year, they go back and do potlucks and get new menu ideas from different areas of Asia.”
While the menu is centered around small plates, Collum said the atmosphere is an important part of the experience. And if you’re not into sharing, that works, too.
“Our whole concept is to have a group of friends or family come in and share everything at the table,” he said. “We want to create that atmosphere in the restaurant of people having a great time, like you’re out on the streets somewhere in Asia enjoying a lot of different food with a lot of different people.
“But what I like about our menu is that you can have your small plates, and then you can get a rice or a noodle dish that’s enough for one person, or enough to share with five or six people at a table. The other lovely thing about our menu is that over three-quarters of the items cook within three minutes, so that’s really great as far as a quick small plate concept. Of course, the prep that goes into the dishes takes a lot longer.”
When it comes to drinks, Collum noted that the long and winding, indoor/outdoor bar at the front of the restaurant is well stocked and designed to accommodate a crowd.
“The beverage program we just rolled out at the beginning of this year definitely took a huge step forward,” Collum said. “We added a lot of specialty cocktails to the menu, and Japanese whiskey, and just really good classic cocktails. The Old Fashioned is really good. My favorite, though, is the I Got 5 on It with Japanese whisky. And we do have a really good selection of wine and local craft beer. But our specialty cocktails have really taken off.”
661 Auburn Ave. NE, Suite 180, Atlanta. 470-809-1586, eathawkers.com/atlanta-oldfourthward.
Scroll down for more images from a First Look at Hawkers Asian Street Fare at StudioPlex Alley
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