Fried olives at Bar Margot. / Sara Hanna Photography Sara Hanna Photography
Photo: Sara Hanna Photography
Photo: Sara Hanna Photography

Ford Fry takes a victory lap at Bar Margot

Another day, another Ford Fry restaurant.

Atlanta’s most successful restaurateur has been on an opening spree over the past year. Since opening El Felix in Alpharetta at the end of 2014, Fry has opened Superica in Krog Street Market, State of Grace in Houston, Marcel on the Westside and now Bar Margot at the Four Seasons in Midtown. (And BeetleCat is expected to open its doors in Inman Park any day now.)

Fry was already conspicuously successful when his fifth restaurant, St. Cecilia, opened in Buckhead. As that number inches closer to a dozen restaurants, Fry’s empire is starting resemble something like that of King Midas. Is there anything he touches that doesn’t turn to gold?

In fact, Bar Margot somewhat resembles a victory lap. The kitchen is run by longtime Four Seasons executive chef Robert Gerstenecker and the cocktail list was designed by the Ticonderoga Club team of Greg Best and Paul Calvert. Fry’s job here seems to be simply passing along a bit of his golden touch. He’s done exactly that.

Collaborations, empires and concepts aside, Bar Margot is first and foremost a hotel bar. It is the kind of gathering space that has to accommodate the sudden influx of a bridal party ordering a round of pink cocktails, the needs of a tired traveling businessman who just wants a sip of whiskey and good view of the game, the actress who’s hoping to score a discreet seat and a fine meal after a hard day on the set. I’ve long enjoyed the people-watching and unpredictable bar talk that comes with hotel lounges and, unfortunately, learned to live with the soggy club sandwiches that are typically served in them.

Bar Margot has accomplished a fun balancing act: It is a place that still has the anything-goes, slightly anonymous vibe of a hotel bar, only you actually want to order the food. Start with the fried Castelvetrano olives. They arrive arranged in a little pyramid, each olive hitting that sweet spot of salty, fatty bar snack bliss. It only gets better when you dunk them into the accompanying ramekin of creamy Louis sauce.

You’ll need a drink with a salty snack like that and, for the money, you can’t get one better than the Mercy Street, an Irish-whiskey riff on the old fashioned made with dry vermouth and orange curacao, and served over a globe of ice in a heavy rocks glass. It is a big, strong, boozy pleasure cut with the slightest hint of sweet orange.

But salty olives and whiskey drinks aren’t for everyone. It’s at this point, the pivot from one palate to another, that Bar Margot excels. You could begin with a light plate of pickled Georgia shrimp, bright with a touch of lime, sharp with a hint of Serrano pepper and laid over a crisp bed of shaved radish. Wash that down with Gin Margot, a gin and tonic spiked with dry sherry, and you’ll have a fine pairing.

Should you opt for something more familiar, Bar Margot has you covered, too. The house burger oozes cheese, caramelized strands of onion and crisp strips of bacon. The punch potatoes, crushed, ragged shapes that fry into all kinds of crunchy nooks and crannies, are dressed up with creme fraiche and a dollop of trout roe. It’s just enough sophistication to almost make you forget you ordered the burger and fries.

But the more complicated dishes are likewise successful. The wood-grilled lamb ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender and paired with a spot-on hot harissa paste and cooling cucumber raita. The spicy shrimp sugo is as advertised, rich with the depth of sugo and surprisingly punctuated by the sticky, chewy texture of rice dumplings.

When I squint my eyes, I think this menu might be drawing off the successful dishes of Fry’s other joints, but I’d be lying if I tried to say I could trace which dish to which restaurant. Fry’s got so many different menus these days that I’d be very impressed if even he knows what’s being served at all of his restaurants.

Clearly, Fry’s Midas touch has to do with hiring and retaining a talented team to manage these things for him, and I suspect part of Bar Margot’s success is due to Craig Richards, St. Cecilia’s executive chef, who I’ve seen hanging around, seemingly keeping an eye on the place.

Before this year, I had something of a gripe with Fry’s restaurants. I felt I couldn’t see him in his menus, I couldn’t find his personality. All of his places just seemed too designed to generate maximum appeal.

And, then, somewhere between downing Tex-Mex fajitas, nibbling perfect steak frites and popping one of those briny Castelvetrano olives at the bar, I realized that this is Fry’s personality coming through his menus. He’s a crowd pleaser. He wants everybody to have what they want.

At Bar Margot, he’s done just that, again.

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