Three years ago, I vowed to write a table-for-one story. I still haven’t done it. Why? I prefer not to eat alone.
The times to fuel the body — be it at home or away — are precious minutes for tuning out work, errands and our cellphones to engage around the table with family, friends or even folks we just met. If you share this affection for company, give Bully Boy a try.
Open since November in the small, boxy outbuilding (formerly Nexto) near the Eastside Beltline, this newest Atlanta concept from the Concentrics Restaurants group spotlights Eastern Seaboard fare with 20-plus dishes primarily intended for sharing. The design also lends itself to communal dining. Some 100 seats are divvied up among high-tops, low-tops, a few long wooden farmhouse tables and intimate two-seaters. An expansive industrial ceiling and huge windows give the tight space breathing room.
The food and drink cartes are intriguing enough to get the conversation started even if you don’t have gossip or newsworthy notes to gab about with your significant other, girlfriends or co-workers, all of whom gather here.
Chitchat about the explorable wine list (like a spirited Getariako Txakolina Txakoli white from the Basque region of Spain and the Vidiano from Greece) or the Tequila No. 1, a refreshing island drink that holds the flavors of hibiscus, lime and guava flavors with black sea salt floating like caviar on top and a bay leaf bobbing near the rim. I watched as a party of six young ladies all ordered it. About 45 minutes later, the waiter brought each of those gals another round. Stick to one, though, if you opt for a balanced but boozy cocktail like the Sazerac or the 50/50, a martini of equal parts potato vodka and vermouth.
As you sip, slurp down freshly shucked oysters. Even better, graze on nibbles like smoked bluefish dip with sourdough crackers. Smoked next door at sister restaurant Two Urban Licks, the fish is then whipped together with cream cheese, heavy cream to thin things out, and brought up to seasoning snuff with capers, shallots, chives, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, lemon juice and salt and pepper. This Nantucket pate hits the mark for scoopable heft and flavor.
Nantucket is one point of entry at Bully Boy, whose name recalls a restaurant that was a favorite for Concentrics owner Bob Amick’s parents during his upbringing on the East Coast. Meanwhile, co-executive chefs Michael Bertozzi and Justin Dixon bring to the table their own coastal and Southern influences (Bertozzi grew up in Jacksonville, Florida; Dixon is a native Atlantan), as well as a knack for playfully modernizing classic dishes.
Florida red snapper tartare becomes an eye-popping plate with the addition of a sculptural mound of crackly, melt-in-your-mouth fried rice paper. Tabasco and Old Bay give a bowl of plump BBQ Georgia White Shrimp spicy wow power.
Some creations require assembly at the table. Tuck bright chunks of fresh yellowfin tuna dressed in dashi aioli into lettuce wraps or opt for one of a trio of family-style meals from the “Feast” section of the menu. Designed to feed between four and six people, the N.C. Poulet Rouge might be one of the best group dining deals in town. Whether ordered as a half or whole chicken ($22 and $36, respectively), out comes a platter piled with slices of the roasted heirloom bird, plus accoutrements of pickled veggies, green bibb leaves, a mound of Carolina Gold rice and ping-y sauces to stuff into puffy steamed bao buns. It’s as fun and interactive as a Korean barbecue experience.
A night at Bully Boy can also be about sitting back and watching someone else work. Blue Crab Fried Rice comes with great egg entertainment. For this omurice show, a server slices open the omelet, letting it drape and unfold over the seafood-rice stir-fry. Eggs as tableside entertainment requires not just culinary skill, but confidence in a waitstaff. Initially, the plan was for Bertozzi or Dixon to step off the line and present the dish to diners themselves. But with the chefs crammed in a dinky open kitchen that shares space with the bar, firing up orders and running them to tables wasn’t doable. Its five-person team of servers capably manages the task.
Some dishes weren’t nearly as impressive as the Japanese exploding omelet. Parisian Gnocchi in a creamy she-crab soup was so rich that I couldn’t manage more than a few bites of the pillowy house-made pasta. The other pasta offering, red shrimp tossed in local Pasta Mami squid ink tagliolini, was needlessly busy, with nduja and citrus wedges getting in the way. A plentiful portion of steamed mussels sank from an off-tasting Thai coconut broth.
There was some inconsistency with the salt shaker (Brussels sprouts, especially, were excessively salted). Not so with addictive shoestring fries seasoned with herbes fines, and which you’ll find paired with items like the Maine Lobster Frites. Served on the upturned shell and dressed in an indulgent truffle cream, the lobster looks prettier than it tastes.
Although Bully Boy is a seafood shack at its core, there are meat options. A double-stack patty melt featuring rabbit from local Comfort Farms makes for fine comfort food. And the kitchen nails the quick-sear for its 60-Second Steak. The indulgent additions of a fried egg on top and foie truffle cream below turn the plate into a riff on steak-and-eggs, but the execution on this 5-ounce portion of Prime tenderloin was satisfying in and of itself.
Amick knows restaurants. He’s been churning out concept after concept for more than four decades. Bully Boy might not be breaking boundaries, but this latest Concentrics spot has appeal: an approachable, creative menu, a dynamic crew working the kitchen, bar and floor, and a lively space that invites your party to linger.
I’ll get to that table-for-one story someday. But at the moment, I’m content sharing the plate.
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