Many chefs would be petrified at the thought of opening a restaurant in the middle of a global pandemic, but not Parnass Savang and Rod Lassiter, owners of the new Talat Market in Summerhill.
For the past three years, they operated as a pop-up. Creating menus on the fly and cooking in unfamiliar kitchens was their idea of normal. So, having their own space feels incredibly stable.
After a two-year build-out in a former Asian grocery store, Talat Market debuted April 24. Much like the early days, when customers waited outside their pop-up venue at Candler Park's Gato to try their fresh and original "Thai-Georgian" cuisine, Talat's takeout-only iteration has been an astonishing success.
The $50 dinners for two — for now, a set menu of five savory Thai dishes, plus jasmine rice and dessert — are available for ordering two days in advance. They sell out within minutes.
Instead of being defeated by the COVID-19 outbreak, Savang, 30, and Lassiter, 42, have been energized by it. Because they never hired a full staff, they haven’t had to lay off anyone. (Besides the chefs, there’s a general manager, a beverage manager and a cook.) Because they only prepare 50 dinners a night, they can buy exactly the amount of food they need, and avoid waste. And, because they spent three years developing a following, they have a built-in customer base.
“We’ve been thrown into so many situations for pop-ups,” Savang said. “This was a challenge that we were used to.”
While opening a restaurant can be chaotic, the birth of Talat has been quiet and efficient. With no customers in the dining room and no extra employees to train, the small team has time to figure out its space and systems. “If we had opened with a staff, we would just be pretending like we knew what we were doing,” Savang joked.
The two hatched the idea for Talat while cooking at Kimball House a few years ago. Lassiter, a Tallahassee native who started as a server and slowly navigated the hierarchy of fine-dining, had given up on the idea of owning his own restaurant. Savang, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who grew up in his parents’ Thai restaurant in Lawrenceville, felt the city lacked an authentic Thai experience. They got along well, and decided to give it a whirl.
Given the current public-health crisis, Savang believes it may be a year before they can open their dining room, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t dream about it.
“I imagine people safely inside, with our music playing, our food smells,” Savang said. “Everybody can see us cooking. Both bars just full. (Bar manager) Adrian (Fessenden-Kroll) shaking cocktails. …. And, like, lines are long. I see it, I see it.”
Just not yet.
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Menu: currently includes seven dishes: geng jeut het (pork broth, pork and shrimp sausage, glass noodles, wood ear mushrooms, daylilies, scallions, cilantro); yum khao thawt (crispy rice, red chile jam, beet, little gem lettuce, peanut, ginger, cilantro, shallot); geng deng (red curry, asparagus, pineapple, spring onion, Thai basil); muu krop (crispy pork belly, garlic pepper vinegar); phat makheua yao (stir fried eggplant, garlic, chiles, Thai basil, oyster sauce); jasmine rice; sangkhaya bai toey (pandan and banana custard, vanilla wafers, fried shallots)
Alcohol: cocktail kits available; plans for beer, wine and cocktails as soon as permitting allows
What I ordered: the set menu, extra rice, side of Rod's Spicy Condiment, side of fish sauce with chiles. Everything was thoughtfully packed and clearly labeled, with a printed menu included for reference. It was a palate-tingling procession of hot and cold dishes, wildly aromatic and flavorful, by turns complex and as simple as naked pork belly dunked in sauce. Starting with the pork and shrimp soup with glass noodles and springy daylilies (!), and ending with green-hued pandan and banana custard that riffs on a classic Southern pudding, it was an exciting and revelatory meal. That one of Atlanta's best new restaurants in years can be enjoyed only as takeout makes it all the more remarkable.
Service options: order online for curbside pickup; no delivery
Safety protocols: gloves, masks, hand sanitzer; follows CDC guidelines; small, socially isolated staff
Address, phone: 112 Ormond St. SE, Atlanta, 404-257-6255
Hours: 5:30-8 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays.
Read the AJC Fall Dining Guide: The Noodle Edition
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