A fresh look at Gunshow, the city’s brightest new star

Back in the dark days before shared food became the norm, our bread-and-butter plates used to get a workout. Would you like a taste? Yes? Slivers of duck, spoonfuls of mashed potato and lone peas got piled onto the tiny dishes with clean utensils before anyone took a bite of his or her own meal. The plates were passed, the meal began, the “mmmmms” issued from lips.

Now that we share our food as easily as we do air, we can have a restaurant like Gunshow. Here, chef Kevin Gillespie and his team hand-deliver dishes by placing them in the middle of the table. “Go at it, kids!” they seem to say. You do, with utensils that get a well-licked workout and shared plates that get smudged with commingled sauces. It’s an engagingly sloppy meal to have with someone with whom you might occupy a bed later in the evening, but a tricky proposition with, say, a group of business associates.

Yet I recently found myself navigating a meal with three work colleagues. I think we had to overcome a moment of squeamishness early in the proceedings, as forks and spoons returned to successive dishes, but that whole “when in Rome” thing took over, and we had loads of fun.

I always have fun at Gunshow, which I consider the most interesting place to eat in Atlanta right now. Gillespie and his two henchmen, Joey Ward and Andreas Muller, cook with giddy freedom. They switch with ease from Southern to Chinese to Indian flavors, and from echt-modernist constructions to fast-food tributes in a way that feels weirdly logical. I don’t think they handle every idiom with equal aplomb, but each dish they create shows a high level of care and research. When one appears at your table, you can’t help but consider its charms.

While Gunshow is the most interesting restaurant in town, it’s not the most comfortable. Lit like a gymnasium during a basketball game and just as loud, it seems in its way as utilitarian as a school cafeteria. Nor is it a destination for drinks. The wine list is serviceable, the trim selection of bottled Georgia craft beers familiar. Since opening, the restaurant has added a rolling cocktail cart that Gillespie calls “the smartest thing we’ve done.” Of the four offered the night of my visit, I tried a mezcal punch with jalapeño that was fine, if a bit like a warm margarita.

Things don’t get going until that first bite of food, which happens pretty quickly after you settle in. What a good alternative to plowing through the bread basket and a glass of wine before your appetizer arrives.

This meal is a dance, and the partners change with frequency. You’re eating a breathtaking salad of charred unripe peaches outfitted like an Indian chaat with yogurt, chutneys and fried chickpeas. Then you twirl into a Lebanese chicken kebab, the meat ground and flecked with green herbs and tingly spices, set atop luxurious roasted eggplant and tahini. The cubes of cuke dotting the sauce are cut to a perfect brunoise (dice), and their regularity registers as refinement on the tongue.

I love the way Gunshow encourages you to try items you normally wouldn’t order. I don’t often indulge in foie gras, but when I see a thick (as well it should be for $24) slice, burnished from the pan, I want a bite. Here, it shares a plate with melting mission figs and crumbled Biscoff cookies in a twangy treacle of Coca-Cola and coffee. It tastes very here, now, Atlanta, a dish I’m excited to share with friends.

Maybe too-salty kung pao brussels sprouts taste of scorched soy sauce, like one of my poorer attempts at stir fry. But peanut-crusted grouper could star on any Atlanta restaurant’s menu. It arrives cooked medium alongside a terrifically creamy mash of potato and corn with corn milk, and a stripe of clean, bracing avocado salsa. Gillespie is making technically better and more soulful food here than he ever did at Woodfire Grill.

Ward, for his part, sometimes makes a tribute to In-N-Out Burger’s cult creation, the double-double animal style. We were lucky enough to arrive on the right night. As at the West Coast chain, this double stack features thin patties griddled with mustard, browned onions and plenty of American cheese to lubricate it all. We ordered two for the table and needed a third.

Does it make sense to scarf cheeseburgers after eating refined seafood? Not at all, but such are the parameters of today’s American food scene, and nowhere can they be better experienced locally than Gunshow. Bring it.

I will say that it was hard to go from cheeseburgers to a spicy, fussy salad of cured salmon and Thai noodles. A spongy triangle of shrimp toast over Szechuan-ignited vegetables did us in. We were soon ready for dessert. A fried peach pie tasted to me more of fryer oil than buttery pastry but (heresy!) I’m no fan of fried pie.

Something Similar to an Opera Cake arrived as a deconstructed arrangement of coffee, chocolate and almond components. It was delicious, but made me long for a slab of real opera cake. Please, pastry chefs, when, oh when, are you going to reconstruct desserts?

This raucous, fun, galumphing, bravura feast doesn’t come cheap. Tax, tip, a couple of drinks each and enough food for four people to leave full but not prostrate? Nearly $400. If you equate creature comforts to cost, then this restaurant may leave you angry.

If not, you’re in for a treat. I still remember the look on my colleague’s face when she arrived at Gunshow. “This is it, huh?” she asked, smiling, looking around at the loud, bright room where chefs plied the aisles with trays of pretty creations. In one way she was expressing surprise that the restaurant she had heard so much about was so low-key and bare bones. In another way, she was asking if this is what the new hotness looked like.

Is this the shape of things to come? It is, I think, and it’s a blast.

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