Atlanta Orders In: Gato’s breakfast and creative Mexican dishes deserve to be on your radar

Gato chef Nicholas Stinson’s vegetarian tlayuda comes with mushrooms, summer squash, avocado, cherry tomatoes, bean puree, Oaxacan string cheese and salsa amarillo verde, all on a crispy red tortilla. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

If you love breakfast, perusing the menu at Gato is almost certain to make your stomach roar like a hungry lion.

Imagine butter cakes with maple butter syrup, fruit compote and agave butter; a burrito with chili ajo potatoes, black beans, chihuahua cheese and salsas, plus your choice of pulled citrus pork, eggs or tofu, and veggies; and something called “slom,” which owner Nicholas Stinson describes as a kind of punk-rock hangover cure he devised during his salad days as a line cook.

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This takeout order from Gato includes: an adobo chicken quarter with seca soup rice, escabeche, salsa macha and key lime. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

I’d had an abstemious weekend, but for Sunday supper, I couldn’t resist this hash of duck-fat potatoes, garlic confit, cheesy scrambled eggs, Benton’s country ham (normally Benton’s bacon, but they were out), chili-oil onion and cilantro sauce. In the future, it might be worth having a few too many, so I can determine if this kinetically flavorful, mood-lifting dish lives up to its restorative claims.

Have I piqued your interest?

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Gato chef-owner Nicholas Stinson brings a takeout order out the door of his Candler Park diner. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

I haven’t even mentioned the opposite side of the menudinner entrees that showcase the playful Mexican cooking Stinson has concocted in the two years since he unveiled his Gato Nights weekend series. I’m talking about an adobo chicken quarter that Stinson flattens, tenderizes in a sous vide machine, finishes on a Japanese charcoal yakitori grill, and serves with red rice, house-made tortillas, escabeche, salsa macha and key lime halves. And a giant tlayuda, made with red corn meal that he grinds himself and crisps on a cast-iron press he imported from California. The pizza-size tortilla is strewn with mushrooms, summer squash, Oaxacan rope cheese, bean puree, avocado, salsa and the herb pipicha.

An order of takeout tacos from Gato in Candler Park includes (on the left) pulled citrus pork shoulder, with smoked peach salsa, cilantro stem, iced red onion, and chapulines salt; and (on the right) braised turkey thigh with green mole and radish. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

The self-taught chef now presents his hardy, everyday breakfasts and more intellectual Mexican fare side by side on a pandemic-era menu, “Gato Godspeed !” And, though he doesn’t knock it out of the park every time, he comes close. Either way, it’s hard not to be impressed by his rigorous research and solid technique. For certain, he knows how to make the basic elements of salt, acid, heat and spice come together in electrifying ways.

As fate would have it, COVID-19 arrived not long after his Mexican magic at Gato had started to make a buzz. (Before that, Gato was perhaps best known as the proving ground for Little Bear’s Jarrett Stieber and Talat Market’s Parnass Savang and Rod Lassiter.) Since March, Stinson has been reduced to operating three days a week, and depending a good bit on the kindness of regulars. (When I spoke to him, he was delivering takeout to a nearby shut-in.)

Gato in Candler Park offers this crunchy salad. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Meanwhile, he’s launched private dinners for small groups, for whom he custom-crafts a meal from his Gato playbook. Depending on the wishes of guests, he can course out each selection individually, or present the repast family-style.

Stinson, who is likely to pick up the phone when you call, is not the savviest self-promoter. Ordering can feel almost like trying to gain admission to a secret supper club. You can find an old menu on the Gato website, but, for the latest iteration, you must go to the highlights section of the Instagram profile. Look for the far left button that says “current menu.”

Gato's takeout menu focuses on breakfast and Mexican dishes. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

I’d be surprised if it doesn’t make you eager to experience the work of a chef who’s spent years immersing himself in the nuances of Mexican, yet remains refreshingly humble about where it has taken him.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

GATO

Menu: breakfast and some original, Mexican-inspired entrees

Alcohol: beer, wine, cocktails to go

What I ordered: slom, crunchy salad, tacos with braised turkey and pulled citrus pork shoulder, chicken and rice, tlayuda

Service options: takeout and delivery (1-mile radius, $25 minimum)

Outdoor space: yes, but extremely limited

Mask policy: not currently allowing dine-in; private dinner guests must don masks

Address, phone: 1660 McLendon Ave. SE, Atlanta; 404-371-0889

Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Fridays-Sundays

Website: gatoatl.com

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