Atlanta Orders In: Redbird still chirping with seasonal, small-plates menu in west Midtown

Redbird has erected an outdoor bar on its patio at Westside Provisions District. Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

When Georgia restaurants began reopening for on-premises dining in late spring, chef Zeb Stevenson was among the Atlanta culinarians who spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about menu changes that might occur to accommodate a new era in dining.

“It’s highly unlikely that people are going to want the same experience from Redbird that they did pre-COVID,” Stevenson said of his upscale, small-plates spot.

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The patio at Redbird is socially distanced; heaters will warm the outdoor space as cooler temperatures set in. Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Four months later, Stevenson has figured out how to provide guests with a Redbird experience, despite a downsized staff (from 50 to 18), reduced party size and other changes. He said the current menu is “the best that Redbird has had.”

Prior to Redbird’s June reopening, peers advised Stevenson to shrink his menu, but he has retained a mix-and-match seasonal menu that still totals about two dozen items. “I love the food here so much, I don’t want to make it smaller,” he said.

There have been menu changes, though. Large-format proteins intended for sharing were yanked, in part because the average party size dropped. Even though table size is increasing to three and four these days, Stevenson doesn’t anticipate bringing back big portions of meats.

ExploreFirst Look: Redbird debuts in west Midtown with a relaxed atmosphere and mix-and-match menu
At Redbird in west Midtown, blistered shishito peppers are finished with breadcrumbs, olive oil and sea salt. Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Rather, he pushes a chile-rubbed, deboned half-chicken with mock duck sauce and chile rings. Having learned the takeout game (which accounted for less than 2% of sales prior to the pandemic), Stevenson also touts the tender chicken for its ability to hold up well in transit.

Roasted garlic hummus swirled with garlic jam, topped with puffy fried rice and paired with house pita is a recent addition.

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Chef Zeb Stevenson launched Redbird with business partner Ross Jones a year ago in the space vacated by Bacchanalia. Courtesy of Ross Jones

He recently hired Ashley Auer as pastry chef. The former Cooks & Soldiers employee is baking fig-stuffed Basque cakes that Stevenson rightly described as “like a big old, fancy fig Newton,” while making batches of chewy chocolate chip quarantine cookies whose secret ingredient is sweetened condensed milk.

Fig-stuffed Basque cake and quarantine cookies are among the dessert offerings at Redbird. Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Redbird also rolled out an outdoor bar on its second story patio that has experienced “tremendous” success.

Although plans to restore weekend brunch are on hold, Stevenson is hoping to attract the morning crowd soon by selling biscuits and biscuit sandwiches at a walk-up window. “We’ll make it super quick, grab and go, minimal contact, no need to come inside,” he said.

Is winter a concern? “I’m thinking about it every day,” Stevenson said. “We put a lot of resources into heating our patio when we first opened ... but it was money well spent. We can seat our patio down to about 40 degrees. I had dinner around Christmastime last year; (the patio) sat very comfortably.”

Redbird’s interior is filled with natural light. Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The interior, remodeled from its Bacchanalia days, is wide open. “We have a very high ceiling, an open room and windows that open to the outside: we are well ventilated,” he said.

Even though Redbird’s business isn’t what it was compared with pre-pandemic days, and Stevenson and partner Ross Jones face shrinking the operation further in the next six to eight months without “some serious increase in revenue,” the veteran chef is focused on the positives.

Zeb Stevenson (left) and Ross Jones, partners in Redbird, are pictured in 2019. / Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

“I’m a better boss,” said Stevenson, 45, who has spent “more than half my natural life” in the kitchen. “My crew is much smaller, but they are working together so well. ... Everybody who came back to work came back because they truly wanted to, and it shows. The guests coming to the restaurant are so awesome right now. I’ve learned a lot about being patient and putting our efforts into the things that really matter.”

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

REDBIRD

Menu: new American small plates

Alcohol: beer, wine and cocktails

What I ordered: roasted garlic hummus; shishito peppers; lady peas with smoked dashi broth; sourdough mac and cheese; chicken liver pate; chili-rubbed half chicken (so good!); dry-aged cheeseburger; fig-stuffed Basque cake; quarantine cookies. If you enjoy seasonal, chef-driven new American fare, you won’t be disappointed, especially with the chicken, whose blackened looks are deceiving.

Service options: dine-in or takeout; order in person, online or by phone; curbside available

Safety protocols: following all COVID-19 restaurant safety guidelines; all staff wear masks; patrons must wear masks when moving through the restaurant; hand sanitizer stations for patrons throughout restaurant, hand sanitizer wipes at tables upon arrival; touchless QR menu for mobile devices coming soon

Address, phone: 1198 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta; 404-900-5172

Hours: 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays

Website: redbirdatl.com

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