Atlanta Orders In: Seven Lamps survived Buckhead damage, but is not back to normal

Idaho potato gnocchi with summer squash, sage, lemon, garlic and chili is among the dishes available from Seven Lamps. CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND
Idaho potato gnocchi with summer squash, sage, lemon, garlic and chili is among the dishes available from Seven Lamps. CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Drew Van Leuvan apprenticed under such renowned chefs as Gunter Seeger, Wylie Dufresne and Joel Antunes, and has served as executive chef at some of Atlanta’s best-known restaurants.

But, even after almost 25 years in the business, Van Leuvan wasn’t prepared for the challenges of closing, then reopening, his eight-year-old casual fine-dining spot, Seven Lamps, during a pandemic.

Located in Buckhead, the restaurant relies on traffic from nearby hotels, offices and Lenox Square. What’s more, the cozy dining room has been recognized for its communal seating at large tables, and an exhibition-style bar designed for up-close and personal service.

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The watermelon salad with country ham and house-made mozzarella at Seven Lamps is a standout. CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND
The watermelon salad with country ham and house-made mozzarella at Seven Lamps is a standout. CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

Not surprisingly, those things hindered the reopening, Van Leuvan said.

“We closed on the 17th of March. But, in the week prior, sales dropped dropped by, like, $35,000,” he noted.

In late May, Van Leuvan decided it was time to reopen, starting with takeout. But, then, protests hit Buckhead, morphing into vandalism, arson and looting.

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Seven Lamps offers wings that are smoked, then fried, with pickled red onion, cilantro and aji verde. CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND
Seven Lamps offers wings that are smoked, then fried, with pickled red onion, cilantro and aji verde. CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

“We had military police in our lot and the lot across the street,” he said, “and they put barricades up and blocked us off. I went down in the morning to see the damage, and it was amazing; we were saved.” But he pushed back the reopening to July 7, “just to let everything settle down.”

After reducing the size of the tables to seat smaller parties, and opening up a bigger patio space, Seven Lamps is now open for lunch and dinner five days a week. Still, things are nowhere near back to normal.

“The sales are maybe 20% of what it used to be,” Van Leuvan said. “If things do not improve considerably, it’s not going to work. We’ve got enough money from the (Paycheck Protection Program) to last until the end of this year. We wouldn’t be open now without it.”

The dining room at Seven Lamps has been rearranged for social distancing. CONTRIBUTED BY SEVEN LAMPS
The dining room at Seven Lamps has been rearranged for social distancing. CONTRIBUTED BY SEVEN LAMPS

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

Essentially, Van Leuvan said, the problem isn’t making and selling food, it’s providing the kind of service-oriented, chef-run operation that defines restaurants like Seven Lamps.

“The reason people like going to restaurants is the energy level,” he said. “With all the spacing and restrictions, you can’t generate that energy. And, I don’t know how this industry will be able to pull through.”

The patio space at Seven Lamps in Buckhead has been expanded. CONTRIBUTED BY SEVEN LAMPS
The patio space at Seven Lamps in Buckhead has been expanded. CONTRIBUTED BY SEVEN LAMPS

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

Even though he’s pessimistic about the future, Van Leuvan remains passionate about cooking. He looks forward to writing seasonal menus that aren’t all that different from what Seven Lamps always has offered.

“There are certain things, like the lobster bun and the mussels, that I could never take off the lunch menu. People come here for those things,” he said, adding that “the dinner menu is about 95% what we’ve always done. And the full menu is available to order online for takeout and delivery.”

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SEVEN LAMPS

Menu: casual fine dining, with starters, small plates, entrees and desserts

Alcohol: full bar for on-site dining; beer, wine and cocktails for takeaway

What I ordered: watermelon salad with country ham, house-made mozzarella, shallot and white chocolate and horseradish granita; smoked then fried wings, with pickled shallots, aji verde sauce; grilled Georgia shrimp with scampi butter, aji Amarillo; potato gnocchi with wood-grilled summer squash, garlic, fried sage, chili, buttered bread crumbs and pecorino. The dishes traveled well. The standouts were the sweet, savory, salty watermelon salad, and the pillowy, buttery gnocchi.

Service options: order online for delivery or pickup with a curbside option; on-site dining inside or on the patio

Safety protocols: adhering to all state guidelines; list of extra safety protocols on the website

Address, phone: 3400 Around Lenox Road, Atlanta; 404-467-8950

Hours: lunch, noon-3 p.m. Tuesdays–Saturdays; dinner, 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 5-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays

Website: sevenlampsatl.com

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