Robert Kaster’s love of wine started the minute he became legal — he remembers signing up for the wine and spirits class at his California college at 21. It bloomed as his career in hotel management took him to two of America’s great wine regions, California and Washington. It bore fruit in March, when he and his partner, Keith Miller, opened a wine bar in a newly renovated Midtown office building.
But rather than pouring wines from near and far, Kaster wanted specificity. He wanted to proffer sips from a region that’s perhaps under-represented in Atlanta’s food and drink culture, and to offer dishes to complement the grapes.
He loves empanadas and arepas, so why not pair the little hand-held pies and griddled cornmeal cakes of South America with wines from Chile, Argentina and Uruguay?
That’s how he and Miller came up with El Vinedo Local, where Uruguayan-born executive chef Bruno Vergara makes authentic South American fare and Kaster maintains a list of wines to match.
And because El Vinedo Local (which in Spanish means ”the local winery”) occupies the ground floor of an office building and opens at 8 a.m., it serves coffee and a tight menu of morning-appropriate empanadas, arepas, sandwiches and pastries. Though I didn’t get to sip java here, it’s clear that El Vinedo takes great pride in its coffee: It sources 100% organic, fair-trade beans from Americus-based Cafe Campesino, which in turn gleans its beans from small Latin American farms.
Credit: Galina Photography
Credit: Galina Photography
I stopped by on a recent Saturday as Atlanta was poised for golden hour. People were arriving with pooches to sit on the patio and take in Peachtree Street. They were sipping coffee drinks, and wine, hanging out with friends, ready to drink in the night. One patron, who lives close by, stopped by our table to remark that El Vinedo is a “neighborhood gem” and a new favorite spot for morning coffee.
I don’t doubt it.
To my mind, though, El Vinedo feels a bit like a hotel restaurant — not surprising, given that Kaster was a Hilton company man for more than two decades. The vibe is more that of downtown Atlanta than Buenos Aires or Santiago de Chile. Still, it’s a worthy perch for sampling South American wines and noshes. Another winning touch: It offers 3-ounce pours (many in the $5-$9 range) so you can taste your way around some 30 wines without investing in a full bottle.
Kaster himself will probably show up tableside with the bottle, to share notes and lend a human touch to the transaction. The Prisma rose from Chile ($5 for 3 ounces) and the Garzon Albarino from Uruguay ($6 for 3 ounces) were both delightful and intriguing finds.
In fact, you may want to stick with wine. My Pisco Sour, a classic cocktail of Peruvian brandy, lemon or lime juice and sugar, topped with frothy egg white, was a big letdown, tasting more of commercial lemonade or sour mix than a thoughtfully shaken Pisco Sour.
On the plus side, I liked Vergara’s crispy yuca frita with pink sauce, the Victoriano ceviche, and the veggie arepa.
Billed as a traditional Peruvian ceviche, the Victoriano is a nice assemblage of chunky white fish, sweet potatoes, pickled red onions, and a touch of habanero and cilantro oil, cupped in butter lettuce and served with crispy, ultra-thin plantain chips. It tasted clean and fresh; I liked it very much. A nicely griddled arepa was split in two and stuffed like a sandwich with black beans, avocado, sweet plantains and pickled onion.
A fried fish sandwich, with butter lettuce, tartar sauce and pickled onions (again), was fine. I dig the fact that the sandwiches here come with yuca rather than french fries.
Oddly enough, the least satisfying bites were the empanadas. Kaster tells me the dough is imported frozen from Chile, and I must say Vergara is an impeccable fry cook. The hand pies were so grease-free to the touch that they could have been baked. And yet, whether filled with beef and boiled egg or ham and cheese, they failed to impress.
The patron who stopped by to gab about the neighborhoodiness of El Vinedo was correct. I once lived in a high-rise building down the street, and found the area sorely lacking in spots such as this. As a place to sip coffee or enjoy an al fresco glass of wine and a ceviche, El Vinedo feels just right.
EL VINEDO LOCAL
Menu: South American
Alcohol: Mostly South American wine, with a few regional cocktails
What I ordered: Empanada criolla, empanada de jamón y queso, arepa vegetales, pan con pescado, Victoriano ceviche, side of yuca frita
Service options: Dine-in and takeout
Mask policy: Required for unvaccinated staff and patrons
Address, phone: 730 Peachtree St., Suite 100, Atlanta; 404-596-8239
Hours: 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays
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