One Fine Meal: A taste of Tiny Lou’s from new culinary team

The steak frites from Tiny Lou's are a reliable entree choice. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
The steak frites from Tiny Lou's are a reliable entree choice. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

There’s always a bit of scuttlebutt when a talented chef leaves a popular restaurant to pursue another opportunity. When Jeb Aldrich bid adieu to French-American bistro Tiny Lou’s at the Clermont Hotel late last year — and pastry chef Claudia Martinez followed soon after — talking heads wondered who would be tapped to take the brasserie into its next chapter.

The answer arrived in January: Jon Novak was named executive chef and Charmain Ware became executive pastry chef.

Novak had been on the job for just a couple of weeks when I interviewed him for a story about young Black culinarians like him who were getting hired or promoted at prominent metro Atlanta restaurants. In his 14-year career, Novak had worked at several high-profile Bay Area restaurants, most recently at Torc, under the direction of chef Sean O’Toole. Considering that Novak had ascended to the position of chef at Tiny Lou’s by age 30, I asked him to share his mantra for success. “Show what you can do,” he replied.

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Jon Novak was named executive chef at Tiny Lou's in January. Courtesy of Tiny Lou's
Jon Novak was named executive chef at Tiny Lou's in January. Courtesy of Tiny Lou's

Credit: handout

Credit: handout

Barely three months later, Novak certainly is showing what he can do. That can mean two or three dishes a week undergoing a change — whether due to sourcing, a creative itch, or discovery of a more streamlined method of preparation.

“In one month, I had three different bass setups,”' he said, ticking off a presentation that first featured the fish with a cassoulet, then with Carolina crab rice, and — when the price of crab increased — letting the fish swim in a mussels sauce.

Next week will see the debut of a new menu that pays attention to the flow of a meal. “Menu construction is important to me,” Novak said. That means adding a section of snacks to the top of the carte, nibbles that can “come flying out of the kitchen” to please those in need of instant gratification. It also means inserting more large, shareable side dishes, like the crowd-pleasing whole roasted, curried cauliflower.

Novak is tasked not only with satisfying diners at Tiny Lou’s and the lobby bar, but also the rooftop crowd. Yet, juggling distinct menus is his favorite part of the job. “I cook so many different kinds of food,” he said. “Coming up, I worked at sushi spots, Cracker Barrel. It’s fun to get to unleash that.”

Come summer, he hopes to give rooftop diners a taste of “little Mexico.”

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The sugar snap peas on the menu at Tiny Lou's are a springtime play on green beans amandine. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
The sugar snap peas on the menu at Tiny Lou's are a springtime play on green beans amandine. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

The takeout meal that I ordered showed a bit of Novak unleashed, from a snap pea springtime take on green beans amandine to a collard greens gratin created by necessity. “I screwed up and ordered too much cheese and too much collard greens,” Novak admitted. He took the resulting move from his French training, he said. “Alain Passard is pretty big about putting greens in the form of a gratin. Because there’s cheese in there, (people) will eat their greens.”

Still, it’s hard for Novak to see his food packaged for carryout. “I’ve never been a lover of to-go food,” he said. “But, the pandemic came, and now it’s not a choice. You have to. That revenue stream is too big to cut off.”

My Tiny Lou’s takeout meal didn’t suffer much on the ride home, and the dessert showed the possibilities of sweet endings for to-go times. When I opened Ware’s Earl Grey crepe cake, it was evident that final flourishes had been completed after it had been set in the box.

Although I’m itching for a sit-down dinner on-site, Tiny Lou’s can dish up one fine meal to go.

The Earl Grey crepe cake is among the desserts made by Tiny Lou's new pastry chef, Charmain Ware. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
The Earl Grey crepe cake is among the desserts made by Tiny Lou's new pastry chef, Charmain Ware. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

TINY LOU’S

Menu: French-American brasserie

Alcohol: yes

What I ordered: house-made bread service; spring sugar snap peas; collard greens gratin; steak frites; free-range chicken duo; Earl Grey crepe cake

Price range: starters, $8-$24; dinner entrees, $20-$47; sides, $7-$12; desserts, $9-$12

Service options: dine-in; phone ordering for takeout; online ordering and delivery through ChowNow, Postmates and Uber Eats

Outdoor dining: rooftop patio (weather permitting)

Experience: The buttery brioche, finished with flaky salt, is a great way to start. The menu changes regularly, so if sugar snap peas and collard greens aren’t around, try another side; portions are enough for sharing. I ordered the hanger steak rare. As expected, it was medium-rare by the time I arrived home. The chicken had a nicely lacquered, crisp skin, but the bird was overseasoned. When I called to place my order, the hostess raved about all the desserts, but suggested the crepe cake would hold up best in transit. It did.

Address, phone: 789 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta; 470-485-0085

Hours: 5:30-10 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays and Sundays; 5:30-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays

Website: tinylous.com

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