REVIEW: For once, an out-of-town chef opens a spot that says ‘Atlanta’

Credit: Courtesy of Andrew Thomas Lee

Credit: Courtesy of Andrew Thomas Lee

With the arrival of Marcus Bar & Grille, New York-based chef Marcus Samuelsson has put his money on the ATL.

It’s not the first time a prominent chef from elsewhere has opened a restaurant here. Tom Colicchio, Emeril Lagasse, Michael Schwartz, Jonathan Waxman and Art Smith all did that in the past 15 years. They all failed.

Perhaps those restaurants didn’t live up to the hype, or maybe diners felt the absent famous chef didn’t have any ties to the local community.

That doesn’t appear to be the case with Marcus Bar & Grille. Atlanta has given the Edgewood Avenue restaurant a warm reception since its March debut. And, when the newness wears off, I’ll wager this still will feel like a place created specifically for Atlanta.

Credit: Andrew Thomas Lee

Credit: Andrew Thomas Lee

That starts with the location: Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, birthplace of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The Ethiopian-born, Scandinavian-raised Samuelsson had been approached about opening a restaurant in Buckhead, but he told me he declined, because “we are deeply connected and committed to creating jobs in African American historic communities.”

The design of the high-ceiling industrial space — previously the short-lived Adele’s — gives Marcus Bar & Grille an upbeat energy. Guests are greeted with a bold blue facade and banana-yellow interior walls jazzed up with collections of vinyl records and roller skates. (Fun fact: Roller skates were Samuelsson’s transportation to work as a young line cook in New York.) The soft lounge seating provided by banquettes and a couple of curvy booths lends a comfy, inviting feel.

Credit: Andrew Thomas Lee

Credit: Andrew Thomas Lee

The modern Southern menu offers an inviting blend of familiarity and originality. The deviled eggs get a garnish of chicken cracklings. Italy comes to Atlanta in a Caprese salad that combines fried green tomatoes, pickled watermelon and burrata.

“Everything” wings come with ranch, as well as a tangy dip of house-made hot sauce, hot honey and lemon pepper. Just as good are the crispy fries underneath, seasoned with an addictive blend of togarashi and Ethiopian chile pepper.

Even a dish as ubiquitous as chicken and waffles stands out. Three pieces of crispy fried chicken are slick with a sweet maple glaze, amped up with the Ethiopian spice blend berbere. Subtle heat comes from melted chile butter hidden under that cornbread waffle, while pickles enhance every bite with acid, salt and crunch.

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

The King of the South is a smorgasbord of Southern specialties — a hot cast-iron skillet loaded with three proteins and a variety of sides. In my case, it was brisket, sauteed shrimp and fried chicken, rounded out with cola beans (black-eyed peas), rice, sauteed mushrooms and tender collards accented with smoked turkey. Unfortunately, the brisket was dry and stringy, and the chicken was nowhere to be found — a snafu that an attentive server rectified with a trio of wings.

It wasn’t the first misstep. While the rest of my dinner party enjoyed their cocktails, I sipped on a sweet, zero-proof drink, but it wasn’t the one I had ordered.

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

The best drink came during brunch. The bloody mary, dubbed a Bankhead kickback, was superbly balanced; the house tomato juice held terrific body and spice, while a toothpick threaded with pickled okra, green olive and a jalapeno wheel added to the appeal.

Yet, apart from the moist, sweet cornbread with whipped honey butter and berry jam; an order of wings; and biscuits and chicken sausage patties ladled with gravy, brunch was underwhelming — especially a runny vegetable shakshuka that claimed okra, but came with asparagus.

Credit: Andrew Thomas Lee

Credit: Andrew Thomas Lee

Adding to the frustration: thumping music so loud we strained to hear or be heard, even though we were seated on the patio. (Summer diners beware: Tabletops not shaded by umbrellas get so scorching hot from the sun that you’ll burn your forearms if you touch the surface.)

Hannah Young, formerly executive chef at Adele’s, led the all-Black kitchen brigade during its opening weeks, but no longer is there (and a replacement hasn’t been named yet). However, the team still skillfully executed the likes of ribs with an Alabama sauce that gets a kick from horseradish, curried coconut cauliflower, crispy Brussels sprouts caramelized in hot honey, and those killer wings seasoned by flavors as international as Atlanta.

That’s why Marcus Bar & Grille fits right in here. From the food to the vibe to the staff, the restaurant is comfortable in its own skin, and welcomes guests to feel the same way.


2 out of 4 stars (very good)

Food: chef-driven modern Southern

Service: welcoming and attentive

Recommended dishes: cornbread, deviled eggs, wings, ribs, King of the South platter, fried chicken and cornbread waffle, coconut curry cauliflower, collards, Brussels sprouts

Vegetarian dishes: cornbread, chips and dips, tomato and burrata salad, cauliflower, four-cheese mac, cola beans, Brussels sprouts

Alcohol: full bar

Price range: $$$

Hours: dinner, 5-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays and Sundays, 5-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; brunch, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays

Parking: free street parking; free lot one block away; valet available

MARTA: King Memorial

Reservations: accepted

Outdoor dining: patio with some shade umbrellas

Takeout: not recommended

Address, phone: 525 Edgewood Ave. SE, Atlanta. 470-890-1700


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