I went to LSU (Geaux Tigers!) and the thing I miss most is the food. Good Cajun or Creole food is hard to find in Atlanta. I want a place with a laminated menu, because you don’t change what’s working – the kind of menu you hold on to and keep ordered from until everybody is full and yet everybody has leftovers to take home. The kind of menu that doubles as a coaster for my Abita pint and a placemat for stray shrimp tails.
Enter Bon Ton, located in the Midtown space formerly occupied by Top Flr, brought to you by the folks responsible for The Lawrence and also the folks from the Crawfish Shack on Buford Highway. We can talk about real estate and brand marketing until we’re blue in the face, but look: the food has to make my mouth water and then it has to make my eyes water, both because it’s so dang spicy and because it reminds me of Baton Rouge. Can Bon Ton do that for me? Yes, indeed it can.
First we have to have drinks. They put their sazerac on tap, which is a solid strategy for quickly delivering a no frills cocktail that’s otherwise quite labor intensive. Or if you’re feeling fussy, indulge yourself in a half hour’s pontification about whether the classic French 75 is best ordered “full Hannah” style. By the time you get to the bottom of the highball, that cognac will have you forgetting what all you’re arguing. If you prefer liquor full of ice, they have two amazing slushies – a Pimm’s Cup and a Vietnamese Irish Coffee. Heck, order one for dessert and enjoy the changing colors on your go-cup as the slushy melts. The large is $13 and you won’t need a second one.
Like all good Louisiana spots, Bon Ton emphasizes the holy trinity of preps: boil, fry and pickle. The House Boil comes with snow crab, jumbo shrimp, mussels, clams, potatoes and corn for $30 per person. Fry baskets of crawfish, jumbo shrimp or catfish will run you $10, with a double order costing double. A single basket also works as an appetizer for several people. Before they do the fry, the kitchen dunks that crawfish in the boil liquid. Way beyond simply seasoning the batter with Tony Chachere’s, making use of the boil like that ensures that every morsel can set your lips aflame in the best way.
The best sandwich is the blackened catfish banh mi, which most excellently combines Cajun blackening with Vietnamese pickling. It is a little known fact that there are so many good Vietnamese places to eat in New Orleans – because in some ways, French is French. You can find that super soft loaf of bread at either kind of place, and you can find it at Bon Ton as well, perched high atop some gumbo where the sausage is properly spicy and the roux is properly thickened.
Also testifying to the Vietnamese influence is the bright and fresh spicy jicama and papaya salad, which is covered in chilis, lime, cilantro, ginger and mint. The red beans and rice lean Vietnamese, too. Most Gulf Coast kitchens put enough lard in those beans to run you right into the hospital, but Bon Ton reigns in the fat with a stronger tomato base that won’t clog your arteries and will keep much better in the fridge for a couple days.
With real deal Louisiana flavors at such reasonable prices in a truly sweet location, I hope Bon Ton will stick around. Once they have lift-off, I expect dessert. Give me the beignets and the bread pudding! Then I expect brunch. Give me the Bloody Mary shot through with shrimp juice and beer! Then I expect the small bar on the top floor to open up and show us something, mister. Atlanta has to let Bon Ton rouler.
Bon Ton is located at 674 Myrtle St.NE, Atlanta, GA 30308. For more information, visit facebook.com/BonTonBH.
Megan Volpert lives in Decatur, teaches in Roswell and writes books about popular culture.