By Megan Volpert
In the April edition of Atlanta Magazine, Corby Kummer gave four stars to Staplehouse — the first four-star rating given by that magazine since 2010. Within the same 24 hours as that incredible review, news also broke that Staplehouse was a James Beard Finalist for Best New Restaurant.
After I ate there, I immediately posted on social media: “Don’t wait for my review, ATLiens, get tickets to eat at Staplehouse now, before they’re the hardest table to get in this city. I’m not a sentimental person, so when I say you won’t regret it…” and then posted a photo of the slogan painted over their kitchen. It’s a quotation from Ryan Hidinger that reads, “anything long lasting or worthwhile takes time and complete surrender.”
Everyone knows the late Hidinger’s story by now. In short, he was a talented chef with plans to open a restaurant, but instead he died after the industry raised quite a lot of money to aggressively but unsuccessfully treat his gallbladder cancer. What remains is the small but fiercely determined clan of his wife, Jen; his sister, Kara; and Kara’s husband, Chef Ryan Smith. What remains is The Giving Kitchen, a means of raising charitable funds for members of the industry who are in need of help with expensive medical bills. All of the after-tax profits from Staplehouse go to The Giving Kitchen.
So to begin with, this is an easy way to give back to the chefs and servers who literally put food on your table. And it is incredible food. I have had the pleasure of experiencing the majority of fine dining offerings in Atlanta, and without hyperbole of any kind, I want to state unequivocally that I have never been so impressed with a meal in our fair city as I was with the one at Staplehouse. Kummer said it’s a meal worth a plane ticket and I agree.
There are many dishes worthy of analysis, but little point in detailing them because you should not order them. Staplehouse offers an a la carte menu, but you should get the tickets. Don’t argue with me about the merits of ticketing; trust Smith to deliver you an amazing feast that is twice as large as you expect. The tickets are for a five-course menu, but there were four surprise courses threaded between those and one of them had four completely different bites on it. It’s dynamite bang for your buck. Trust in Smith, whose tastes, techniques, and plating will all prove themselves to you as worthy of the ridiculous amount of praise already bestowed upon them.
This brings me to my only point of disagreement with Kummer’s review. He says that the food “is of a seriousness that suggests, perhaps even demands, white tablecloths and a hint of formality.” Noooo! I would say instead, “welcome to Atlanta, where the very best chefs have no need of white tablecloths.” Fine dining establishments in New York or Los Angeles are free to serve you expensively boring four-star food, resting assured that you can sweep your disillusionment under their white tablecloths. That is not how we do in the South. Not only is Staplehouse free of white tablecloths, it doesn’t even require servers to wear standardized uniforms and it also features – gasp! – an open kitchen floor-plan. We are unfussy and we have soul, and we should not make concessions or apologize for it.
One other thing: we like to drink in the South. The long line of glowing Staplehouse reviews often neglects to mention its bar program, directed by Stephen James. James is not a formally trained sommelier. He is a glam band rocker from Athens with little patience for some other expert’s idea of good taste. A self-taught connoisseur, he paired a superb set of wines to go with the tasting menu. Every pour was a generous one and he personally chatted us up table-side when, after having very much enjoyed not making any choices for the past two and a half hours, we struggled to decide on a simple aperitif.
Get tickets to Staplehouse. Completely surrender to it, as Ryan Hidinger wanted. Traditionalist fine diners and the James Beard Awards should find it worthwhile, too.
Staplehouse is located at 541 Edgewood Ave. in the Old Fourth Ward. For more information, visit staplehouse.com.
Megan Volpert lives in Decatur, teaches in Roswell and writes books about popular culture.