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Maine lobster wood roast with spring onion bulbs

Huckleberry Friend

by Wendell Brock | Photo: Sara Hanna | The Atlantan magazine | June 24, 2013

We admit to being just a tad cynical when we heard that Ford Fry would follow up his acclaimed Westside fish house, The Optimist, with a restaurant showcasing “colonial”-style cooking. Would the chef behind Jct. Kitchen & Bar and No. 246 comb Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and The Virginia Housewife for blancmange and beef daube recipes? Would ladies be required to wear bonnets whilst ye menfolk sip tawny port by the fire?

We chortled to think.

As it turns out, we should have known better than to judge a book by its cover.

It’s true that Fry’s new venture, King + Duke, in the old Nava space at Peachtree and West Paces Ferry roads, is named for the slippery pair of thespian knaves in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In fact, its cocktails sport names like The Yearling, Sense and Sensibility and The Grapes of Wrath. Fry and his team worked hard to imbue everything from design to drinks with a clever sophistication that evokes a time when the pleasures of gestation and literature were savored at a slower pace.

But if Executive Chef Joe Schafer’s cooking is anchored in the past (roasted bone marrow, chicory salad, fried quail), everything that emerges from his 24-foot open hearth sizzles with contemporary flair and flavor. And if you think King + Duke’s sense of history means Williamsburg wing chairs and cross-stitch, you will be cheered by the dazzling light and energy of this Meyer Davis Studio Inc.-designed space. The main dining room is a glass-enclosed space decorated in neutral shades of oak and ash—with a library-like upstairs warren and a patio that swaps Nava’s gurgling fountain for luxuriously constructed booths and banquettes.

A soothing alfresco oasis that feels both connected to and secluded from the clogged arteries of Buckhead traffic, this outdoor “room” is the perfect porch for summer lounging and sipping. To help us along, Beverage Consultant Lara Creasy has put together a veritable “library” of drink options. While we could spend hours curled up with her book-size list, we were hooked by the condensed version on the flip-side of the menu. On a harried Monday, my date and I almost fought over The Yearling, a refreshing blend of Bulleit bourbon, rhubarb tea, strawberries and lemon. My friend sweetly surrendered the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings homage to me and proceeded to down a Sense and Sensibility (a lovely swirl of raspberry, ruby port, lemon and bitters) and The Grapes of Wrath (an intriguing and wonderfully potent pour of brandy, cardamom honey and sauternes).

Thus feeling all bookish and buzzed, we began to nosh. Warm Maine crab toast was a decadent pile of pristine shellfish with hints of Thai basil, chile and mint—a nice foil to our crazy-rich bone marrow with smoked mushrooms, short-rib marmalade and pieces of toasts for scooping. A charred octopus salad—with sugar snaps, roasted olives, chorizo vinaigrette and lemon aioli—was a return to healthful sanity and a nice display of the fiery technique of a kitchen that proffers coal-roasted onion soup, wood-roasted chicken-liver toast and so on.

Though the coal-grilled bar steak sure sounded enticing, our thoughtful server, Chelsea, encouraged us to try the more exotic offerings. We ended up with two stellar entrees: unctuous, medium-rare lamb saddle chops (with wonderfully crispy potato skins tossed about with olives and minty salsa verde) and roast Pekin duck. The latter was a superb dish consisting of one exquisitely crispy leg and slices of spit-roasted breast, perfectly pink and scattered with plums and red mustard greens. My friend peeled away at our side of coal-roasted artichoke, doused with grilled lemon, of course, and I dipped anything I could find into the little side pitcher of anchovy aioli.

As for the sweets, I doubt that Pastry Chef Chrysta Poulos—who comes to King + Duke after stints at Woodfire Grill and 4th & Swift—has been baking on an open fire, but she does incorporate bits of char and smoke into her desserts. Though her signature warm sticky toffee pudding surely jibes with King + Duke’s colonial narrative, we opted for the lemon cake with blueberry sorbet, cream, charred lemon curd and almond crisp. Called Three Milks, its name doesn’t even do justice to its wonderfully sweet and comforting nature. Even richer was the Black Forest: a dense chocolate cream cake with smoked cherries and black-pepper ice cream.

Part of the buzz around King + Duke has to do with Fry’s rapid transformation from a solid, one-shop chef to a nationally known restaurateur with a sprawling empire. It didn’t hurt that Esquire named The Optimist its 2012 Restaurant of the Year. What’s to like about Fry is not just his love of food, but his devotion to detail and to creating an experience. While some chefs dabble in forward-thinking molecular chemistry, here, he takes us in the opposite direction: to the most primitive of cooking techniques. “Colonial” was a total misnomer. This is caveman cuisine, dude, and therein lies its genius. In looking back, Fry propels us forward. King + Duke already reads like an instant classic.

King + Duke
3060 Peachtree Road NW   
404.477.3500
kinganddukeatl.com

Mon.-Thu., 11am-2:30pm, 5-10pm; Fri., 11am-2:30pm; 5-11pm; Sat., 5-11pm; Sun., 5-10pm

Small bites, $5-$7; starters, $9-$16; entrees, $16-$38

A Novel Idea
Wondering why there’s a copy of The Catcher in the Rye on your table? In keeping with the literary theme of King + Duke, Beverage Consultant Lara Creasy had local bookbinder C. Dickens encase her extensive drink list, including 200 bottles and 35 by-the-glass options, in vintage book covers. “They sit on a bookshelf near the host stand until guests are seated, and the hosts grab them off the shelf,” she says. It’s a quotation-packed lexicon of classic cocktails, beer, wine, whiskey—you name it.

Dining cheek to cheek
King + Duke offers a couple of entrees built for two: a whole roast chicken with salad ($45) and The King ($75), a kilo of bone-in ribeye served with bone marrow and salad.

Parking and dress code
Valet parking is available in the courtyard behind the restaurant. This is a casual but very stylish restaurant. Don’t underdress, but if you want to don shorts for the patio, you’ll probably be OK.

Bottom line
Further proof that Ford Fry is the most exciting restaurateur in Atlanta