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The Smash potato with peas, carrots and Brussels sprouts with a 6-ounce fillet

Smash Hit!

by Wendell Brock | Photography by Sara Hanna | The Atlantan magazine | October 23, 2013

At this point in his fabled career as a chef and entrepreneur, Tom Catherall knows a thing or two about what people want in a restaurant. A man in his “prime,” a man who has “twisted” and “shouted” his way around the town’s dining scene for three decades now, he has few insecurities and little to prove. With a 14-restaurant portfolio that includes time-tested faves such as Lenox Mall’s Prime, Phipps Plaza’s Twist! and Midtown’s Shout!, the wily, quick-witted, 64-year-old England native has mastered the art of popular restaurant conceptualization in Atlanta. His new Brookhaven endeavor, Smash Kitchen & Bar, looks to garner the same result and is what he calls a “casual steak- and chophouse” with “something for everyone.”

By the looks of the relaxed and appealing Smash, he’s nailed it. Down to every last detail, the place is vintage Catherall. The culinary icon says he eschewed longtime architectural collaborators ai3 and Bill Johnson to design the space himself this time. He knows what he wants, knows what materials hold up over time and knows stove-to-table dynamics. Here, he delivers: Smash is a warm den of firehouse red bricks, classic vinyl booths and shiny red kitchen tile. There’s a little Buckhaven taxidermy, some whimsical chandeliers and the word “eat” spelled in giant cutout letters over the open kitchen. There are portraits of Paul McCartney and John Lennon, and a menu that plays like a jukebox of Catherall’s smash hits. Hence, the resto’s name.

To wit: The tangy, crusty, buttermilk-fried chicken is a holdover from his ’80s gig at Cherokee Town and Country Club. The fried catfish is a keeper from the late great Azalea, his original solo venture in this city. The Smash potato (a mashup of spuds, peas, carrots and Brussels sprouts) is a riff on the bubble and squeak of his boyhood in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Executive Chef John F. McGarry—who attended the Culinary Institute of America with Catherall, worked with him at Cherokee and opened Prime—has his boss’ longevity and staying power. It shows in his finely executed, unfussy style. He knows how to serve a steak, how to compose an impeccably fresh salad, how to fry a chicken—feats which we often dismiss as simple, but aren’t. He makes it look effortless.

Sipping a Blackburn Mash (Four Roses, Cointreau, muddled blackberries, simple syrup and mint), we scarfed down his Southern Fry—a nicely composed tray of impeccably crisped shrimp, okra, pickles and oysters. A good foil to all the crunch was the vegetable ceviche, which turned out to be a killer salad of everything fresh from the garden: tomatoes, plums, beets, cucumbers, radishes, carrots, green beans, edamame and pickled jalapenos. Truly inspired. Makes you feel good to eat it, too.

I love that Smash offers a whole Southern-skillet-fried chicken meant for two. I can never say no to this favorite comfort food. Happily, the kitchen agreed to send out a half bird. Just a little heavy on the breading for me, but still quite delicious. My 6-ounce fillet cut like butter, was seasoned perfectly and lived up to Catherall’s exacting Prime standards. I’m kicking myself for overlooking that Smash potato, but I can’t resist tonight’s special: a string-bean casserole, made with loads of cream, mushrooms and slivers of fried onion rings. Wonderful.

While the Southern boy in me loves chocolate pecan pie, red velvet cake and fruit cobblers (all on the menu), I just adore surprises. Here, that would be the bread pudding-ice cream sandwich—in which the classic New Orleans dessert is baked like a muffin, sliced open and slathered with caramel ice cream. Dangerous, but certain to go down as a Smash hit.