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Sauteed local grouper with field pea-tomato confit, black olive and oregano

Strong Foundation

by Wendell Brock | Photography by Chris Hornaday | The Atlantan magazine | May 29, 2014

Chef Mel Toledo likes to say the “foundation” that he stands on is his career. It’s a formidable run that includes stints at New York’s Daniel, San Diego’s Tapenade, Atlanta’s Bacchanalia and Woodstock’s Century House Tavern. Working in the kitchens of others, he polished his technique and found his métier. Not long ago, the ambitious chef decided it was time to build up from that foundation and create his own brick-and-mortar showcase for his rustic French- and Italian-influenced style of cooking.

Behold Foundation Social Eatery.

Toledo’s first solo effort, the Roswell restaurant occupies the former home of the beloved neighborhood perch Dick and Harry’s. And if Toledo and his wife, Sandy, have anything to say about it, their beautifully designed labor of love will fill Dick and Harry’s niche as a community gathering spot. Their mission is a social eatery where people can bask in laughter, conversation and the earthy, soul-satisfying, handcrafted food that Toledo has trademarked.

Ensconced at a table beside the kitchen one recent night, I soaked up the ambience, and the victuals. Playing on the “foundation” metaphor, the ai3 design group has used plenty of concrete, burnished wood, rebar wine racks and even an art piece constructed of nails in the design. The overarching motif comes from a flower: It’s the orchid that was used in his wife’s wedding bouquet, and it’s the unifying visual element for the wall panels and other facets that make up this lovingly annotated, highly personal, chef-driven restaurant.

You might begin your dinner with the housemade chicken sausage, focaccia or one of Toledo’s exceptional pasta dishes. (There’s a gorgeous wood-burning oven, but not a pizza in sight, thank you very much.) Among the starters, we liked the decadent bowl of potato gnocchi with roasted mushrooms, asparagus, bacon, parsley and a soft-cooked egg. (Spoon, please!) Ditto the mushroom ravioli in a foamy, truffle-scented red-wine sauce. Though the vanilla-pineapple puree that surrounded a mammoth peekytoe crabcake felt a little out of place here, the crispy pork ribs were among the best I have ever had—succulent, falling-off-the-bone tender and scattered with pickled red onions—the perfect foil for the unctuous meat.

Moving on to entrees, I kept hearing the burger is good… and the hanger steak… and the scallops. But we couldn’t resist the pappardelle, tossed with lamb Bolognese, black olives, goat cheese and toasted breadcrumbs. It’s a superb dish, worthy of the best tables of Emilia-Romagna. The Mediterranean sea bass was a perfect example of the chef’s mastery of sunny, flavorful cooking: two pieces of exquisitely crisped roasted fish layered with dollops of tapenade, surrounded by a ragout of fennel and white beans, and drizzled with basil oil. This fresh, bright amalgamation of tastes goes to the top of my 2014 list of best bites.

I’m not quite sure how we ended up trying all four desserts, but there they were: vanilla pots de creme topped with braised cherry compote, shortbread crumb, a hint of mint; a lovely pecan torte with pear puree and vanilla ice cream; an understated rosemary olive oil cake with segments of marinated orange; and a killer, superintense bittersweet chocolate tart with bruleed bananas and dots of caramel. Hello, gorgeous!

We left feeling drunk on rich food and wildly impressed by Toledo. He’s a hard-working chef who believes in the integrity of good ingredients, but is not even a tad interested in fussy, precious food. Like Table & Main, also in Roswell; like Vingenzo’s in Woodstock; like Seed Kitchen & Bar and Stem Wine Bar in Marietta, Foundation Social Eatery brings destination dining to the suburbs. After toiling away in other chefs’ kitchens for years, Toledo deserves his moment. Cooking to make people happy is his philosophy, and it is his foundation. We think that’s a fine, noble calling, indeed.

Foundation Social Eatery
1570 Holcomb Bridge Road, Roswell, 770.641.8877

Hours: Tue.-Sat., 5-10PM

Prices: Beginnings, $5-$14; entrees, $12-$20; desserts, $8

The vibe: Vibrant and friendly, this place has already been discovered and embraced by the neighborhood in no time.

The drinks: The cocktail list is short and sweet: just five drinks. The wine list is easy and manageable—lots of good reds. Plus, a nice selection of craft and draft beers.

The must-list: Crispy pork ribs; any pasta dish, but especially the pappardelle with lamb ragout; bittersweet chocolate tart with banana brulee