Now Playing

Chow down on The Duke, this spot’s ground-chuck burger with roasted onion and fries

Colonial Times

by Wendell Brock | Photos by Sara Hanna and Andrew Thomas Lee | Men's Book Atlanta magazine | August 20, 2013

History may be repeating itself in a multitude of ways inside Buckhead’s hottest new eatery.

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

Furthermore, if the past is any indication, all of the above, combined with Fry’s resto track record, will make this the hardest-to-get reservation in town for 2013.

Sure, Executive Chef Joe Schafer’s cooking harkens back to yesteryear (lamb saddle chops, chicory salad, Mississippi rabbit), but everything that emerges from his 24-foot open hearth sizzles with manly flavor. And if you think King + Duke’s sense of history means Williamsburg wingchairs and cross-stitch by candlelight, you will be surprised to find the modern and masculine energy of this Meyer Davis Studio Inc.-designed space. The main dining room is enclosed in glass and decorated in neutral shades of oak and ash—with a library-like upstairs space and a patio that swaps Nava’s fountain with luxuriously constructed booths and banquettes.

Beverage consultant Lara Creasy has put together a veritable library of drink options. While we could spend hours downing suggestions from 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 went to blows over who got the Grapes of Wrath (an intriguing and potent pour of brandy, cardamom honey and sauternes) or the Black and Brown (Blackwell rum, Watership brown ale, lime and velvet falernum). We decided to share.

Thus feeling bookish and buzzed, we chowed down. Warm, buttered Maine crab toast was a decadent pile of pristine shellfish with hints of Thai basil, chile and mint—a nice foil to our rich house-burger, made from the trimmings of fine cuts, then fat basted while it cooks to your desired temp. 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 sounded enticing, we ended up going with two stellar entrees: whole roast pasture chicken for two with crusty bread salad and chicken-drippings vinaigrette; and a roast Pekin duck. The latter was a superb dish consisting of one crispy leg and slices of spit-roasted breast, perfectly pink and scattered around with plums and red mustard greens. My date dipped away at the popovers that came complimentary with a side pitcher of whipped buttermilk butter.

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; it’s called Three Milks, and it’s name doesn’t even do justice to its comforting nature. Even richer was the Black Forest: a dense chocolate cream cake with smoked cherries and black-pepper ice cream. Poulos even roasts the berries for her strawberries and cream concoction (vanilla cheesecake and frozen yogurt).

In the end, what I like about Fry is not just his love of food, but his devotion to detail and 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. “Early American” or “colonial” was a total misnomer. This is caveman cuisine, guys. It goes back even further. And therein lies its genius.

King + Duke

3060 Peachtree Road NW

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

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