Has that warm-weather moment hit you yet? The one that happens about this time each year when you wish Atlanta was a coastal city with all the benefits of the ocean right outside your door? Our city’s geography isn’t going to change, but our maritime experience is about to.
Thanks to Chef Ford Fry of JCT Kitchen and No. 246, the Westside will soon be home to The Optimist, a sustainable seafood dining spot unlike anything else in the city. Your throw-back summer beach experience will start as you enter through the casual Oyster Bar that features nautical light fixtures, a surfboard-shaped, sun-faded wood bar, boat cushion-inspired seating and retro surfing photographs. From there you’ll move into the spacious dining room styled after a vintage photo of a seafood plant in Savannah. The walls, covered with a wood design resembling lobster traps, rise twenty-one feet to the building’s original wood decking from 1911.
The Optimist will also offer outdoor seating – right next to what will soon be a hole or two of mini-golf to complete the beach vacation vibe.
We asked Ford Fry to give us some scoop on what we can expect when the doors open May 21.
How did you come up with the name?
“My dad is a sailor and suggested it. I just love the word, what it stands for and that it is a type of sailboat.”
You’re doing something similar here like JCT Kitchen and JCT Bar?
“I like to think of it as two restaurants because you can achieve a full meal in both. The Oyster Bar is just the ‘tank-top and flip flop’ little sister to The Optimist.”
What inspired you to start a seafood restaurant?
“Atlanta needs a not-so-traditional sustainable seafood restaurant and oyster bar. There has been an influx of Gulf Coast fisherman driving up to Atlanta with just amazing, right-out-of-the-water fish. Typically restaurants I do are places I want to go that are currently not here. I also love cooking with burning wood and thought it would be amazing to add a wood burning oven inside the oyster bar to roast fish and shellfish in addition to the typical raw/chilled shellfish.”
Give us an idea of what you and Executive Chef Adam Evans put on the menu.
“Wood-roasted jonah crab, crusty sopping toast, butter and chilies; Gulf seafood gumbo (the real deal) with warm potluck-style garlic bread; Maine Lobster Roll; Oyster Po-Boys; and wood-roasted soft-shell crabs; Crispy day-boat flounder, ricotta gnocchi, field peas and grilled lemon.”
What do you want people to know about sustainable seafood?
“Just be open to types of fish that you may not have heard of before. The more we stick to what we know, the more we deplete the supply.”
How would you describe the experience at The Optimist?
“It is definitely a vintage ‘surf culture’ theme, which speaks of just a fun, no-worries experience. The space makes you feel as if you are eating in an old cannery off the coast. It does have a strong San Francisco feel to it as well. I hope it becomes that beach vacation experience that until now we could only get at the beach.”
Photo by Andrew Thomas Lee