The Optimist - Atlanta, GA

Lunch - Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Occupying the cavernous space of a former ham-aging warehouse, The Optimist at lunchtime is a bright, airy space filled with wood and iron and rough linen. We stopped by for lunch before heading to the airport - our last meal on this short tour of the South. The food is as good as the space is beautiful.

The open kitchen
Corn milk hush puppies, cane syrup butter
Seafood gumbo, "pot luck bread"
Rich and hearty with a little spicy kick (I would have liked a bit more) - the perfect remedy for a cold Atlanta winter. The side of buttery garlic bread was a simple pleasure. Strikingly, none of the seafood was overcooked - this really pushed the gumbo from good to great.

Whole Georgia white shrimp a la plancha
Sopping toast, arbol chile, lime
To quote the menu, this was very "messy, but worth it". The Georgia white shrimp, while not about to replace Palamos shrimp in my book any time soon, were grilled nicely and smothered in the piquant sauce. They were laid over a slice of crusty toast, and showered with fried garlic chips. This was a lusty, in-your-face dish - I loved it.

Blackened triggerfish sandwich, slaw, fries
Ale-battered cod
Hand torn potatoes, malt vinegar aioli
One of the best examples of fish and chips that I've had in the USA. The fish was thick, firm and flaky, with a thin shell of crispy batter and no hint of grease. A liberal sprinkling of sea salt and some dill enhanced its flavour even more. On the side, chunks of crispy potato (also battered?) that actually tasted like potato. I was caught off guard by how good this plate was - really impressive.

Toasted coconut sorbet
I regret not having the time to explore the raw side of their menu during our meal. Certainly, The Optimist would be in our regular rotation if we lived in Atlanta. This is the kind of restaurant I wish we had (and people wrongly assume we do) in San Diego - a serious, no-frills approach to high-quality (and sustainable) seafood. Certainly, our sunny city can lay claim to better local product than land-locked Atlanta - so then, where are the takers?

The Optimist
914 Howell Mill Road
Atlanta, GA 30318
Phone: (404) 477-6260