The main dining room at Ford Fry's newest restaurant, BeetleCat, in the Inman Park neighborhood of Atlanta. Fry’s in-house designer Elizabeth Ingram drew from childhood memories of 1970s New England and Gulf Coast surf and sand for inspiration. “That time period seemed so genuine,” she said. “Colorful and free, both in style and spirit.”
Words: Jess Graves | Photos: Caroline Fontenot
Take a peek at the sights, tastes and talent steering Atlanta's youthful new seafood joint, BeetleCat.
Like many in Atlanta, I went to BeetleCat the first week or it opened to snoop around with a friend in tow. We found ourselves serendipitously seated next to our bartender's (very proud) parents, and curiosity quickly escalated to a three or four hour perch at the bar, eating oysters, wondering later how we got quite so inebriated. In short, I liked it. So I went back. This time, I ate more, drank less and took a harder gander at the high-gloss interiors.
James Beard Award nominee (and local celeb) Ford Fry opened restaurants in such a fast and furious manner in 2015, it was difficult to fathom that this, the tenth jewel in the crown of his dining empire, could actually stand up against the litany of slick eateries predicating it, especially given that it was being billed as the sister to perhaps his most lauded restaurant, The Optimist.
A large oyster bar on the top floor surrounds a wood oven, prepped to roast fish and shellfish.
The whole thing seemed like a tall order. But Fry's got the kind of capable team around him these kind of undertakings require – restaurant number eleven, a Buckhead location for his mega-popular "Mex-Tex" joint Superica, is forthcoming this year at which point, his P.R. team assures me, they will rest.
Stone crab claws on ice at the upstairs raw bar.
Beverage Manager Eduardo Guzman puts together unpretentious throwback cocktails in the downstairs lounge.
Like The Optimist, BeetleCat is a shore-style, casual cocktail lounge with a coastal throwback vibe. Keeping in mariners spirit, the restaurant takes its name from the small, easy-sailing wooden sailboats common in New England.
This place reads younger than The Optimist, though; a slant that feels intentional. The bar is more intimate, the interiors less restrained, the menu more affordable. If The Optimist is the elegant older sibling, BeetleCat is her boozier baby sis - both hail from the same refined bloodline, but BeetleCat stays out to party long after The Optimist has turned in for the night.
A traditional Sea Breeze cocktail.
Johnny cake with smoked trout, crème fraiche, roe and horseradish.
While we're on the subject of booze, this place would like you to CTFO on the stress of ordering super-crafty drinks. “There is a ‘less is more’ approach to the whole bar program here, with a carefully curated selection of items,” Beverage Director Lara Creasy says.
The lack of cocktail snobbery is refreshing. That means punch akin to the stuff you drank at fraternity houses in college (but you know, better), lots of light-hearted Tiki drinks and smart updates to yacht-y 80's bar classics. Creasy and Beverage Manager Eduardo Guzman are clearly having a lot of fun resurrecting drinks "people don't like to admit to liking," like Long Island Iced Teas and (wait for it!) Sex on the Beach.
Ingram and her team quickly built out the BeetleCat space, using materials like yacht flooring, paneled walls, and interesting tiles and woods. The two floors of the venue are distinct: there’s the Montauk-inspired upstairs bar, while the downstairs is a nod to an early 1970s den – “think where kids may have stirred up trouble when their parents were out of town,” Fry jokes.
Kumamoto oysters with pickled red onion ice.
Executive Chef Andrew Isabella is (cringe-worthy pun incoming) the captain of the ship (heyo!) with support from Fry's VP of Culinary, Kevin Maxey. Both are seasoned fishermen, making them an easy fit to (pun!) steer the menu.
“...always expect to see a minimum of 12 varieties of oysters from all coasts and water depths,” Fry says. And drop the formalities - in lieu of the traditional coursed menu, small plates encourage folks to dig into an array of delicious stuff you can mix and share.
BeetleCat Executive Chef Andrew Isabella.
Chef Andrew at the upstairs raw bar.
BeetleCat is open for dinner from 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, Saturday from 3-11 p.m., and Sunday from 3-10 p.m. On Fridays, the restaurant is open from 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. Late night is available from 11 p.m. until 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. For more information or reservations, call 678-732-0360 or visit www.beetlecatatl.com.