For Creative Loafing Atlanta. December 2017.
Seewai Sayavong welcomes me into a 12,000-square-foot Victorian mansion overlooking 15th street. “Tennessee Williams has lived here!” she says. Upon further research, I find that no one is quite sure whether this factoid is true or not, but the building, often referred to as “the castle,” was indeed a residence for many Atlanta artists back in the day. Sayavong, who hails from Laos and was once general manager for Thai fine dining concepts Nan and Tuk Tuk, gives me a cheerful tour of the newly renovated space. It’s clear she enjoys her new gig as assistant manager for Rose + Rye quite a lot.
For owner Thaddeus Keefe, who also owns the atmospheric 1KEPT Kitchen + Bar, the national historic site was an obvious choice for his new restaurant. “There’s always an artistic overtone to the concepts we create,” says Keefe, a writer and painter himself. “This is more about the painter and the muse which plays intricately to the history of the building.”
The space spans four stories, each with original hardwood floors, dramatic stone walls, and contemporary white and dark merlot contrasting furniture. The ground level, known as “the Grotto,” serves as a bar and lounge area where Keefe plans to showcase Atlanta artists and project classic black and white movies, keeping true to the building’s origins. One can totally picture a bunch of aficionados standing on the large patio overlooking Woodruff Arts Center, drinking wine and talking about the latest exhibits. On our tour, Sayavong also shows me the bedrooms upstairs; each is marked by a state emblem and all are now open for private parties of various sizes.
Rose + Rye boasts a vibrant cocktail menu with select wines and cocktails named after the works of Ernest Hemingway: Garden of Eden, Men Without Women, A Farewell to Arms. “We wanted to open with drink names that referenced Hemingway out of respect for the great one,” Keefe says. “As our drink list changes and evolves, you’ll see additional authors’ names and pieces of work involved.”
My server, Kat, recommends True at First Light ($14), a vodka mojito with champagne bubbles. She tells me that the staff gets a free drink at the end of each shift and this one, both solid and refreshing, is a popular choice. If you are not a whiskey drinker, the signature Rose + RYE ($13) may convert you. Delicate rose water, spicy star anise, and bitter orange peel balance off the edginess of the rye.
Despite its male ownership, Rose + Rye is run by an all-women culinary team, from its executive chef to its general manager. “It happened naturally,” says Keefe, noting that he saw a unique opportunity to showcase feminine talent and diversity in an industry often ruled by men.
The seasonal menu pulls from the culinary team’s various backgrounds. Executive chef Lindsay Owens has been in the restaurant industry since the age of 15 and recently moved to Atlanta from Minneapolis, where she cooked at the Lynhall, Tilia, Unideli, and Creamery Café. Her French toast entrée ($14) is a play on a breakfast classic made with pickled chanterelle mushrooms, Parmesan cream, and tarragon on slices of country bread pan-fried with cream, garlic, black pepper, and vinegar. “I love to try new techniques and flavor combinations,” Owens says. “I play with food until it tastes great.”
Sous chef Anu Adebara draws on a Nigerian upbringing to bring her own spin to classic dishes. For her chicken mole ($22), she uses corn tortillas, a nice balance of fresh and dried spices, and tomatoes to make a rich chocolaty sauce, which she serves on a bed of crispy rice cakes. “I grew up eating West African cuisine, but I didn’t want to scare people off with the strong spices,” she says. “So, I created dishes that are approachable yet still stay true to the integrity of the dish.”
The braised duck ($14) appetizer is an upscale take on typical barbecue, marinated in sherry vinegar and three kinds of peppers (pasilla, guajillo, and ancho chili) and served atop crisp polenta cakes and pickled red onions. The combination of spicy, sour, and sweet illustrates Keefe’s “yin and yang — rose and rye, get it?” theme well. Glazed pork belly ($14) is tenderized with soy sauce for four hours and complements the accompanying Parisian gnocchi. Together, the pork fat and velvety dumplings melt in my mouth like savory profiteroles.
Seared snapper ($26) is a bit overcooked and has little flavor, but the rehydrated cherries add a pleasantly sweet touch. Seared tuna ($28) offers the unusual flavor combinations of olive paste and yogurt.
Desserts, made in house by pastry chef Charity Everett (formerly of 1KEPT and Revel Pastry Company), also buck tradition. Buttermilk panna cotta ($9) is a bit runny but has surprise fig jam on the bottom that you can sop up with house-made rosemary cookies. A dark chocolate tart ($13) with bacon fat popcorn is bold and bitter with a nice crunch.
While Rose + Rye’s menu is still coming into its own, the restaurant’s concept inspires.
“It’s extremely empowering to have people that understand food in a way a woman understands it,” says Adebara. “It’s like a sisterhood where we take each other’s’ opinion seriously and thrive in a creative environment.” Adds chef Owens, “We’re a take-no-crap team and get things done. I love everything about it!”
Rose + Rye, 87 15th St. N.E. 404-500-5980. www.roserye.com.
~ Written for Creative Loafing Atlanta. December 2017.