Georgia Trend Magazine. Jan 2023 print.

On a Friday night, downtown Alpharetta is bustling with families celebrating, groups of friends grabbing drinks and romantic couples having a date night by candlelight. In the past few months, this suburban enclave has become a hotspot with the opening of new, innovative restaurants, such as the Spanish-Latin restaurant Fogón and Lions by Chef Julio Delgado (formerly at New Realm Brewing and JP Atlanta).

A lively and large 30-seat-bar that opens to the interior of the restaurant on one side and an outdoor patio on the other is the focal point. Traditional Spanish-colonial design elements such as stone walls, tile floors and pops of yellow hint at the chef’s origins in Puerto Rico. A 14-foot-long wood-burning fogón (hearth) makes a dramatic backdrop for the open kitchen. Diners can see an orchestra of chefs grilling skirt steaks, roasting octopus and sautéing in paella pans.

A black-and-white picture of Delgado’s grandfather, who was a butcher in Ponce, Puerto Rico, hangs in the entryway and adorns the cover of the menus. The symbol of a crouching lion pays homage to Delgado’s hometown. Ponce is also called “La Ciudad de los Leones” (city of lions) and was named after the grandson of explorer Ponce de Leon.

The extensive menu draws inspiration from culinary traditions in Spain and its colonies in the Caribbean, Central and South America and The Philippines. The tapas section includes cured meats and cheeses, ceviche, tacos, roasted vegetables and traditional appetizers – so you can explore the world through your palate.

Start with cornmeal sorullos, a popular street food from Puerto Rico that is akin to a Southern-style fried-corn hush puppy, served with lusciously spiced buttermilk syrup. Creamy chicken croquetas are lightly breaded, deep-fried and simply melt in your mouth. Barbequed shrimp taquitos marry sweet barbeque sauce to the fiery poblano cream, on a bed of a refreshing mango salad. For a simple yet flavorful vegetarian dish, have the Catalan-style wood-roasted eggplant escalivada, drizzled with earthy olive oil, fresh rosemary and honey.

Entrées are generously portioned and sharable to round out a meal. One of the restaurant’s signature fire-treated dishes, such as the adobo wood-roasted chicken, is a must. Simmered in a brine of citrus, cumin and peppers, the bone-in chicken is moist and smoky. It is served with cilantro rice, black beans and a chimichurri of roasted-jalapeño cilantro-garlic olive oil on the side.

The chicken and seafood paella is made to order from scratch, so allow 45 minutes to prepare. This version of the classic Valencia dish uses both chicken and seafood (shrimp, mussels and clams), in a juicy bed of roasted onions, pepper and saffron sofrito, cooked and served in a large shallow paella pan.

Rum-glazed plantains have an odd combination of rum, sugar and garlic luster that somehow works. The sweetness makes them taste more like a dessert, but they are traditionally eaten with the mains.

For dessert, Basque burnt cheesecake is creamy in the center and extremely soft, so it crumbles with a fork. Sweet and pucker guava sauce on top transports you to the tropics. Staying true to the theme, the restaurant offers a traditional crema Catalana, the Spanish version of crème brûlée that incorporates cinnamon and orange zest for a delectable ending.

The beverage offerings are as elaborate as the former Spanish empire itself. These include a long list of Spanish and South American wines, imported and local beer, as well as “mis tres amores” (my three loves), some of Delgado’s favorite rum, tequila and whiskey. Cocktails are designed to replicate the happy hours in Latin America, where diners linger with their favorite spirits – choose a balloon glass filled with gin tonica (Spanish-style G&T) or something fruitier like a house-macerated sangria. Also, try the naturally sweetened bright-green signature avocado margarita with a rim of spicy tajin, or in Fogón grand fashion, Delgado’s take on an Old Fashioned made with Don Q rum.

Fogón and Lions offers a casual and relaxed interpretation of some of the Spanish culinary influences found around the world, with the common denominator being enjoyment with food and friends

~ Written for and published by Georgia Trend Magazine. All rights reserved.

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