If you keep up at all with what’s new in the Atlanta food scene, there is no argument whatsoever now: You must go to Lazy Betty. The Candler Park restaurant offering two fixed-price multi-course menus in the old Radial Café space has been declared “Best of 2019” by Eater Atlanta, Thrillist and Atlanta Magazine. It is wholly unnecessary at this point for me to persuade you that the food is good. However, I can point to some stuff going on in the kitchen that underscores the idea that Lazy Betty is true to Atlanta’s sense of accessible cuisine.
There are actual open flames instead of sous vide machines stacked everywhere. I never once saw a sous chef pick up a pair of tweezers or count out precisely three sprigs of micro greenery to place on top of a dish. Several cooks were wearing their favorite ball caps. There was neither the deathly silence nor the red-faced screaming that one expects from a renowned fine dining establishment.
So, this review is really to answer your two remaining questions: Why is the tasting menu a trending thing in Atlanta now, and when should I bother spending so much money for an infinite parade of tiny bites? Let’s begin by reflecting on the popularity of neighborhood restaurant weeks. Atlantans get excited to spend $35 or so on a three-course menu. Continue this to its logical conclusion: instead of giving diners three entrée choices, give them zero choices; add several more courses and reduce all their sizes to maintain control of both the total amount of food and its cost. A tasting menu just means letting the chef make decisions for you in exchange for getting to sample way more items than you ever could by ordering plates yourself.
Yet, Atlanta has resisted tasting menus. Staplehouse, which was declared one of the best restaurants in the county by the national press in 2015, offered an amazing tasting menu that it still had to quietly give up on because folks wanted to order a la carte. Bacchanalia, long revered by locals as one of the best places our city has to offer, abandoned its tasting menu around the same time. Atlanta has not resisted the tasting menu because of its price point—are we not ballers?! This perception of expense persists even though the once again available tasting menu at Staplehouse works out to a quite reasonable $10 per plate. It’s most likely about the stuffiness implicit in a tasting menu. Really, it’s our fear of just how fancy such an endeavor might be. And who could blame us? We read the press on the best tasting menus coming out of New York City or Chicago, and something about it doesn’t fit with how folks dine out in Atlanta. We are ballers in our wallets, but bless our hearts, for our hearts remain country casual.
Because even when we want to give up on deciding what to eat and just let an awesome chef feed us, we simultaneously don’t want to give up wearing jeans and a t-shirt to the restaurant or the easy-going conversation with our servers for which the Atlanta hospitality industry is widely acclaimed. So let me say this: when I went to Lazy Betty for the tasting menu on New Year’s Eve, I wore jeans and had many lovely, informal chats with the servers and chefs that were not focused on what was in the dish and how I should eat it—although of course we did have those talks, too. Chef Hsu’s food and pricing are on par with many of those legendary tasting menus in the national press. There are two tasting menus with almost no overlap between them, and the price runs from about $125 to $165.
I believe a lot more folks in Atlanta would pony up the money for a parade of tiny bites if they felt confident that they won’t seem dumb or uncouth to those running the restaurant. Nobody goes out to eat so they can feel anxious and inferior. At Lazy Betty, you can learn as much or as little was you want to about the food. All my questions about the chemical reaction that causes foie gras to have a salty aftertaste did get fully answered, but I also talked to the staff about what they’re watching on Netflix. One of the bartenders told us about her upcoming trip to Cartagena. They were happy to talk about food, or about themselves, or not at all. I was in jeans and sat next to man in a tux. We had an equally great time—me chatting up any server who made direct eye contact with me, and him consulting only with the sommelier and otherwise keeping to himself.
Here’s a typical interaction we had with Chef Hsu: He presented us a plate with three bites. I asked if we should eat them left to right. He said most people do that. My wife joked about reading Hebrew right to left. Hsu smiled and turned her plate around so that she could eat it right to left yet still in the preferred sequence, and we all had a good laugh. Earlier in the night, I asked if they could course out their three zero-proof cocktails for me just like they do for the wine pairing options. They’d never done it before, but rejecting my request never crossed their minds. They made a quick little huddle, and everybody was excited to offer an opinion on when and in what order to produce those glasses for me.
You can definitely get that fancy fine dining experience if you want it, but it is not the default setting at Lazy Betty. Unlike similarly priced and coursed meals you find in New York or Chicago, where servers generally stick to a script or else get playful only about what’s on the table, Lazy Betty carries on Atlanta’s more overarching tradition of comfortable hospitality. It is not scary to go there—the question is just whether you’re a person who spends $125 for dinner on any given Tuesday, or once a year for a big blowout. Going on New Year’s Eve, I was prepared for all manner of one-night-only tricks. The menu was a little more expensive due to some extra premium ingredients, but other than that, no ridiculous fanfare about the end of the decade. What a relief!
Lazy Betty is equipped to make whatever kind of celebration you want, whenever you want it, buoyed by its natural instinct for friendly hospitality and its lack of fussy traditionalism. I got up to use the restroom at one point and came back fewer than three minutes later to find my napkin refolded—plainly done into quarters so I’d know they cared, but not done into a swan or five points or something that I’d feel like a heathen for destroying. Go to Lazy Betty because you will not destroy anything with your alleged, self-diagnosed clumsy ignorance. In fact, Lazy Betty’s way of doing things may prove to be the destroyer of some of those assumed rules set up in the highly awarded but much less warm and welcoming places covered by the national press up north.
Lazy Betty is located at 1530 DeKalb Ave. Visit lazybettyatl.com for reservations and more information.
CORRECTION: In the March print edition of INtown, the editor incorrectly inserted into Volpert’s review that Bacchanalia had closed, confusing it with the actually closed sister restaurant, Little Bacch. We apologize to Volpert and regret any confusion it might have caused for diners and fans of Bacchanalia.