Celebrated chef to put modern spin on classic pita
Restaurateur Todd Ginsberg is bringing authentic Israeli cuisine to urban Atlanta.
Chef Todd Ginsberg has laurels to rest on.
His General Muir restaurant in Atlanta has racked up shelves of awards. GQ and Bon Appétit magazines called it one of the best new restaurants in the country. The 40-year-old Ginsberg was nominated for the prestigious James Beard Foundation award in the "Best Chef in the Southeast" category.
But Ginsberg, like all good chefs before him, is hungry for more. This month sees the opening of not one, but two new restaurants: Fred's Meat & Bread, a sandwich shop; and Yalla, an Israeli-themed eatery. Both will be located at the Krog Street Market, an urban revitalization effort in the heart of Atlanta.
Ginsberg, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a former chef at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, has plenty of experience with the American fare that will occupy the menu at Fred's Meat & Bread. But when it came to Yalla, Ginsberg knew he needed more in the lineup than just falafel and shwarma. So he did what any chef looking to learn would do: He hopped on a plane this summer and took his first trip to Israel.
"The scenery was incredible," Ginsberg told From The Grapevine one recent morning upon his return to the States. “It was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Hoping to discover more about Mediterranean cuisine, Ginsberg hired a tour guide from the Delicious Israel company and received a crash course in local cuisine. Over the course of a week, Ginsberg indulged in seven to 10 meals each day, and jotted down notes all along the way.
One of the biggest lessons he learned was that you can have a modern take on the classic pita. To that end, he plans to offer a one-minute thinly sliced chargrilled steak in a pita at his new restaurant. “I like playing with those traditional ingredients, and doing something common in an uncommon way," he said.
Both Yalla and Fred's Meat & Bread will reside in stalls. There will be no plates and no silverware. Diners can eat while they meander through the shops, or in a communal living room inside the Krog Street Market.
Ginsberg said that a stall, where it's hard to hide what you're doing, creates a sense of authenticity. "I want that element of intimacy to be there," he said. Also, the new restaurants are only a mile from his home in the Grant Park neighborhood. "It was natural that I would be a part of it," he said. "It’s my home, my community."
Israeli food seems to be experiencing a moment here in the U.S. "I think its appeal is universal," Leah Koenig, a food writer and cookbook author, told From The Grapevine. "The bright flavors, fresh ingredients and focus on communal meals where people share a bunch of vibrant small plates is really appealing to American sensibilities."
As for Ginsberg, he's gearing up for Yalla's launch later this month. In the meantime, his flagship restaurant The General Muir is serving Israeli items every Tuesday night so Ginsberg can hone his skills. But he knows the clock is ticking. After all, Yalla is Hebrew for "Let's go."
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