The first stop on our #FordFryFoodTour 10-part series is perfect for any seafood lover. We went to none other than The Optimist restaurant in West Midtown, Atlanta. If you haven’t read about why we’re doing this restaurant food tour, then check out our blog post introducing this series. In summary, my Mom is the least adventurous eater on the planet! She also only eats at 3 restaurants–Houston’s, Benihana, and Pappadeaux. To save her from herself, and for fun content for our lifestyle blog, I decided it was time to broaden her palate. Guess what she tried on our first outing? Oysters, y’all! Yes, there’s a video!
You would never know it by looking at it, but The Optimist is located in what was once Talmadge Country Hams–a ham-aging house. One of my favorite things about historic buildings is how they’re later repurposed for modern uses. Atlanta has a nice history of rebuilding things like the Ford Factory building and turning it into lofts. Even more recently, how we turned the old Sears Roebuck and later City Hall building into Ponce City Market.
Ambiance of The Optimist
You know the feeling when you walk into an Italian restaurant and everyone feels like family? That’s the same feeling you get when you walk into The Optimist. It’s another one of those restaurants where you can see the kitchen from your table, so you feel like it’s not only safe to eat there, LOL, but also that you’re a part of the entire experience.
They have a huge bar, plenty of seating, and great lighting (not that super dark lighting that requires you to use a flashlight to read a menu). If you want to make this your pregame spot or after work drink location, then step outside to their yard where you can play some classic cornhole or eat in the usually amazing Georgia weather.
The Food at The Optimist
Unfortunately, we didn’t see chef Ford Fry, but his spirit was there for sure. Kitchen staff all seemingly worked together to get the orders out, you could smell fresh seafood in the air and this was the day I forced my Mom to try oysters. Look, I’m not going to lie, oysters aren’t something that everyone can stomach. If I had to describe the texture myself, I’d call it smooth, yet sandy, boogers that taste like the sea. I know that doesn’t sound appetizing, but they’re good! I prefer East Coast oysters, but any seafood restaurant worth a grain of salt will be sure to have an assorted menu with both East Coast and West Coat oysters. Any human being I plan to hang out with better prefer the East Coast stuff!
Appetizers and First Course
They bring out these delicious pretzel-tasting rolls that would literally and completely melt in your mouth if the imperative course salt wasn’t on top. My Mom remarked how they reminded her of the buttery goodness of Auntie Annie’s pretzels, and dammit, she was right!
Spicy Kale Salad
Mom couldn’t go to any restaurant without trying the kale salad. She tried to slip back into her old ways of manipulating restaurant foods to fit her Houston’s menu, but I told her to eat it as is. Houston’s does have a fine kale salad, but it is no spicy kale salad. It had what tasted like pepperoni on it, but turned out to be chorizo. It was also topped with calabrian chili, confit shallot, and Parmesan. If you are down for spicy, this won’t make you sweat, but it will give your tongue a nice kick.
Hammer Island Oysters
For the simple fact that the graphic used to represent The Optimist points out the oyster bar, I had the bright idea that Mom needed to taste oysters. Yes, this would be her first rendezvous with oysters. Now me, I’m an oyster pro. The oyster menu goes in order from East Coast (North to South) to West Coast. I chose 3 of the Hammer Island oysters from Massachusetts. I would describe Mom’s reaction to the oysters, but the video is so much more fun!
Main Course: Lobster Roll and Swordfish
Mom is a huge fan of seafood, so I knew The Optimist would be a great place to start our #FordFryFoodTour. She forgot her glasses because she was trying to be cute so I read the menu to her (despite this picture of her with a menu). When I said lobster roll, she was all over it! Me, on the other hand, I was looking for something truly unique. After all, I just became a more adventurous eater in the past 5 years or so. I went with the Swordfish poached in duck fat. Yes, you read that correctly.
Lobster Roll & Corn Milk Hush Puppies
The Lobster roll, that I tasted, of course, was surrounded by a buttery roll, and made with none other than Duke’s. It included dill, lemon, and celery and was so freaking delicious. Mom did not realize that most lobster rolls come with the meat cold, but once she got used to it, she realized that it was delicious. The plate also came with homemade chips that tasted like your favorite mesquite barbecue store brand.
We actually ended up sitting next to an awesome couple, who loved to travel, and they recommended we try the corn milk hush puppies. I’m not normally a fan of hush puppies, and neither is my Mom. However, when we saw they were “beignet style” we had to go for it! You talkin about good?! These bad boys were really delicious and worth the extra calories.
The thing about my picky Mom is that she tends to set random expectations of food based on her previous restaurant experiences or her own personal preferences. She never takes a bite of anything without preconceived notions, and that’s where she goes wrong. I emphasized that it’s important to go into this food tour with an open mind and no expectations. I just want her to be very open.
Duck Fat Poached Swordfish
I’m a southern girl, so when I heard the fish was cooked in fat, I got excited. I know that’s gross, but whatever, I own it! I have never had swordfish before. If I’m going to venture and try new fish, it better be one cooked in fat. The plate came on a bed of pureed kohlrabi and short rib.
The waitress told me the swordfish is cooked in duck fat to preserve the juices of the fish. It worked because I imagine it would have been hard to cook that thick cut of swordfish all the way through without drying it out somewhere. I’m here to tell you that there was nothing dry about that fish.
I had never heard of kohlrabi before. In fact, I had to google it to find out what it is. I honestly thought I was eating mashed potatoes at the moment. I assumed the taste was attributed to the short rib sauce. Now I can add kohlrabi to my list of vegetables I’m willing to eat. There’s a cool article from The Kitchn that talks about 5 Tasty Ways to Prepare Kohlrabi.
Final Course: Dessert!!
Lately, I’ve been getting annoying headaches after drinking. Until I figure out if I’m bad at selecting liquor or if my drinking days are over, I decided we will focus on a desert at every restaurant rather than a signature cocktail.
Hot Fudge Sundae
In true summer fashion, we went with the Hot Fudge Sunday! What won me over was the fact that it came with not only a brownie but also a waffle cone.
It came in the perfect, shareable portion for the two of us. The taste of the butterscotch with the ice cream and fudge was a perfect end to a delicious evening.
We really enjoyed dining at The Optimist and would go back again. Take a look at this video review from Mom’s first experience on our #FordFryFoodTour.
Join Us or Share Your Ford Fry Restaurant Food Recommendations
If you live in Atlanta and want to join in on our #FordFryFoodTour, email us! Maybe we can all go together! If you have a review to share your experience or a dish you’d recommend at one of Ford Fry’s restaurants, please email us using the form below!
List of Ford Fry Restaurants in Georgia
Below is a list of all the Ford Fry restaurants you can find in Georgia. They’re in the order we plan to visit them for our 10-restaurant food tour. As we visit each one, I’ll link to the blog post.
- The Optimist
- El Felix (Vinings)
- JCT Kitchen
- King & Duke
- Little Rey
- No. 246
- St. Cecilia
Next Stop in the #FordFryFoodTour
Our next stop on our 10-part food tour series is El Felix.