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Empire State South Brings Southern Cooking Into the Modern Age

By Pamela Sosnowski

Most people's perception of traditional southern cuisine may lean towards fried and fatty foods. Empire State South, however, is proving that southern food can be creative, flavorful, and nutritious. The Atlanta-based restaurant, which opened in 2010, is winning rave reviews for its use of fresh ingredients and reliance upon local food suppliers to deliver the best tasting dishes to its patrons.

"Empire State South was opened to bring 'real' southern food to the masses," Randy Ryan, the general manager, said. "Georgia, as well as the south in general, is renowned for its flavorful seasonal fruits and veggies. At the time, very few restaurants were utilizing these ingredients. We really brought in an idea of community, both with local farmers and Midtown in general."

Some of the favorites currently on the menu include the poached shrimp served with fennel, rice, and lobster broth, the grilled ribeye steak accompanied by chanterelles and beef fat potatoes, and the traditional cornbread made with molasses and butter. Then there is the catfish, which as Ryan explained, is the freshest perhaps to be found in any Atlanta restaurant.

"It's awesome wild catfish; not only the taste but the story behind it," he said. "A gentleman named Patrick has a commercial fishing license, and he and his two kids go out on the Oconee on the weekends and catch it themselves. Then they put it in coolers and bring them straight to the restaurant. You're not going to get fresher, better cared for fish than that!"

ESS's central granite bar, which can seat up to 24 patrons, serves a variety of wines and locally brewed craft beers as well as its own cocktail concoctions in southern style. A selection of coffee and tea is supplied by local roasters. One of the restaurant's specialties is its Georgia iced coffee, served sweetened and with cream in a 16-ounce mason jar.

ESS's executive chef, Joshua Hopkins, is an Atlanta native who was an apprentice for a master French chef before working at several esteemed Charleston restaurants. The restaurant is owned by Hugh Acheson, a established restaurateur who has authored several cookbooks for the James Beard Foundation and is a Top Chef judge.

The restaurant's atmosphere is considered very laid back and light filled, with a dining space that features hardwood floors and wooden beams for that traditional southern feel. The dress code is one that Acheson describes as "anything from a speedo to a tuxedo." Patio seating in Adirondack chairs is available, and ESS may also be rented for private gatherings. Being situated on the ground floor of the 28-story Peachtree building in downtown Atlanta gives guests a gorgeous view of the city's skyline and offers convenient nearby parking.

The restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and also serves a brunch on Sunday until 3 PM. Whether one is in the mood for a small bite and cocktail or a full entree, Ryan invites everyone to taste the difference that local freshness can make when dining out.

"We cater to the community," he said. "We support local farmers and artisans (such as) dairy farmers and cheese makers. If you want your food to feel special and if you want to KNOW where everything came from we would definitely be a great choice."

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