It is, without a doubt, an intimidating notion to take on Bacchanalia’s former space at Westside Provisions District, but it seems Redbird co-founders Zeb Stevenson and Ross Jones are settling right on in. “The crowd has been great,” notes Stevenson. The restaurant opened in early fall, and every trip in has been packed or near-packed, including at brunch. It’s what I personally feel like the Westside has been missing, a conceptless restaurant that just churns out good food—period. Stevenson seems to agree: He calls it “free-spirited cuisine,” which really just means “that the ingredients themselves and not the restaurant’s ‘concept’ should drive the cooking. There are so many wonderful foods in the world and so much to enjoy that we miss out on when restaurants and chefs get corralled into a box.”
The restaurant is a partnership between Zeb Stevenson and Ross Jones, who met previously at Watershed on Peachtree.
“The food should be simple, approachable, ingredient-driven and unpretentious,” he says. Simple-looking, yes, but every ingredient is labored over, whether it be the herbed chickpea flatbread (herbs are juiced fresh and folded into the batter), or the grilled bok choy with homemade XO sauce (three days to make) and candied mustard. The menu, progressing from cold, small plates to larger, meatier entrees, is meant to be shared. “[The food] should encourage people to eat with each other, as opposed to just eating across the table from each other,” he says. It’s easy to overorder at Redbird, where everything sounds just a hair offbeat, but still enticing. Take, for example, chilled mussels en escabeche, a vinegar-based sauce. Stevenson throws it slightly off-kilter by serving it with potato chips, but it’s a textural delight. Seemingly random items—like spaetzle (German noodle dumplings)—dot the menu, but a lot of what Stevenson is cooking is personal: He grew up with a German neighbor in his hometown in Indiana. (Same goes for the sugar cream pie, a speciality he added on the first night for his mother, which is now a bestseller. If you have the opportunity for Stevenson himself to explain, it’ll seal the deal.) “There’s a common thread in the menu—each dish really means something to me,” he says. “There are a lot of homages and inside references, like the scallion condiment inspired by my time working for Jean-Georges Vongerichten… and some secrets too.”
Grilled okra with buttermilk
“The premise is simple: We wanted to build the kind of restaurant that we would like to come to ourselves, and we let everything in the design process revolve around that,” says Stevenson. “We always look to our values of openness and engagement,” he says. “It’s important for me to be able to see everyone in the restaurant, to be able to greet tables and to move through the restaurant fluidly.” Smith Hanes took those values and ran with them, and the result is a light-filled, industrial-looking restaurant that pays homage to the area’s meatpacking history. Stevenson calls the windows, natural light and tall ceilings “perfect.” The restaurant has enough touches to provide a distinct personality, but not too distracting as to not focus on the food, like plates sourced by neighboring Table One Group vary in size, color and shape, dependent on the dish, honing in on the delightful fact that Stevenson is having fun with his food.
Interiors by Smith Hanes Studio
Perhaps Stevenson felt limited by the stalwart Southern menu at Watershed on Peachtree, the last Atlanta restaurant he was at and where he met Jones, but, now that he’s uninhibited and without stipulations, he’s shining bright. “I let what grows determine what’s right, and I do my best to honor those ingredients in a way that’s appropriate. I really wanted the restaurant to have a come-as-you-are vibe, and so far it’s working.” Westside Provisions District, 404.900.5172