Inman Park has become one of the city’s prime destinations for good dining, exploding recently with the gigantic food hall of the Krog Street Market. I’ve sampled most restaurants in the neighborhood, but my favorite remains BoccaLupo (753 Edgewood Ave., 404-577-2332).
Bruce Logue, an Atlanta native with a chef ’s experience unlike anyone else in town, opened it about three years ago. He worked, for example, at Mario Batali’s renowned Babbo in New York. Eventually, he returned to Atlanta as opening chef of La Pietra Cucina on Peachtree. It was my favorite restaurant in the city. I lunched there with friends nearly every Friday for several years. Logue left the restaurant after a couple of years to open BoccaLupo.
What’s the big deal about the cuisine here? Logue, like Batali, cooks an amazing version of Italian-American food. No, I’m not talking fancy Chef Boyardee. His pastas and entrees are made in strictly Italian manner, but the other ingredients often vary widely from the classics. There’s a very good reason for that and it’s why Italian-American cooking emerged in New York years ago. Namely: Immigrant chefs couldn’t always find the super-fresh, classic ingredients required in Italy, so they began experimenting with more accessible, sometimes unconventional ingredients. Logue takes that to a new level – a down-home Southern level and an international level.
An example of his playfulness with pastas (primi) is the 20-yolk tagliatelle, slick with butter, studded with wild mushrooms, and, for some tangy contrast, Tuscan kale kimchi. How about a Vietnamese-inspired banh mi (sandwich) made with bruschetta, roasted pork, chicken liver, and Italian-American relish? One dish that always stands out in my memory is the extruded spaghetti turned black and velvety by squid ink tossed with shrimp, hot Calabrese sausage and scallions or chiles. Goose-liver ravioli? If the day’s ingredients please you, do not miss the completely unique risotto. It’s not made with the classic Italian rice. It’s made with prestigious Carolina Gold “rice grits.”
Of course, before you put away a plate of pasta, you should share a few antipasti with your tablemates. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed a pig’s foot with rice, beans and arugula; various cured meats; lamb tongue; perfect grilled octopus; and asparagus with a duck egg and parmigiano.
Substantial entrees (secondi) I’ve ordered include grilled quail; sweetbreads and grilled branzino with spring radishes, olives, and lemon oregano. Honestly, though, I usually limit myself to pasta and antipasti. There’s also a tasting menu, which can be ordered by the table, and you will likely find Logue’s most interesting current creations there. The two times I’ve ordered it with a friend, we added, at the server’s recommendation, a plate of pasta. Please understand that BoccaLupo’s menu changes regularly, so some of the dishes I’ve mentioned may not be available. But I promise anything you order will please you.
Be warned that the dining room only seats 40, although there is a patio that adds about 20 seats. In other words, don’t even try to eat here without a reservation. Be warned too that BoccaLupo is not cheap. Of course, you don’t have to order four courses. But get dessert. You really need, if it’s available, poppy-seed meringue with grapefruit and lime cream.