While many restaurants are reopening with full service, I wish I could tell you that things are returning to normal, but that’s clearly not going to happen anytime soon. We all know that besides the food itself, part of the appeal of restaurant dining is the theatrical experience. Unfortunately, the necessary guidelines that regulate re-openings—with tables placed far from one another, servers in masks, and sanitation stations everywhere—are going to make the experience less an escape from the mundane than a pointed reminder that you’re taking a risk in a lethal pandemic. Maybe we’ll get used to it.
The reopenings are of course welcome since they are a step toward economic recovery. With 482,000 jobs, Georgia businesses were the nation’s eighth largest employer of restaurant and food service workers last year. COVID-19 has destroyed the majority of restaurant livelihoods and I encourage everyone to support the industry in any way possible. But calculate your risk. Eating on restaurant patios may be safer, but takeout remains the safest alternative.
Last month I mentioned that the much-anticipated Talat Market had opened in Summerhill, the historic downtown neighborhood near the old Turner Field. The restaurant makes 52 meals daily for takeout Wednesday through Sunday. You order meals two days in advance, beginning at noon, on Talat’s website. But be warned: Securing a meal is like winning some weird Las Vegas casino game.
When I tried, I was cleared to pick up a meal at 7, filled out my payment information, clicked the “submit” button, and was immediately thrown back to start over. I unsuccessfully tried again. On the third try, I scored! In other words, meals were selling out as quickly as I could enter my credit card info. The cost is $50 for a meal that serves two, including as many as seven dishes.
If you’re a foodie, you probably have heard of Talat (which means “Market”). It was the pop-up occupant of Gato in Ormewood Park for two years. Prior to opening there, chefs/co-owners Parnass Savang and Rod Lassiter worked in some of the city’s most creative restaurants, like Kimball House. Here, as in the original, Talat Market features Thai cuisine like you’ve never tasted before.
Savang grew up in his parents’ Thai restaurant in Lawrenceville, but early on realized it was serving an Americanized version of the more vibrant food he ate at home. Trips to Thailand and several well-known Thai restaurants in the United States revealed even bolder flavors and creative approaches. The two chefs experimented and refined something that is hard to describe. In the same way food in Thailand is strictly dictated by what is available fresh and in-season at the markets, Talat only features local ingredients. But those ingredients are prepared using Thai techniques and seasonings. So you get Thai sensibility driven by Georgia ingredients.
A kind of absurdist example is the dessert that came with my meal: banana pudding turned green with pandan leaves, topped with broken vanilla wafers and fried shallots. Not your Southern mama’s pudding. Among my favorite dishes was crispy pork belly with a side of garlicky-pepper vinegar; a spicy red curry afloat with asparagus, pineapple, spring onions, and Thai basil; and, above all, a dish of stir-fried eggplant seasoned with garlic, chiles, basil, and a very light oyster sauce. The starting dish was a huge bowl of pork broth with noodles, wood ear mushrooms, daylilies, scallions, cilantro, and pork-shrimp sausage. A large serving of jasmine rice comes with all meals.
Eventually, Talat will open for inside dining. It’s located in a former neighborhood market, painted gray with a neon pineapple outside. The small interior, seating about 30, features a mid-20th century vibe and there’s a full bar. Don’t miss this one.
112 Ormond Street