By Chris Chamberlain
Downtown Atlanta, Georgia’s hotel options received a major upgrade with the recent opening of The Candler Hotel, a member of Hilton’s Curio Collection of boutique properties in elegant historic buildings and the city’s second member of Historic Hotels of America. The attractive hotel is located in the Candler Building, which was the tallest edifice in the city when it was constructed in 1906. Developed by former Atlanta mayor Asa Candler, also known as the founder of Coca Cola Co., the building served as Coke headquarters for two decades and legendarily housed the soft drink’s secret formula in the bank vault of the Central Bank & Trust which also shared space in the Candler.
The current owner decided to convert the building from rented office space to a luxury hotel a few years ago; redeveloping the structure into The Candler was a four-year long process. I anticipate that you can check back for a full hotel review on this site sometime soon, but I wanted to concentrate on the primary dining option in The Candler Hotel, a new French eatery from noted Georgia Chef Hugh Acheson. The restaurant is named By George, after the two primary architects of the Candler Building: George Murphy and George Stewart.
I was fortunate enough to be part of a group of local and regional media invited to an event called “An Epi-Curious Evening” hosted by the hotel management. Our evening kicked off with a cocktail demonstration led by Kellie Thorn, the beverage manager of all of Acheson’s restaurants. Offering tips and tricks for home mixology and demonstrating the creativity and precision associated with all of Acheson’s bar programs, our group was appropriately lubricated to make our way into the main dining room at By George.
The restaurant is located in the original bank space of the Candler Building, and it’s easy to imagine the walls lined with tellers. The thoughtful restoration of the space worked around some structural limitations including massive marble support columns that break up the attractive main dining room. The exposed HVAC ducts add some interest to the ceiling as those columns draw the eye upward, and the marble and architecture are definitely the stars of the decor. The 114-seat restaurant also has room for about 20 more eaters and drinkers at the well-stocked bar. With a combination of banquettes, booths, tables, and plenty of cozy little nooks, By George offers all sorts of flexibility when it comes to seating choices.
We were greeted by Chef Acheson as we sat down, and he shared the story and philosophy behind the cuisine at his newest venture. While Acheson is best known for his elevated Southern food, the pivot to French food is not as far out as you might think. Raised in Canada, Acheson has plenty of experience cooking French in kitchens in Ottawa. He told the group that he didn’t want By George to be a typical French brasserie, the only French cuisine that many Americans recognize. He also didn’t want to operate a typical hotel restaurant, despite the fact that By George is open to serve guests and locals three meals a day.
Instead, Acheson and Executive Chef Ian Quinn have developed a menu that brings classic French dishes into a new light. “Everyone thought we would open another Southern food restaurant, but there are plenty of people doing that,” explained Acheson. “Instead, I wanted to do something French-driven using local ingredients wherever possible. There’s not much French food in downtown Atlanta; some in Buckhead and Tiny Lou’s at The Hotel Clermont.”
Acheson continued, “I’m inspired by French food, but I also want to feel connected to local farmers. So you won’t see much salmon or langoustines on the menu. It’ll be Georgia trout instead.” Ironically, two of the highlights of the five-course tasting menu we experienced that evening were an amuse bouche of langoustines with lemon, olive oil, and chiles along with a main course of salmon and sorrel served over a delicate sauce/broth that demonstrated some real finesse with fish. Let’s just assume he was using up the last of those seafood items before the trout came in, and we were the beneficiaries of his largesse!
The rest of the menu featured classic French dishes dressed up with Achesonian flair, including a steak tartare with delightfully crispy leeks, roasted baby carrots spiced up with Indian curry powder, and a novel take on the elaborate French delicacy pâté en croûte served with deliciously earthy porcini mushrooms and bitter greens. The pastry game at By George is also strong, evidenced by the dessert course of Paris-Brest, a delicate choux and hazelnut pastry named after a famous cycling race that runs between the two French towns of Paris and Brest.
Despite still feeling full as a tick from the evening’s feast, I returned to By George the next morning for breakfast. Y’know, in the name of journalistic integrity. I predict that it will quickly become a downtown favorite for power breakfasts and lunches where guests will dine in luxurious surroundings while enjoying a casual meal paired with impeccable service. You know with its French focus that the pastry selections will be excellent at the morning meal, and a simple basket of breads and sweet treats is a power move for a decadent breakfast. I opted instead for a traditional French breakfast of two eggs, bacon, and fantastic Lyonnaise potatoes sauteed in butter. The eggs were cooked without a hint of color, a sure sign that someone in the kitchen has been trained well in the mystic arts of French cooking. It was a perfect send-off after too short of a trip to the Candler Hotel, but I hope to return again soon!
By George at The Candler Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton
127 Peachtree St NE
Atlanta, GA 30303
– Photos by Chris Chamberlain
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.