By Hope S. Philbrick
Chef Josh Fryer is now at the helm of the kitchen at AG, the restaurant located inside The Ritz-Carlton Atlanta located Downtown in Georgia’s capital.
Fryer comes to The Ritz-Carlton Atlanta after spending five years at The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds Lake Oconee. He is a Pennsylvania Culinary Institute graduate and holds a degree in Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Techniques.
At AG he aims to showcase Southern influences and local ingredients with dishes like pig and grits at breakfast, the P.L.T. with Niman Ranch pork belly at lunch, and foie gras brulée at dinner.
I recently talked with him by phone to learn more.
What sparked your interest in cooking?
Growing up it was always something I did with my mom. Pretty much every day we had a family meal, usually together sitting at a table. The rule was you don’t get up until you’re finished even if you don’t like what was made.
After I earned a Bachelor’s degree I wondered what my next step should be; I always loved to cook so I went to culinary school and as soon as I got there I fell in love with preparing food.
How long have you lived in Atlanta?
I’ve been in Atlanta about 18 months but in Georgia about six years.
What’s your take on the Atlanta dining scene?
Honestly, I feel like it’s a hodgepodge of a lot of good things. I spend a lot of time along Buford Highway because of what it is: a way to try a lot of different food from any type of restaurant you want. At the same time, there are lots of restaurants going back to Southern roots. Lots of restaurants are using less-often-used parts, whole animal; that really interests me, the idea of being as responsible as we can be with products. I think in the last seven to eight years the Atlanta dining scene has really taken off and I see nothing but upward trending.
AG debuted in September?
Yes. It was still Atlanta Grill when I got here. We wanted to modernize it all.
Was the change mainly redecorating?—the new décor is beautiful by the way.
The concept for dinner is pretty much the same in that the focus is mainly on steaks and some Southern dishes as well. I try to bring some modern twists, like the banana pudding French toast on the breakfast menu—everybody knows banana pudding and everybody knows French toast, but it’s different to combine them.
AG is billed as a “modern, southern-inspired steakhouse.” What does that mean to you?
Basically if you think of a traditional steakhouse with big steaks, classic sauces and shareable sides it’s a play off of that old but we bring in new different things as well and give it all Southern touches. One example is our chicken and doughnuts; everybody knows chicken and waffles we just take it a different direction. We also use Southern ingredients, like Sea Island red peas as one example. It’s an identity for our restaurant, a way to stay relevant as well as bring a good product to the customer.
How different is the AG menu from Atlanta Grill?
Our steak options have grown from four cuts in our grill section to seven or eight. We’re trying to focus on good quality meat, I’ve started working with local cattle farm Brasstown Beef in North Georgia. We also have more sides on the menu, more appetizers, more desserts—a lot more options overall. The menu is probably twice as big. We also have larger portions; on the dessert menu you can get Baked Alaska or a whole cheesecake for sharing, though we also still have peach cobbler and stuff like that.
With so many dining options in Atlanta, how do you distinguish AG from the competition?
We basically just want to have a nice restaurant to get away to. We see a lot of special occasions, anniversaries, birthdays. Come celebrate. Unique food items will drive people to come here and our offerings are different than what people may expect out of a hotel restaurant.
During lunch we serve a lot of businesses in the area. We have a good selection of lunch items from sandwiches to hangar steaks, light to heavy.
How often will the menu change? Seasonally or more frequently?
We’ve started working with smaller purveyors so it all depends on availability. It may change in three weeks or two months, it’s all about what’s available now.
What do you think is the best thing on the menu right now?
My favorite breakfast is pig and grits. We use pimento grits, poached eggs and bacon. To me it’s very traditional Southern breakfast but we’re using Southern products like Geechie Boy grits from South Carolina and bacon from Tennessee.
For dinner it’s probably the bone marrow appetizer that I most enjoy. It’s done very traditional, a roasted bone with tarragon bread crumbs on top. The entrée I most enjoy is the 48-ounce Tomahawk Ribeye; it’s carved tableside, so it can be shareable for up to three or four people, or one diner who’s feeling adventurous. It’s bone-in with a 12- to 13-inch bone, a real showpiece for the restaurant. We serve it with a sampler of all the sauces.
A press release today says AG has a “cutting-edge beverage program, spearheaded by assistant director of food and beverage Diego Gentili. AG’s bar offerings emphasize classic cocktails elevated with seasonality and homemade ingredients and garnishes.” How does the kitchen work with the bar?
Whatever interesting ideas Diego comes with we do whatever we can to help him out. We do a lot of the infusions as well as the bar snacks. We do a barbecue rub pig ear, which goes back to using as much of the animal as possible and kind of a Southern staple.
AG at The Ritz-Carlton Atlanta
181 Peachtree St. NE
Atlanta GA 30303
AG is located on the second level of the hotel and offers booth, table, bar, private and outdoor seating options. The new décor features leather booths, marble tabletops and a combination of tiled and hardwood flooring.
AG’s new beverage program features an extensive menu of classic cocktails and several variations on martinis and gin and tonics, as well as seven different types of ice created in- house, including carved ice, perfect cubes, ice spheres and flavor-infused ice such as cucumber ice.
Odds of Encountering Children: Possible, but generally lower than many restaurants. There’s a “cheaters booth” table tucked into a niche that can be curtained off—book that for a romantic private dining feel. If you want to ensure your meal is adults-only, book a room at the hotel and order room service.
– Photos courtesy Phase 3 Marketing & Communications for AG The Ritz-Carlton Atlanta