Update: Yebo Restaurant + Bar is now closed. But you can visit its sibling restaurant, Yebo Beach Haus.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Yebo (pronounced yay-bow) is an informal expression in South Africa which can mean hello, agreed, or yes. When folks in the American South might say hey, folks in South Africa might say yebo—the words may be different, but the spirit of the message and conversational timing is similar.
One meal at Yebo Restaurant + Bar in Phipps Plaza and you’ll be saying yes to Yebo.
The restaurant opened on Wednesday, September 12. We visited on Monday, September 17. Aside from an initial scant pour of peri-peri sauce on one dish (quickly corrected by owner Justin Anthony after he strolled past our table), everything was executed perfectly—quite a feat for such a new restaurant. But Anthony is no novice to the restaurant industry, for 15 years he’s operated 10 Degrees South—one of the true dining treasures of Atlanta.
A quick scan of the menu and one thing is obvious: This restaurant is a fusion of American Southern and South African cuisines. At least it was obvious to me. When I shared my interpretation with Anthony, he said, “You’re the first person to pick up on that.” Really? Well, I am a professional 🙂
American Southern and South African cuisines already share some commonalities, since Southern cuisine was influenced by African slaves. Plus, American cuisine has evolved from various global influences and South African fare is a fusion of Portuguese, French, Malaysian, Indian, and Mediterranean influences. So it’s natural to merge these two cuisines, which play so perfectly together. Why no one thought of it before is the real mystery. (Well, Paul Simon did but his ingredients were chords.)
Fried chicken is a great example of how the fusion here works: It’s a Georgia staple (as Zac Brown well knows) served here along with collards (as is to be expected in Atlanta) then topped with spicy traditional South African peri-peri sauce (which features South Africa’s bird’s eye pepper) that adds new zing. It’s all placed atop a sweet corn puree that perfectly balances out the heat.
The Georgia Shrimp is a twist on lowcountry shrimp & grits. Here the grits are pan-seared into soft triangular little cakes and while the combination is familiar the chakalaka sauce adds a welcome if unfamiliar spice to the dish.
The beef jerky snack is actually biltong, a South African cured meat that’s similar to beef jerky except much more tender—in South Africa it’s typically made of game meats like kudu and springbok, but here in the U.S. it’s beef. The snack favored on safari in the South African bush also works as an appetizer in Atlanta.
Boerewors is lean beef sausage. Here it’s served as a yummy sandwich with aioli.
“Bunny Chow,” which is not as might be expected salad but rather a traditional South African bread bowl (the buns here are made by H&F Bread Co.), comes in five varieties including roast pork with BBQ sauce, peach and coleslaw that screams “American South” and chicken curry with cilantro chutney which leans more towards “South Africa.” (Other options include roasted vegetable, bobotie and chicken liver.) I went with chicken curry and highly recommend it.
For dessert our server recommended the pretzel bread pudding, which she says is “to die for” and was created especially for the restaurant and required much experimenting in the kitchen to perfect the recipe. The soft pretzels are made by H&F Bread Co., then transformed into a scrumptious concoction topped with honey almond cheese spread. It’s decadent and delicious.
Much has and will be made of the fact that Yebo is located in the space at Phipps Plaza which has already seen tenants like The Grape and Latitude come and go. (The latter was open for a blink-and-you-miss it length of time.) But I predict that Yebo will succeed.
Recognizing that mall shoppers might be curious and a bit hungry yet also more interested in spending their dollars on products at mall stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Michael Kors, Versace and others, menu prices are kept low and serving sizes small. You can easily grab a bite and glass of wine for less than $20–if you can resist ordering more plates and rounds once wowed by the first combo.
What’s more, the Phipps Plaza location is perfect for luring out-of-town visitors: Anthony confessed that he hadn’t realized how touristy the mall is until four different groups of visitors from South Africa wandered through the door over the weekend, lured by the familiarity of their casual Zulu greeting.
Trust me and do the same.
-Photos by Sara Hanna / Courtesy Yebo Restaurant + Bar
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