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Principals: Ford Fry; Executive chef Joe Schafer

Concept: Open-hearth, down-home cooking in a casual setting. Many entrees and sides are made for sharing, including a one-kilo bone-in ribeye and crispy Brussels sprouts.

Hook: Hillbilly chow elevated for the well-heeled Buckhead crowd.

Signature dishes:
• Roasted Grass Roots Farms Duck: pastrami leg, roasted breast, house sauerkraut, persimmons, $29
• Whole Roast Chicken for Two (crusty bread salad, chicken drippings vinaigrette, $55)
• “The Duke” (burger of house-ground chuck and dry-aged cuts, coal roasted with onions; fries and a pickle, $16

Check average: $50

Why it's cool: Aside from tapping in early to America’s current collective obsession with open hearth cooking, Atlanta golden boy and James Beard-nominated Ford Fry (JCT Kitchen & Bar, No. 246, The Optimist) ignored the warnings of his peers and colleagues and brought down-home cooking to Buckhead. He’s done it, though, without trying too hard or stumbling into theme-restaurant territory.

Explaining his inspiration, Fry says, “A lot of chefs are going in a more modernist direction, and with King + Duke we went the opposite way.” There is a library vibe to the space, and the name is a wink to the roving con artists of Huckleberry Finn who try to pass off as royalty. “I liked that they’re hillbillies trying to show off,” explains Fry, a humble nod to his restaurant.

The Huck Finn characters wind up tarred and feathered, but the menu at King + Duke “shows off” with better results. The massive hearth is the dining room’s focal point and features four grills that can be raised and lowered by a pulley system. The effect is rustic with a kind of a steam-punk vibe. Some of the down-home menu is not for the squeamish. The whole roasted chicken, for instance, is just that—whole, right down to the talons.

The menu rests in the capable hands of executive chef Joe Schafer, as Fry believes in a deistic, wind-it-up and watch-it-go approach to his concepts. “As fast as I can, I give it over to the chefs so they can develop a relationship with local farmers and make ties with their neighborhood. I want them to make the restaurants their baby.”

Fry had a serious “What am I doing?” moment before opening King + Duke. He recalls walking through the restaurant and thinking about Buckhead, with its buttoned-up eateries and corporate clientele, and wondering if King + Duke might be a royal misstep. “But we really wanted to bring a little edginess to the area, to be dressed down but still offer quality. So we stayed the course, and it paid off,” says Fry.

Indeed. Esquire recently called King + Duke one of America’s Best New Restaurants. Alan Richman of GQ called it one of the 25 Best Restaurants in America, saying: “This is informal American dining, perfected.”

A lesson in cool: Break all the rules and offer the unexpected. Get all hillbilly with the bluebloods in a down-home environment? Go figure!