First Look: Yalla and Fred's Meat and Bread
A visit to chef Todd Ginsberg and co.'s new Krog Street Market stars
At Inman Park's Krog Street Market, the 30,000 square foot space with soaring ceilings strewn with conduits and architectural tchotchkes, guests amble about and pause to consider a plethora of culinary curiosities — a butcher shop, a bakery, an izakaya, and a bistro. Among the stalls and anchor restaurants — six newcomers are slated to open in early 2015 — are Fred's Meat and Bread and Yalla. Like other popular stalls, these two concepts — both from the General Muir partners Jennifer and Ben Johnson, Shelley Sweet, and Todd Ginsberg — have been slammed since opening six weeks ago.
At Fred's Meat and Bread, everything old is new again. Fred's, which takes its moniker from Frederick Krog, a German immigrant important to Atlanta's railroads, is a straightforward burger and sandwich counter. The signage, reminiscent of the script on a vintage filling station attendant's uniform, reads "Fred's" in big red letters.
If you are lucky enough to snag one of the few seats at the counter, you may be able to see the mastermind of this stall, chef Todd Ginsberg, in the open window, which is framed by decorative ironwork. Much like a Woolworth diner counter, Fred's is a mixture of metals and warm woods with glazed, handcrafted hexagonal tiles in shades of blue and green. Design firm ai3 took inspiration from the historic homes in nearby Inman Park.
Order at the counter, wait for your name to be called, take it to go, or sit in one of three areas of the market's communal tables. Sounds easy until you have to choose from a laundry list of Ginsberg's stellar sandwiches. Will it be the stellar Italian Grinder ($11.75) filled with salami, mortadella, pork, provolone, crisp iceberg lettuce, dressing, and cherry peppers, or a sloppy Korean fried chicken ($9) with kimchi, spicy mayo, pickles, and cilantro? The burger stack ($9), which you'll remember from Ginsberg's Bocado days, is as classic as fast food gets with two generous beef patties griddled with crispy edges, a juicy interior, gooey melted American cheese, crunchy bread and butter pickles, and house-made mayo all on a lightly buttered and grilled bun. The cheese steak, which is so popular it sometimes sells out, is stuffed with 10 ounces of chopped rib-eye with grilled onions and oozy American cheese on a crusty hoagie bun fluffy enough on the inside to absorb the greasy (in a good way) filling. The $14 price tag may seem high to some, but it's worth it.
Add to your sandwich a soft drink-sized cup of thick, hand-cut fries served regular ($3.50), tossed in Old Bay Seasoning, with garlic, or as pommes frites ($4.50). The serving is enough for two to share and a selection of house-made sauces such as white barbecue sauce, zippy aioli, and tangy ranch ramp up the experience. Speaking of soft drinks, a wide variety of novelty sodas are lined up for viewing as you wait to place your order: Cheerwine, NuGrape, Bubble Up, Triple XXX.
Meat aside, it's time to talk about the bread: Master baker Rob Alexander (formerly of H&F Bread Co.) makes the bread daily at the General Muir. Whether it's the hoagie style, ciabatta, or sesame seed bun, Alexander's bread is pillowy, chewy, and crunchy in all the right places. Speaking of bread baking, Alexander is also responsible for the pita and laffa at Yalla next door ...
Yalla gets its inspiration from the open-air markets (called souks) Ginsberg visited in Israel. The stall is covered in glossy yellow and gray cubist tiles and light wood. Jars of pickled and preserved vegetables — cured with many of the spices Ginsberg brought back to Atlanta — line the counter just below eye level. There's also a faux awning secured with ropes that evokes the feel of a modern street stall, which, coincidentally, is just what the menu is intended to do.
At Yalla, Ginsberg, in a sense, tried to recreate Middle Eastern street foods with an updated twist. A glance at the exotic-sounding menu may make some feel the need to Google. Don't fret if your smartphone isn't handy; there's a glossary of ingredients on the back. In practice, the stall works much like a fast casual burrito joint. Order on the left-hand side of the counter, near the vertical spit roasting shawarma meat. Choose from a list of proteins that can come in pita, platter, or laffa (wrap) form, which can then be customized with more than 20 toppings, fillings, and sauces. There is a seemingly endless supply of combinations to try with flavorings such as lemony tart sumac; spicy, cilantro-infused zhug hot sauce; tangy-mango, pickled amba sauce; and dukka, an incredibly aromatic blend of toasted and ground nuts, seeds, and spices.
If you're hungry, go for the laffa. Think of it like a Middle Eastern flatbread only softer so that it absorbs more juices and leaks less. In other words, it's like a giant pita without the pocket. An order of shawarma laffa ($14) could go something like this as it makes its way down the assembly line: spit-roasted tender chicken laid over tangy hummus, fried eggplant, spicy cucumbers, bright red cabbage sauerkraut, heat-filled harissa, and fermented turnips, drizzled with zingy tahini then rolled up expertly and tightly. Another great thing about laffa? It travels well.
Shares and salads come in half and full sizes and many of the items are or can be prepared vegan and/or gluten-free. A generous portion of baba ghanoush ($4/half, $8 full) is rich, smoky, and creamy with fire-roasted eggplant, tahini, olive oil, and a sparkle of lemon juice. Falafel made fresh in-house has a crunchy outer shell and a tender mash of garbanzo beans, mint, cilantro, and parsley inside. The falafel mezze includes tahini yogurt, radishes, and cucumbers ($5/half, $8/full) for a satisfying snack or meal.
It's early yet, but Fred's and Yalla have quickly become Krog Street Market faves. Yalla has a few kinks to work out with service and wait times, most likely due to all the variations and exotic ingredients. Next door, Fred's will continue to draw long lines as long as Ginsberg's sandwich prowess and Alexander's bread persist.