Oak Steakhouse’s managing partner Steve Palmer boasts that the restaurant will be the first dining space to complete construction in the new Avalon development. This is the sister restaurant of Oak Steakhouse in Charleston, which will turn 10 in January 2015. We met with Palmer and toured the Avalon space in its last weeks of construction. Here, he shares what guests can expect at Avalon.
So why Avalon in Alpharetta, when Oak Steakhouse could have fit anywhere in Atlanta?
I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, and if you asked me if I would ever open a restaurant in Alpharetta I would’ve laughed. This used to be farmland. But Ford Fry convinced me. He and I share a lot of similar views in the way we run our company and treat our staff. I trust his opinion. He feels confident, and he’s certainly challenged some notions about how quickly you can open restaurants and still be successful.
How will this Oak Steakhouse differ from Charleston in design?
The Charleston Oak Steakhouse is in a three-story old bank, whereas the atmosphere here at Avalon will be more modern. There are a lot of floor-to-ceiling windows. In all our restaurants we keep some element of nature. Here, the wood in the center of the dining room is reclaimed wood from an 1850s barn in South Carolina.
What about the menu?
We say this isn’t your parent’s steakhouse. In the winter there is not corn or asparagus on the menu, because it is not in season and we try to cook as local as possible. Instead, you’ll see brussel sprouts and root vegetables. Our thinking is that we are going more for a farm-to-table steakhouse.
How do guests react to that title?
Most of the food-centric crowd doesn’t associate a steakhouse with forward-thinking, so it’s about balancing that with timelessness of tradition. If you look across America, the oldest restaurants are Italian and Steakhouse. We aren’t trying to alienate people, but we want to progress the steakhouse movement along.
With a name like Oak Steakhouse, why not try a wood-burning oven?
For me personally, one of the measures of a great steakhouse is consistency of cooking. So when you cook on wood, the heating can be a little uneven. A steakhouse menu involves exact cooking every time and a traditional grill will do that.
What about the beverage program?
We are going to focus on traditional steakhouse wines, like Bordeaux and Napa Valley Cabernet. That is what people are looking for and that is what they expect. We will also have some craft cocktails on tap, like a Manhattan aged in a white oak barrel and a white Negroni.
This restaurant has one of the smallest capacity for seating at Avalon. Why?
There are only 100 seats, and none of our restaurants are larger. Even though Indigo Road has many different looks, our hospitality is consistent. We like that a manager has the opportunity to visit every table because that builds loyalty. At the end of the day it’s about getting the right people and making them happy, both our staff and the guests. Happy chefs cook happy food.