Crickets, organic chicken among new dining options at Philips Arena

Joe Schafer is the executive chef at Philips Arena. / Photo: Atlanta Hawks

This summer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Joe Schafer had left his position as executive chef at fine-dining restaurant Bacchanalia to take up a post as executive chef at Philips Arena.

At the time, it was clear that Schafer would oversee all culinary operations at Philips Arena, which is currently under a $192.5 million renovation, however his plans for food service throughout the venue were not completely defined.

A few months into the job, Schafer is moving forward to improve all aspects of the food, dining and hospitality experience inside Philips Arena, including curating special event-specific menus for Hawks games and concerts in the soon-to-debut Courtside Club and signature Hawks Bar.

“We’re trying to make the experience more about the food than it has been,” Schafer said. “It costs a lot of money to go to games. We want to make the experience worth it.”

The new Courtside Club, located at the north end of the facility, will feature a bar as well as two food stations that will offer close interaction between chefs and guests.

Schafer is also trying to source locally where possible, but he noted that “it is a challenge for a small farm to deliver to a place like this. Logistics is a trick.”

Sourcing local is happening in tandem with a move from frozen to fresh product. All chicken served at Philips Arena now hails from Springer Mountain Farms in North Georgia. Whereas before, chicken tenders arrived packaged and frozen, Schafer and his team are making them fresh, brining the meat in sweet tea, soaking it in buttermilk, then hand breading it. Currently, they go through 1,000 pounds of poultry a week.

While Schafer is working to create a base menu that can serve as the foundation for food offerings in various clubs, suites and catering operations, one unique addition is coming as a test run to concessions: crickets. One concession stand at the arena will sell roasted, dried crickets as a one-ounce snack pack or on a taco. The cricket food stand makes its debut this Friday, Oct. 27, at the Hawks home opener.

The crickets, which are de-legged, come from edible insect food company Aketta. Schafer and his team have developed seasonings for the crunchy critters that include pimento cheese, taco and salt and vinegar. Besides the snack packs, adventurous eaters can order cricket tacos, which feature the crickets seasoned with a blend of cumin, coriander and chili power and garnished with onion, cilantro and lime.

Schafer noted that the biggest culinary changes will occur in time for the Atlanta Hawk’s 2018-19 season. “Next year is big, We are nearly doubling the number of suites, adding two more premium clubs, and redoing the entire concessions at concourses.”  Next year will also bring the arrival of Zac Brown’s Social Club, a southern-style restaurant by musician Zac Brown.

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