When I heard a rumor several months back that Ford Fry was opening a fourth restaurant in Atlanta, I was pretty excited. I’ve never been to No. 246, but The Optimist and JCT Kitchen are both top-notch. When I heard that not only was the rumor true, but that the new restaurant was set to open in Buckhead, I nearly jumped out of my seat with excitement. King + Duke opened in mid-May in the old Nava space, at the corner of Peachtree and West Paces. From day one, I’ve read nothing but rave reviews about the place, and it was about time I checked it out for myself.
The only aspect of King + Duke that even remotely resembled Nava was the sheer size of restaurant itself. The entire interior and exterior were beautifully redone, with plenty of attention to detail. Being the patio fanatic that I am, I absolutely loved the outdoor area, complete with its own Buckhead-style upscale tiki bar. By the time we arrived for our 8 pm reservation, the patio scene was already hoppin’.
The underlying open-hearth cooking concept behind King + Duke is apparent throughout the entire meat-centric menu. Most dishes are simple, but with a modern and eclectic twist. Collectively, we settled on a strategy for tackling the wide-ranging menu. It mostly entailed ordering and sharing as many dishes as possible, and I would highly recommend the same strategy to any future King + Dukers.
While contemplating cocktails, a quartet of popovers arrived at the table. These were not your ordinary popovers. They were light, airy, buttery, and cheesy – gruyere cheesy, to be more specific.
They tasted even better with a little extra butter – doesn’t everything?
Back to the cocktails, let’s just say they have a large selection. The drink menu turned out to be a book, with plenty of literary references.
Onto the food…
The crab toast arrived next, piled high with lump crab meat. It was the perfect bite to share amongst four. The crab was fresh out of the shell with a nice, sweet flavor to contrast the bitterness of the radishes and charred chiles. The buttery slice of toasted sourdough brought an element of richness to the bite, and really tied everything together.
The crudité with whipped house ricotta was not at all what I expected. I was envisioning a large portion of whipped, fluffy ricotta, some more tasty bread, and a few veggie slices. Instead, we got a plate full of ribboned carrots and zucchini with a smear of ricotta – or was it ranch because I couldn’t tell? No toast to be found on the plate. I’d skip this one next time.
I quickly forgot about the crudité after one bite of the charred octopus salad. The octopus was seared perfectly with a simple squeeze of fresh lemon. The green olives and chorizo brought a unique sense of complexity to the dish. The tangy aioli provided just the right amount of acidity to take this bite to the next level.
I couldn’t convince any of my dining companions to share the roasted bone marrow, so I ordered it as my entree. Naturally, I made everyone try a bite regardless. King + Duke’s bone marrow was phenomenal – the kind of dish that will make you want to order bone marrow everywhere you go, only to be disappointed because it won’t be as good.
The marrow was slightly charred, layered with a sweet, short rib marmalade, and dusted with a coat of crispy short rib “crumbs.” The crumbs provided a much-needed crunch to balance out the gelatin-like texture of the marrow. The smoked mushroom salad on the side further enhanced the delicious flavor of the marrow. All piled atop a slice of olive oil-grilled baguette, it literally melted in my mouth. Even the bone marrow skeptics at the table were impressed.
The gum creek pork roast provided some pretty stiff competition for the bone marrow. The pork was flawlessly executed, with a subtle hint of sour-cherry glaze. It was simply prepared over braised vidalias and roasted kale. A mouthwatering slice of pork belly was the (figurative) cherry on top of the pork.
I tasted smaller bites of the Mississippi Rabbit and the North Georgia trout, but big enough to determine that I wouldn’t order the trout again. It was cooked in brown butter and served “boy scout style” over some greens. The fish had a nice outer-sear, but was excessively oily. I think the meats are the way to go at King + Duke.
The Mississippi rabbit turned out to be a rabbit trio, served three ways. The roasted leg and rabbit sausage were both quite tasty, much leaner and less gamey than I had anticipated. I never got around to tasting a bite of the rabbit liver toast, but I managed to live without it.
Worried that we might not have enough food to feed a small army, we also ordered two sides to share amongst the group. Honestly, they were just as good, if not better than some of the main dishes and starters. The polenta was absolutely drenched (in a good way) in the most delicious sea of duck jus, and topped with a handful of roasted mushrooms.
As for the wood-roasted mushrooms, I have absolutely no idea how they were prepared (other than in the skillet they were served in), but they were earthy, flavorful, and succulent – all at the same time. There wasn’t a single ‘shroom left in that skillet when we were finished.
All in all, out of 10 dishes total, 8 of them were standouts. I’d say that’s a pretty good pass rate. Combined with the all-encompassing drink menu, excellent service, and great atmosphere, I’d say Buckhead has a new powerhouse on its hands.