The Optimist

Two Inch Cuffs, November 2012. Photos by Jason Travis

Interview with Adam Evans, Executive Chef

When you step into The Optimist, it's hard to believe that Atlanta is a landlocked town. You're instantly transported to a beachy spot with fish house-friendly fare like corn milk hushpuppies and fresh oysters on ice. But look closely (or rather taste it), and you'll find that the quintessential southern attitude is so ingeniously melded into the flavors, that it's no wonder that Esquire declared the place as the "Best Restaurant of the Year". We caught up with the busy Executive Chef Adam Evans right before a dinner rush to learn more about sustainable fishing and what he considers really delicious. 

Why was the restaurant named after a small sailing dinghy?
It’s actually Ford Fry, who’s the chef-owner of the restaurant. His father actually came up with the name because he was into sailing as a child so he thought it was a cool name. So he threw out a bunch of nautical terms and that one kinda stuck out.

Tell us what your earliest food memory is.
A lot of my early food memories are big fish frys with the family at the lake house. I have a lot of good memories with my grandmother who’s a great cook, my mom as well. Being in the kitchen doing southern food was a big childhood memory.

With overfishing threatening the marine environment, how do you source ingredients that are both satisfying and responsible?
You have to be careful with where you buy from, mainly. The MSC certification, the Marine Stewardship Council, regulates fisheries and if you want to buy responsibly, you need to make sure your purchaser is buying them responsibly. We have great local vendors that are sourcing seafood responsibly so it makes it easy for us to buy sustainably. 

The corn milk hushpuppies are incredible. Where did that idea come from?
It's a fish house and we wanted a really great hushpuppy because every fish house I've ever gone to has a really good hushpuppy. I really like the fresh corn in there. I always do a corn puree and I've done it with food for years. If you take corn and you juice it and when you whip it up over heat, it thickens naturally because of the starch in the corn. So I thought that would be great to fold that into the hushpuppy and make this really rich, creamy corn style hushpuppy. We have corn milk in the hushpuppy as well as the kernels of corn.

And the spread next to it?
The spread is cane sugar butter. We take steamed cane sugar, whip it into butter, add some salt and that's the dipping sauce, as well as the powdered sugar on top.

As a chef in the kitchen, what is one tool that you can't live without?
God, everyone asks me that question. [Laughs] I would say now wood fire is something I don't like to cook without.

What are your favorite places to go to when you're off-duty?
One of my favorite spots in Atlanta is The Octopus Bar because I live 2 blocks away from there. It's convenient, plus I love the guys over there and what they do. 

If you knew you weren't going to be here tomorrow, what's the last thing you'd want in your mouth?
It's funny you ask this because a month ago, I made a big batch of fried okra at my house. I got some really nice okra from a local farm. It was so good and it looked so good... they were all like perfect 2-3 inches of okra. I fried them up in a cast iron skillet: cornmeal, corn flour. When I was eating it, I literally ate like a pound of it and I told someone that this would be my last meal. 

The Optimist
914 Howell Mill Road
Atlanta, GA 30318
Tel: 404-477-6260