07 Aug Latin meets Southern at Babalu in Midtown
By Bob Townsend, ajc.com – August 7, 2017
Pitched as “Latin-inspired dishes with a unique Southern flair,” Babalu Tapas & Tacos opened its first Atlanta restaurant in late June in the 33 Peachtree Place mixed-use development in Midtown.
The location at the corner of West Peachtree Street and Peachtree Place is a busy intersection, both for vehicular and pedestrian traffic. And the space is designed to take advantage of that urban energy with patio and sidewalk seating areas and roll-up glass garage doors that bring the action inside.
It’s the seventh Babalu location for the Jackson, Miss.-born restaurant company, which is expanding around the South as part of Roswell-based Eat Here Brands.
At the restaurant named for the Cuban song made popular by Desi Arnaz and the Ricky Ricardo character he played opposite Lucille Ball in the “I Love Lucy” TV series, Ricky and Lucy are forever on repeat play on a big screen in the main dining room.
The interior architecture from Atlanta’s Seiber Design features a rambling, wide-open floor plan with an exhibition-style kitchen and chef’s table, and a spacious bar area that offers indoor and outdoor seating and service.
The mix-and-match menu from chef de cuisine Stephen Charles includes an array of tacos, guacamole made tableside, sandwiches, tapas-style dishes such as Creole shrimp and grits and pan-roasted redfish, and shareable sides. Plus, Charles is offering weekly specials exclusive to the Atlanta location and weekend brunch items.
At the bar, look for signature cocktails such as the Baba-Rita with silver tequila and the Shine-A-Rita with moonshine. There also are tequila and wine lists, and local craft beer on draft from Scofflaw, SweetWater, Jekyll and Monday Night.
Last week, general manager Dahlio Cheatam conducted a tour of Babalu, highlighting the kitchen, bar and ideas behind the concept, which already appears to have Atlanta fans, based on its other locations.
“With seven locations, now, the key is to make sure we’re consistent from restaurant to restaurant,” Cheatam said. “If someone gets a redfish or duck taco in Birmingham or Charlotte, it should taste the same here.
“But it’s expanding very well. We’re opening up two more locations this year: one in Chapel Hill and another in Lexington, Ky. Right now, though, we really want to welcome in Midtown.
“A lot of people know us for our tacos and bar drinks. But with our wine selection, we spent a lot of time finding out what people were looking for in this area. And I guess it’s rose.”
Beyond location-specific beer and wine selections, Cheatam said Babalu likes to give each executive chef the freedom to come up with new dishes and use local ingredients, when possible.
“We want to make sure the flavor profile is consistent but also give each chef an opportunity to bring their years of experience and creativity,” Cheatam said. “So each chef will roll out features from time to time. And at the chef’s table, guests will be treated to a creative amuse-bouche.”
In the same sense, while Babalu has a familiar design, each location has its own unique elements.
“Overall, it’s comfortable, with a little bit of an industrial look,” Cheatam said. “We want it to be alive, and be a dynamic, fun place to get lunch or dinner. At the same time, a family can still dine here and enjoy themselves. And we have room for large parties, too. Our goal is to just make guests happy.”