Tucked into the corner of an unassuming strip mall shopping center, 300 feet from the building that used to be John Harvard’s Brew House (see 31/50 “John Harvard’s Brew House" posted August 6, 2015) is a little slice of culinary Heaven. In the mid-90s it was Dick and Harry’s, one of Atlanta’s early pioneers into the world of suburban fine dining. Today that establishment is Foundation Social Eatery and for us, it lives up to all three of the words its name.
Owned and expertly run by Chef Mel Toledo and his lovely wife Sandy, Foundation opened about 18 months ago and from the first time we visited, we knew it was something special.
Achieving success in the restaurant business is a feat. It requires starting with a vision and bringing that vision to life through the environment you create, your food and your people.
The environment at Foundation is simple elegance. Steel rebar supports the open wood shelves holding wine bottles and bar accouterment. Concrete floors and light wood panels add texture and interest to the space. These sturdy, solid elements certainly speak to Foundation’s name.
The decor is casual yet refined, modern but comfortable and as you look around you can tell how much thought and care went into the completed design. Ask Chef Mel or Sandy about the beautiful blue pattern on the walls; it has a sweet story. And if you peek around the corner from table number 52 you’ll notice a small mark in the concrete floor. The tiny indentation is the hand print of Chef Mel and Sandy’s four year old son Hudson, the third and smallest member of the Toledo family.
Like the decor, the food Chef Mel and his team serve is also a study in simple elegance, but don’t be fooled by the word "simple." There’s nothing easy about the dishes that come out of the bustling display kitchen, which is to Ed and I, as much an art studio as a culinary work space. Chef Mel is a champion when it comes to combining textures, cooking methods and flavors to create surprise and delight for your tastebuds.
You haven’t lived until you’ve wrapped your lips around a paper-thin pasta purse, filled with an earthy mushroom blend, served in a foamed red wine, mushroom and truffle broth. You won’t find a more tender, subtly Moroccan spiced plate of pork ribs in the city, and once you’ve tasted Chef Mel’s silken carrot vanilla bean puree your life will never be the same. I’ve worked with a lot of talented chefs over the years and Chef Mel is one of the best. His masterful layering of flavors and use of acid and bright green notes elevates his dishes from merely delicious to other-worldly.
Foundation's environment and food make it worth the drive from anywhere but the glue that keeps us coming back week after week is the people. This is where the “social” part of the name comes in. We love visiting Foundation with friends and family. However, my over twenty years in hospitality (see 8/50 “The Hospitality Business” posted July 14, 2015), means I also feel a special kinship with restaurant staff, both front and back of the house.
Being greeted with first names and open arms sets the tone from the moment we arrive. We love knowing the employees personally, learning about their lives, celebrating their joys and supporting them in their trials. We adore sitting at table 52, where we can feel the energy of the kitchen, and watch as dishes are prepared, plated and rushed out to eagerly waiting patrons. In addition to getting to know the staff, we’ve also made new friends of the patrons there. At least once a month we end up chatting with anyone who’s bold enough to ask about our ever-present wine monkey. Or two.
For 18 months Ed and I have been fortunate enough to share food, wine and amazing conversation within the walls of Foundation Social Eatery. Holding hands across table number 52, we play The Wine Game and discuss business, life, money, politics and every topic under the sun.
FSE has become our local, last minute, "go-to" after a long work week or a welcome night out "just because." It's our special place to take friends, colleagues and visiting family but most of all it’s a comfortable, friendly haven where we can relax and enjoy the simple pleasures we love so much.