There will be pimento cheese.
Hugh Acheson, the Canadian-born, Southern-bred, James Beard Award-winning chef, has yet another new place where you can eat his food. Punch Bowl Social, a hipster version of Dave and Buster’s—think PBRs and arcade games, paired with grain bowls—is opening its newest location in Atlanta on March 24, and Acheson will be leading the menu.
The Top Chef judge made a name for himself with his flagship restaurant Five & Ten, in Athens, Georgia. The college town has been better known for its musical prowess than its food—it’s spawned countless bands like the B-52’s, R.E.M. and Neutral Milk Hotel—but Acheson helped put it on the gastronomic map.
He was crowned a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2002 for his neo-Southern cooking, arguably for his Frogmore Stew alone: It's a Southern answer to cioppino, made chunky with andouille and corn cobs, all swimming with shrimp in a tomato broth. The coastal dish is a Lowcountry classic from South Carolina, a state where Acheson briefly spent his youth. You won't find it at Punch Bowl Social, though; or the chef’s milk braised pork belly with fennel, or his cornmeal fried catfish with sour turnips. But there will be pimento cheese.
The “diner-inspired” menu will also carry over popular items from the Punch Bowl Social’s other 11 nationwide locations: Anson Mills grits with tasso ham and pickled peppers, and lobster rolls with charred onion crème fraîche. Of course, there will be fried chicken (bonus: it's gluten-free, although whether it will be Celiac-safe is TBD).
Despite the compelling menu and the big name, will people come to the 25,000-square-foot arcade just to eat? Maybe, maybe not. Two of Acheson’s other concepts—First & Third, an elevated sausage stand, and Achie’s, a New American restaurant inside Omni Hotel—are located nearby, all three in the very same outdoor complex.
Still, if the menu at Punch Bowl Social delivers on its promises—which are ambitious—it hopes to be a step forward for arcades everywhere. Squint past that hyper-trendy cursive font and photos of tattooed bartenders on its well-branded website, and the poached lobster rolls sound genuinely delicious. So do the cocoa-dusted carnitas with crema and cotija. No matter that there is also bowling, bocce ball and ping pong under the same roof.
Acheson has collaborated with Punch Bowl Social on its other concepts nationwide, but this launch in his adopted home state—the first in the Southeast—holds special significance, he said in a press release. The March 24 launch will kick off with a party from 7-9pm that night, with a portion of proceeds from each $20 ticket going to Atlanta-based nonprofit The Giving Kitchen. It provides financial assistance to restaurant workers hit with accident, sudden illness, or natural disaster.