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There are some things you can learn from a book or in school, but cooking and running a restaurant kitchen isn't one of them, according to Chef Adam Waller, head chef at Atlanta's newest Italian eatery, Bar Americano.
Bar Americano, located in the East Andrews complex in Buckhead adjacent to Bar Crema, officially opened its doors in January. It is a member of Ten Apart Hospitality Group, joining The Mercury, The Pinewood, Deep End, Proof, and The Helpful Hot Dog.
Here, diners can enjoy Italian-American classics such as rigatoni, meatballs, a variety of pizzas and cannelloni, but experience them with a delightful infusion of lighter, fresher flavors than they are accustomed to. The goal, according to Waller, is to let just a couple key ingredients carry the dish.
Waller learned this concept from one of Atlanta's most popular and well-known chefs, Riccardo Ullio, when Waller worked at Sotto Sotto.
Much of Waller's work is inspired by Ullio and other chefs he admires. He believes in learning by doing.
Even the meatball recipe that Waller uses in his restaurant is one that was passed down from his great-grandfather from Sicily. These recipes and techniques learned at a personal level are more valuable to Waller than anything school could offer, he said.
When people ask him if he has gone to culinary school, he tells them he has, but he dropped out because he felt he could learn more in a kitchen shadowing and implementing the methods of chefs whom he admired. His own culinary journey started off as a dishwasher years ago, and he found himself working his way through the line to where he is now.
"In culinary school you won't get the hands-on training versus working at a restaurant, or working your way up," Waller explained. "I figured I could learn more, and that's what I did eventually."
Ullio first brought Waller on to work at Cuerno, which eventually closed in 2009 following the economic downturn.
At that time, Waller said he enjoyed stepping out of his comfort zone to learn how to make traditional Spanish food. However, eventually, after Cuerno closed, Ullio asked Waller to join him at Sotto Sotto.
"That crew that I've worked with there, is probably the best crew of line cooks. Most of the guys have been there since Sotto opened in 1999 or 2000," The crew welcomed him with warmth, and Waller said he enjoyed the dynamics of the group. One of the biggest lessons he learned under Ullio's tutelage was to create a focal point for the dish and let that ingredient shine.
"The biggest thing for Sotto was probably just the simplicity of Italian food, that’s what I picked up from Ricardo," Waller said.
Now, with Bar Americano, Waller said he's implementing a similar approach to traditional Italian favorites while incorporating his take on Italian favorites. When the restaurant opened in January, the focus was on dishes like nonna used to make, but now, Waller trying to lighten things up.
Diners can expect subtler flavors and a seasonal approach to vegetables, and protein like steak chicken and fish. Waller said hopefully people see it's not the old-school Italian, "red sauce joint." He believes in lighter sauces and simple dressings such as oil, a little citrus or an acid like vinegar.
With spring in full swing, the menu features peas, fava, morels, and customers can enjoy the open air of the central patio at the East Andrews Complex. He expects with the refreshed seasonal menu and warmer temperatures, this hidden restaurant in Buckhead will soon gain a following. After all, he's learned from some of the best in town.
"We're working with the seasons," Waller said. "Chefs that I look up to are Josh Hopkins from Empire State South and David Sweeney, Bruce Logue of BoccaLupo. Their approach to food and how they work with farmers and vendors-- the more I can do that, the better."
Atlanta-based travel and food writer on a mission to guide others in creating meaningful life experiences with friends and family through mindful travel, vegetarian food, and an active lifestyle.