Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Optimist: Extraordinary Food And Service

For the Belle of Ballast Point and me, one of the most memorable meals we have ever consumed was served to us at The Optimist Fish Camp and Oyster Bar, 914 Howell Mill Road in Atlanta back in March of 2013. I have been dreaming of the Optimist ever since and we finally made it back near the end of a road trip through the Carolinas, and then returning to Tampa through Georgia. Our layover in Atlanta was solely for The Optimist.

I had called a week earlier to make reservations for five o'clock on the 15th of October, and on that day the traffic gods smiled upon us and the taxi driver dropped us off at 4:45, about 15 minutes before the start of dinner hour. The door was unlocked, so we wandered in and were promptly greeted by a couple of smiling faces. We explained our early arrival and were assured this was not a problem, and we were welcome to have a seat at the bar and order whatever might wet our parched whistles. A couple of Proseccos worked their magic.

One of the managers, Scott Marsiglio, stopped by to see if all was to our liking and said if there was anything they could do to make our evening more pleasurable, just let him know. I mentioned that we had table reservations for five o'clock, but asked if we could sit at the oyster bar first, and then go to our table. I love a real oyster bar and the Optimist has a great one. Scott said he would let Kyle know we were on our way over.

I perused the oyster choices for that day and was totally amazed at the selection. One in particular caught my eye: the Belon oysters with the rubber band around them. Known more accurately as “The European Flat Oyster” (only true “Belons” come from the Belon River estuary in Brittany, France) these large oysters were transplanted to Maine decades ago. Because their abductor muscle is weaker than the American oyster, Belons are banded to help them remain closed and stored cup-down to retain their “liquor”.

In addition to six Belons, I requested a half dozen of the Wellfleets. Both varieties were properly shucked and served. My bride, who is not a lover of oysters since she found out that they are alive when opened, just watched as I consumed these gifts from the sea.

The round shelled oysters at the top are the Belons, plump and substantial, with a big, pronounced flavor and metallic, “coppery” finish – distinct but far less briny than their Eastern Oyster cousins, with a “sweet to flinty” overtone. The Wellfleet oysters are a deep cup oyster with a distinctive briny taste. I had achieved oyster nirvana.

After polishing off my dozen, the Belle of Ballast Point and I adjourned to our awaiting table where we were met by Shaun (sp?), our dining room server. Menus were presented and drink orders taken. We chose a Txakolina, a bracing, refreshing, white wine that is enjoyed throughout Basque country.

As much as I enjoy oysters on the half shell, octopus comes in a close second, and the Spanish Charred Octopus with spiced yogurt, okra, and jalapeno relish reached out to me. I was in tentacle heaven with this tender and savory appetizer.

Next, we moved to the Wood Hearth Roasted Fish section of the October 15th menu. The Belle requested the Golden Tilefish with lemon, thyme, and EVOO. When I asked about taste and texture, she replied, "Like butter!" As a side dish she chose the Confit Fingerling Potatoes with scallions, chili oil, and sinfully delicious roasted pork belly cubes.

There was no way I could let the Duck Fat Poached Swordfish with pork belly, butternut squash, and sherry jus not pass my lips. That dish alone would be worth another long drive from Tampa to Atlanta.

Scott comped us two desserts as a thanks for a second visit and the drive from Tampa. I'm not much of a dessert person, so I chose a glass of sherry while the Belle requested a delicious banana cake with caramel.

Our bill for the oysters plus a gratuity for Kyle came to $43 and some change. Dinner and wine was $121.50 plus an additional 20% for superb service.

Let me add that the Oracle did not identify ourselves other than with first names. We dine anonymously and except for the dessert and dessert wine we pay full listed menu prices. I can't imagine the service and consideration we received from Scott and his staff would be any different for any other patron to this Atlanta treasure.

The Optimist on Urbanspoon


  1. Without a doubt, you have whet my appetite on your trip! It has been a pleasure to read your reviews. One can only hope to visit these superior establishments one day. J.R. you have given me a virtual vacation of culinary dreams.

    1. There are a plethora of really great restaurants in Atlanta, but in my opinion The Optimist is on the top of the list.

      Thanks for your kind words Tina.

  2. SOLD! We're totally hittin' that next month!

    1. I would be totally bumfuzzled if you aren't pleased with that decision.

  3. Thank you so much for your detailed write-up and exquisite images! We read your post, and just wanted to let you know we sincerely appreciate the time you took to put pen to paper. See you soon!
    - The Optimist & The Oyster Bar at The Optimist