Back in the 1990s in Westside Atlanta, a steady pilgrimage of artists, musicians and other assorted bohemians flowed into the old meatpacking district around the railway junction that connected Atlanta to all points Southern. It’s a familiar story where the counterculture vibe eventually draws more mainstream clientele with weekend farmers markets, ethnic restaurants and college clubs until there’s a slew of bobo storefronts from Anthropologie to Jonathan Adler.
In 2007, JCT Kitchen & Bar opened up on the back corner lot in a restored heritage building overlooking the railway tracks. With lots of heavy steel beams, exposed brick and a galvanized silo for ambiance, chef/owner Ford Fry trimmed out the place with vintage furnishings to complete the industrial-chic look. He planted a few truckloads of trees and greenery around the roof deck to soften the edges, and then he got busy in the kitchen.
From the very beginning, locals have flocked here for Fry’s “Southern Farmstead Cooking” that puts a premium on local, seasonal ingredients to create meals prepared entirely from scratch.
“’Farmstead’ is a culinary term currently used in artisan cheesemaking where the dairy comes from the same farm where the cheese is made,” says Fry. “I like the word because it indicates hand-crafted food and using local farms. It speaks of seasonal, fresh ingredients. It describes a philosophy of food.”
Iron Chef host Alton Brown is on record stating: “Finally someone knows how to make fried chicken.” When we naively asked JCT what makes their fried chicken so tasty and tender, we were politely declined. Many other Southern classics are well represented and most come with a fun, modern twist. House faves include a Benton’s country bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin with black pepper egg dumplings, Berkshire belly and creamy local cabbage.
Brand new for summer, the lunch menu features a grilled fresh fig with blue cheese and house cured bacon.
That kind of creative culinary wonderfulness is winning over national groups also, which is why the Atlanta CVB recommended we check it out. JCT (short for “Junction”) seats 165, but max capacity for a group buyout is 400. Besides the food, drinks and design, the rooftop lounge works exceedingly well for groups up to 200 because it’s an easy lock-off, there’s a dedicated bar and everything can be moved or removed to customize any event.
The loft-like setting features both indoor space with an oversized chandelier and outdoor space with clear views of downtown, which is about a 10-minute drive away.
“What we have here is so unique it can’t be copied,” says event director Valerie Mosley.”We have a really fun time hosting events up there. We just did an event for the launch of Something Borrowed, the new Emily Giffin movie. I mean, we went to town. We moved all the furniture around, we had everything in pink, it was really cool.”
Valerie, can you tell us a little more about what goes on in the kitchen?
“Everything we do here is based upon the seasons, so everything comes in fresh. For example, even for a vegetable platter on our menu, the ingredients literally depend on what the chefs get though the door that day. That’s the best part of this restaurant. You can walk in here and have super fresh farm-to-table food, and everything is made in our kitchen, from all of our pasta to even the ice cream.”
What’s your favorite dish?
“We have a JCT salad with buttermilk dressing, string beans, diced apples, and you can have it with fried chicken, which we’re famous for. It’s out of this world.”
So, we’re back to the chicken. Valerie, give us a little something about what makes your fried chicken so fine.
“Well, it’s pretty old school, a lot of care goes into the preparation. It’s a whole day thing and we soak the fried chicken overnight in buttermilk. I think I can pass that much on to you. But it is what it is so you have to get here early because we only have a certain amount of chickens every night.”
We are assured, however, that no private party has ever run out of JCT’s fried chicken, but all the same, don’t spend too long at the bar.
Speaking of which, JCT Bar is on Esquire’s vaunted “Best Bars in America” list this year. Like the kitchen, the bartenders serve farm-to-bar ingredients, including freshly squeezed, organic Meyer lemons mixed with homemade blueberry-infused vodka.
Ohmigod, that sounds good.
“Yes, it’s unreal,” says Valerie.
Or raspberry and peach vodka, created in jars by mixologist extraordinaire Lara Creasy. She graduated with a degree in Culinary Arts from the Art Institute of Atlanta, and she was a semi-finalist in the United States Bartenders Guild/Don Q Rum Mix-Off.
We like Lara’s “Strawberry Alarm Clock,” combining fresh strawberries, cachaca, lime, brown sugar and balsamic served on the rocks.
Valerie, are you hearing a growing amount of feedback from groups interested in sustainability and local food, that sort of thing?
“Absolutely, we do. I mean, hands down. Not only is it the healthiest way to go, but to support the community is huge. For instance, we only use Georgian farmers for almost everything—tomatoes, vegetables, everything. Even cheeses and things like that, we want to support those around us.”
So it’s not just about health and a lower environmental impact, it’s also about the sustainability of the local economy.
“And creating a strong sense of community,” she adds.
Anything else, Valerie?
“I just want to say we can help groups plan a unique event because we can help them with a special menu and customize around any special requests, big or small. We don’t have a check-the-box kind of list. We really work with groups closely and a lot of people tell me one of their favorite parts about having an event here is how we can make it so unique for them and create something really special.”