Kevin Gillespie’s new restaurant, Gunshow, is a misfire

'Fire In My Belly' by Kevin Gillespie

Cover of ‘Fire In My Belly’ by Kevin Gillespie

Kevin Gillespie, the crimson-bearded chef formerly of Atlanta’s Woodfire Grill and of Season 6 Top Chef fame, recently opened a new restaurant in the Glenwood Park development in Atlanta. The new venture, called Gunshow, garnered press – both positive and negative – for several reasons. The restaurant promised to be  accessible – the sort of place his folksy family would feel comfortable visiting, unlike the haute cuisine, white tablecloth dining of Woodfire Grill. It also promised to be a unique concept that married the traditions of Southern american cuisine with the Brazilian churrascaria and Chinese methods of dim sum dining. A visit slightly two weeks after it opened suggests that Gillespie has delivered on his innovative premise but misfired with his menu.

The vision

The restaurant received initial criticism over its unusual name — Gunshow. Much of the criticism arrived in the wake of recent school shootings, such as the Newtown, CT massacre. Gillespie was quick to explain that the name is derived from his father’s favorite pastime, attending gun shows. Unusual? Yes, but nothing untoward. The intention was also to evoke a casual, interactive dining concept, similar to dining in someone’s home.

Voyeuristic Vittles

Gillespie’s vision of hybrid hospitality is definitely unique. More so than other “open-kitchen” concepts, the kitchen is almost completely exposed to the dining room (there’s even a walk-in freezer in the dining area) and kitchen supplies are neatly arranged on wire shelves along the room’s perimeters. The result of this arrangement is a little strange. On one hand, fans can ogle the Yukon Cornelius visage of Kevin Gillespie as he casually ducks into the freezer, or, you can watch the line chefs frantically saucing and plating along the long counter, rushing to keep up a steady pace of circulating dishes. It’s a smidgen voyeuristic (and possibly egotistic?), but entirely manageable.

Sound and fury, signifying nothing

The restaurant space is small, with large windows, exposed industrial elements, and a rustic, chalkboard-painted effect. Individual tables are arranged in rows and joined together at varying heights with hardware store clamps. The effect is similar to a communal table (and would lend itself accordingly), but it still provides for couples seating. Aisles are wide to accommodate the servers (and occasionally, chefs) wielding carts and butcher-block cutting board “trays” of available dishes. The absence of fabric or any sound-absorbing surface is a disaster; the din on a packed evening would be excruciating. On a moderately-full midweek visit, my companion and I still had difficulty hearing each other. The clamps on the tables are also annoying; I smacked my elbow repeatedly as I leaned across the table to better hear the conversation.

The unique dim sum style of circulating dishes worked fairly well. The kitchen and servers kept a decent pace of dishes in circulation. I think that the perception might be different, but I suspect it is a result of consciously looking around for your next dish, as opposed to patiently waiting on a delivery from the waiter.

Dining “high on the hog”

While the pacing, space and seating arrangements have some issues, none of them are insurmountable and I’m sure they’ll be addressed over time.The area where Gunshow needs to make the greatest adjustment, unfortunately, is in the menu. Like many of Gillespie’s prior creations, the food is creative, delicious, and seductively plated. His menu selections lean towards the southern cooking demonstrated in his recent cookbook, Fire In My Belly, and is a far cry from high-concept cuisine and the foams of molecular gastronomy. His definition of accessible pricing? It needs reconsideration.The appeal of communal dining styles like dim sum and tapas is that each dish, while small, is cheap(ish)–meaning, under about $10. The problem with Gillespie’s menu is that much of it ranges in the $11-18 range, while maintaining the smaller portion size.

The result is that there’s no way to budget for this style of dining, either in price or time. The servers tell you that it takes approximately 45 minutes for the full range of dishes to rotate through, stressing that it’s better not to wait for a specific dish. The translation is that you’ll spend a good amount of time waiting and looking as plates are toted around the room. It takes multiple dishes to feel sated and as dishes are tallied before you on your running tab, it’s difficult not to grown concerned at the increasing number of $13 tapas you’ve consumed. You start to calculate dishes proffered to you on an economic scale– do I really want to pay $18 dollars to share four ribs and a smattering of sides, or should I hold off for the potentially more filling (and marginally cheaper) risotto?

It’s noteworthy that Kevin Gillespie is devoted to the local food movement and I support this priority. Unfortunately, these high-quality, heirloom ingredients do not come cheap. In all fairness, the wait staff is speedy to refill your water glass and the wine and beer offerings are refreshingly affordable for Atlanta fine dining.

Tally-ugh?

In the end, our bill weighed in at $95 (inclusive of tax and tip) and we left feeling a smidgen disappointed, so I can’t consider Gunshow a viable alternative to less-expensive tapas options like Decatur’s Iberian Pig and Buckhead’s Eclipse de Luna. For fine dining patrons where the final bill is less of a concern, the food quality is a down-home equivalent to Gillespie’s other offerings. But in its current price point and descriptive trappings, Gunshow risks alienating Gillespie’s devoted fans of all ages: 20-somethings will be unable to afford the food and his more affluent diners will have the perception that the meal is a poor value. The restaurant’s concept, although admirable, needs to evolve for the comfort and wallets of its patrons.

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