Housed in a two-story contemporary glass-and-stone structure, nestled among the lush landscapes of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Linton’s in the Garden, the restaurant and cafe from James Beard Award-winning Atlanta chef/restaurateur Linton Hopkins and executive chef Jason Paolini, made its official debut on April 28, 2016
The opening was timed for the unveiling of “Chihuly in the Garden,” a major showing of glassworks by acclaimed Seattle artist Dale Chihuly. And somehow the light-filled dining room and colorful sculptural installations just outside the windows seemed to fit together in a bright flourish of springtime.
But some seven months later, Linton’s has been rebranded as Longleaf. Paolini “will take the lead as the culinary creative force” of the restaurant and become an employee of the Garden. And Hopkins “will remain on board in the key role of chef adviser.”
In a recent interview, Hopkins talked about the challenges of bringing a fine dining destination to the Garden, while taking care of all of its other needs for catering and events.
“Bottom line, what we came to realize in trying to define the role of food and beverage there is that the most important thing is not having a third party in the middle between them and their guests,” Hopkins said. “In November, I told them that they should have their own food and beverage people that are their employees.
“That is without a doubt the number one way they can be successful in how they do food and beverage. Because you’ve got to understand food and beverage in the garden is different. It’s designed to be an amenity to people at the Garden and not necessarily the general public.”
Asked if he had any regrets about Linton’s, Hopkins first reflected on what he might have done differently, then admitted he had one regret.
“I wish we had always said this is the Garden’s restaurant, it’s not my restaurant,” he said. “I’ll infuse it with operations, philosophy, team and then hand it off. But you can’t know that until you get in there.
“My original dream was for a little more exclusive of a dining facility. One that was more truly open to the world of Atlanta not through the Garden. But I recognize that wasn’t best for what the Garden needs. The Garden didn’t need a Restaurant Eugene that was an independent operator.
“The only real regret I have is that I shouldn’t have called it Linton’s. I never named anything after myself. That created an operational spilt from the get-go, where people expected me to be there and always cooking, when it was Jason, and it’s always been Jason. But, unfortunately, Jason was hidden behind that name Linton’s.”
Asked about what he has in the works now, Hopkins talked about his new steakhouse, located at The Battery Atlanta, outside the Braves new ball park in Cobb County. And he revealed that it will be called C. Ellett’s.
“We’re full-on with that opening this spring,” Hopkins said. “That’s just a great American steakhouse with seasonal ingredients tied into the American South. “I’m going to bring a bunch of my New Orleans food in there, like barbecue shrimp and gumbo, because I used to cook in New Orleans, but I’ve never really brought a lot of that experience or recipes to any our businesses.”
Hopkins also noted that his partnership with Delta Air Lines is still going strong.
“Delta has been a great partner,” he said. “We do every flight to Europe from Atlanta for the Delta One program. We actually cook all the food and use local artisans from Spotted Trotter to Banner Butter to local farms like Riverview.”
Overall, Hopkins said, his endeavors, from Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch to H&F Burger and Linton’s, have all been in service of his love of good food and drink.
“I want to be able to go to the Garden and have good food” he said. “I want to be able to get on a plane and have a good sandwich and a good beer, like a SweetWater 420. I love that. I do this for my own selfish eating.
“I see my role in the city is being of service to people and organizations that want to develop a relationship with food and beverage. I even helped my neighborhood get better food at the pool. But I didn’t call the concession stand Linton’s.”