Billed as “a chef-driven gastropub,” Public School is a California-born restaurant and bar from Grill Concepts restaurant group (the Grill on the Alley, Daily Grill, In Short Order, Point, the Ritz).
The newest, Public School 404, which officially opened today at the Brady complex on Howell Mill Road on Atlanta’s Westside, is part of a nationwide expansion, with each location branded by its area code.
The PS tagline, “An education in the art of food and beer,” signals a focus on craft beer, with a rotating list of eight local drafts out of 16 total updated on “Today’s Curriculum,” along with beer flights, craft cocktails and wine by the glass or bottle.
Both the casual atmosphere and hearty food offer playful takes on drinking and dining with nods to schoolroom days, including a menu disguised as a composition book.
Last week, Grill Concepts’ executive vice president of culinary, Phil Kastel, was at PS 404 helping the kitchen team get up to speed during the soft opening.
“The overall concept originated in Los Angeles about six years ago,” Kastel said. “What happened is we were trying to create a gastropub. Something fun. Something for everybody. And the name, Public School, kind of led us in that direction.
“We focus on having a seasonal menu. We change the menu about four times a year, though there are some staples that stay around all year. We pride ourselves on serving local beer and keeping things fresh and energetic with the food.”
Like many of Kastel’s signature PS dishes, chicken and waffles and shrimp and grits take a few twists and turns away from the standard versions.
“For the chicken and waffles, we do a savory cornbread waffle with roasted green chiles and grilled corn wrapped in aged cheddar cheese,” Kastel said. “Then we top it with three pieces of brined and lightly battered fried chicken and serve it with bacon redeye gravy and maple syrup.
“Yes, I know we are in Atlanta, and you can find shrimp and grits at a lot of places. But we do a pan-fried grit cake, very similar to a polenta cake, and we top the shrimp with bacon and greens, blistered tomatoes and grilled corn. What’s really different, though, is our beer-blanc sauce, which is like a classic French beurre blanc butter sauce made with wheat beer.”
Closer to California-style items on the menu include ahi tuna poke with pickled cucumbers, passion fruit ponzu sauce and taro chips, and the C.C.B., a loaded chicken burger that Kastel describes as a “hand-held Cobb salad on a bun.”
In addition to the all-day menu, PS 404 serves brunch on Saturdays, with the likes of a smothered breakfast burrito, a chef’s special stuffed French toast, and eggs Benedict pizza. And from 3-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, there’s “recess” featuring discounted snacks and pizzas.
“Recess is our version of happy hour, with appetizer specials,” Kastel said. “We noticed that a lot of restaurants here close between lunch and dinner, so we’re staying open and offering a place for people to meet and hang out.
“We also have games, including darts, life-size Jenga and Connect Four. This is really a fun environment, and it’s not a huge space, so the energy kind of goes everywhere.”
930 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta. 404-817-0984, psontap.com/locations/ps404.
More images from a First Look at Public School 404