First Look: French meets Southern at Petit Chou in Cabbagetown

Petit Chou Chicken Liver Mousse with house preserves, toast, radishes, cornichons, pink lady apples, and Turmeric Strawberry Limeade./ Photo credit: Mia Yakel.

Petit Chou, which recently opened on Memorial Drive at the edge of Cabbagetown, is billed as “French Southern Style.”

And that certainly evokes the simple but surprisingly visual cooking of executive chef Diana Presson Eller, who’s been a longtime fixture on the Atlanta restaurant scene.

The combination coffee shop and bistro has a distinctive neighborhood presence, with a look and feel that’s attracting curious eaters and caffeine junkies from far and wide.

But the original concept from owners Ron Fisher and his daughter and wife Lindsay and Sara Van Beck evolved over several years, culminating in a rustic-modern space filled with wood and metal materials repurposed from the old Eyedrum Gallery and other nearby sites.

Petit Chou general manager Jennifer Vontillius making drinks behind the bar. Photo credit- Mia Yakel.

The convivial hub of the dining room is a huge rectangular bar, where a busy barista works the espresso machine, and servers stir up botanical-tinged house-made sodas and other drinks dreamed up by general manager Jennifer Vontillius.

Eller’s breakfast-to-lunch menu, served daily from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., features locally sourced free-range eggs, dairy and produce, plus pastries and house-made jams.

A signature dish is the Cabbagetown Breakfast Bowl, built with grits topped with Tillamook Farms sharp cheddar, a choice of bacon, ham or sausage, a poached egg, dressed arugula and tomato concasse.

As Eller notes on the lunch menu, “I take sandwiches very seriously,” and one proof of that is the Sarah-Witch, a “Southern baguette” layered with a sweet and savory mix of Brie, pink lady apples, shaved ham, arugula and house preserves.

Last week, Eller and Vontillius sat down for a talk at a picnic table on the airy covered porch at Petit Chou, which looks out on the restaurant’s neatly landscaped cottage garden.

Petit Chou executive chef Diana Presson Eller (left) and general manager Jennifer Vontillius (right). Photo credit- Mia Yakel.

“I think this is the seventh restaurant I’ve helped open, so I’ve become extremely methodical about getting the process going,” Eller said. “Most recently, I opened Kafenio in College Park. Before that, I helped open Pallookaville in Avondale.

“But my mother was a restaurateur, and I helped her open her restaurant in Huntsville, Ala., which was upscale Mediterranean. My mother was trained as a French chef, and I grew up with French food and a lot of classic technique.”

Eller said that background, along with moving to the South when she was younger, form the two sides of her food sensibility.

“What we do here is kind of the culmination of all my experience,” she said. “Moving to the South and really appreciating all of the ingredients and food tradition here, it all just came together as this French-meets-Southern cuisine.

“But really, this is my comfort zone. This is what I like to eat. And I enjoy every bit of hospitality and feeding people, so this is sort of what I would serve if I were having a party at home. I want everyone to feel at home and relaxed.”

Along with that, Eller said there are plans for dinner service sometime in the future, and a full bar and beverage program, with beer, wine and cocktails crafted by Vontillius.

“We’ll be taking our craft sodas and turning them into cocktails,” Vontillius said. “A lot of the flavors that I play with now are leaning toward being paired with gin or other spirits.

“I also like playing with things that are healthful. Some of the ingredients that I use are apple cider vinegar, fresh ginger and turmeric, so it’s things that heighten your health and your mood at the same time.”

Most of all, Eller said the ultimate goal is to create a friendly place that people will want to frequent on a regular basis.

“What we’re doing here with the bistro and cafe concept, and having it be a neighborhood space, is that your barista or bartender is somebody that you know and want to have a conversation with,” she said. “And from that, they’ll get to know you and what you like.”

662 Memorial Drive SE, Atlanta. 470-270-8996, petitchouatl.com.

More images from a First Look at Petit Chou in Cabbagetown

The Sarah-Witch with”Southern baguette,” brie, Beech Creek pink lady apples, shaved ham, arugula and house preserves. Photo credit- Mia Yakel.

Croque Madame, grilled ham and cheese, with dijon and gruyere, topped with a poached egg. Photo credit- Mia Yakel.

Boursin and Avocado Toast, with sprouted whole wheat toast, house boursin, avocado, dressed local greens and a poached egg. Photo credit- Mia Yakel.

Petit Chou Turmeric Strawberry Limeade (left) and Sparkling Mint Lemonade (right). Photo credit- Mia Yakel.

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