When Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall owner Michael Lennox opened Muchacho on Oct. 16, it was already a hot topic on the Atlanta dining scene.
Serving up coffee and “California cuisine,” and sporting a sunny Los Angeles look that stirred up a bit of controversy among some Reynoldstown neighbors, the tidy counter service space on Memorial Drive occupies the front of a former railroad depot that was most recently home to H. Harper Station.
But Lennox’s master plan for the build-out includes an expansive patio next to an upcoming section of the Beltline’s Eastside Trail.
And just behind the back wall of Muchacho, a second, more ambitious concept, Golden Eagle Diner’s Club, will open on Oct. 30, serving a retro menu focused on cocktails and “throwback continental classics, such as garlic knots, crab Rangoon, and charbroiled oysters.”
“This place took on a life of its own,” Lennox said. “I think I convinced myself that it was going to be simpler and quicker and more straightforward than it ended up. This is in an awesome building in an awesome location, but it’s long and narrow and we needed to address the layout.
“Day one, looking at the space, I thought we should try to turn it into two concepts. It makes it a more intimate space for Golden Eagle and gives us something interesting at the front of the building for the daytime with Muchacho.”
Speaking to concerns about the design, which included painting the building’s exterior brick walls and erecting panels to screen the patio, Lennox said he was surprised by the level of the reaction.
“It was not ever my intent to ruffle feathers or provoke some sort of public backlash,” he said. “If you look around downtown Atlanta, in places like Little Five Points and Virginia-Highland, you’re going to see a ton of painted brick, and it doesn’t seem to get much attention. To me, the focus should be on what we’re doing food- and beverage-wise.”
As far as the Muchacho menu, Lennox said that Mexican tacos and Southern California cooking were among his first thoughts.
“We’ve stayed pretty tuned into what’s happening in other parts of the country, and it seems like the style of food coming out of the West Coast right now fits the bill, as far as being colorful and fresh, and relatively healthy and affordable,” he said. “This menu is stuff that all of us on the team enjoy eating all of the time.”
Lennox’s ideas for the food at both Muchacho and Golden Eagle are being brought to life by culinary director Taria Camerino — a longtime Atlanta chef known for her pastries and work at Sugar Coated Radical, Ford Fry Restaurants and Resurgens Hospitality.
Camerino’s offerings at Muchacho include tacos, toast, and grain and poke bowls. She’s making corn and flour tortillas and all of the bread in-house. And on display in the cases at the counter, you’ll find a variety of sweets, pastries and even some savory items.
“I have a strong pastry background, but for the past five years or so, I’ve been traveling and studying the savory side,” Camerino said. “And one of the things I really enjoy is concept development and menus. It’s not about it being my menu. It’s about it being the menu.
“You would kind of think the menu here is all over the place, and yet, it’s not. It’s about being fast and really, really flavorful. We picked things that we can make quickly, that are really filling, but with super flavors.”
On the pastry side, Camerino said she’s taking an international approach, with influences from Mexican, Latin American, Asian and even Hawaiian bakeries.
“So far, the biggest seller is the guava pasteles,” she said. “I’ve been making those for years, and everyone loves them. But we’re making pan de coco filled with custard and coconut, sticky buns with anise and cardamon, and savory items that are grab and go like a Medianoche sandwich.”
904 Memorial Drive SE, Atlanta. 404-748-9254, muchachoatl.com.
More images from a First Look at Muchacho