Hours: 5-9 p.m. Thursday through Thursday and 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday
Address: 5510 Church St., Flowery Branch
Phone number: 770-965-8100
Website: antebellumrestaurant.com; reservations can be made at opentable.com.
When Larry Lokey goes to Antebellum, he knows he will receive a meal he loves.
Lokey knows this from each dining experience he has ever had at the contemporary Southern restaurant in downtown Flowery Branch.
Before his first visit to Antebellum, Lokey didn’t like eating salmon. But Antebellum owner and chef Nicholas St. Clair’s version changed his mind.
Lokey, a former Braselton resident, said he licked the plate. But that wasn’t the only dish deserving that kind of treatment. He did the same for the lamb.
And Lokey and his family aren’t the only ones who love the South Hall restaurant. Antebellum was recently named one of the top 100 restaurants in America as voted by Opentable.com diners.
The website Opentable.com connects diners and restaurants and features restaurant reviews. Diners also may make reservations through the site.
“I think it’s absolutely deserved,” Lokey said of the restaurant’s award. “I’m so glad (for Nicholas), because he’s just got something so unique going on there at Antebellum that he deserves to be recognized.”
The Lokeys first visited Antebellum six months after it opened in June 2012. It quickly became one of their favorites. And St. Clair’s ability to pair flavors is almost indescribable.
“He’s a culinary genius,” Lokey said. “He knows how to put stuff together to wow and dazzle.”
Those at Opentable.com apparently agreed. Only two restaurants in Georgia earned the distinction in 2016: Antebellum and Bones, an Atlanta steakhouse. It was the second time in three years Antebellum received the honor.
In 2016, Antebellum was also the only restaurant in the state to be recognized by Opentable.com as a top 100 restaurant in America for foodies.
“It’s pretty amazing because there’s so many restaurants on Opentable and a lot of the restaurants are very high-end restaurants,” St. Clair said. “To win the award two times of the last three years is incredible.”
St. Clair opened Antebellum five years ago with his wife, Alison, who is the general manager. He said they got a great deal on the building but weren’t sure it was going to work out at the time.
“Looking back on it, I still get the chills,” he said. “Like, what were we thinking?”
Since then, it has evolved. The couple incorporated ideas from other high-end restaurants in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles into their own business. For example, the staff gives special attention to restrooms by maintaining a high level of cleanliness. Other small touches are added such as decorating cookies with ribbons.
But most of the focus is on the food. St. Clair describes it as a balance between traditional Southern cooking and contemporary American food.
“We pay due to the classics, but we also try to reinvent classics and try to come in and reinvent ourselves daily,” St. Clair said. “We use American ingredients as well as the traditional Southern ingredients.”
The menu at Antebellum changes every few months. But the restaurant in the historic district of Flowery Branch keeps a handful of staples such as a fried green tomato, made with bacon jam, brioche, fried egg, hot sauce and mimosa ice. It is a very popular dish, St. Clair said.
And he gives each dish special attention to ensure the diners feel special, too.
“My favorite thing about being a chef is how you make people feel and the pleasure you’re able to give them through food,” St. Clair said. “I think that’s the most fun part.”
St. Clair has been working in kitchens about 20 years. He went to pastry school at Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, Calif., with the idea of teaching culinary, not opening his own restaurant.
“I ended up taking a chef job (in California) and the heavens opened,” he said. “The restaurant was losing money, and we were able to flip it around. It was magic. Everything went right. People loved it. We were able to turn it around in less than a year and I think I just got that bug.”
From there, St. Clair said once he tasted the freedom of running his own kitchen, it was hard to give up. Then the couple moved to Atlanta to be closer to Alison’s family. After two years, the St. Clairs opened Antebellum to let Nicholas run his own establishment and satisfy his love of cooking.
St. Clair said he used to read a lot of books about cooking hoping someday it would pay off. It worked.
“Just giving yourself an education and being a creative person, I just kind of make things happen,” he said of his approach in the kitchen.
And Lokey, who moved to Florida in 2016, misses those creative dishes of St. Clair’s.
“I cannot say enough good things about (St. Clair),” Lokey said.