Chef Ford Fry is a Houston native who graduated from the New England Culinary Institute. He has served as a fine-dining chef in Texas, Florida, California, and Colorado, but he chose Atlanta and its environs as the place to build his empire. And he’s done quite a job at that. It all started with JCT Kitchen & Bar, but the chef now has seven restaurants, and it’s The Optimist (named for a children’s dinghy), an exemplary seafood-centric spot in this landlocked city, headed by Fry along with executive chef Adam Evans, that most enchanted this year’s panelists. It’s a modern, roomy space that seats at least 180, with an impressive bar that serves a dozen different kinds of oysters, from New Brunswick Fancy Sweets to Washington Shigokus.
Standout dishes include the duck fat-poached swordfish with crispy pork belly, Florida strawberries, pickled red onion, and basil, and the beer-battered cod with crispy potatoes and malt vinegar aïoli. Of course, at this point, the basmati “fried rice” (smoked fish, curry, peanuts, cilantro, and egg) and the frothy she-crab soup with shrimp toast have become buzzed-about bellwethers. And then there’s the six-ounce, two-patty, skirt-steak-trimming burgers, ground with frozen butter and served with caramelized onions and tangy remoulade (available during lunch only).
— Arthur Bovino, 101 Best Restaurants, April 1, 2015