First Look: Beetlecat

Ford Fry's newest serves up seaside nostalgia in Inman Park

Wednesday March 9, 2016 04:00 am EST

Like the small wooden pleasure boat it's named after, two-month-old Beetlecat in Inman Park has a couple guises. Just as some see the wooden dinghy as a piece of nautical bric-a-brac, others see a classic vessel with the cachet of the Kennedys. Between its main dining room upstairs and a separate lounge downstairs, Beetlecat's twofold dining room approach allows patrons to customize their experience.

Jutting out from the corner of the new Inman Quarter development, Ford Fry's 10th Atlanta restaurant has a pristine white façade, huge booth-to-ceiling windows, and dangling signage that spells B-e-e-t-l-e-c-a-t. Inside, the restaurant's nautical décor reflects yet another chapter of Fry's life experiences, a trend that seems to be at the heart of most new restaurants he unveils. Rope wraps around columns, sails float from the ceiling, and the flooring resembles a yacht deck. A huge oyster bar anchors the space with comfy blue captain's chairs and a view of metal baskets filled with ice and fresh oysters. Toward the back of the restaurant, there is a large wood-burning oven for roasting fish and shellfish.

Wandering below deck, down a stairwell that always has some sea-inspired flick playing on the wall, feels like stepping back in time. If you grew up in the '70s or '80s, the kitschy décor will give you flashbacks: wood paneling, hooked rug art on the wall, a bar with a Formica-looking top, and shelves of board games.

Beetlecat's menu is the same for both up and downstairs. Executive chef Andrew Isabella — an avid fisherman and Florida native — incorporates global influences such as miso and Thai herbs throughout Beetlecat's small plates- and seafood-centric menu. (The restaurant is also open for lunch on Fridays. Expect a modest selection of rolls, fried lunch boxes, sandwiches, and chowder.)

The plate of hamachi crudo ($9) finds thin segments of the mild fish mingling with a vibrant cranberry sauce, slivers of jalapeño, radish, and teensy balls of tart green apple. There are at least a dozen types of raw oysters available nightly. Three Kumamotos ($14) came topped with a slushie of pickled red onion, adding a cool crispness to the oysters' minerality. Another raw dish, sliced salmon ($10) served with lightly smoked roe, yogurt, dill, and buttery rye crumbles, was like a deconstructed bagel.

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From the Shellfish section of the menu, large steamed hog clams ($13) are tossed in lime juice and draped with pickled shallot ribbons, Thai chilies, and avocado. Served with crisp taro chips for scooping, the dish is like a decadent sea version of guacamole. Meaty crab claws ($15) drenched in aromatic ginger curry are tricky to eat, but worth the mess. Thick chunks of tender lobster with a scant amount of aioli sandwiched between a hamburger bun make up the $23 lobster roll. It's plenty big for the price.

The larger, more expensive menu items are listed in the Fin Fish section. Skate wing ($32) is lightly fried (watch out for bones) and served with lettuce wraps, pickled veggies, and a bright ponzu sauce. The tangy, buttery moqueca stew ($11) is filled with melt-in-your-mouth fish, yucca, plaintains, and cilantro in a silky coconut broth.

Rocket Farm beverage director Lara Creasy created Beetlecat's cocktails, which tend to emulate the beachy, retro drinks of the '70s and '80s. There are four listed, but the bar is abundant with spirits and talent. The Long Island Punch ($8) is as dangerous and delicious as the Long Island Iced teas of yore. You can order a Sea Breeze ($9) fancied up with rhubarb bitters. They stir a beautiful Manhattan, as well. All you have to do is ask. The wine list is short, made up of a few varietals (on tap) chosen to pair well with seafood and spice, especially the three bubbly versions. There are six beers on draft, half are locally made.

Dessert is a simple matter. Get the perfect coconut pie ($7) or go for another round of oysters. Maybe the Charleston salts ($2.70) quivering in a deep cup holding their briny liqueur. Who says dessert has to be sweet? After all, "The ship is yours" is what is painted on the window front.

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