Lonely Planet Writer

America's best restaurant is on a humanitarian mission in Atlanta

Bon Appetit magazine recently named Atlanta’s Staplehouse the best restaurant in America but in addition to remarkable food, the restaurant also has a mission to assist food service workers coping with unexpected crises.

The Staplehouse.
The Staplehouse. Image by Andrew Thomas Lee

The restaurant honours the vision of chef Ryan Hidinger who passed away while the restaurant was in its planning stages. Ryan and his wife Jen, who now runs the restaurant, got their start in the Atlanta dining scene by hosting underground dinners at their home in the historic Grant Park neighborhood. They were busy planning Staplehouse when Ryan was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and the close-knit restaurant community rallied around Ryan to raise $275,000 to help with expenses. Jen said both she and Ryan realised that the fundraising needed to expand and continue to help other restaurant workers in similar situations. That led to the birth of The Giving Kitchen, the non-profit organisation that provides the emergency assistance grants to metro Atlanta restaurant workers and eventually to Staplehouse, its for-profit subsidiary

To book a table, prospective diners pay a deposit of $20 each. In the event of a last minute cancellation or a no-show, the deposit goes directly to The Giving Kitchen. Staplehouse’s after-tax profits go toward supporting the Kitchen’s mission.

Offerings like this helped get the Staplehouse the title of America's best restaurant.
The food at the Staplehouse. Image by Andrew Thomas Lee

As you can imagine, reservations are hard to get in America’s best restaurant. Bookings for September are virtually sold out and October reservations aren’t yet available (although the Staplehouse website says walk-ins are always welcome at the bar.)

So far diners have been more than willing to book in advance. Chef Ryan Smith (Jen and Ryan’s brother-in-law) has been collecting accolades since the restaurant opened in 2015 for his balance of flavours and creativity. The cyclical menu offers new twists on seasonal delights such as a chicken liver tart with dandelion greens, blue crab claw with brown maple mayo and lemon dressing, house made “puffs” and deserts like pistachio financier. In April, Atlanta magazine gave  its first four-star review in six years to the restaurant and encouraged readers to experience the menu – even if they had to get on a plane to do it.

The Staplehouse at night.
The Staplehouse at night. Image by Andrew Thomas Lee.

Even with the praise, awards, good works and a full dining room nearly every night, Staplehouse tries to stay true to its original vision of serving good food in a friendly setting. “We hope you’ll feel like a guest in our family’s home,” Jen says in a note on the website. “We want to offer you an experience … And we’re doing it all for a cause we care deeply about.”