If you’re black, how often have you complained about a black owned business? More specifically, a black owned restaurant? Some of my friends apply the same double standard seen throughout the nation in virtually every facet of Black America’s experience by being harsher on black owned restaurants than on non-black owned restaurants that commit the same offense. Ironic since the battle ground that Martin Luther King and his contemporaries used was mostly in the dining areas of various cafes, diners, and restaurants throughout the south.
Cameraman Joe and I ventured to Atlanta to find some of the city’s best black owned restaurants. Sweet Auburn Seafood is most definitely one of them. Located on a street in an area formerly known as Black Wall Street, the restaurant is in the same community that Mr. Alonzo Franklin Herndon, Atlanta’s first black millionaire owned his insurance business. Herndon was the son of a slave woman who founded and was the first president of Atlanta Life Insurance Company. How fitting for Sweet Auburn Seafood to be located just steps from both Atlanta Life Insurance Company and Dr. King’s birth home and entombment?
The first thing you notice approaching the restaurant are the crystal clear windows that provide pedestrians an HD view of the interior of this beautifully designed and decorated restaurant. The space is simply immaculate both inside and out. Greeting guests is a “Mary Poppins” level courteous hostess who asks you to either wait in their spirited waiting area or shows you to your seat. The décor is similar to an upscale steakhouse and includes a flawless bar situated smack dab in the middle of the restaurant for people watching while enjoying a drink.
Mr. Paul Williams, a seasoned restaurant franchise and eatery owner is the proprietor of Sweet Auburn. According to management, Mr. Williams’ motivation for opening Sweet Auburn was a desire to give the community a spot they could be proud of while also supporting Dr. King’s vision of equality; evident with Sweet Auburn’s interracial and inter-generational crowd. I saw a vibrant 80-something woman as well as several beautiful millennial women at the bar. Already a plus because it told me two things: one, it has great food because old people and women are the largest critics of food and service; and two, this place was represented by both these groups in abundance.
The menu is quite eclectic, another bonus. Given that Atlanta is landlocked, it was refreshing to experience a seafood menu with such a wide selection. My first order was the Kale Salad ($9) served with toasted quinoa, strawberries, Gorgonzola cheese, candied walnuts and craisins. The salad was filled with flavor and had both sweet and savory elements, with the sweet being the more dominant. The dressing was a little overpowering at times, so I would definitely ask for lite dressing or to have it served on the side. Aside from that, absolutely no complaints and I would definitely get this salad again.
Our first appetizer was the Bang Bang Shrimp ($11) tossed in Thai dynamite sauce. The shrimp were fried to golden excellence with the accompanying sauce that gave it a nice sweet and spicy kick. The sauce has elements of sriracha and red chili flakes along with a plum sauce or wine which adds the right amount of sweet. Very tasty and hard to share.
Our second appetizer was the Lamb Racks ($12) which were grilled to perfection with strong hints of rosemary. I am particular about lamb and this didn’t disappoint. Each chop was cooked medium plus, with a nice char on the outside giving it an almost clay oven grilled flavor. Again, these are appetizers for one, (unless you’re with your lady, who will nibble every damn thing you order regardless of her order) so order more than one if you’re in a group.
The Seafood Nachos ($16) appetizer was simply fantastic! It came packed with shrimp and lobster sprinkled with sautéed onions and red/green peppers, all married with a slightly spicy cheese sauce. This is a larger, shareable appetizer ideal for a group.
So far, the service was great. The ambiance was grown and sexy and the appetizers were all delicious. Looking at the entrees, I knew things were about to get serious, but I had to be strategic in what I ordered to truly get the upscale seafood experience. Please do not go to places like this and get chicken strips, fries, and other ordinary bull#%$@. You MUST have the real experience.
Our first entrée was the Lobster Pot Pie ($27). A whole lobster tail with potatoes, celery, and carrots baked in an amazing flaky crust. This dish was exactly what I expected. The buttery outside crust with piping hot lobster goodness in a rich creamy sauce bursting with nostalgia and flavor was nothing short of spectacular.
Craving more staple seafood, I ordered the Blackened Salmon ($23) with garlic and herb butter with a side of sautéed spinach. Nothing super special about this, but it was pretty good. If you like salmon and want something simple and straight to the point, then this is the entrée for you.
Craving a little more innovation, I moved on in ordering the Deep-fried Whole Red Snapper with key lime sweet chili sauce ($32) with a side of fresh steamed veggies. OMG! This thing was off the chain. I don’t even like eating fish with bones, but I was willing to risk choking to devour this amazing smelling entrée. The sauce was more than likely the same sauce that came with the Bang Bang Shrimp with a little added flare. The fish was fresh and very meaty. Miamians know their red snapper, believe me. We fish almost every weekend and this spot had a great piece of fish.
For me, this dish was the BEST THING ON THE MENU which says a lot since mostly everything I sampled was good. It actually reminded me of this amazing Thai Restaurant in Miami. Definitely a MUST HAVE! Just be careful not to choke on those fish bones. That s$%@ can get real in no time.
Already satisfied, but wanting to try other entrees to widen my experience, I went lite and ordered the Shrimp and Grits ($22). This was pretty standard with great textured grits. I enjoyed it, but wouldn’t order it if I’m hungry. It leaves you wanting more. Although tasty, it’s short and sweet. You can honestly get this as an appetizer.
Next up was the Stuffed Flounder ($26) which came packed with crab, shrimp, and scallops immersed in a savory cream sauce. No fan of flounder, I found this dish acceptable with its very rich and tasty cream sauce. The crab and shrimp flavors assisted in diminishing the flounder, so that was a plus for me. To be completely honest, this dish would be the quintessential seafood restaurant dish- a go to if you simply can’t decide what you want. It gives you a little taste of everything.
Finally, the desserts! The restaurant has a nice selection of southern inspired desserts we ordered with along with some amazing cocktails. Shameless shout-out –my godson Dikari (one of three) is studying at Bethune Cookman University to become a marketing guru and we celebrated his 21st birthday at Sweet Auburn, while I conducted this review.
When the courteous and attentive server found out, she bought over an amazing Banana Pudding that we ABSOLUTELY LOVED. The desserts range from $8-$10 each. We tried the Salted Caramel Cheesecake, which wasn’t that great. So stick with the other desserts.
The upscale bar has a wide selection of wine, spirits, and beers. The drinks were strong as hell and range from $12-$22. They have a nice list of mixed drinks, but I settled for creating my own with the beautiful bartender who came over to our table on her off time to discuss the nightlife while giving us pointers on what to do and where to go to maximize our Atlanta experience. Honestly, I had a little too many of her creations to remember her name (she was beautiful) or the taste and description of each cocktail. I apologize. What I can tell you is that they were good enough for me and my newly legal godson to drink them all.
We had to Uber everywhere thanks to Sweet Auburn, which is now my go to when I visit Atlanta. It embodies the sophistication and style of the rich history of Auburn Ave while creating a cool and swanky spot for Millennials to chill, celebrate a special occasion or just go out for a phenomenal meal. Sweet Auburn rivals any upscale or semi-fine dining establishment throughout Atlanta. Oh, one last thing. This place has amazing live music! I completely forgot. When we were there, it was this amazing band with a woman singing so soulfully that her voice reminded me of Jill Scott. She was supported by musicians jamming their asses off!
My pride and respect for Mr. Paul Williams and his phenomenal managerial staff is immense. They’ve created an amazing restaurant this Hungry Black Man is extremely proud of.