We have a few places around town that are comforting favorites. One of those spots is Brian Lewis’s Bocado with the talented David Durnell behind the bar. Another is across the street at Octane coffee bar. So imagine our delight when we were invited to explore the new brunch menu at Brian Lewis’s second restaurant, STG Trattoria in Buckhead, named using the initials of his children Sebastian, Tristan, and Gabriel. With a cocktail menu by David Durnell, our favorite former Octane barista Paul manning the bar, and chef Josh Hopkins as the mastermind of the kitchen, there is just no way to go wrong.
From the moment you drive up to STG, you know you are in for something special. However, the sleek warehouse exterior and patio belie the warm, inviting atmosphere that washes over you when you open the door. You are led through a tunnel of golden light surrounded by an excellent selection of wines from floor to ceiling on either side on your way to the inviting host desk. Sounds like heaven already doesn’t it? About half way in, you pass a window into the small bar and receive a welcoming smile and nod from Paul. But, before you begin to feel that you’re entering a Disney version of wine cellar, STG opens into a modern space that manages to be welcoming and cutting edge at the same time. The large open space is a beautiful combination of earth tones and steel with a smattering of tables and booths within sight of the two open kitchens. The view of the space is especially commanding from the centerpiece of the restaurant, a high-top communal table.
But what about the food you ask? Be patient. We’ll get there. First the cocktails…
An Amaro Cocktail Paradise
Durnell has carefully crafted a cocktail menu that is amaro-based. For those of you yet to experience this gift of the gods, amaros are Italian herbal liqueurs commonly drunk as an after-dinner digestif. But at STG, they have composed a menu that is creative, approachable, challenging, and refreshing. Durnell’s creations embrace the earthy flavors of Italian amaros and he has blended them into interesting takes on classics as well as unique new concoctions.
Sicilian Dog – Millers gin, Combier grapefruit, Cynar, citrus, sea salt
I loved this recipe of David’s that goes by a different name at Bocado. A riff on a Salty Dog, this cocktail has the advantage of the added amaro Cynar for a touch of bitterness that matches the bitterness of the grapefruit in the Combier’s Grapefruit. A favorite on the menu, the Sicilian Dog is easy to enjoy and was an excellent complement to the pizza (don’t worry, we’ll get there).
Barolo Ginger – Cocchi Barolo Chinato, lemon, Fee Brothers grapefruit bitters, Fever Tree Ginger Ale, lemon peel
I love Barolo Chinato Cocchi. Its infusion of cardamom, rhubarb, gentian root, and Chinese Calissaja give this wine a beautiful bittersweet taste that when blended with ginger ale becomes a fabulous refreshing drink. The grapefruit bitters and lemon round out the edges.
STG Bloody Mary – house-made hickory smoked vodka, Amaro Zucca, house Bloody Mary mix, hot cherry pepper
First of all, I do not drink Bloody Marys. Period. I made an exception here and was so glad I did. The herbal notes of the Amaro Zucca and the smoky flavor of the house-smoked vodka take the STG version of this brunch classic to a new level. The natural flavors were not overwhelmed by peppery spices as in other Bloody Marys. It was complex, but not overpowering. This drink is a perfect compliment to the savory dishes on the menu such as the baked eggs and the oven-roasted duck. Make sure you enjoy the pickled veggies that garnish the drink. Yum.
Mimosa – Aperol, orange, grapefruit bitters, Prosecco, citrus zest
Wonderful surprise! A mimosa with a bitter edge! The Aperol creates an interesting flavor with the Prosecco. Grapefruit bitters shine through and add to a slight bitter aftertaste instead of the typical sweet tones of a traditional Mimosa.
Long Reviver – Beefeater gin, Cocchi Americano, Suze, celery bitters, bitter lemon soda, lemon peel, spritz of St. George Absinthe
This is an interesting variation of a Corpse Reviver. The aroma of the absinthe spritz across the top of the drink is fairly strong; however, there is no real flavor, just the lovely aroma. There are strong citrus notes, but the highlight is the savory taste of the celery bitters. This is not a cocktail for everyone, but it may have been a favorite for me. It is quite unique and truly savory, which makes it a great pairing cocktail for much of the menu.
These are just highlights of the brunch cocktail menu and the full menu offers even more tempting Amaro cocktails. I see another visit coming soon.
Brunch with An Italian Twist
Joshua Hopkins, formerly of Bacchanalia and Abattoir, was named by Esquire magazine as one of the country’s four chefs to watch. What is he bringing to the kitchen of STG? His specialty charcuterie of course! He is also creating spectacular pizzas (three of which are on the brunch menu), utilizing the two wood-fired Acunto ovens shipped from Naples.
What was exciting for us was Chef Hopkins desire to explore gluten-free pizzas for STG. As a celiac, it is so hard to visit Antico or Double Zero and pass up their famed pies. Having Chef Hopkins experiment on us was a treat. Not only was our pizza gluten-free, but the entire tasting we enjoyed was as well. So what did we have?
Oven roasted duck hash, farm egg, and arugula
I won’t even let it be a surprise. This dish was perfect and absolutely my favorite. The hash is a combination of shredded duck meat, potatoes, and peppers in a smoky sauce redolent of fall. It’s topped with a lightly fried egg and crisp, peppery arugula. The arugula is the perfect offset to cut the richness of the egg and duck and add crispness to the smoky flavors. Although we tasted other dishes, I kept coming back to this one. I recommend ordering two – one for brunch and one to go. Just saying.
Oven baked eggs, prosciutto & sausage Bolognese, and white beans
This is another dish perfect for this time of year. While not as smoky as the duck hash, it definitely had an element of fall with the pairing of a delicious Bolognese sauce with sausage, soft boiled egg, and white beans. The staff of STG told us this is one of the most popular dishes at the restaurant and I can see why.
Shrimp and calamari, polenta, pancetta, cherry tomatoes, and basil
I’ve had my share of shrimp and grits, but this is no ordinary rendition. This dish is completely reinterpreted with perfectly cooked seafood, pancetta, roasted cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil lovingly topping creamy polenta. The surprise drizzle of squid ink adds a lovely flavor that balances the other elements of the dish.
Gluten-free (GF) Margherita pizza
Next came the star of our brunch, the GF Margherita pizza. While STG has already gained a reputation for its regular pizzas, this was Chef Hopkins first attempt with GF dough. Most GF dough is served extremely thin and comes with a distinct aftertaste, but Hopkins’s crust was thicker and chewier much like a typical whole wheat crust. There was no aftertaste at all, but the thicker crust tended to overwhelm the delicate taste of the fresh tomato, basil, and mozzarella pizza. This could be addressed with a slight increase in the amount of toppings. In any case, STG’s GF pizzas would be a welcome addition to the full menu and provide celiacs a choice just as good as their regular pizza.
Budino – chocolate terrine with macerated strawberries and ricotta cheese
Our final dish was what else, dessert? And what a dessert it was! Budino is dense chocolate terrine served with macerated strawberries. If that’s not enough to make you happy, it’s finished with ricotta, a sprinkle of sea salt, and a touch of olive oil. While this may seem unusual, the final result is a perfectly balanced dessert that manages to be decadent without a cloyingly sweet flavor.
It’s rare to find a place that provides delicious food, excellent cocktails, an inviting atmosphere, and gracious staff (thanks Josh and Hilary!), but STG Trattoria is that exception. Although perfect anytime, we highly recommend you check out their brunch especially with the holidays upon us. Who doesn’t need a place to impress visiting family and friends or better yet escape them?
102 West Paces Ferry Road NE
Atlanta, GA 30305