Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Spectacular Menu Reflects Many Cultures

“Umami…is the quasi-secret heart and soul of almost every braise, stew, and soup.”
                                             Michael Pollan

By Doc Lawrence

Chef Calvin Phan with Malika Bowling
ATLANTA. Just a few blocks north of Mary Mac’s, arguably Georgia’s best-known restaurant, Poor Calvin’s restaurant sits quietly along Piedmont Avenue. Billed as “absolute fusion,” a claim immediately backed up, it is a testament to the dynamic evolution of the area’s population and resulting elevation of food expectations and good dining options.

Walk inside for the first time and step into a scene from The Quiet American, Graham Greene’s classic novel about Vietnam of long ago. Fusion at Poor Calvin’s means food with a broad culinary cultural brush: Asia meets America’s Deep South.

Accompanied by the distinguished food writer Malika Bowling (who introduced me to the joy of dining here), lunch became an epicurean journey where menu items required careful consideration of wines and cocktails. While the menu represents fusion, the wine and cocktail offering was geared to fit the dishes, or serve the traditional function as an aperitif or thirst quencher.

Chef and owner, Calvin Phan took time to discuss ingredients, particularly batter used in the fried items and herds and spices added to various dishes. A deep-south staple, fried chicken glowed golden brown suggesting a lighter version than what you would expect at Mary Mac’s. “We batter with our version of tempura,” Chef Calvin revealed, thus Asian flavors appear “because we added our herbs and spices.”

Umami works best when a well-managed kitchen honors the amazing flavor potential. Predictably, it manifests in the food served at Poor Calvin’s, reflecting in a way the Chef’s journey from Vietnam and Germany to Atlanta with a few years serving his food in the wonderful South Georgia city of Statesboro.  Knowing this, you’d reasonably expect masterful blending of food cultures. It can be tricky, but for Poor Calvin’s it is effortless.

The eclectic assortment of dishes isn’t intimidating. Chef Calvin woos diners with depth of flavors accompanied by a presentation worthy of the most accomplished food stylists. The menu features dishes with French, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, New Zealand and several with Georgia farm connections. The wines are diverse and appear selected with the customer in mind.

Perhaps it is obligatory to consider the totality of the restaurant experience in arriving at any conclusion regarding the level of excellence. The wines available should be part of the equation. Riesling works almost perfectly with the omnipresent but subtle umami-inspired flavors, and the by-the glass offering of an Oregon Riesling stated that the wines are selected based on relevance to the food served. Additional wines on the list would work well. You can’t go wrong with sparkling wine and the Gruet Brut Rosé from the renowned New Mexico winery will make you forget Champagne.

The balanced menu incorporating the Southern kitchen traditions with global culinary adventures stimulates the imagination and the appetite. The jumbo lump crab cake. lobster macaroni and cheese, lemongrass steamed mussels plus the beef satay dutifully satisfied two diners on a steamy Dog Day afternoon. The outcome was a delightful experience where good food prepared and served by a well-trained staff was equal to expectations.

Location means as much in the restaurant world as is does with retail stores. Poor Calvin’s is very close to the Fabulous Fox and Emory’s midtown medical facility. Georgia Tech is in the neighborhood and Turner Field is an easy drive for Braves fans. For locals and visitors who eschew fast food or inconvenient dining options, Poor Calvin’s will be a rewarding choice. Like a rare gemstone, it represents today’s Atlanta while previewing the restaurants that remain in dreams.

Poor Calvin’s
510 Piedmont Ave.
Atlanta, GA 30308
(404) 254.4051


  1. Very nice! I would like to try this restaurant next time I am in Atlanta!

  2. Excellent to have a new notion next visit to Atlanta. Thank you Doc.