The Locavore: Speakeasy
Atop Einstein Bagels on East Broad Street sits Speakeasy, poised overlooking North Campus. It is easily recognizable by the bright blue sign above the door, or the ever-changing specials board marked with words of wit and wisdom; but, after just one dining experience, it is plain to see the lofted hideaway is much more. For 15 years, Speakeasy has towered above the streets of downtown Athens and created a unique dining experience that has set it apart from other restaurants and bars alike. Luckily for me, I had the distinct pleasure of looking deeper into the culture behind Speakeasy through the eyes of chef and certified nice guy Mitchell Cintron, who shed incandescent light on all things cooking, coordination, and community.
One of the many fascinations causing people to gravitate toward Speakeasy is in the name itself. Between the menu and the people, an authentic atmosphere captures the time period from which its name is derived. Speakeasy has created a brand for itself, which is to say, “it’s based on a classic 1920s, 1930s prohibition style menu. That’s why it is mostly smaller plates—because it is bar food that’s easier to eat and if something happened, you could pick it up and take it with you,” Mitchell explains. Luckily, guests have no need to rush out anymore; with an impeccable cocktail menu and an extensive wine list, people are reminded to be thankful the Prohibition is over. Mitchell further describes the Speakeasy philosophy for cooking as “taking world food and making it like we would in Georgia.” They work to adapt their menu to the ingredients they have access to; Mitchell gives an example, “we can’t get tomatillos in Georgia, but we do have green tomatoes.” Their specialization is manipulating their ingredients to put a southern twist on world foods, and I can confidently say that it is working well for them.
As the leaves are just beginning to fall and autumn approaches with little hesitation, the kitchen staff has prepared a menu that not only coordinates with the weather, but stands out. Mitchell suggests that a colder climate calls for a “slightly hotter, little more hefty, stick to your ribs kind of food,” which is exactly the kind of dishes you can expect to see on the autumn menu. Cintron revealed the “shrimp n’ grits” as a highlight of the new menu, explaining, “it is the one dish that I think people see on the menu and realize they’ve liked versions of it, but they’ve never really had one that stood out.” I took the liberty of taste testing this hearty dish—in the name of journalism, of course—and stand out, it does! Although the new fall menu may be set in stone, there are weekly changes in the autumn soup and salad, varying from a unique French onion to a divine tomato. Speakeasy continues to prove they have the ability to put their own spin on classic dishes that will leave your mouth watering.
Speakeasy’s testimony to the local movement is undeniably one of truth. Mitchell was happy to explain the logic of eating local, insisting that it is “doing as much as you can out of Georgia.” The value of eating local stretches further than supporting small businesses; for talented local chefs such as Cintron, it “gives you an idea of what you have. All forms of cooking use the things that are around them.” More personally, Mitchell enjoys eating local for “the love of doing the job itself.” The reward he gets from shopping locally grown foods is presenting a dish composed of fresh ingredients straight from the farmer’s market. In three hours, an ingredient may go from the farmer’s market stands to a dish shared at a table for two by the window.