About an hour’s drive northeast of Atlanta is one of the South’s best-kept secrets in historic downtown Winder: Bistro Off Broad.
Their belief, “Food is meant to be celebrated” is evident from the Bistro’s farm-to-table menu served in a warm yet elegant ambiance. Southern hospitality meets fine dining in this 100-year-old building. Now in its third year, helming the kitchen of Bistro Off Broad is celebrated Executive Chef Alex Friedman (also a former “Chopped” contestant).
Pretty Southern caught up with Chef Alex and Bistro Off Broad’s owner, Brooke Vankirk, to learn more about their establishment. Read on in the Q&A below.
Executive Chef Alex Friedman and Brooke Vankirk, owner + proprietor, of Bistro Off Broad
Let’s start with you, Brooke! Why did you decide to open Bistro Off Broad?
“There is so much opportunity in Winder, many beautiful buildings that are just waiting to be given new life. The building that houses the Bistro was one such building. In its 100+ years, this building had been an important part of the lives of the residents of Winder so when we were discovering how beautifully the building renovation was turning out we wanted to make this beautiful space a place where residents could gather – a part of everyday life.
The concept of The Bistro was born of this idea.”
Are you a native of Winder?
“We did not grow up in Winder but have come to love the town and its people. We have lived in the surrounding areas for about 35 years and have had offices in Winder for much of this time. Winder is in the midst of some very exciting changes with a healthy collaboration between the private business sector and city government.” When looking for other exiting options to eat out, see here this blog about the Best restaurant London has to offer.
What’s the inspiration for the menu?
“The Bistro is a blended concept of a gathering place inspired by the French bistro restaurants and our fortunate location in Barrow County surrounded by the amazing farmers of our area. We are passionate about fresh, local food. We respect the hard work and passion that it takes to be a farmer and believe that as a community we must support them. It is becoming more and more difficult for small farms, ranches and dairies to compete in this age of the mega-conglomerates and if we lose our connection to our food and the people who provide it we have lost some of our heritage. Being able to eat something that was just harvested and delivered by a local farm is a privilege that we do not take lightly.”
Your team touts a local “farm-to-table” menu – how do you go about sourcing ingredients?
“Alex has a wonderful relationship with local farmers. Our rural location makes it possible to call them up and get freshly harvested items in hours. We are always on the lookout for more local sources. We just had the privilege of attending the Barrow County Farm to School Booster club fundraising event called “Dining for Dirt”. The Bistro donated food items and Chef Alex volunteered his time to cook alongside other chefs to raise money for the Farm to School program. This program helps our local schools learn how to create and maintain school vegetable gardens. There were farmers in attendance and we were able to make many new connections and look forward to hopefully working with them soon.”
What are your favorite items on the menu (both food & drink)?
“Our mantra is Celebrate Food and I am a big fan of our ever-changing menu. Right now, I’m really enjoying the kale salad with burnt baby carrots and cauliflower, goat cheese and Marcona almonds. The Ossabaw Pork Confit is also a favorite—the cannellini beans in the dish are wonderful. The Oxtail Risotta just came off the menu and I miss it. Eric makes an awfully good Paper Plane cocktail!”
Any specials or events we should know about?
“We have what we call a Monthly Social. This is where we put the tables out family style and serve a cultural themed food and drink menu. We have had Italian, Irish, Korean, Spanish, Greek, Mexican. We have opened it up to our patrons to choose by way of a Facebook vote. It’s a lot of fun and everyone seems to enjoy it.”
Now let’s chat with you, Chef Alex! Like a lot of Atlantans, I was a big fan of P’cheen. Can you tell our readers why it’s worth the drive OTP to visit Bistro off Broad?
“It would be egotistical of me to think that Atlantans would drive 45 minutes out of the city just for a meal.”
“However, if they did make the drive, I think they would find it worth it. The Bistro is not the only thing Barrow County and Winder have to offer. We are but a few minutes from Fort Yargo State Park (the most visited in the state), and we are only about 30 minutes from Athens. If your readers were to make the drive to the Bistro or decided to join us for lunch while visiting Fort Yargo or come for dinner while staying in Athens, they would have the opportunity to not just enjoy the beautiful ambiance of a restaurant housed in a 100-year-old building or a cocktail prepared by one of Georgia’s most knowledgeable bartenders, but they would also get an opportunity to taste all that Georgia has to offer.”
“We take great pride in the fact that the Bistro is the sum of its many parts. It is not just the hours we spend preparing the food, it is the countless hours the farmers and artisans of Georgia spend growing, raising, and creating the products that we serve. We take farm-to-table to a level that most restaurants don’t or can’t.”
“We believe in Georgia grown, and we source as many products from the state of Georgia as we can. From honey, honeycomb, bee pollen, flour, grits, cornmeal, vegetables, chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, crab, and eggs to charcuterie, cheese, bread, and gelato, we are truly Georgia grown and truly farm-to-table. We have a simple philosophy. Our job is not to manipulate the product, our job is to showcase it – to allow the hard work of our farmers and artisans to shine through in beautiful, simple preparations.”
What are some of your favorite dishes on the menu? What’s new that folks might not have tried before?
“Our menu is always evolving. We are subject to the weather, wildlife, and Georgia’s ‘terroir.’ Although our proteins may stay the same for a month or two at a time, the vegetables and garnishes are always changing. One day the berry crop is beautiful; the next day it has been decimated by deer. So, what you print about our menu today might not be available tomorrow. However, these are some of my current favorites:
Charred raab, chard, speck, balsamic vinegar, feta, extra virgin, preserved lemon. “The raab and chard are from Fry Farm in Bethlehem and are beautiful and fresh with just the right amount of char. The speck is produced by Pine Street Market, smoky and delicious; the feta from The Woodsman & The Wife Creamery adds a creamy and salty kick. Add house-made preserved lemon adds zest, the dish is finished with a drizzle of a peppery extra virgin and the sweetness of a 15-year aged balsamic.”
Ossabaw pork confit, coriander, cannellini beans, zucchini, purple top turnips like Brook mentioned above!. “I would be willing to say that we are the only restaurant in the country serving pork in this way. We are lucky to have Hamthropology as our main supplier of pork. The Ossabaw hog is like no other and arguably one of the best porks in the world. Hamthropology is one of the only producers of this product. The specialness of the pork requires extra attention. We receive the hogs whole and utilize every part in this dish. The bones are roasted and made into stock that is reduced to a thick, sticky, and robust demiglace. The fat is lightly smoked and rendered into lard in which the pork is slowly cooked for 3.5 to 4 hours. The skin is dehydrated and fried into chicharrons. The pork confit is finished in the broiler with a brown sugar and coriander “brûlée”, served over a ragout of cannellini beans, zucchini, and purple top turnips, drizzled with pork demiglace and finished with a chicharron.”
Why is this type of “farm-to-table” model so important to the local ecosystem?
“The Bistro is not an island sitting alone in Barrow County. We are the sum of all the hard work put into the product long before it arrives at our front door. Our job is easy because we have such amazing products with which we work. We believe in the community – and the farmers and artisans that live in it. When you dine at the Bistro, you are not just supporting us, you’re supporting the local economy and farmers. Agriculture is the largest industry in Georgia and by no means the most glamorous. We hope to shed light on what these farmers are doing and the importance of their work.” He also shared that maintenance is a big part of the industry as equipment like industrial rubber products are needed to make the process easier for the farmers.
“We take great pride in telling our guests exactly where their food comes from, and who the farmer or artisan is that grew/prepared it.”
“We serve organic, healthy, unaltered food that deserves to be talked about. We hope that we can inspire other restaurants and other chefs to buy local and support the local farmers and artisans all over the state of Georgia. Everyone can do their part and make a difference in the way we eat and perceive food.”
What does the future hold for Bistro Off Broad and beyond?
“We look forward to the Bistro’s continued growth in popularity. We hope to set an example to other business owners and restaurateurs – if we succeed in Winder, they can succeed here too, or in other beautiful small towns in north Georgia. We will continue to source the best local products we can and present it in a way that showcases the work put into it before us. We’ve opened our second restaurant, Lobby at the Maddox, in the historic Peoples Bank Building in Winder. The Lobby is a “from scratch” Italian Chop House with a focus on fresh pasta made daily with local flour and a selection of grass and grain fed beef both wet and dry aged, pork, veal, and lamb.”
Editor’s note: a big thanks to Brooke and Alex for their time! We would love to hear from our readers if they’ve dined at Bistro Off Broad and what they enjoyed!
Bistro Off Broad is open for lunch + dinner daily from Tuesday to Friday, and open for brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., in addition to dinner service on Saturday and Sunday evenings.
Bistro Off Broad is located at 16 E Candler St, Winder, GA 30680. For more information, check out Bistro Off Broad’s website plus stay connected on Twitter at @bistrobroad, on Instagram at @bistrobroad, and on Facebook.