Rolling Out the Red Carpet

Monica Parpal |
Food And Dining

 “I love coming out and talking to guests during these events, and I think this type of approachability is something special—especially in a hotel restaurant.”

Located just north of downtown and nestled in the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel is a restaurant with a whimsical name and a serious commitment to Southern fine dining: Fandangles Restaurant & Bar.

This oasis of an eatery is the star of the hotel, springing forward with culinary acumen that defies expectation. When we think of Southern cuisine, we might envision crispy fried chicken or sandwiches sinking beneath heavy sauces. And that's not to say there isn't a place for that. But the creators and operators of this recently revitalized restaurant sought to spur a dining evolution—to create something bright, approachable, and of course, delicious.

In the past year, Fandangles has undergone some significant changes in design as well as cuisine. The former dining space was lined with bulky banquettes and a large pool table which limited the elegance and fluidity of the space. Renovations brightened the room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking lush gardens and a pristine courtyard pool. Soft, luxurious lounge seating replaced the banquettes. Now, tables are set with white linen tablecloths and colorful chargers, and deep red bar stools surround a glowing 50-foot bar. Out the windows, contrasting turquoises and greens add splashes of vibrant color, and sliding glass doors open to terrace seating on the balcony. The place feels fresh, upscale, and approachable.

“Our restaurant is ideal for just about any occasion,” Donley Ferguson, Director of Outlets for the Sheraton Atlanta, says. “Whether you're here to celebrate a special dinner with family and friends, or simply sip a glass of wine with a colleague, we strive to make every occasion memorable.”

The arrival of Executive Chef Marc Suennemann in July of 2012—along with his 23 years of experience and a deep-seated passion for food creation—spurred the culinary renaissance at Fandangles. Of course, regional Southern cuisine has a firm grip on Atlanta, yet the culinary scene is shifting. “Southern cuisine has always been connected to local ingredients,” Suennemann says. “More and more, guests are showing a health-conscious approach to what they eat, and the culinary world is making the proper adjustments.” In fact, Chef Suennemann has produced specific “Gluten-Free” and “Vegetarian” menus that boast everything from Gluten-Free Prosciutto Pizza to Ginger and Soy-Marinated Tofu.

Suennemann is no stranger to fine dining and hospitality. His career began in 1989 with apprenticeships in five-star hotels, resorts, and restaurants in his home country of Germany, with later stints in Switzerland, Austria, Spain, and Italy. Highest among his culinary achievements is his title of 2008 Chef of the Year in the International Copper Skillet Competition—a culinary face-off between some of the world's best chefs.

“My background is definitely European cuisine,” he says. “But over the years, I’ve become deeply aware of Southern cuisine. I am always willing to accommodate the guests' requests, and in order to do that, it's important to be experienced in multiple cuisines.”

At its core, Fandangles promotes “health-conscious, Southern evolution food.” The menu ranges from Southern comforts like the 24-ounce Bone-In Rib-Eye and the Prime Brisket Burger to new, lighter items that focus on fresh, local fare—like the locally-sourced, market fish selections and the Scottish Atlantic Salmon. Suennemann highlights the ingredients in their natural form, grown and produced right in Atlanta's own backyard.

“As a chef, I'm inspired because I have a passion for food. But in the summer time when there's so much available, it's especially exciting to work with fresh organic produce and organic meats and poultry,” Suennemann says. Prime cuts of beef come from Cox Farm and Southeast Family Farms, while the cheese hails from Flatcreek Lodge Creamery and Sweet Grass Dairy. The cooks even pick organic herbs from their own garden in the courtyard, and make monthly field trips to local farms and purveyors. “We try to use as many regional ingredients as possible,” Suennemann explains. “Not only because we want to use local foods, but also support our farmers.”

Suennemann has revamped almost the entire menu since stepping into the role of executive chef last year, showcasing the best of regional, seasonal fare while revealing glimpses of his upbringing. This is mostly visible in dishes like the Smoked Pork Schnitzel Sliders with sauerkraut and spätzle. “Being from Germany, my family always had sauerkraut and spätzle. In fact, I remember watching my grandmom make sauerkraut when I was young. I've used her recipe with a few of my own tweaks.”

And what would the South be without a little something sweet? Guests are wild about Suennemann's Sweet Potato Doughnuts, which blend a bit of European flair—and his own personality—with a Southern staple. The doughnuts come stacked elegantly on a tower, flanked with crème anglaise and Nutella dipping sauces. “Nutella is something that I remember well from my childhood,” the chef recalls. “I always had Nutella for breakfast—and lunch and dinner too, usually. I would fight with my brother over the last little bit in the jar. I felt it had to go on the menu somewhere.”

Beyond the scripted sweet and savory, Chef hopes to initiate monthly tasting dinners, with special dishes and wine selections based on seasonal ingredients and his own inspiration. “I love coming out and talking to guests during these events, and I think this type of approachability is something special—especially in a hotel restaurant.”

“We consider our food to be artwork,” Ferguson chimes in. Case in point: Fandangles sees many international guests, as well as local culinary aficionados, who visit just to try the food. “We roll out the red carpet for these guests—and that red carpet gets plenty of use!” Ferguson boasts that even out-of-town guests staying in different hotels have come to Fandangles for dinner. “We live for those moments,” he says. “Our atmosphere, service, and the exquisite flavors that come out of our kitchen make us one of the finest restaurants in Atlanta.”

Warm and inviting, the culinary experience is as much the glowing center of the operation here as their illuminated bar. Indeed, Fandangles has quite a lustrous future ahead.