First Look: Gunshow

Kevin Gillespie’s experimental restaurant turns dinner on its head

Eight minutes. That’s how long it took for food to arrive during a recent visit to Gunshow, and we didn’t even have to order. Chef/owner Kevin Gillespie approached us with a cutting board on one arm and a smile on his face. From beneath the brim of a dark University of Georgia cap, he leaned in to describe his offering: a bubbly potato and mushroom gratin layered in a cast-iron skillet, topped with supple spring peas and sweet corn. Gillespie placed a skillet on the table with a pair of shiny silver tongs and then it was off to spiel the next table.

One of two clipboard-carrying employees tallied our order on the paper menu, dim sum-style. Our server returned with a bottle of Muscadet, filling our mini trifle-bowl wine glasses, while another guy refilled our ice waters. Across the dining room, one of Gillespie’s former Woodfire Grill cooks, Joseph Ward, offered dishes from a rolling pantry cart. Another Woodfire alum, Andreas Muller, presented little bowls of creamy grits and roasted leeks garnished with wispy homemade Funyuns one table over.

Almost everything about Gillespie’s new dim-sum-meets-churrascaria-meets-the-South-style restaurant is unconventional, from the all-hands-on-deck service to the lack of traditional ordering. He says many of the best meals of his life have taken place in someone’s home, so he set out to create an experience that felt like dining at a friend’s house.

There is a menu, but instead of ordering from it, dishes cycle through the dining room on cutting boards, trays, or carts every 45 minutes to an hour. Like obliging hosts with houseguests, chefs prepare dishes in the kitchen and present them tableside the moment they’re ready. Diners get to interact with the cooks and are free to choose their meals based on look and scent.

Could this be a Copernican Revolution in Atlanta dining? It’s an exciting experiment, but it’s too early to tell if Gillespie’s radical vision will take without a few adjustments. One month in, Gunshow is a busy, boisterous place where diners aren’t sure what to expect.

Housed in a corner space in the Glenwood Park development, Gunshow is laid out in a single room with high, unfinished ceilings and hanging track lights that illuminate every nook and cranny. Even as the sun goes down, the lights stay weirdly bright. The kitchen flows into the 60-seat dining room full of dark wooden tables clamped together to form three long community tables. A few smaller tables line the windowed wall opposite the kitchen.

The dishes on Gunshow’s ever-changing menu of 13-or-so small plates range from $6-$18. Many are global riffs on American classics, or vice versa. A Peruvian-style ceviche was made with catfish. Three marble-sized Swedish meatballs and slivers of green strawberry came in a pool of radioactive red sour cherry sauce. The young berries spiked the meaty bites with a springy, vegetal pop.

One night, I was offered a chilled Thai larb salad, a rich pork skin risotto, and the Swedish street food snack Tunnbrödsrulle — a hot dog wrapped in flatbread with some potato, shrimp, and dill — all in the span of a few minutes. I went with the hot dog after a spirited sell from the chef, but the result was lackluster, like pantry items thrown together at the last minute. Just when my visit to Gunshow felt like it was spinning out of conceptual control, a wave of good old American meat hit the dining room.

The West Coast burger, a classic Double-Double, was layered with sweet caramelized onions, tender beef, and gooey American cheese. Carolina-style pork ribs punched up with hints of mustard and smoky spice came with a cool peaches-and-cream coleslaw to counteract the peppery rub.

If you’re hungry, there’s something to be said for a place that can have dinner rolling in less than 10 minutes. But dishes come out at random intervals: it could be every two minutes or every five minutes or every 10. The result is a series of unnatural lulls and time spent looking around, wondering when the next round of food will come your way.

It’s early yet, but Gunshow works best when the food is flowing and the kitchen sticks to Gillespie’s signature, salt-of-the-earth style. There’s a lot of mismatched inspiration floating around. Many dishes come across as incomplete thoughts rather than perfected plates, which is hard to reconcile with an average price tag of $13 each. Add a round of drinks and it’s easy to rack up a $70-$80 check between two people.

At the end of the day, there’s no playbook for what Gillespie’s trying to do, only trial and error. Gunshow is the kind of restaurant that turns a meal into an experience. Are there kinks to work out? Sure. But that’s what makes experimenting fun.