Robby Kukler, co-founder and partner of Fifth Group Restaurants, was named one of Atlanta’s Most Admired CEOs this summer by the Atlanta Business Chronicle and honored last month. Kukler, a member of Temple Sinai, grew up in Flint, Mich., where his family celebrated a love of food. He heads a team of 900 at the Fifth Group Restaurants, which includes Ecco, South City Kitchen, Alma Cocina, The Original el Taco, La Tavola and Bold Catering, in addition to Lure, which we feature here.
“Lure has a sophisticated yet casual vibe, fluidly bridging the gap between a weathered seaside fish house and a fine dining seafood restaurant,” Kukler said. “Guests are comfortably dressed up or down and can enjoy a variety of experiences ranging from a fourcourse meal to a beer with a seafood platter. We have Intown regulars for weeknight dinners or happy hour on Midtown’s best patio. Many are here on business or starting evenings out before a Fox [Theatre] or Woodruff [Arts Center] show. There’s always an eclectic, interesting crowd.”
Jaffe: How did you get involved as a teen in the restaurant business?
Kukler: Food has always been a part of my family’s life. We’ve always gathered around a table to be together; but you can be sure we wanted to know what we are eating! When I was 15, my first job was with a locally-owned restaurant in the city I grew up in. I worked there every summer through high school and in my first summer of college doing everything from washing dishes to bar tending, cooking, banquet serving, and even was a valet driver.
Since I was a teenager, being in this business is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I like creating experiences that make people happy and I have always had a love for food. From an early age I was growing food in a large garden with my mother and learning to cook with her, influenced by her Southern roots and our family’s Jewish heritage. The realization that I could grow, cook and serve food to people and make them happy was a light bulb moment.
Jaffe: What did you learn training in Switzerland’s École hôtelière de Lausanne?
Kukler: At 20, I was studying with people from all over the world who loved food and the hospitality business as much as I did. I learned to appreciate different cultures, perspectives and the idea that food brings people together. It assured me that I was choosing the right career.
Jaffe: What are Lure’s most popular entrees?
Kukler: The new seared salmon with Carolina gold rice is especially delicious and the whole local Georgia trout from Bramlett (Trout) Farms is amazing.
Jaffe: How often do you “change up” the menu?
Kukler: Our executive chef Mike Manley changes the menu seasonally. He is always looking for new and exciting ways to push the envelope. He started a Sunday communal dinner series this year that includes a one-day special menu. The menus are fun, regionally or even globally inspired, and have been extremely popular, usually selling out quickly.
Jaffe: What’s your favorite Lure cocktail?
Kukler: La Llamada: Alma Custom Barrel Herradura Reposado, Amaro CioCiaro, agave, Scrappy’s Lime Bitters
Jaffe: Any tips for preparing our own seafood at home?
Kukler: Start with the best and freshest seafood you can find and cook it quickly and simply, or find recipes for ceviches or crudos that speak to your favorite flavor profiles and let the seafood shine.
Jaffe: How will Fifth Group grow over the next few years?
Kukler: We are focusing our Atlanta expansion into Buckhead. Ecco Buckhead will open in November and Alma Buckhead will open in 2019. We know the neighborhood is excited about these concepts and we look forward to serving our loyal FGR guests while making some new friends at these new locations.
Jaffe: Where do you like to dine out?
Kukler: I love Buford Highway. … Some of my favorites are Stone Bowl House for Korean, Northern China Eatery for dumplings, El Rey Del Taco for Mexican. For special occasions, if I’m not at a Fifth Group Restaurant, I’ll try somewhere new … it’s hard to keep up with all the great new restaurants. One trend that I enjoy that is not genre specific is the growing number of chefs creating and including healthy (or at least healthy-ish) food on their menus. The bottom line is: Atlantans can find great food across the entire metro area, from bars to ball parks, food trucks to food halls, cafes to world class restaurants.
Jaffe: Your favorite recipes?
Kukler: They range from my mother’s stuffed cabbage, my father’s gazpacho to my wife’s beef stew. Approaching Thanksgiving, I will dream of my Nana’s recipe for Southern corn bread dressing.
What we went crazy over at a tasting dinner:
• Yellow fin tuna, shaved celery watercress, citrus – Perfect jewels of raw cubettes. Can’t say that we have ever had any better east of Hawaii.
• Mixed lettuces, grana padano, roasted beets, Meyer lemon vinaigrette – I fawn over well-prepared beets. The grana padona is a hard, slow-ripened semi-fat Italian cheese, with shavings somewhere between mellow and “melt in your mouth.”
• Roasted snapper – Grilled asparagus, carrot puree, fava beans, salmoriglio sauce (thyme, Dijon, lemon). The filet was crisp with a perfectly flaky inside. The carrot puree was sweet, colorful and creamy.
• Grilled swordfish – Smooth fennel, shaved fennel, frisee, Castelvetrano olives, chili vinaigrette – The mild fleshy olives stole the dish! The frisee was doused in a tart vinaigrette. Some folks think swordfish is the closet texture to meat. The chef knows how to use licorice-like fennel, which is in the carrot family.
• Chocolate layer cake with salted caramel – Rich!
• Key lime pie with gingerbread graham crust, blackberry coulis, pretzel benne tuile – We liked that this was really a mini pie, not a wedge. The blackberry and tuile combo added the yin and yang.
Lure is located at 1106 Crescent Ave. Parking was $5 for valet (weekend).