Steven Satterfield Knows What's Cooking In Atlanta
The '90s indie rock hero is now a top ATL chef!
Photo by Heidi Geldhauser
Steven Satterfield is a musician who helped form the '90s dream-pop quartet Seely, which released four albums before disbanding in the year 2000. However, most people know him as executive chef and co-owner of the mega-popular Westside Atlanta restaurant Miller Union, and author of the new cookbook Root to Leaf. From his indie-band days to running his own fancy-pants restaurant that's been lauded by Anthony Bourdain, this dude knows his shit when it comes to eating in Atlanta.
VICE: How long have you been an ATLien?
Steven Satterfield: I moved here in 1987. I was a new student at Georgia Tech in the architecture program—in '92, my final year, I studied abroad in Paris. When I finished school I came back to the States, did a couple internships in the field and I just wasn't really feeling it. I pretty much dropped out of architecture for a while and picked up a guitar for the first time. I started playing guitar and writing songs and I formed a band called Seely with one of my fellow students, Lori Scacco. We found a bass player and a drummer and next thing you know, we were signed to a label in the UK. This was pre-internet, pre-digital age, so there's really not a lot of documentation on the web, and all the records are out of print. We were on a label called Too Pure, the same label Stereolab and PJ Harvey started out on. It was a really exciting time because we were all in our early 20s—we started playing shows and playing with bands we liked, we were on college radio, and we were the only American band at the same assigned to that label.
So what sparked the transition from food to music?
It wasn't a very lucrative career, so I was taking odd jobs. I got a job at Eats on Ponce, and at Tortillas, their [now-defunct] sister restaurant. I'd say those two restaurants produced probably 20 to 25 bands over a five year period. Me, [Seely bassist] Joy and Lori worked at Eats for a few years, and our drummer worked at Aurora Coffee. We were all definitely products of the '90s and the music scene that was going on here in Atlanta. When you're dialed into it, you realize there's a lot of independent musicians here. I was working at Eats for a few years, then we were taking some breaks in between records and I started exploring other avenues for food because I found out I was really interested in it, and I knew that Eats could only go so far. It's a great restaurant, but it's not a culinary mecca or anything. I worked at a couple of spots and then I started working for Anne Quatrano at Floataway Cafe, a new restaurant at the time. I just got the restaurant bug. Especially seeing something that's higher tier, and run well in the kitchen, I understood why chefs got the acclaim that they did—because it's hard work.
Favorite 'hoods you frequent?
I live in Inman park, and I've been here for about 24 or 25 years. I moved here in 1992 from Candler Park. I think all the intown neighborhoods have a lot of hidden gems, and it's really cool to see how intown has blossomed and grown and developed. Some in good ways and some not, but intown used to be kind of a small, quiet place, and now it's grown up.
Where are you likely to be spotted around town?
I really like to cycle so when I have free time—I like to explore the city on the bike, and I really like riding on that Marietta Corridor. I love that we have so much green and parks everywhere. I like the BeltLine (but not on the weekends). We have some great neighborhood restaurants and bars. I like how the city seems to really support independent business owners—we get a lot of support from the diners of Atlanta, and the people in general who seem to be intown are supportive of local and less drawn to big chains. On my days off I like to not get in my car because i think traffic has become a serious issue around here. I tend to go somewhere in walking distance—I like One Eared Stag, Bread & Butterfly, Fritti, BeetleCat and Bartaco. All those places are like a five-minute walk from my house.
How has ATL's food scene evolved from the '90s to now?
It's changed drastically for sure. We're always trying to be better and evolve with our audience, but there's more awareness of food in general in our country and the world. There's so much more information than there ever used to be, and people are more well-educated about food, so you tend to find diners are a little more experienced and open to trying new things. That allows for the scene to evolve and grow, and I think that's a really positive thing because we get to tinker with new ideas. It helps push the boundaries a little bit.
If someone wanted a quick feel for the city's food scene, where should they go? Other than Miller Union, obviously.
I'd say to get a well-rounded view, I'd say places like Staplehouse, Empire State South, Star Provisions, maybe Octopus Bar for a late-night visit. I hate to play too many favorites. For breakfast, Ria's Bluebird is classic Atlanta, it's always great. Gunshow is a really unique restaurant that helps define the Atlanta scene. I love Cakes & Ale and Cakes & Ale Bakery in Decatur, and Kimball House over there. A lot of people who come to Atlanta don't make it to Decatur. There's also Ponce City Market and Krog Street Market. Those are both worth checking out.
What would you change about Atlanta food scene?
Atlanta needs a little more late-night dining options and things that are open all day. A lot of places close between lunch and dinner, [Miller Union] included. I understand why, but I think of the more casual places that have the same menu all day, there's only a handful that are worth going to at three in the afternoon. Atlantans are busy people and everyone has a different type of schedule, so people are eating at odd times of day and night. The more options we have the better. I also think we need better public transportation. Or, just stay in your neighborhood and don't drive all over town.
Have you been back to Eats lately?
I haven't been there in a long time. I should pop in there and say hello to Bob, the owner. He's still there everyday. He was honestly the best boss I ever had, and he really instilled a work ethic in me that I'm grateful for.
Read the entire VICE Guide to Atlanta here.