Concept: Atlas Diner
Chef: Richard Knight
Known for: Feast, Hunky Dory
Cuisine: Americana with hints of British
The cobalt-blue tile supporting the Formica counter that runs along Bravery’s back wall is a natural beacon for diners, pulling them into a timewarp. The décor of Atlas Diner borrows liberally from New York in the 1940s. Sleek chrome lines accent the space. White bowls and dishes cram the metal racks. A long, flattop stove is the anchor of the operation. And at the center of this whole affair, you’ll find Richard Knight.
The loquacious Brit with a booming laugh is known in Houston for an almost fearless culinary approach. This is the guy who opened Feast, one of the city’s first “tip to tail” restaurants, vowing to find a use for every part of an animal he brought in. He even got a tattoo of a pig to commemorate the opening. He’d go on to work with Treadsack and Hunky Dory, further embarking on the culinary journey he began at 14 when he started working as a dishwasher in a restaurant in his native England. Knight’s quick wit and infectious sense of humor and fun almost belie how seriously he takes food. But, to be clear: he takes food seriously, but not all that seriously.
“We’re going to do some crazy stuff,” he says of Atlas. “We’ll do some European things, some Indian, touches of Asian. I’ve meddled with the classic diner cuisine.”
When Bravery Chef Hall’s partners Ahn Mai, Lian Nguyen and Shepard Ross approached him about coming in with a restaurant, they’d already had the idea they wanted a diner, and Knight said they’d even come up with the name. After their pitch, Knight thought it sounded like a grand time and figured he could turn the whole thing on its head, lending his signature style to the concept.
“I love a bit of fun,” he says, almost devilishly.
Atlas seats 16 at its counter; an adjacent couple of banquettes have room for eight or so more. Knight wants Atlas to be a gathering place, and while all of Bravery’s restaurants are set up to embrace that, Atlas is a bit different. During the day, the diner is one more space in the wide maze of cuisine that is Bravery. But at 10:00 p.m., when the rest of hall shutters, Atlas kicks up the pace into late-night dining. It’s got its own entrance from both Main Street and a door in Aris Market Square (perfect for residents to feel like it’s their own private space), and will be open until 2:00 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
“I’m very excited,” Knight says about being chef-cum-showman behind the Atlas counter. “Everyone’s going to be doing everything: running up and down the counter, taking food orders, chatting to people. This is very different, and I’ve not done something like this before.”
Foodwise, Atlas goes from early morning to late night, with subtle shifts in the menu. Fresh baked pastries, comfort-food diner breakfasts, a dish called Dakota Pancakes (named for his newly adopted 10-year-old daughter), blue-plate specials and fish and chips all make appearances. Knight promises a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich as a Monday special offering, as well as other quick-and-easy lunch options that come with a drink for $15 for those who need to take their plates and run, or only have a short time to sit at the counter.
“Just a classic diner menu,” he says. “But I’ve put a few English-isms on there. So, I’ve got bangers and mash, we’ll be doing some terrines, duck-liver mousse. I’ve got a masala dosa – a traditional Indian very, very thin pancake, even finer than a crepe and they leave it to get crispy and you put some spiced curry masala potatoes on. We’ll do Japanese pancakes just for brunch only.”
The late-night menu will be a slight cut-down from the dayside version, but Knight promises great options.
“Drunky monkey kind of things,” he emphasizes.
Knight’s had a blast putting together his menu, but he’s even more excited about being one piece of the larger Bravery Chef Hall.
“We’re all chef’s chefs,” he says, praising his neighbors. “We all work at a very high level. And I think people will love the hustle and bustle here – all the sights and sounds and smells, all this crazy stuff. I think they’ll walk by and look inside and go, ‘what’s going on in there’ and want to be part of it.”