Stroll down Milton Avenue in Downtown Alpharetta on a Wednesday to Sunday evening and you’re likely to feel like you’ve stumbled upon a European street-side café.
“I want people to walk by and dance on the streets,” says Julio Delgado, chef and mastermind behind Fogón and Lions, the liveliest restaurant to hit this stretch of town.
Thanks to windows that open up between the bar and the patio, the restaurant’s energy spills out onto the street, enticing passersby with a glimpse into the kitchen, where chickens slow-cook on the rotisserie and steaks sear on the grill. Fire tables and heat lamps turn the patio into a party in all seasons, and communal tables make this a great gathering spot for groups or perhaps a place to meet some new friends.
A LIVING LEGACY
A Puerto Rican native, Delgado has been working in the restaurant business for 25 years, beginning as a dishwasher during his high school days. But his roots in the food industry go even farther back.
“My grandfather [Polo] was a butcher back home in the ‘60s,” Delgado says. So were his uncle and his brother. “Looking back at my heritage … everything we did was around the table.”
A black-and-white photo of Polo in his butcher shop hangs behind the hostess stand to greet guests as they walk into the restaurant, which opened in May—a fitting welcome, as Delgado has brought his grandfather’s legacy to life in the atmosphere here.
“He was very involved in the community,” Delgado says. “He had strong, Spanish character. He was loud. He was charming and warm at the same time.”
Likewise, Fogón and Lions embodies those same characteristics with a family-oriented, neighborhood restaurant appeal.
Though the vision for Fogón and Lions has been in Delgado’s mind all along, his first restaurant in Alpharetta was Minnie Olivia Pizzeria, which opened on the corner of Milton Avenue and Roswell Street in 2019. When the neighboring space became available after its long-time tenant—a hair salon moved across the street, Delgado saw the potential to bring his dream to life and took a leap of faith.
Transforming a hair salon into a restaurant was no easy feat.
“It was a total transformation,” Delgado recalls.
Perhaps the most significant change was the creation of the “fogón” itself—the traditional Spanish wood-burning kitchen around which the restaurant was built.
“I’m extremely passionate about open kitchens,” Delgado says. “I believe in the direct connection between the guests and the cooks … When you look customers in the eyes, you work twice as hard to please them.”
From that kitchen pours forth an array of Spanish fare with international influence.
“We use Spanish cuisine as our foundation for everything we do—ingredients, basic cooking techniques,” Delgado says. “It’s very traditional, nothing fancy. Then for interpretation, we use all the countries that have a Spanish influence—South America, Central America, the Caribbean. Spanish cuisine has such a strong influence around the world.”
The resulting menu consists of tapas, tacos, and entrées al fogón. You can’t go wrong with small plates like beef empanadas with pickled aji pepper or fresh-catch coconut ceviche with shaved onions, cilantro and plantain chips. Create your own charcuteria with a selection of Spanish meats and cheeses or go for heartier options like a 10-ounce grilled skirt steak churrasco with chimichurri, roasted potatoes and fire-roasted piquillo peppers or an order of paella for two.
One particular showstopper is the whole-roasted suckling pig, which is special-ordered from a farm in South Carolina and requires 72 hours advance notice to reserve. The unique dish is a hit for big groups and special occasions and was even ordered once by a couple who wanted to relive their memories of a trip to Spain.
Select menu items change seasonally (look for a warm pumpkin soup this winter), and Delgado sources ingredients locally whenever possible.
A cocktail list curated by Venezuelan mixologist Omar Garcia continues the Spanish flavor with traditional libations like caipirinhas and mojitos alongside more innovative creations. Red and white sangrias, made with wine macerated for several weeks with citrus and seasonal fruits, are available by the glass or pitcher, and the signature margaritas are not to be missed with options like the Avocado Margarita (Lunazul, Cointreau, avocado and jalapeno with a tajin rim). Can’t decide between the sangria or a house margarita? Put your hands together with the Sangririta, an icy concoction that blends them both.
You’ll be dancing in the streets, indeed.
FOGÓN AND LIONS
10 Roswell St., Suite 100