FORTIFY: to make strong; to impart physical strength or vigor
THERE’S NO DOUBT we could all use an extra dose of strength in 2020.
Coincidentally, that’s exactly what Fortify Kitchen & Bar has been providing not only to its clientele, but the entire Clayton community all along.
Fortify is the realization of a dream for owners Jamie Allred and Jack Nolan, who worked their way through the restaurant ranks to get here.
Allred’s culinary career started in college, when he took a job as a dishwasher after walking away from a degree in accounting. The transitional job turned out to be the turning point in his career path when the chef he was working with recommended he go to culinary school. Allred chose Asheville Buncomb Tech, and went on to work in kitchens from Florida to North Carolina before landing at the Lake Rabun Hotel as executive chef. It was here he met Nolan, whose food service experience and knowledge of the local restaurant scene proved to be the perfect partnership. In 2014, the duo combined Allred’s culinary abilities with Nolan’s customer service and operations expertise to open Fortify Kitchen & Bar in Downtown Clayton. Two years later, the team opened a sister restaurant, Fortify Pi, which serves wood-fired brick-oven pizzas right next door.
Local ingredients are integral to the menu at Fortify. Farming has always gone hand-in-hand with cooking for Allred, who grew up in the kitchen with his mom, a home economics teacher, and pitching in on his grandparent’s farm during the summers. Today, he continues to forge relationships with local farmers— Indian Ridge Organic Farm in Clarkesville, Ladybug Farms and Timpson Farms in Clayton, and Osage Farms in Dillard, just to name a few. Grits, cornmeal, and even wheat for the pizza dough at Pi come from Silvan Falls Mill in Rabun Gap, and goat cheese products come from Crunkleton Farm in Tiger. The partnerships are a win-win, ensuring the freshest possible ingredients for the restaurant and supporting the hard-working local farmers in the process.
Because of this commitment to source locally, Allred builds his menu around what’s available each season, releasing a new menu several times a year that draws inspiration from the local produce and a library of culinary literature, from books by James Beard-award-winning chefs to old church cookbooks he finds at thrift stores. In the colder months, that means a lot of butternut and winter squash, braised meats, and hearty dishes. One winter favorite is a coconut and tamarind braised lamb shank over chickpea curry with basmati rice.
You can also expect some kind of Springer Mountain chicken, like the popular apple- stuffed chicken roulade with marsala Orchard Valley Mushroom sauce, as well as pan-steamed clams from Georgia’s Sapelo Island.
And though the menu changes seasonally, there are always some staples—the meatloaf with ground short rib, brisket and chuck with bourbon barbecue sauce and bacon-onion marmalade, for instance, and the North Carolina mountain trout. “I can’t take the trout off. People get kinda crazy when I do that,” Allred laughed. Fried green tomatoes and burgers are also essential, though there are seasonal variations. And earlier this year, when Fortify was open for take-out only, it found great success with its Fish Camp Fridays; as a result, a new fried shrimp platter has become a menu mainstay. Diners with dietary restrictions will be pleased to find that more than half the menu is naturally gluten-free, with gluten-free options on even more items, like breads and even a pizza dough at Pi. At the bar, you’ll find local wine and beer alongside an extensive whiskey collection and an artistic assortment of craft cocktails. Be sure to try the Fortify Old Fashioned with Knob Creek bourbon, Angostura bitters, Demerara, flamed orange and Luxardo cherry, or the Red Herring, with strawberry syrup, habanero tincture, lemon juice, soda and Top Hat vodka from Hope Springs Distillery in Lilburn.
And Fortify takes its local ties to the next level, extending beyond its menu to its interior design and community initiatives. Local art for sale lines the walls, and 20 percent of the proceeds go to a scholarship for a student at the local high school. The restaurant also partners with The Food Bank of Northeast Georgia and Teaching Kitchen, when possible, and has worked closely with the Northeast Georgia Farm-to-School program.
Yes, you can draw strength from a meal at Fortify and feel confident that you’re supporting the local community, too.
Fortify is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday; reservations are highly recommended for dinner.
FORTIFY KITCHEN & BAR
69 N. Main St.