VaHi’s Ela Dips into the Mediterranean

VaHi’s Ela Dips into the Mediterranean

The Fifth Group opened Ela with a modern twist interpreting traditional Mediterranean food.

After 37 years with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and now with the AJT, , Jaffe’s focus is lifestyle, art, dining, fashion, and community events with emphasis on Jewish movers and shakers.

The Mushroom shawarma(top) was over the Fork and Knife “set.”
The Mushroom shawarma(top) was over the Fork and Knife “set.”

From a culinary and business perspective, one has to admire the creative development that the locally owned Fifth Group continues to “cook up” in Atlanta.

From Italian, Southern-ish, seafood, European inspired, to upscale Mediterranean Sea … and now … Ela … inspired by the Mediterranean Sea which served as a trade route between arid, coastal countries with common denominator ingredients like olives, wheat, and fragrant spices. Its tapestry is more like Turkey and Greece with a wider Arabian swath. Label it “Pan–Med” with a hint of Israel (even Hebrew on the menu).

The table shared the Mezze Board with five ingredients.

With a nice patio and easy drive-up parking, Ela wants to be part of the neighborhood. Mark Jeffers, VP of Culinary Operations, said, “Our guests have been pretty representative of the VaHi (Virginia Highlands) neighborhood which runs the gamut of college kids and young families, to middle-aged couples and empty nesters. We want Ela to feel like the neighborhood; fun, vibrant, and diverse.

Ela opened in February in the Original El Taco space on North Highland. The menu focuses on mezze and communal entrees in an easy-to-follow format: starters, mains, desserts, with the back of the sailboat inspired menu featuring spirits, bubbles & whites, rose & reds, some brews, and two non-alcoholic specials.

Table favorite was the Indian River pompano with its artsy presentation.

Some of the Starters are The Mezze Board ($18) with five sharables, dips, grilled pita, Israeli pickles. We also sampled the grilled artichoke ($13) which was soft and lemony enough. Other beckoning starters were cauliflower falafel, baby eggplant, Steve’s Greek fries, and the Delicata squash with red onion, spiced nuts and honey vinaigrette which will be replaced in spring by a beet salad as seasonal adjustments capture ingredients at their peak. A curious touch here is the $5 charge for the side sauce.

Our favorite mains were the Indian River pompano ($35) and the mushroom shawarma ($13) with umami glaze, and pistachio dukka (Egyptian spice consisting of hazelnuts and herbs). The fish was prepared with potatoes, capers, celery, olive, and torgashi, displayed and splayed butterfly style. The shawarma was presented under skewers preceding optional sets, which further completes the dish. We chose Fork and Knife set — couscous with chili, dried fruit, mint and feta ($7). Other choices were “on a pita” with pickled cabbage and “with greens” roasted pepper, fennel, sheep feta, and goddess dressing. Ela’s chef knows his way around blends and spices.

The dessert menu has only two choices: Greek fro-yo with baklava crumbles ($9) or Ela’s Greek donuts ($9). For another $5, elevate those with boozy cherries or coconut coffee affogato (“drowned” in Italian.).

The Ela interior casts a modern twist in Mediterranean flair.

Requisite inquiry, “What makes Ela’s hummus special?” Jeffers stated, “Traditional hummus only has a handful of ingredients, so making a standout hummus comes down to the quality of the products and process. We use very high-quality tahini, fresh lemon, great olive oil, but the real trick comes down to blending. To get silky-smooth hummus, you need to blend the chickpeas while hot, and use a very high-speed mixer. By adding in a couple of ice cubes towards the end, it becomes extra silky. We can save you the trouble if you come get ours!”

Vice President of Operations, Operating Partner, Stuart Fierman, relayed, “My mom and our cousins all hail from the vibrant VaHi neighborhood. My sister called the area ‘home’ for over a decade, residing just up the street from Ela’s current location. As the founding general manager of La Tavola 25 years ago, my roots run deep in this community. Being a part of crafting a concept that speaks to me on a personal level is incredibly meaningful. Enjoying a cocktail on the patio, surrounded by a spread of Mezze and friends, evokes fond memories of cozy cafes in Jerusalem. I hope Ela provides others with the same warmth, camaraderie, and sense of connection that I cherish.”

Fierman, a member of The Temple, is often at Jewish tasting events to show Fifth Group’s community support.

Ela is located at 1186 North Highland. Open seven days a week. Check for happy hour, weekend brunch, and dinner hours starting at 5 p.m. (404) 873-4656.

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