Fine dining embraces an ethnic twist on traditional Southern dishes.
With its American South meets Indian South cuisine, Cardamom Hill has created such a culinary splash that in only one year’s time the 58-seat fine-dining restaurant has garnered a national reputation for excellence—including being named a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation 2013 award for Best New Restaurant and making Bon Appetit’s Top 50 Best New Restaurants list.
Owned and operated by Asha Gomez, the restaurant is named for the mountainous, spice-rich region of Kerala, India, which Gomez called home until she migrated to the U.S. when she was 16 years old.
“We decided to focus on one region in India because I felt that the American palate was extremely refined,” says Gomez. “I didn’t need to dumb my food down, and as it turned out everyone seemed to love it.”
Since opening in January 2012, Cardamom Hill, which is located in Atlanta’s tony Berkeley Heights neighborhood, has earned the respect of the local community, including rave reviews for its signature fried chicken—a dish typically revered as the South’s pride and joy.
“There’s no doubt about it—our first year has been tremendous,” says Gomez. “It’s quite exciting because when we started I had no idea how to put out 150 plates of food.”
Gomez, who says she didn’t choose the restaurant industry, “It chose me,” grew up spending much of her day in the kitchen with her mother and three sisters, preparing regional dishes with Portuguese origins.
After graduating from Queens College in New York City, Gomez headed to Atlanta where she opened her first business venture—a luxury spa—in 2003. As a treat, Gomez prepared dishes from her childhood for regular clientele, who began to come as much for the food as for the spa treatments.
After the economic recession, business dropped by 60 percent and Gomez was forced to close the spa in 2008. But customers missed her food so she started The Spice Route Supper Club, where she served five-course meals in her home for $150 per person.
The supper club operated for a couple of years, earning critical acclaim at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, and then it became clear to Gomez that the time had come to open her own restaurant.