Unless, of course, word gets around that this place offers something out of the ordinary.
Perhaps that’s why Kozmo’s Gastro Pub is still going strong. Four years after it opened in an odd little strip mall on Douglas Road in Johns Creek, Kozmo’s has established itself with clientele who value flavorful food at a reasonable price served in an urbane atmosphere.
All those attributes are hallmarks of owner Oswald Morgan’s groove. Co-owner of The Globe in midtown, which closed in 2006, Morgan has transposed some of the best things about that restaurant into Kozmo’s.
The sparely decorated interior has a clean, contemporary vibe. The open kitchen and high ceilings contribute to the dining area’s uncluttered feel. Chalkboards across one wall announce daily specials.
It’s not a look that is readily found elsewhere in the northern ‘burbs, but that was Morgan’s intent. “It looks and feels a little out of place, and I wanted that,” Morgan said.
The menu, however, is slightly less audacious. It’s comfort food, elevated to the next level in concept and execution.
“My idea was to have our guests be familiar with everything we serve, but feel like they don’t want to or can’t make it at home, so they’d rather come here for it,” Morgan said.
Some of the most adventurous items involve duck confit, a salt and spice-cured duck leg slowly cooked until meltingly tender.
The rich meat can be enjoyed in crispy egg rolls with a carrot and cabbage studded filling and accented with a slaw that gets a mild kick from a red chili-based Indonesian sambal. The confit is also an element of a papperdelle pasta dish with braised cabbage and caramelized onions.
Lastly, a new entrée for fall offers an entire confit duck leg atop a cassoulet of white beans and andouille sausage finished with a sunny side up fried egg. The richness of the egg yolk mingled with the intensely flavored meat is a real treat.
In addition to the egg rolls, my dining partners and I savored Kozmo’s house-smoked salmon dip with capers and red onion, a seemingly simple mixture with a surprisingly bold flavor.
But for us, the undisputed star of our trio of starters was the house poutine. A French Canadian dish seldom found on Southern menus, poutine is essentially French fries, brown gravy and cheese.
In Quebec, the cheese would be in curds bathed in hot gravy. At Kozmo’s, it’s mozzarella cheese melted on top of either braised beef and gravy or duck confit and gravy. We opted for duck. Luxuriantly rich and delightfully messy, this is a dish that should be shared unless you want to feel too happily full to partake of anything further.
In an era of dining out in which burgers are ubiquitous, I would hesitate to recommend yet another one unless it was a superior example of the genre. Kozmo’s fills that bill. Sixty percent brisket and 40 percent sirloin, the freshly ground and hand formed patty isn’t huge, but its beefiness and pleasing texture raise the bar for quality.
It comes with caramelized onion, tomato, mayo, julienned romaine lettuce and melted white cheddar cheese. The sesame bun is from Holeman & Finch Bread Company, an arm of the celebrated intown restaurant that bakes for specialty stores and selected other fine eateries around the metro area.
Another item worthy of mention is hangar steak, a cut of the cow that is quite flavorful but can be chewy if not treated properly by the kitchen. Kozmo’s gives it a 48-hour marinade of garlic, olive oil, shallots, rosemary and fresh lime before pan roasting it to order.
Salmon, roast chicken, fish and chips, and shrimp, fish and grits all share menu space, as do sandwiches like a blackened BLT with tilapia, crab cake salad and a big bowl of mac and cheese.
That last item was probably our least favorite of the many tasty things we tried, only because we prefer it baked rather than “free form,” which essentially is cheese sauce ladled over cooked elbow pasta. But I did like the cheese sauce, a combo of American, parmesan, mozzarella, white cheddar and blue cheeses.
Among the available sides are braised cabbage with bacon and sautéed garlic spinach, which for my taste could have used a tad bit more garlic, but again, that’s just me.
A word about the desserts here. Order one. Just do it. The rum-glazed pineapple cake is sensational. And the vanilla lava puffs are not quite like anything I’ve ever had. The closest description is a mini beignet filled with a creamy hot vanilla cake batter-like liquid. These little wonders come with caramel and chocolate dipping sauces. Sinfully good.
Morgan, who has 20 years of restaurant industry experience under his belt, said he hadn’t planned to get back into the saddle after The Globe, but the tanking economy dealt his investments a serious blow in the ensuing years. When a friend pointed him to the Johns Creek space, he decided to give a restaurant another go.
His experience and food savvy has stood him in good stead. Even with its off-the-beaten-path location and with little or no advertising, Morgan, a Roswell resident, has steadily built a following for Kozmo’s.
“We’re a neighborhood pub, and we want to keep our food as approachable as possible, just not everyday,” he affirmed.
Kozmo Gastro Pub
11890 Douglas Road, Johns Creek