(L-R) Executive Chef Bruno Vergara and Owner Robert Kaster behind the bar at South American restaurant, wine and coffee bar El Viñedo Local
BY BRIAN CARR
Robert Kaster and his partner Keith Miller have lived in Midtown since 2010. Kaster and Miller set their sights on creating a wine bar in their neighborhood and offering cuisine that was different from anything else nearby.
“We wanted to create a great place for the community, for people to come and hang out,” Kaster said. “So we started searching. It was really important to us that we were on Peachtree Street.”
According to Kaster, the location on the ground floor of the Circa 730 building at Peachtree and 4th Streets works brilliantly because it’s at the nexus of so many different groups and hours. Office workers pop downstairs for coffee and breakfast in the morning, lunch in the afternoon, and wine with dinner after they clock out. Residents are right next door and nearby to do the same. Fox Theatre patrons visit before shows in the evenings and on weekends.
El Viñedo Local has been operating for more than a year and a half. But from a business lens, Kaster knows he hasn’t seen a typical year yet.
“We talk about this all the time,” he said. “It’s been a challenge, because we just don't see those things that normally in a restaurant you're going to say, ‘Okay, this is what this season looks like.’”
Kaster says it’s hard to plan out staffing sometimes. But it’s a big deal that the Fox schedule is full again, office workers are returning, and Georgia Tech has returned to in-person learning. The recent Atlanta Pride weekend was also a boon for sales.
“I think we're now seeing the world that better resembles what we thought we were jumping into when we put this together,” Kaster said.
Credit: El Viñedo Local Instagram
Discovering the Best of South American Gastronomy
South American fare kept coming up as an idea in their planning. Kaster explains that South America is home to a burgeoning wine industry known for finding unique combinations of flavor that defy traditional winemaking.
And, as Kaster describes it, “South America made sense because the food is more nuanced. We actually traveled down there in 2018 to experience the food. The food there is not spiced with hot spice, but with spices that bring out the flavor. And it pairs really well with wine.”
“We said 'it's really important though that if we're going to do this, that we've got connections to the culture.' So we import things from South America first, local second, and we like to support minority-owned businesses in that order.”
Executive Chef Knows Authentic South American Food
Kaster knows a lot about wine. But he says he didn’t know as much about food. So he brought in Executive Chef Bruno Vergara, a native of Uruguay who has worked in the local restaurant scene for two decades.
Vergara says South American food is a melting pot of flavors in part because of the continent’s varied geographic features. Coastal regions there yield excellent seafood. Potatoes thrive in the mountain regions.
“But immigration throughout the continent is what's made South American food,” Vergara said.
For example, Argentina and Uruguay were heavily influenced by Italian and Spanish food, but made with local ingredients. And Peru and Chile during the 1900s were destinations for immigrants from Asia that influenced food there.
“There's a style of cooking called Nikkei that is basically what came out of cooking Peruvian ingredients with Japanese techniques,” Vergara said. “It's very underrepresented here in the States, and it’s one example of something I wanted to bring to the forefront.”
Vergara says the relentless focus on authenticity draws patrons from Atlanta’s community of Peruvians and Chileans for the ceviche, Venezuelans for the arepas, Argentinians for the empañadas, and Colombians as well.
“These communities who live in Atlanta found a place,” he said. “And we hear this all the time where they feel that their food and their culture are represented positively.”
If Vergara has his way, the traditional Choripan sandwich will never come off the menu. The bread is sourced from Atlanta’s only authentic Uruguayan bakery. The grilled chorizo comes from Argentina, layered in with house-made chimichurri, butter lettuce, and Georgia tomatoes, and served with yucca fries.
Wine Program Reflects South American Innovation in Winemaking
Kaster’s appreciation for wine comes across in the way he describes a couple of his favorites at El Viñedo Local. In planning the wine program, Kaster said “The cool thing with South America is we have been able to find wines that connect to all the things people like, but with some twists.”
Kaster says his Piattelli Malbec is 100% Malbec, but it drinks like a Bordeaux blend. The Garzón Albariño features a honeydew note and is more full-bodied than Albariños he’s tried in Spain.
“The cool thing about South American winemaking, is they don't have as many rules,” said Kaster. “It's like the Wild West of winemaking. You've got Bordeaux winemakers who've gone to Argentina and built wineries and they'll blend Bordeaux, but then they'll add things like Crios, which you don't find in a Bordeaux blend. Because they can do that. And you could never do that in Bordeaux. So they find another grape to add that makes the blends a little more special.”
All Are Welcome at El Viñedo Local’s Communal Table
When you come, check out the large communal table at the center of the interior space. The 20-person table is integral to how Kaster and Vergara describe El Viñedo Local’s purpose.
"Food brings everyone together,” Vegrara adds. “Everyone eats. It's the ultimate equalizer. There's nothing better than bringing a group of people together to share a meal and talk."
“We see a diversity of people coming in,” Kaster said. “And our team is a very diverse team. And everybody gets along. The world doesn't have a lot of that. And we wanted to make a place where that exists.”