Located in the heart of Historic Downtown Buford, Aqua Terra brings a fine dining experience featuring traditional classics inspired by influences from world cuisine.
By: Lizzy Kidney
While many restaurants come and go, Aqua Terra Bistro has remained a pillar in the community for more than 20 years. That kind of longevity is hard to come by in the culinary world, which has the kind of high turnover that can discourage many from attempting to open a restaurant. It takes a deep knowledge of the industry and a true love for the business to be successful. Aqua Terra’s owner, Laurie Attaway, has both.
Tired of driving to Atlanta in order to visit a nice restaurant, Attaway longed to bring the fine-dining experience to her community. So in September of 1999, she did just that and opened Aqua Terra Bistro in downtown Buford. Her father worked in the industry, so she grew up in the business, building a love for the people and community who inhabit it.
“I love being able to work with a diverse group of people,” Attaway says. “Being around people from all walks of life and with different personalities is a unique experience, and I am honored to have that opportunity to teach them what it is like to run a successful business.”
UPSCALE, YET CASUAL
Inside, Aqua Terra feels upscale, yet casual. “You can be as comfortable in a dress as you are in a pair of jeans,” Attaway says. The relaxing ambiance and elevated menu have long attracted patrons looking to celebrate special events such as a birthday or anniversary, and the restaurant is home to event spaces that can host corporate parties, baby showers, and rehearsal dinners, among other get-togethers. Aqua Terra’s three event spaces can hold anywhere from a small gathering of 14 to up to 90.
Attaway says restaurant patrons visit from not only Buford but surrounding areas including Suwanee, Cumming, Alpharetta, Braselton, and even Gainesville. “We’ve got a pretty wide radius of where our customers come from,” she says. “And we have people who have been coming here since day one. We have a pretty loyal following.”
Chefs Zakee Williams and Heather Murray lead Aqua Terra’s culinary team. Both have extensive backgrounds in the kitchen and work together to add their personal and creative touches to the regular menu items and specials. “Laurie really encourages us to change up our specials daily,” Williams says. “She gives us a platform to be creative in the kitchen, and every week there are a number of different specials we offer for lunch and dinner.”
CHARITABLE AT ITS HEART
Aqua Terra is heavily involved in the community and remains charitable at its heart. It has helped to raise money for Eagle Ranch in Flowery Branch, which provides a stable home environment for children in crisis, every year since opening.
Attaway, who has a heart for animals, has also helped raise money for Planned Pethood, an organization dedicated to helping pets through innovative programs and affordable services. Aqua Terra also recently started Charity Wednesdays, in which a local charity is chosen each month and every Wednesday during that month the charity of choice receives 30% of all restaurant proceeds.
SMALL PLATES, BIG FLAVOR
The team is currently rolling out a new menu of small plates at a more affordable price point. Favorites include the Smoked Gouda Grit Fritters with cheesy and delicious gouda grits fried in batter and placed atop a red pepper jam. The Pork Belly Scallops are another popular choice and feature seared scallops topped with sweet tea pork belly, an Asian brown butter sauce, and shaved apple and fennel salad.
“My current favorite item on the small plate menu is our Shrimp and Grits,” Williams says. ”It includes andouille sausage, shallots, celery, red peppers, creamy corn grits, spicy brandy cream, and scallions. It really is simple and delicious.”
The Fried Pickled Green Tomatoes are a delicious twist on a Southern staple with goat cheese and habanero coulis. For bacon lovers, Murray’s candied bacon is a sweet and salty treat that can be wrapped around dates, added as a side to your meal, or even sprinkled atop dessert.
“We wanted to give our customers the opportunity to try really good new food at a more affordable price,” Attaway says, “Our new small plates are great, but we also kept some of our more popular dishes around, too.”
One long-standing favorite is the French Country Salad, in which field greens are mixed with gorgonzola cheese, bacon, apples, walnuts, and red onions and tossed with a warm apple cider vinaigrette dressing. Other mainstays include the Filet, served over whipped potatoes and topped with a ragout of exotic mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes, and the Seared Scallops served with orecchiette pasta, baby spinach, and an exotic mushroom truffle cream sauce.
When you visit, be sure to order the warm, crusty bread served with a tasty and tangy dipping sauce made from sun-dried tomatoes, onions, balsamic vinegar, and a few other secret ingredients — a dipping sauce so delicious Attaway says they sell it by the quart.
“The menu is unique,” Attaway says. “I think you can come here and be assured no matter what’s on the menu, it’s going to be high-quality ingredients, fresh, and always good.”
In addition to the regular menu items, Aqua Terra Bistro also posts daily specials to their Facebook page.
This attention to detail has helped Aqua Terra Bistro thrive for nearly 20 years. With collaborative chefs, a new menu, and a loyal customer base, there’s no doubt it will be a favorite for many more years to come. For more information about Aqua Terra Bistro, visit aquaterrabistro.com.