Posts tagged atlanta travel
how to do atlanta - sample food truck fare
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Food trucks evoke memories of the state fair for me. Comfortably chilly weather, the loud hum of generator-powered everything, the smell of something savory in the air. On a lovely cool day this past fall, I took leave from my little office and went to sample some Atlanta food truck eats at 12th and Peachtree. Here's a visual recap of the excursion.  


wow food truck menu

pulled pork arepa - wow food truck

 

WOW food truck atlanta

 

wonderlicious on wheels

 

tamale queen food truck

 

jus' loaf'n food truck

 

sweet auburn bbq food truck

 

the mobile marlay

 

mobile marlay menu

 

fish and chips from the mobile marlay

 

fish and chips - the mobile marlay

 

slider u food truck

 

buen provecho food truck

 

just good food now

 

ibiza bites

 

Life is Food. Taste Life. Ibiza Bites

 

ibiza bites menu

 

signature bite - ibiza bites

 

cake pops - ibiza bites

 

honeysuckle food truck

 

yumbii truck

 

cheers,

k

how to go on an eating spree on atlanta's buford highway
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You know, you really have to be careful about the kind of people you hang with. The wrong crowd can get you caught up in all kinds of foolishness, and truly cause you to lose all sense of yourself. Such was the case this past spring when a food-loving friend invited me to join some other food-loving friends for a little dim sum at Gu's Bistro. What started as a simple weekend lunch gathering turned into a multi-hour, multi-stop foodie bender along Buford Highway.

The limits of decency (and my waistline) were definitely stretched.


gu's bistro

 

chengdu cold noodles - gu's

zhong dumplings

sticky rice w/pork filling

glutinous rice and ground peanuts

As we were departing Gu's, I overhead some talk of going to a nearby ethnic market to check out the food court. I was game. Those with prior engagements and / or a semblance of sanity peeled off from the group. The rest of us pressed on to Assi Plaza, just up the road a piece on Buford Highway.

 

russian easter cake

russian easter cakes - lana's express

 

Beautiful Russian Easter cakes from Lana's Express. We placed an order for a smattering of items from the menu, and wandered around the market for a bit while waiting for the food. That's right. Just before Easter, and instead of fasting, we're gorging ourselves. Wanton heathens, the lot of us.

mexican desserts - panaderia @ assi plaza

 

panaderia - assi plaza

 

ron's pair

My friend Ron shows me his bowls. Not sure if he notices that one is bigger than the other. He looks so happy, I can't bring myself to tell him.

 

russian delights

Tastings from Lana's Express include: pelmeni (meat-stuffed dumplings), roast chicken with rice and a ketchup-based sauce, and two pickled salads - one with cabbage and carrot, the other with cucumber, tomato, and dill.

 

pickled salads - lana's express

 

 

hot dog toppings

 

Oh, what? You thought it was over? After we finish our second lunch, someone in this group of people I am now beginning to realize is a bunch of crazies, starts talking about a hot dog place nearby that has a ridiculous amount of toppings on tap, and at least 5 different types of hot dogs to choose from. When I hear my own voice answering yes to the question, "Wanna go?" I know I am one of them.

 

hot dog menu - america's top dog

 

Turns out there's actually 7 different varieties of dog on the menu at America's Top Dog in Chamblee.

 

ode to the hot dog

 

regional hot dog dress

 

hot dog - naked

 

hot dog - dressed

 

After all of this, we head to a Lebanese bakery in  the same plaza as America's Top Dog. We don't eat again, but a few of us take home some Middle Eastern treats for later. Ya know, just in case. No pics of the Lebanese bakery, 'cause I'm too full to lift a camera. All I can do is sit and giggle like a giddy schoolgirl.

 

We finally leave Buford Highway and retire to one of the crazies' backyard deck, where we lounge about like stuffed ticks and listen to our host read excerpts aloud from his favorite Szechuan cookbook. Later on, he shows us this hilarious video he recently saw on YouTube. A little video about an animal known as... the honey badger.

 

 

After the day's gluttony, I totally identify with this creature.

cheers,

k

how to do atlanta - where to eat lunch
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I've got a confession to make. I've been holding out on you. I assure you however, there was no malicious intent. I'm just... lazy. You see, I've been having some pretty fabulous (and some just alright) dining experiences around Atlanta lately, and I've just been too lazy to write about them. But the good news is, I haven't slacked off on taking some pretty fabulous (and some just alright) pictures of these dining experiences. So here's what I figured. Instead of stockpiling all these tasty little visual tidbits and pretending like I'm actually going to do each one justice with a proper review, I'll just show you the goods.

Since when has porn been about dialogue, anwyay?

 


This week's food porn features pics from some of  my favorite atlanta lunch spots.

Urban Pl8

stir fry @ urban pl8

Look at the separation on that brown rice. Yeah, you like that, dontcha?

beet salad @ urban pl8

 The Original El Taco

lunch @ the orginal el taco

 

el burger @ the orginal el taco

 

Only thing sad about this lunch is that El Taco only serves lunch on the weekends. Que lastima.

 

5 Seasons Brewery - Westside

alligator egg rolls @ 5 seasons brewery, westside

 New Paradise (Buford Highway)

salt and pepper fish @ new paradise (buford highway)

 

garlic green beans @ new paradise (buford highway)

 

Sufi's

chicken koobideh wrap and salad @ sufi's

 

sabzi @ sufi's

 

The sabzi is an assortment of greens, herbs, and other accompaniments to be enjoyed with flatbread. Sufi's sabzi: mint leaves, basil leaves, cucumber slices, butter, feta, olives, and walnuts.

 

yogurt and beets @ sufi's

 

Bocado

fried chicken sandwich @ bocado

 

burger stack @ bocado

Bocado's burger stack is what the Big Mac dreams about being when it grows up.

 

 Marlow's Tavern

fish tacos & fried okra @ marlow's tavern

Seriously, is there ever a bad time for fried okra? Methinks not.

 

cheers,

 

k

wine dinners: a great way to find good wine

When it comes to finding a wine you like, you’ve really only got a few methods to choose from.

  • you can take a recommendation from a friend or an expert,
  • you can take a wild guess based on the prettiness of the label and / or the floweriness  of the wording on the bottle as you stand scratching your head in the aisle
  • or… you can taste it.

Of those three methods, only tasting is foolproof. Friends and experts may have different palates, and we all know better than to judge a wine by its cover, don’t we? And even once you’ve chosen a wine, there’s the work of figuring out what wine goes with what.

Enter, the wine dinner. This growing trend helps experienced and budding wine connoisseurs make sense of it all. If you haven’t had the chance to go to a wine dinner yet, lemme ‘splain what you’re missing out on.

 

What is a Wine Dinner?

A wine dinner is multi-course meal, typically hosted by a restaurant, a winery or a combination of the two. Each course of the meal comes along with a wine that has been selected to complement the dish being served.

 

What’s So Great about Wine Dinners?

You get to relax – unlike wine tastings and tours where you’re sort of shuffled along between tastings, at a wine dinner you’re comfortably seated. You can even kick your shoes off if you want, I won’t tell.

You get a serious wine education – during the wine dinner, either the restaurant’s sommelier or a representative from the vineyard will provide notes on the wines you taste that you simply won’t get anywhere else. Plus, if you happen to attend a wine dinner with other ‘cork dorks’, you’ll learn even more from the conversation.

You get to eat some really great food – most of the restaurants hosting wine dinners are pretty top-notch. Often, they’ll feature special dishes for the wine dinner that aren’t on their regular menu.

You save money – during a wine dinner you’ll typically taste a minimum of four dishes, along with equal servings of wine for a much lower price than you would if you were to purchase them all at regular price.

Here’s a quick roundup of three wine dinners in Atlanta that I’ve attended recently, and how I fared at each.

 

Mirassou Wine Dinner

As part of a multi-city promotional tour coinciding with the 156th anniversary of Mirassou Winery, California winemaker David Mirassou hosted a series of wine dinners for local food and beverage writers, wine educators, and bloggers across the country. The Atlanta stop of the tour featured a 6-course tasting menu prepared by Chef Kevin Gillespie of Woodfire Grill, and yours truly was invited to attend.  Each course was a perfect mouthful of local, seasonal ingredients that Chef Gillespie crafted to complement the accompanying wine. Throughout the meal, David entertained us with stories from his family’s winemaking past, and explained the unique characteristics of each wine we tasted. Needless to say, the food was amazing. The wines – a pleasant surprise.

My favorite wine of the evening: Mirassou Cabernet Sauvignon – I’m not usually a big fan of Cabs, most tend to be too tannic for my tastes. But Mirassou’s Cabernet was much more drinkable, while still retaining the tannic profile. I dubbed it, ‘the softer side of Cab’. Retails for around $10

 

 

Mother’s Day Brunch at Frogtown Cellars

Craving the experience of Napa, but lacking the time or the funds? Georgia’s wine country is a suitable alternative for us Atlantans. This past Mother’s Day I decided to treat Mom and myself to our first visit to a Georgia winery. We chose Frogtown Cellars in Dahlonega, and were treated to a delicious 4-course brunch with wine pairings in a truly beautiful setting.

My favorite wine of the day: Frogtown First Convergence – East-meets-West blend of Cabernet and Malbec grapes from Russian River (66%) and Cabernet Franc grapes from Frogtown vineyard (34%). Retails for $27.99

 

 

The Generous Pour Wine Event at The Capital Grille

Did you know that there are only 173 Master Sommeliers in the entire world? So it’s a real treat when one of these esteemed wine experts hand picks 9 of his personal favorites and invites you to taste them. That’s exactly what went down this week at The Capital Grille in Buckhead. The restaurant invited several local food writers to a special preview of their summer wine event, The Generous Pour. George Miliotes, Master Sommelier and resident wine expert at The Capital Grille, joined via telecast to explain the 9 wines he chose for the event, and then answered our questions via live Twitter feed. After George’s introduction, we sampled each of the wines along with complementary dishes prepared by Chef Brad Weiderman. The unparalleled white-glove level of service at the Capital Grille made this one a real treat.

My favorites of the evening:

Tarima Hill Monastrell, 2009 – A Spanish varietal that’s not available anywhere else in the US for the next couple of months. It’s a medium-bodied red that I can only describe as ‘seductive’.

Chateau St. Jean, Belle Terre, 2008 – arguably the best Chardonnay I’ve ever tasted. Described as ‘a rich, creamy wine… with toasted almond and vanilla oak’. From the Russian River region of California. $25.

 

 

The Capital Grille’s Generous Pour Wine Event continues through September 4, and is only $25 for ample servings of all 9 wines with dinner. Do this!

To see questions and answers from The Generous Pour preview event, search for #tcgpour11 on Twitter.

Want to get personalized wine recommendations from a Master Sommelier? Follow George Miliotes (@TheWineExpert) on Twitter.

But hey – don’t just settle for his (or my) recommendations. Go out and taste for yourself.

 

cheers,

k

how to do atlanta - the sound table
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Remember that trip you took to New York back in your mid-twenties? You were feeling young, sexy and sure of yourself. The friends that you came to visit in the bustling city introduced you to their group of friends, and you all met up for an evening out at a cool, but unpretentious lounge in lower Manhattan. The DJ there played an intriguing and unintrusive medley of urban underground funkiness, the drinks from the bar were prepared just right, the food: filling, flavorful, and just light enough to keep you feeling flirty. At one point in the evening, you thought to yourself, “why isn’t there a place like this back home in Atlanta?”If you’ve never had that particular New York experience, it’s ok. You can still create a similar memory right here in the A, at The Sound Table.

Open for only a few months now, The Sound Table is the second restaurant / lounge venture for Jeff Myers, who also owns the equally hip resto-lounge Top Flr. All the elements that succeed at Top Flr – small plates, expertly prepared classic cocktails with modern updates, laid-back but attentive service staff, and mood-altering décor – are in place at The Sound Table. The decor is perhaps the most marked difference between the two. Whereas Top Flr is more vampire-chic with its monochrome baroque appointments, The Sound Table is more urban lodge with simple clean lines, exposed ductwork, expansive ceilings and warm wood accents. As a result, the overall feel of The Sound Table is more casual, but you can still put on your cute go-out gear if you want.

The Sound Table is certainly a welcome addition to the Edgewood corridor. The other bar / restaurant establishments on the strip either tend toward a slightly grungier, more hipster vibe (a la Noni’s Bar and Deli, and Edgewood Corner Tavern) or can be off-puttingly upscale (a la Café Circa) for a casual evening out. The Sound Table fills that in-between space that the now-closed Harlem Bar used to, but thankfully, there’s more square footage to enjoy yourself in. The only not-so-stellar thing is the parking situation. The adjacent lot is super tiny, and street parking can be a bit of a challenge (and a trifle scary, given the neighborhood night walkers) on busy weekend evenings.

That minor nuisance aside, The Sound Table has quickly become one of my favorite places to hang, and is tops on the list of places I recommend to people who are looking for a true taste of Atlanta’s nightlife and dining scene.

Here’s a quick sampling of some of the standouts from Executive Chef Shane Devereux’s menu:

  • Chinese Pork Ribs – My absolute favorite on the menu. Tender, fall of the bone ribs with an Asian glaze of soy and red chili.
  • Vietnamese Pho – not an authentic pho, but a respectable approximation of the Vietnamese noodle soup. The Sound Table’s version comes with tender bits of shredded oxtail and a flavorful broth with all the expected accompaniments – hoisin, fresh cilantro and bean sprouts, lime, and pepper sauce. Comforting and refreshing even in the dead of summer.
  • Cece Frito – A delightful appetizer of fried chickpeas and capers dusted in a curry salt. Caution: these things are highly addictive!
  • Spatchcock Grilled Chicken – A testament to the fact that simple cooking can be the most exciting. Cuts of bone-in chicken cooked over open flame with simple flavoring of lemon juice, salt, pepper, and a hint of herbs. The first time I tried this, I enjoyed it so much that I was compelled to replicate the dish at home (recipe soon come!).
  • Chocolate Truffle w/ Salted Caramel Ice Cream – I usually don’t ever go for dessert. But this one is totally worth the extra calories. A chocolate molten cake that’s light yet decadent with a perfectly contrasting dollop of salted caramel ice cream. I was beside myself.

Food prices are slightly higher than what you’d find at a traditional bar / lounge. But they’re in line with the quality of the dishes and overall experience.

The cocktails at The Sound Table almost deserve a review unto themselves. Classic adult beverages are reincarnated with names like “Summer Home in Milledgeville” – featuring St. Germain elderflower, absinthe, and green chartreuse – “Small Axe” with tamarind-infused rum and grapefruit Ting, and my personal favorite, “The Gemini Handshake” – a mix of cachaca, lime, and locally made pineapple-habanero jelly. The bartenders are clearly master-level mixologists, and the showmanship that comes along with the drink making is well worth the price of admission.

Oh, and let's not forget the most important element – the music. The Sound Table is a joint venture among 3 DJ-preneurs (yeah, I said it) whose aural palates are as global as the joint’s menu. Resident and guest DJs drop in often and spin an eclectic mishmash of future funk, electro soul, trip hop, dubstep and everything in between.

New York – eat your heart out.

cheers, k

Spatchcock Chicken photo courtesy of Leon Dale

Sound Table Cocktails photo courtesy of Carlos Bell

The Sound Table 483 Edgewood Avenue (at Boulevard) Atlanta, GA 30312 www.thesoundtable.com

how to do atlanta - ms ann’s snack bar
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photo credit: www.burgerbeast.com People – especially Southerners, and especially Southerners in the ‘hood – have a tendency to exaggerate.

Hey, man! You seen Tiny lately? That boy done got big as a house!" "Don’t say?" "Yeah, I saw him last Tuesday and I swear fo’ God you could land a plane on his backside!"

Exaggeration and braggadocio are simply part of the parlance of the South and especially of those well-known Southern ‘hoods like Kirkwood – home of Ms. Ann’s Snack bar and – as the red painted words on the side of the building will tell you - home of the “World famous ghetto burger”. Now, I’m not certain if people in other countries have heard of Ms. Ann or her monstrously sized burgers, but due to a 2007 article in the WSJ, the ghetto burger received national acclaim as the nation’s # 1 burger. ‘Nationally Renowned Ghetto Burger’ doesn’t quite have the same snappy ring to it, plus the shack-sized snack bar probably doesn’t have enough room for all those extra letters, so… world-famous it is. Regardless, both the burger and the woman are famous enough in local circles to have become the stuff of legend, and since rumor has it that Ms. Ann will be hanging up her spatula for good this month (not the 1st time that rumor has surfaced, mind you), I felt it was my duty to pay her a visit before the legend became history.

I approached the screen door of the snack bar with a feeling of trepidation. Ms. Ann’s reputation preceded her, and the image I’d painted of her in my head was somewhere between the Soup Nazi and the Great Oz. I’d heard of her long list of rules prominently posted above the counter, and had been repeatedly warned with tales of what happened to those who dared not follow them – a fate that could range from being yelled at to being thrown out. I couldn’t remember all of the rumored rules, but the ones I did remember seemed simple enough: no talking on cell phones, no cussing, no babies on the lunch counter, the standard no-shirt-no-shoes-no-service, and the most important of all: if there are no seats available at the 8-seat lunch counter, do not come inside.

Unfortunately, when I arrived, the counter was full, but an elderly couple was preparing to leave, so I took a seat on the worn white patio furniture in the snack bar’s ‘waiting area’.  On a previous attempted visit, both the counter and the waiting area were full, and the wait was up to 2 hours. Needless to say, I felt lucky to only have a few minutes pass before going inside.

Once there, I claimed one of the open stools at the far end of the counter and took a few moments to soak in the scene. That prominently displayed list of rules, as it turned out, wasn’t so prominent after all. It was mostly obscured by framed photographs of previous diners – local politicians and figures of note – with time-faded signatures and words

photo credit: Atlanta Journal Constitution

of gratitude scribbled in the corners of each. Behind the counter, I spied the legend herself, a cocoa-colored, wiry older woman who was moving rather nimbly between an impossibly small griddle loaded with impossibly large hamburger patties, and a dilapidated fridge stocked to the brim with burger toppings and large plastic jugs of tea, lemonade, and red punch. On the opposite wall of the restaurant was another framed picture, this one larger than the rest – a black-and-white graduation photograph of a young Ms. Ann… smiling. On one of her passes from griddle to fridge, Ms. Ann stopped to chat with a couple and their two young daughters that were seated next to me. During the exchange, the smile appeared again. I was beginning to wonder if I had stumbled into the wrong Ms. Ann’s Snack Bar. Maybe this was a Bizarro Ms. Ann that had no rules and treated customers with a smile instead of a snarl. Just then, she stepped over to take my order.

"What you gon’ have?"

A little more brusque than I would have expected anywhere else, but the tone was really to let me know that if I was going to be one of these indecisive or overly picky customers, she was not going to be the one to indulge me. It was just the reality check I needed to convince me that I was indeed in the right place.

I had originally planned to order the ghetto burger – a monstrous, structurally unsound assembly of two burger patties topped with sautéed onions, chili, bacon, cheese, lettuce, and tomato – but after watching my dining neighbor struggle with his, I decided to opt for a more sensible selection: a cheeseburger, fries, and a lemonade

I’ve always been a fan of watching my food being cooked, it’s about as close as you can get to cooking something yourself, plus it’s an opportunity to see the skill and love that the person preparing your food puts into it. You get a greater sense of appreciation and connection to the end result than you do when your plate of food just magically arrives from somewhere in the back. Once you’ve seen Ms. Ann hand-shape those huge beef patties, slap them on the grill with all of the finesse of a mustachioed Swedish masseuse named Helga, then move back and forth in the narrow cooking space behind the counter with the automated assurance of someone who’s been doing this for ms-ann-cheeseburgerdecades, you will most certainly appreciate the end result when she sets it in front of you. My cheeseburger – topped with sautéed onions, lettuce, and tomato – almost completely filled one Styrofoam plate, while my order of fries - dusted with seasoned salt - filled another. I took my first bite of the world-famous, nationally renowned burger, and found it to be… good. Was it the best burger I’d ever had? Was it, for that matter, better than something I could have made in my own kitchen? Not really. But it was good. Well seasoned, well done, topped with fresh ingredients, and so large that even with my most earnest attempt, I couldn’t possibly finish the whole thing.

In Latin American, Caribbean, and Asian countries, street and neighborhood food vendors are a prominent feature of the dining-out landscape. The personalities of the proprietors are often as much of a draw as the food itself, and those that stay in the game for years usually become larger-than-life personas as a result of the local lore surrounding them. By contrast, the majority of the American dining public has abandoned neighborhood food stands in favor of a more anaesthetized, highly styled eating experience. So the fact that Ms. Ann is still holding her own after 37+ years, and continues to draw crowds of locals and visitors alike, proves that she and her ghetto burger are most definitely legends. No exaggeration required.

cheers,

k

Ann's Snack Bar 1615 Memorial Dr Atlanta, GA 30317 (404) 687-9207

how to do atlanta - where to find the best fries in atlanta
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addict

I know I shouldn't love them as much as I do, but...I do. I mean some people like french fries, but I truly love them.  You know, kinda like an addict truly loves crack. Ask any friend of mine who's made the unwise decision to reach for a couple of fries from my plate. Let's just say, no one has ever done it more than once.

This weekend, I happened across Meredith Ford's latest list of the 5 best fries in Atlanta. Of course, being the fry fiend that I am, I made a mental note to check out a couple of the places on her list whose fried taters I haven't yet sampled (Shaun's and Porter Beer Bar), but there were others that I was surprised made the cut (Steak and Shake? really?). After reading, it inspired me to pen my own list of Atlanta restaurants with the best fries.

Check 'em out and let me know if there's some other places you know of in the city where I should be fueling my addiction.

5. Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Something about the whole Five Guys fry experience is just, well...dirty. But that's part of what makes them so good. Oh you're just gonna throw the fries into a little styrofoam cup? How delightfully low-brow! Grease stains on the bag? But someone might see...oh hell, I don't care. Give 'em to me, give them all to me! Let them spill over the cup into the bag. Let the cajun seasoning stick to my fingers so I have to lick it off. And when I'm done devouring them like I have absolutely no home training, hand me a napkin so I can ever so daintily dab the evidence off my lips. Nothing to see here, folks. Keep it movin'.

4. Eclipse di Luna

Here's where Meredith and I definitely agree. This authentic tapas restaurant serves up fried potatoes with a Spanish flair. Eclipse di Luna's patatas bravas are chunky cut, covered in a saffron-hued seasoning mix, and served with a side of romesco sauce, which is sort of like a spicy aioli. Ay, que sabrosos!

3. Corner Tavern dsc01907

Honestly, the fries at Corner Tavern are only slightly above average. But what pushes them to such a high place on my list are the dipping sauces, of which there are six to choose from. An order of the never-frozen, skin-on spuds comes with your choice of not one, not two, not three... but FOUR dipping sauces! My faves are: curried ketchup, BBQ, and Thai chili (I usually double up on this one).

2. Cafe di Sol  

The shoestring potato often gets the shun from me. Mainly because most places just don't do them right. They're either so thin that they fry up hard and insubstantial; or they're underseasoned and just taste like... shoestrings. Cafe di Sol, however, avoids both of those missteps. Their hand-cut shoestrings are just thin enough to get a good crispy exterior, but thick enough so you still enjoy the mouth feel of the fluffy interior. They're also liberally seasoned with a mixture of what I think is garlic, salt, and pepper, and sprinkled with fresh chives. I effs with these crabcakes.

1. The Shed at Glenwood

The reason for The Shed at Glenwood claiming the #1 spot in my list can be summed up in three words. Black. Truffle. Powder. A light sprinkling of this earth-colored pixie dust takes an already spectacular fry to drool-worthy proportions. The Shed's taters are made like the traditional Belgian fry (should it really come as any surprise that the folks who give us such great beer would also have such good fries?). Cut into batons and fried twice - once on low heat and once at extremely high heat - the result is a crispy fry with a luxuriously creamy interior. But thankfully, even perfection isn't good enough for The Shed. Chef Lance Gummere makes them absolutely decadent by adding black truffle powder - which retails for around $15 an ounce. But it's worth every penny. The powder imparts a rich, umami flavor that's almost like eating meat. OPULENCE! Thank you Chef Lance! And shouts out to the Belgians. Oh, and uh...good looking out, pigs.

cheers,

k

how to do atlanta - hike the beltline

beltline_logo

A little after 10am on Saturday morning, a loose group of strangers is gathered in front of Park Grounds coffee shop in Reynoldstown. We're all exchanging casual introductions and pleasantries as we prepare to embark on an 8 (or so)-mile hike of the Beltline.

"Ok. By show of hands, who's got a car to transport folks to the starting point?" the slightly hoarse, sort of gravelly voice querying us belongs to Angel, our tour guide for the day. A few hands go up in the air, and our small group splinters into even smaller groups that can fit into each car.

I - and 3 others - follow Angel. "Alright, so before we get started, what part of town does everyone live in?" he asks us.

I pipe up first, "Kirkwood."

"North Lake." This comes from David, a property manager and father of two.

Jimmy, an amateur videographer answers next, "Decatur."

"Pittsburgh," chimes in my beau.

"See, the Beltline is already bringing Atlanta together!"

In case you haven't heard, the Beltline project is a proposed conversion of over 22 miles of historic rail lines within the city of Atlanta into an interconnected network of transit, trails, parks, housing and urban greenspace. Basically, it has the potential to transform Atlanta even more than Sherman's march to the sea.

Like countless other Atlantans, I've been hearing about the Beltline project for quite some time, and getting excited at all the excitement that everyone else seems to have about this huge, multi-year endeavor. But, to be honest, I was starting to feel a bit like the emperor in his new clothes concerning all the Beltline fervor. I knew it was something to be excited about, but I couldn't see it. And without seeing it, I really couldn't feel excited about it for myself. So, when I got word of the Beltline Hike being sponsored by Urban Hiking Atlanta (UHA) via Wonder Root, I signed up and prepared to get a hands-on education.

As Angel ushers his car towards the starting point, he gives us a little background on himself. A Miami native, but long time Atlanta resident, he's spent years developing an intimate relationship with the city, and from rather unique perspectives. First, as a bag handler at Hartsfield Airport, then as a train conductor for several years with CSX, and lastly, as an avid volunteer with Trees Atlanta. His passion for both the city and the Beltline is - to say the least - contagious. During his autobiographic introduction, Angel stops mid-sentence and yells out, "Beltline!" as the car ba-bumps over a set of rusty old train tracks. He grins sheepishly. "I can't help it. I have to call it out every time I cross it. My friends are so sick of me doing that."

A few minutes later, we arrive and reconvene with the rest of the group on a steep hill overlooking Stanton Park in Peoplestown. Angel briefs the group on our path for today and introduces us all to Eli Dickerson, who describes himself as 6' tall, and skinny as a rail. Eli is an environmental educator and the founder of Urban Hiking Atlanta. "I used to go to North Georgia a couple of times a month to hike. But when gas prices shot up last year, it just got too expensive. So I thought, ‘Why not do some hikes around the city?’” The Beltline hike is UHA’s 3rd city safari. Eli’s aim is to conduct a different hike on the 1st Saturday of every month. He emphasizes the open-source nature of the group. “I want everybody to own this. If anyone has a cool neighborhood that they think we should explore, I want them to lead a hike.” I overhear some murmurs about a machete hike from West End to Bankhead. Yeah, I think to myself, probably won’t be making that one.

With the introductions complete, and the headcount conducted (25 humans, 5 canines), we embark on a 4-hour journey that covers most of the eastern portion of the Beltline. Our trek takes us from Peoplestown, through Ormewood Park, then on to Cabbagetown, Inman Park and Poncey-Highland. Several stretches of our path are overrun with hip-high weeds and choked with dormant kudzu vines. In a few weeks, the kudzu will be so thick as to make it impossible to pass through. Through it all, I can’t help but feel like I’ve been given an all-access backstage pass to the city. The familiar places that I drive past everyday are scarcely recognizable from this vantage point. I’ve never noticed the two story all-glass structure sitting to the right of a bridge that crosses Highland Avenue; nor the makeshift skate park sitting in the shadows under a bridge near the Telephone Factory Lofts; ditto for the graffiti art that spans a length of wall along Wylie Street like one long multi-user mural. And on a hill across the street from City Hall East, an ironwork sculpture that Eli has dubbed, “Crucifixion on Kudzu Mountain” silently observes the traffic whooshing by. It’s obviously been here for years, but I doubt if more than a few people have ever noticed it.

At varying points of the hike, some folks peel off from the group, while others join. By the time we reach the terminus at Piedmont Park, only a core portion of the initial group remains. We wave our goodbyes and smile at each other, exhausted but thrilled to have shared in such a unique excursion. Later that day, the beau and I return to Park Grounds to fetch the car. As I’m driving off, I hear a familiar ba-bump under the car’s wheels. Without even thinking, I yell out, “Beltline!” then laugh uncontrollably at myself for being such an easy convert.

cheers,

k

Maps of the Beltline hike: Southeast map    Northeast map To learn more about the Beltline project visit: www.beltline.org For more on Urban Hiking Atlanta, visit: www.urbanhikingatlanta.blogspot.com and, for more on Wonder Root, check out: www.wonderroot.org

how to eat at the waffle house

I used to joke that in order to get a job at the Waffle House you had to be an ex-con. And if you looked close enough, you could actually see the leg chain that shackled the line cook to the base of the grill. Obviously that’s not true, but if you’ve gone into the ‘wrong’ Waffle House after a late night at the club, you know it ain’t completely false, either.

Still, there’s something about the place that keeps me going back every once in a while. Maybe it’s because they’re as common in Georgia as kudzu or springtime pollen. Perhaps it’s the fact that – good or bad– EVERY trip to the waffle house is an experience (Seriously, have you ever been to a Waffle House and left without an interesting story to tell?). Or it could be that it’s the perfect place to go when I’m missing mama and grandma and want somebody to call me ‘baby’ and ‘sugah’ while they serve me food that I KNOW isn’t good for me but tastes soooo right.

It’s a Saturday and I’ve foregone my usual laziness, instead opting to go out and run some early morning errands. Feeling proud that I’m up, dressed, and finished with most of my to-dos before noon, I decide to reward myself with a little breakfast. Cresting a hill, I spy that familiar sign – two simple words spelled out in garish yellow squares – and I feel an instant twinge of nostalgia. As soon as I ask myself, “Should I...?” my stomach responds with an approving grumble, and my hands comply by turning the steering wheel towards the parking lot.

I’m greeted at the door by one of the waitresses whose name I’m certain is either Flo or Gladys or Shirley or something very similar. I choose an empty seat at the counter and she hands me a menu. I’m instantly absorbed in the familiar quick-order cacophony of jangling silverware and clanking dishes, sizzling food on grill, punctuated by the shrill voices of waitresses hollering out orders in a drawling language only spoken here:

Pull! One chicken plate! Drop 2 hashbrowns! 1 scattered, covered, and diiiced, 1 scattered, covered, smothered, and chunked!”

Welcome to the House.

Immediately the grill cook – a big dude with his hair tied back in a long, Boo-Ya Tribe ponytail (leg-chain missing) gets to work. He adds a new round of oil to the griddle, and begins grabbing additional supplies from the nearby fridge, then sets to rhythmically flipping, scrambling, and shifting all the items on the grill. It’s just as much performance art as it is sheer short-order genius.

As I wait for my tried-and-true order of a waffle, a side of sausage, and hash browns – scattered, covered, and smothered, I ponder a couple of stickers positioned above the grill. Both are written in Waffle-speak. 1 reads: ‘Don’t Turn and Burn’, and the other: ‘Kill the Flame and Get in the Game’.

Soon, the meaning of the latter becomes apparent. In a 5-minute lull in the steady flow of customers and orders, the floors are swept, the waffle irons de-crusted, and napkin dispensers refilled. All the while, the staff exchanges sassy comments and witty replies. Everything here – including the banter – moves with a sort of synchronized, snappy timing.

After I finish my meal and pay the check, the waitress who served me drawls loudly from across the room, “Okay, huuun. You have a good day now!

I find myself inadvertently drawling back, “Yes ma’am, you tooooo!”

Waffle House 5565 Northside Drive NW Atlanta, GA 30327 (and many, many other locations with many, many other stories) www.wafflehouse.com

how to do atlanta - flip burger

The concept of Flip is fairly simple – burgers, sides, and shakes – American classics that everyone can identify with. But when the creative consultant behind the concept is local celebrity chef, Richard Blais, you can expect the simple classics to have some very modern updates.

Located on Howell Mill just past Chattahoochee Avenue, Flip Burger Boutique looks and feels like a retro burger joint with Sex and the City flair. From the outside of the building, large windows reveal a dimly lit dining space with patrons swathed in flattering candlelight. The interior aesthetic could be best described as a post-modern Johnny Rocket’s. Stark white predominates, highlighted by flashes of red and chrome. A bar flanks almost the entire length of the room, opposite a few cushy benches set into intimate alcoves. In the center of the space, two rows of adjoining high-top tables create a communal feel, which is ideal, since you’ll invariably be tempted to peek over to see which of Flip’s many gourmet burgers your neighbor settled on. At the rear of the restaurant is the open-air kitchen where you can observe two chefs feverishly churning out the goods.

The burger offerings are split into two categories, beef (organic, of course) and ‘flip’– non-beef alternatives that will satisfy vegetarians, those who shun red meat, and anyone with a hankering for a pork patty. All of the burgers are slider-sized and served on buns that are part-Kaiser, part Hawaiian sweet roll. Actually, they’re more like sliders on steroids, so depending on how hungry you are, one might suffice, but two are recommended for larger appetites and for indecisives like me and my friends. Among the three of us, we sampled 4 different selections:

From the Beef side: Butcher – with red wine jelly, caramelized onion and Cabrales blue cheese, this burger was my absolute favorite. The red wine jelly and caramelized onion added a hint of sweet and a lot of savory, while the tiny amount of Cabrales blue packed a tangy, funky punch.

Southern – featuring a fried patty w/pimento cheese, was definitely my least favorite. I’m not a huge fan of pimento cheese, plus the super-crispy coating encasing the burger shredded the roof of my mouth. Not fun.

From the Flip side: Po Boyger – A shrimp patty topped with lettuce, tomato, a fried lemon slice and Old Bay mayo. Delicate flavors, but still very very tasty. I was pleased that the patty wasn’t overly pureed, and I could still identify what I was eating as shrimp.

Bun Mi – An interpretation of the Vietnamese banh mi hoagie-style sandwich. This burger features a ground pork patty topped with cilantro and pickled veggies. It’s spicy, exotic, and complex – I can definitely see it becoming one of the restaurant’s more popular creations.

For our sides we ordered a sampling of sweet potato tots, french fries, and vodka battered onion rings. Accompanying them were ketchup, a dill mayo, and a honey mustard. Fries and rings were decent, nothing terribly remarkable about either. The tots were slightly disappointing – while the flavor was great, the texture was more mushy than crispy.

For dessert, we ordered one of each of the shakes on the menu – The Krispy Kreme and the chocolate. The Krispy Kreme actually has doughnuts blended into the vanilla ice cream base, and the chocolate shake comes topped with marshmallows given the hand-torch toasting just before being served. The shakes are cooled with liquid nitrogen, which aside from just sounding, well…cool, actually makes for a thick, creamy treat that stays that way until the last slurp.

Service was attentive and friendly if not a little gregarious (it was pretty obvious they’d been coached to make some very pointed suggestions on what and how to order). Blais was onsite for the duration of the evening, and stopped by to chat with us briefly. He admitted to being a bundle of nervous energy, which is understandable when you’re preparing to debut your culinary baby to a town of increasingly fickle and increasingly educated diners.

My bill – which included 2 burgers, a side, and a shake – came to over $20. With the baby burgers averaging about $8, it’ll be interesting to see how well the restaurant performs after the initial excitement wears off and the reality of a tight economy settles back in.

cheers,

k

Flip Burger Boutique 1587 Howell Mill Rd. Atlanta, GA 30318 (404)-352-FLIP

Umezono - a taste of japan in cobb

Despite the never-ending craze for all things Japanese, there are surprisingly very few authentic and affordable Japanese restaurants in the metro-Atlanta area. One very pleasant exception is Umezono.

My first visit to Umezono was at the recommendation of a former co-worker - an older American fellow who was married to a native Japanese woman. This guy, though generally likeable, was certainly no charmer. He was the salty dog type that responded to most people with short, harsh grunts. I managed to build something of a rapport with him when I let on that I knew a little Japanese. This of course led to us talking about Japanese restaurants, and ended up with him agreeing to take me and another colleague to his favorite Japanese eatery for lunch one day. On the day of the outing, I noticed that his eyes had taken on a youngish look, and he’d suddenly become quite garrulous – explaining the proper way to drink ocha and sharing all kinds of tidbits about the different dishes he’d tried. If ‘Old Guns’ (our endearing nickname for him) was this excited about something, I knew I was in for a treat.

From the Irrashaimase yelled out, to the Japanese soap opera playing on the teeny black-and-white TV behind the sushi bar, as soon as you enter Umezono, you know you’re about to encounter the real thing. This is not a place where you will be entertained by a wise-cracking, spatula-twirling griddle cook spooning out ‘steak-chicken-or-shrimp’ covered in teriyaki sauce. Nor will you find waifish waitstaff with high-post attitudes dishing out overly decorated, over-priced maki. So, if either of those is part of your definition of a good Japanese restaurant, you should probably skip this place altogether.

The décor is simple and modest – there’s a main dining area that houses shoji-screened booths and the sushi bar, an overflow dining room off to the left, and a traditional tatami room in the back. The waitresses all exude an air of rushed, but very polite busy-ness, and more than a few don’t speak English very well. But as long as you stick to the items listed on the menu (read: special order at your own risk), there shouldn’t be a problem.

The menu includes an extensive variety of authentic Japanese fare: less-intimidating stuff like donburi, teriyaki, soba and udon dishes mingle with more unfamiliar, tongue-twisting items like: shishamo (grilled whole smelt fish) and gyutan shioyaki (grilled beef tongue with salt).

I’ve only ever visited for lunch, during which there’s a $7.50 combo special that comes with your choice of two small dishes accompanied by miso soup, salad, and rice. My favorites are the saba shiomaki - a small piece of mackerel that’s been grilled to skin-crisping perfection; and the gyoza – that are so good they’ll make you smack umami. Ok - that was corny, but I couldn’t resist.

kanpai,

k

Umezono Windy Hill Plaza 2086 Cobb Pkwy. SE (Windy Hill Rd.) Smyrna, GA 30080 www.umezono.us

how to do atlanta - vickery's glenwood

 

Despite the fact that I live pretty close to Vickery’s and Glenwood Park, I’ve never done more than drive past both of them on a few occasions. Recently, a friend of mine suggested we have lunch there, so I finally got a chance to check it out.

As soon as I entered Vickery’s, I fell in love with the décor. Vinyl, art-deco style chairs in burnt orange and cream nestle up against dark wood tables surrounded by natural stone accents and exposed ductwork. The space feels equally warm and modern – the kind of place you want to linger in not only ‘cause it feels good but also ‘cause it looks good. The space was surprisingly small, but since it was lunch, the crowd was probably much lighter than what is usually is. Strangely enough, so was my appetite that day. As you might have heard, I’m not usually a salad eater when I go out, but this time I opted for one – the Southern Pecan Salad – which featured mixed greens with golden raisins, cucumbers, bleu cheese and candied pecans. Not really sure what makes it ‘southern’ other than the pecans. Hmm…on second thought, it could be quite Southern depending on how you pronounce it. PEE-can = Southern; puh-CAHN = regular old salad. Anyhow, no matter how you say it, it was still right tasty.

I also chose the calamari to share with my friend. Pretty much every restaurant nowadays does calamari, so it’s really only worth noting if it’s done exceptionally well or horribly bad. Vickery’s rendition falls in the exceptional category. Glazed with a sweet chili sauce and tossed with red and green bell peppers and onions, the calamari was perfectly cooked and, thankfully, it came without the tentacle pieces that always make me feel sort of squirmy.

They were out of the wine I originally ordered – a pinot grigio, I think – but the server recommended another one (can’t remember the name of that one either, sorry) that was quite pleasant – bright, citrusy, and refreshing. And yes, I had wine at lunch. Go ahead, tell my boss, see if I care! Okay. Okay. I was off work that day.

Since I kept it light, the cost for lunch wasn’t too bad – around $15 for everything (that includes the split calamari). But with Vickery’s entree’s averaging $15-16, I definitely don’t see myself making it a regular lunch spot. However, if the food quality and service experienced on my first visit is any indicator, I’m looking forward to visiting again for dinner. Or make that…supper, for my Southerners.

cheers,

k

Vickery's Glenwood Park 933 Garrett Street Atlanta, GA 30316 404.627.8818 www.vickerysbarandgrill.com

cameli's pizza - it's in the sauce

camelis_logo.gifI leave for Canada tomorrow night for a 4.5 day work trip and I’m already feeling a little homesick.Wait. Don’t say it. I know what you’re thinking.What? The urban bohemian that loves to stay on the go, and longs to see the world is reluctant to leave home?

It’s kind of funny, but my starting this blog also marked the start of a new relationship with this city, so my imminent departure feels sort of like the first extended absence from a new beau. To ease the pain of parting, I decided to spend the last bit of my weekend in town at one of my more recent favorite finds – Cameli’s Pizza.

My good friend Enoch, aka DJ Nochturnal E-mission, hipped me to this spot just a few months ago. On the last Saturday of each month, he hosts ‘It’s in the Sauce’ – where he and a few other friends get on the 1s and 2s and take turns adding their own special blend of aural herbs and spices to the ambiance of this intown pizza joint. Tonight, Enoch promised to serve up a heaping helping of Brazilian sounds – the perfect mood enhancer for my bon voyage blues.

Located in the same plaza as the infamous ‘murder Kroger’ on Ponce, Cameli’s attracts a hip, but very down to earth crowd. When I arrive around 11pm, I spy a gaggle of skinny-jean, wallet chain wearing cuties bellied up to the bar; over in the corner a brother is intently hunched over his laptop (read: free wireless); and some college kids on their way to or from a nearby club are dancing enthusiastically near the DJ stand – everyone mingles with each other , sharing smiles and easy bits of conversation.

camelis_lounge.JPGThe layout of the restaurant promotes the casual vibe. On one side of the space are a couple of rows of dining booths, in the center on a raised platform is the fully stocked bar surrounded by a smattering of high-top pub tables, and over to the right are 2 additional seating areas. After stopping at the bar to place my order, I make a beeline for the smaller of the 2 – an inviting nook outfitted with vintage 70s furniture and a few kitschy wall hangings. From the comfy orange vinyl chairs, I have a commanding view of the rest of the place, plus I feel like I’m sitting in my own living room. Except…my living room is definitely lacking a framed photo of a lighthouse with the following caption scrawled around the border: “Lighthouses rule. If you don’t like lighthouses, YOU SUCK.” Ahh… so true, so true.

My kitchen is also lacking the magical little creatures that are in the back making the pies at Cameli’s. I can only assume that’s who’s making them, ‘cause they taste like they’ve been sprinkled with elven goodness. One of my favorite specialty pizzas here (okay, I’ll ‘fess up, it’s the only one I’ve tried) is the McCleod Nine – a heavenly combination of chicken, spinach, roasted red peppers and garlic sauce instead of the traditional tomato. Tonight, however, I opt to keep it simple, selecting a slice with cheese and mushrooms. The slices here are monsta-sized (those little elves must work out), with a chewy, crispy crust, just the right amount of sauce, and the freshest ingredients. Mine comes out piping hot – a delightful slice of ooey-gooey goodness that first gets the knife-and-fork treatment, until I work it down to a more manageable, foldable size.

camelis_slice.JPGMy meal finished, I settle back into the chair and enjoy the rest of my beer, as Enoch mixes in some classic Brazilian favorites like Berimbau and Mas que Nada with several newer sounds. I suppress the impish urge to yell out “Konnichi Waaaa!” in response to the heavily sauced fellow who keeps shouting “Ohiooooo!” every few minutes. Apparently, that’s where he’s from, and he’s obviously elated to have found a fellow Midwesterner in this foreign land. Guess I’m not the only one who’s suffering from homesickness.

As I contemplate my pending travel, a certain irony strikes me. Here I am, less than 10 minutes from my house enjoying Italian food, German beer, and Brazilian sounds…. Who says you need to leave home to experience the world?

cheers,

k

Cameli’s Gourmet Pizza Joint 699 Ponce de Leon Ave. Atlanta, GA 30308 www.camelispizza.com

It’s In the Sauce Saturday July 26, 2008 and the last Saturday of every month This month’s feature: Reggae: Dub, Ska, Lovers Rock, Roots, Funk

itsinthesauce-flyer.jpg

a love song for ma
frank_ma_sign.JPG

frank ma’s sign

Some people call you Dinho, some people call you Frank Ma’s. Most Atlantans in the know call you the best Chinese food this side of the Great Wall. Every foodie in Atlanta from Buckhead to Bankhead has written about you, so why should I? What more could I possibly say? But that one Friday night we spent together just before closing has been lingering like a phantom in my mind and haunting my taste buds ever since. So consider this not a review but a futile attempt at exorcism.

I should have known that something so difficult to find even though it was right under my nose, would mean nothing but trouble. But I was determined to have you, so I persisted, bumbling my way up and down Chamblee Dunwoody Road for almost 15 minutes until I finally relented and called out for help.

The woman who answered the phone patiently directed me to Chamblee’s China town. Chamblee has a Chinatown? Almost as soon as the thought formed in my mind, you appeared like a mirage on the back side of the Marta station. Hmmm…I could’ve sworn we just drove past this spot, but I don’t remember seeing this place here before. No matter. The woman from the phone and the man (nay, the magician) whose namesake you bear greeted us warmly and expectantly. “Ah, you made it! Hurry, hurry.” They ushered us to a table in the middle of a floor made of opaque tiles with multi-colored lights slowly pulsing underneath. Wait…did I just step into the Billie Jean video? For a moment, I felt conspicuous and exposed. Like I might have been the main attraction but didn’t know it yet. I pretended to study the menu, flirting with you even though time was running out. I knew what I was here for. I’d soup bunsalready seen what you’d given to the others who’d come before me. They’d marveled about it and plastered pictures of it all over the internet for the world to see. I kind of wanted my time with you to be different, special. But who was I kidding?

"I’ll start with the Shanghai soup buns. And I’d like the sliced fish in hot oil.” The waitress slipped the menu out of my hands with a knowing look. Was I so easy to read?

Mere moments later, the soup buns arrived. At first we just sat there and looked at them with wide-eyed awe, they were almost too pretty to consider eating. Cute little wrinkly dumplings whose sticky, starchy exteriors were transformed into silk by the accompanying briny dipping sauce. I popped one into my mouth and on the first chew, my eyes closed involuntarily. Oh no, I thought. I’ve come undone. The entrees showed up soon kung pao chickenafter. My friend’s kung pao chicken was a glistening display of spicy goodness; and my dish was a ridiculously large bowl of tender fish pieces, bok choy, and straw mushrooms swimming in an addictive, peppery sauce that just begged to be soaked up with some rice.

I heaped a few spoonfuls onto my plate tentatively, not wanting to rush the experience and afraid that if I did, it might break the spell you’d cast on me, making it all just disappear before my eyes. We ate our meals with the same innocent appreciation as the appetizer, each bite eliciting quiet grunts of pleasurable satisfaction.fish in hot oil

We’d planned to go out after dinner, but once we left you and made it back to the car we knew it was a wrap. Nothing was going to top what had just happened.

That night, I drove home silently and slept…well. And I’ve been dreaming of you ever since...

…Call me.

cheers,

k

Dinho / Frank Ma's 5389-A New Peachtree Rd Chamblee, GA 30341 770.234 4885 Adagio Teas