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Cold comfort 

Has Agnes & Muriel's lost its touch with down-home cooking?

I've always had a soft spot for Agnes & Muriel's. How could you not? The place is adorable, with its retro '50s decor and giant helpings of Southern-fried comfort food. It's Midtown's take on an old-fashioned meat-and-three. The prices are definitely Midtown -- your frugal dad probably wouldn't approve of a $13 plate of fried chicken or a $20 rack of Coca-Cola basted ribs. But until my most recent visit, I always thought it was worth it.

Items that should've tasted fresh and homemade instead tasted like they'd been sitting in a warming dish all day. Fried chicken, which I've heard more than one person rave about, was greasy and tough. The casseroles we ordered varied from tolerable to downright inedible. Squash casserole was a little on the goopy side. I'd take my mom's over the version here any day. Macaroni and cheese was standard cafeteria fare, with mushy noodles and not much flavor. A little seasoning would've helped. But the green bean casserole was inexcusable. Gray in color, with the consistency of paste and no flavor that resembled actual green beans -- it was a total mess. What were they thinking?

Offerings that had clearly been made to order were a 180-degree difference. Fried green tomatoes were some of the best I've had -- thinly sliced, light and crispy in their cornmeal batter and topped with tangy remoulade and crumbles of goat cheese. A salad of juicy watermelon cubes tossed with Vidalia onions and vinaigrette was refreshingly summery. Coca-Cola basted ribs (we ordered the appetizer portion, balking at the $20 price tag) were cooked-for-hours tender. The sauce was sweet but not cloyingly so.

I wish I could say that dessert saved the day. Warm blackberry cobbler with brown sugar ice cream sure sounded good. But the blackberries had been tamed with so much sugar that the cobbler tasted more like a Pop-Tart in a bowl.

Our server was sweet and accom-modating, and Agnes & Muriel's is undoubtedly a fun place to eat out. You can't not love the goofy kitsch, from the funky bachelor pad lamps to the brigade of vintage Barbie dolls. And when was the last time a transvestite took your order? But Atlanta diners are getting savvier, and now isn't the time to rest on your reputation. If Agnes & Muriel's is going to keep the crowds coming, it needs to refocus its efforts on the food.

AN EXCUSE TO SNEAK OUT EARLY -- Fuego in Midtown is offering some stellar early-bird specials this summer. Stop in every day between 4 and 6:30 p.m.

for $1 tapas. Fuego also offers nightly drink specials, including half-price bottles of wine on Mondays, $1 off bottled beers on Tuesdays, and $3 mojitos on Wednesdays. 1136 Crescent Avenue. 404-389-0660. www.fuegocafe.com.

CHOW FOR A CAUSE -- Sample the culinary creations of some of the city's best chefs on Friday, August 27 at the "Brewers Best" event. The event, which is being held at King Plow Arts Center in West Midtown, is raising money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Participating restaurants include Joel, Spice, Horizon and Imperial Fez. Call King Plow for more information at 404-885-9933. 887 West Marietta Street.

DOG DAYS OF SUMMER -- On Saturday, August 28, Chipotle Mexican Grill will be giving away free burritos and tacos from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. in exchange for a five-pound bag of dry dog food. If you don't have kibble on hand, you can just donate $5 instead. All donations will go to Noah's Ark, a children's care home and animal rehab center in Locust Grove. The center brings together abused and orphaned animals and children to help each other heal. Noah's Ark rehabilitates over 1,000 animals a year. Buckhead location: 3424 Piedmont Road, 404-869-7921. www.chipotle.com.

GET PUCKED UP -- Stop into Wolfgang Puck Express at Brookwood on Saturday, August 28 for a wine tasting on the patio. Kenwood wines will be featured, and a wine expert will explain the nuances of pairing wines with pasta and pizza. As an added treat, estheticians from Spa Sydell will be available for complimentary chair massages. The tasting runs from 7:30-9:30 p.m. and costs $15 per person. 1745 Peachtree Road. 404-815-1500. www.wolfgangpuck.com.

INDULGE YOUR INNER GLUTTON -- Sample wines from around the world and tasty tidbits from local chefs at the Atlanta Wine and Food Event, happening at the Fabulous Fox Theatre on Saturday, August 28. The event takes place from 1 p.m.-5 p.m. and will feature tastings, seminars, live entertainment and a silent auction. A portion of the day's proceeds will be donated to various charities. Tickets are $40 online and $50 at the door. 660 Peachtree Street. 678-574-5222. www.atlantawineandfoodexperience.com.

SAKE SIPPING -- On Tuesday, August 31, Mu Lan in Midtown will host a four-course Pacific Rim dinner with sake pairings. The dinner is $30 per person, plus gratuity. 824 Juniper Street. 404-877-5797. www.mulanatl.com.

NOODLING AROUND -- Ever wonder where noodles come from? It's not Italy ... in fact, they originally came from Asia. Stop in at Silk on Wednesday, September 1 to learn about the technique of "noodle-pulling." The restaurant will offer demonstrations at 6 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. After the demo, stay for dinner and try a free sample of Silk's hand-pulled noodles. 919 Peachtree Street. 678-705-8888. www.silkrestaurant.com.

florence.byrd@creativeloafing.com

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