At 7:15 on Wednesday mornings, Jessi Lindsey Queen and Zach Herndon stroll down the block from their Midtown apartment to a gate on the south side of Piedmont Park. Like almost everyone in the park at this hour, they're clad in winter workout gear: lightweight jackets, ear warmers, the works. They linger for a minute or two while Queen holds a small sign that says "Meetup" and a handful of other workout-gear-clad folks gather around. Through Meetup.com, a social networking site for community events and groups, Queen and Herndon have organized a group of Midtown residents called "Power Up Piedmont" that gets together to jog, spin, or generally break a sweat in Atlanta's most central park.
"Basically, we thought paying for a boot camp was a waste of money," Herndon says as we get going on a warm-up jog from the park's Charles Allen Drive gate.
This ragtag group is a way to be accountable for working out on schedule and meet people without having to pay for the privilege of using a public park. They've been doing this for about a month.
Queen and Herndon aren't here to play boot camp sergeant. Everyone in the group suggests a thing or two to do — squat jumps, sit-ups, side planks, sprints — to break up the jog throughout the park. Some people might run twice as fast, others might need extra time for their sit-ups, but having a crew can make the work easier.
Some folks, perhaps including this humble reporter, might need more encouragement than a few accountability partners to make it through a hard workout at dawn. In this way, one might consider Piedmont Park as a central hub for culinary transgressions against one's health. Queen and Herndon like walking to the Highlander, near the park's southeast corner, a friendly bar establishment where you, if so inclined, can order a beer pitcher filled to the top with fried tater tots, chili, cheddar cheese, sour cream, and jalapeños. The bar also offers beer pitchers filled to the top with beer.
West of the park, the direction that our warm-up first takes, there is Empire State South, Hugh Acheson's Atlanta outpost of Southern fine dining. On the menu, they serve jars packed with pimiento cheese topped with something purely evil named "bacon marmalade." If you have consumed more than a dozen jars of that concoction in your lifetime, again, perhaps including this reporter, it may be useful to remind yourself of that fact as you try to muster the energy for another round of squat jumps in the frigid cold.
Our run takes a turn toward the park's 14th Street gate, not far from where the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival will happen in the summer. At that food festival, you can buy a pass that allows you to eat and drink small bites and sips from talented chefs and bartenders in unlimited quantities. This reporter will confess to having once entered the fried chicken section of the festival, sampled a full piece of fried chicken from every single tent, turned around, and sampled a second piece of fried chicken from each of the aforementioned tents. Geographical associations like these are what make Piedmont Park such a great place for a workout.
Around 8 a.m., the group finishes with one last sprint up a hill and a set of group stretches. From the height of the hill, you can see the Atlanta skyline and almost smell the baked goods at Flying Biscuit Cafe.
Empire State South
This outpost of Hugh Acheson's restaurant empire delivers the best spin on New Southern dining in Atlanta. Familiar dishes like pimiento cheese, farm eggs, local trout, and pork belly are anything but clichés when they arrive at the table. Order your bourbon cocktails in a mason jar. 999 Peachtree St. 404-541-1105. www.empirestatesouth.com.
Cheap beer, pool tables, and fried food are the pillars of this dingy Midtown strip mall dive. Conveniently located next to Landmark Midtown, this is the perfect place to throw back a few after catching a flick on a Friday night. 931 Monroe Drive. 404-872-0600. www.thehighlanderatlanta.com.
Flying Biscuit Cafe
Flying Biscuit is one of the great mysteries of Atlanta: How does a mediocre restaurant chain maintain a rabid following? There are better biscuits in town, but that doesn't stop devotees of the Flying Biscuit from lining up for a table at this brunch destination. Still, the pancakes aren't bad and the people watching is unparalleled. 1001 Piedmont Ave. 404-874-8887. www.flyingbiscuit.com.
Top Flr is what happens when the kids who used to wait tables and bartend in other people's restaurants grow up and become their own bosses: a user-friendly restaurant with a menu that is short and pretty sweet and some of the best cocktails in town. 674 Myrtle St. 404-685-3110. www.topflr.com.
Midtown Promenade is an odd mix of strip mall blandness and tucked-away institutions. Embodying this is the Independent, a damn fine pub with great grub, down-to-earth clientele, and honest-to-goodness billiards tables. 931 Monroe Drive. 404-249-9869. www.independentatlanta.com.
Entirely unnecessary article; I would never be friends with a vegetarian.
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