GAME ON: Most sports bars have a strong no women allowed vibe and truthfully arent the kind of place that women would want to set foot in anyway. This Buckhead hangout, however, is not your ordinary sports bar. Calling itself an upscale sports restaurant, the tasteful décor includes a lot of wood and televisions, as well as a see-through screen near the waitress stand that looks like something out of the Jetsons. Cigar aficionados will love the independently owned Buckhead Cigar Lounge featuring a 300ft Walk-in humidor, large flat-screen TVs, leather sofas and dining area where you can enjoy Dantannas full menu.
DRINKING GAMES: Unlike other sports-centric establishments, Dantanna's takes its wine seriously and has a 100 bottle list with 50 by the glass. If you opt for a mixed drink, go with something made with one of the freshly squeezed orange, pineapple, grapefruit, lemon and lime juices.
SURF AND TURF: Seafood and meat reign supreme. The menu showcases fresh seafood, organic and aged beef from Creekstone Farms, naturally raised Springer Mountain chicken and free-range Niman Ranch pork. The quality of the seafood could be better, so play it safe and order a beautiful filet with mashed potatoes, a bacon cheeseburger on a nice egg-based bun or an order of crispy buffalo wings served with blue cheese crumbles and dressing.
Dantanna's, 3400 Around Lenox Road. 404-760-8873. Mon.-Sat., 11:30a.m.-2:30a.m.; Sun 12p.m.-2:30a.m. www.dantannas.com.
(Photo courtesy Dantanna's)
Consulting chef is a slightly confusing term. Generally, it means that the chef in question has designed the menu and perhaps spent some time training the kitchen staff on how to execute his dishes. It rarely means that the consulting chef is actually spending any time in the kitchen during service. But the question is, if a good chef consults, can we expect the food to be on par with what that chef would deliver in his own restaurant?
Shaun Doty, arguably one of the city's best chefs, is making a cottage industry out of consulting at other peoples restaurants. Last year he put his name on the menu at Midtown's now defunct Spotted Dog. I stopped in there one afternoon and had a somewhat sad version of Dotys East Village-style chicken livers, which resembled the original in concept but not execution. He is currently acting as consulting chef at the Original El Taco, Fifth Groups new Tex-Mex restaurant in Virginia Highland (although the restaurant's website lists him as Executive Chef), and there's talk of other consulting gigs in the works.
The Original El Taco (roughly translated to The Original The Taco) has been an instant hit theres a wait for tables almost any time of the night on any night of the week. The crowds bring a party atmosphere, ramped up with large, well-made margaritas. There's also a colorful mural painted by SCAD students that depicts, among other things, somebody who looks an awful lot like Hitler carrying a giant taco on his back.
You can see Dotys touch on the menu of tacos, Mexican pizzas and Tex-Mex entrees: a pork belly taco here, a fried egg atop a stack of tortillas and chili there. But can you taste his influence?
Mediterraneans know how to live the good life. Everything is done at a pace that welcomes and relaxes. And that's why I adore Café Agora (262 East Paces Ferry Road. 404-949-0900. www.cafeagora.com). No matter how much you have ordered, congenial owner Al Ozelci will insist you sit at the counter and feed you little bites of this and that until your food is ready. He says his hospitality is for feedback, but it's really just his way.
Agoras gyros are serious contenders for best in Atlanta. The aromatic mix of marinated and spit-roasted beef and lamb is cut into perfectly sized slices, nestled into seasoned shredded lettuce, drizzled with tangy tzatziki sauce and wrapped in dense pita bread charred and puffed from a short spell on the grill ($7.01). If the other meat choices are too tempting to bare, go for the mixed grill ($14.95)an assortment of gyro meat, charbroiled chicken, kofta kabob (broiled seasoned ground lamb with Turkish spices & herbs), lamb shish kabob (grilled marinated and grilled lamb) and adana kabob (seasoned and grilled ground lamb) set atop basmati rice and served with a house salad and that delicious pita.
While Café Agora is a carnivores paradise, the salads and vegetarian appetizers are uniformly superb. Your best bet is to grab the Mixed Maza Platter, ($7.99) which comes with of variety of appetizers including smoky baba ghanoush, creamy hummus, chunks of grilled eggplant and a salad made with shredded carrots, creamy yogurt and bright notes of dill.
A final word of advice: resisting the Ozelcis humorously persistent insistence that you have one of his filo-based pastries dripping in honey and crumbled pistachios is futile.
(photo by Jennifer Zyman)
GATO BIZCO CAFÉ: It is easy to overlook this tiny spot with that winged biscuit franchise in such close proximity, but in-the-know locals head here for the homey ambiance and cozy comfort food. The sweet potato pancakes draw raves, but this purist orders the plain pancakes for their pitch-perfect density, fluffiness and subtle sweetness that isnt cloying when syrup is added to the mix. 1660 McLendon Avenue. 404-371-0889.
JAVA JIVE COFFEE HOUSE & CAFÉ: People love this Ponce de Leon breakfast hangout for its retro kitsch, gorgeous biscuits, house blended coffee, and wonderful waffles. But the pancakes, ranging from plain to sweet potato to those made with nutty wheat germ, rarely get the praise they deserve. They look and taste as a pancake should - not too brown, big or gummy. 790 Ponce De Leon Avenue. 404-876-6161.
THE ORIGINAL PANCAKE HOUSE: This classic chain earns props for longevity and its incredible breadth of offerings. No matter what kind you crave, OPH has you covered from tiny silver dollar pancakes you can dip in syrup, to pigs in a blanket, to the dutch babya pancake cooked in a cast iron pan until it resembles a mushroom cloud before it deflates into a sunken surface blanketed with powdered sugar. 2321 Cheshire Bridge Road. 404-633-5677. www.originalpancakehouse.com.
Here is what William Grimes, former dining critic of The New York Times, wrote on June 27, 2001, not long after the opening of Craft:
Craft invites diners to take a trip. The destination is a simpler, cleaner, more honest America, a place where the corn is bright yellow, the bread exhales clouds of yeasty sweetness and the fish swim in water as pure as Evian.
What is it about Americans that we are always engaged in utopic yearning? Grimes words seem almost trivial until you read mention of the year 2001 and unavoidably think of the nations apocalyptic loss of innocence in the attack on the World Trade Center.
And yet, even now, in the midst of the worst economic times since the Great Depression, we are looking more zealously than ever for purity and transcendence at the dining table. We have become Proust, munching on a madeleine whose first taste prompts him to write: And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was me.
I cant lay claim to a either Grimes or Prousts experience after my first meal at the new Craft Atlanta (3376 Peachtree Rd., 404-995-7580). Undoubtedly, this will cause some to gasp. Were talking a major pedigree and, dammit, I wanted to transcend the vicissitudes of life and become a precious essence.
OK, it's New Year's Eve so I have to do a sparkling wine I guess. Not that that's a great burden - I love sparkling wine and think it's a tragedy that people only drink it on special occasions. I drink it as an anti-depressant. That sounds bad...I don't mean I drink my sorrows away, but when I'm feeling down nothing lifts my mood like a glass of bubbles.
My pick this week contains a history lesson. A little over a century before anyone ever produced sparkling wine in Champagne, some monks in Limoux produced France's first sparkling wine - blanquette de Limoux.
Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux
Available at the Capital City Liquor Store on Howell Mill Road (I've also seen this for a few dollars less at the Kroger in the Edgewood Shopping Center)
While this wine lacks some of the elegance of Champagne (and those of you who really know your grapes will be able to tell that the climate this far south in France is a tiny bit too warm for truly great sparkling wine), for the money it's one of the best values out there. Toasty and yeasty with a bunch of lemon and green apple on the finish, this beats anything else I've found for under $20.
There's still a bunch of restaurants with reservations open for tonight. As of this morning, these folks all still had tables:
There aren't many restaurants in town lucky enough to have an hour and a half wait for a table, but there are a few that do. I'm not naming names, but last night I was at one such restaurant. I didn't begrudge the restaurant their popularity (although I did begrudge the vastly under-estimated estimate they gave me about how long the wait would be), but I did begrudge the numerous tables of diners who were well past done with dinner, and who stayed at their tables, not eating or drinking, ignoring the legions of people waiting patiently only a few feet away. Seriously, if you've been done for an hour, and sitting and chatting for an hour, all the while seeing that people have been standing there waiting for over an hour, GET UP!!!!! I was genuinely appalled at the lack of consideration my fellow diners showed, not just to the waiting customers (who were clearly visible) but also to their servers who need to turn tables in order to make money. I understand not wanting to end the girl's night out, or the date, or whatever, but if you need more than say, 15 minutes, move your powwow elsewhere - a bar, perhaps? Don't want to spend any more money? GO HOME.
Sorry, that's the ex-waiter in me getting all excited. But seriously, where are people's manners?
Shmaltz Brewing Company
Saratoga Springs, NY
The final installment of this month's big, black, high-gravity beer picks is this monster kitchen-sink anniversary ale from He'Brew. With 12 malts, 12 hops, and 12 percent alcohol, it is a mouthful. Caramel malts, herbal hops, and some molasses in the nose give little hint of the intense flavors within. The taste is full of burnt sugar, roasted malt, huge toffee, anise, chocolate and alcohol that is sort of like Kahlua on steroids. I searched desperately for some fruity elements and found a bit of black cherry and raisin, but this is more about charred malts and piney, resiny hops. Some baked grapefruit and brown sugar provide a juicy, quenching finish. Charcoal flavors and some hot fusel alcohol that burns the tongue give it a challenging drinkability. Full-bodied and sticky, with an oily mouth-coating bitterness, this is a big beer that would probably benefit from cellaring for a year or two. I really enjoyed last year's Jewbelation 11. Did one more malt and one more hop variety push this one over the edge? Hell yeah. This one goes to 12!
(photo by Jeff Holland)
FRATERNAL FUN: Real World fans should remember Ace Amerson from the Paris season. The cast member was always throwing parties for his flatmates, which was fitting since he owned a bar back home in Statesboro, Georgia. Amerson recently moved to Atlanta, and (with the help of some buddies) opened Flip Flops in Midtown. The turquoise house contains a dizzying hodgepodge of colorful island decorations including bamboo walls, palm trees and fake grass. The upper deck opens later in the evening with a DJ for dancing, and the guys are working on a menu of classic bar food.
IN A DAIQUIRI DAZE: Dont come here expecting high-falutin cocktails. You're at the beach, remember? The centerpiece of the bar is a row of neon daiquiri and margarita machines spinning everything from your basic margarita to a concoction made with sweet tea vodka. If a brain-freeze is unappealing, a Patron margarita on the rocks only sets you back $6 and there is plenty of Kentucky Gentleman Bourbon.
SOUTHERN GENTS: The bartenders may seem like your average dudes slinging shots, but dont be deceived. They're easy on the eyes and have the uncanny knack of inserting themselves into your conversation at just the right moment. It's easy to throw the hangout into the aging frat boy category, but the place actually has heart. Their mascot, an insanely adorable Golden Retriever, is a nice touch too.
Flip Flops, 1140 Crescent Avenue. 678-705-8555. Wed.-Fri., 5p.m.-2a.m.; Sat., 11a.m.-3a.m. www.myspace.com/flipflopsatl.
(Photo courtesy Flip Flops)
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