Atlanta is a city with a notoriously nonexistent street food scene. Lately, this has become the subject of much hand wringing. Longtime Atlanta magazine restaurant critic and Knife & Fork publisher Christiane Lauterbach, who has shunned the Internet almost entirely, recently started the blog AtlantaFoodCarts.com devoted to supporting the rise of street food in our city. The lack of street food is a result of many issues that drive Atlanta's gastronomic and cultural inferiority complexes, from governmental and regulatory to entrepreneurial and culinary.
While the hope for a street food scene here remains just that a hope a few restaurants aim to offer a taste of the street in the comfort of an indoor environment. One such restaurant is Tuk Tuk, which attempts to deliver the flavors from Thailand's sidewalk vendors. Located in the former Taurus location, Tuk Tuk has a pedigree. The chef, Deedee Niyomkul, is the daughter of Nan Niyomkul, who owns both Nan Thai and Tamarind Seed, our city's most upscale and critically acclaimed Thai restaurants.
(Photo by James Camp)
John Kessler's blog, "Food and More," includes a recent post about the closing of Painted Table in Grant Park, my neighborhood. The few-months-old spot is not alone. Solstice Cafe has also closed, the Standard has been sold, Just Loaf'n has closed, Stella has become another Doc Chey's.
Owner-chef Omega Angell offered no explanation for the closing in his announcement on Facebook. This led to much speculation in the comments section of John's blog. One frequent observation was the restaurant's irregular hours. Indeed, I attempted to eat there about three times after my "first look" review in December and found it closed each time. I finally gave up.
The comments also include lots of speculation that Grant Park's crime rate is responsible for restaurant closings. There are also some surprisingly classist comments about homeless people haunting patios like Solstice's or -- gasp! -- actually entering restaurants and asking for a cup of coffee.
Although I can relate to the annoyance of being asked for money while I'm dining on a restaurant patio, I'm also aware that I live in a still-transitional neighborhood during the euphemistically termed Great Recession. And, believe me, the neighborhood is not nearly as "transitional" as it used to be. Some of us worry that its diversity will be lost.
Plenty of other restaurants -- Grant Central, Agave, Carroll Street Cafe, Tin Lizzy's, Six Feet Under, the Shed at Glenwood -- seem to be making it despite the alleged crime wave and army of beggars. It's pretty obvious that crime has very little if anything to do with the closing of Painted Table and Solstice.
"I had a wonderful thing yesterday, something that I had never tasted before," Carlo Petrini says through a translator. Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food movement, speaks in Italian in a deliberate, declarative tone, and he leans forward towards me, his eyes full of excitement for his new found gastronomic discovery. "A collard green! Bellissimo!"
Petrini and I were sitting in the lobby of the Indigo hotel in Athens a few hours prior to his delivering the keynote address for Georgia Organics' 13th annual conference. I had just asked him whether he thought the South in particular had latched onto Slow Food so enthusiastically because our region has a distinct historical food culture, more so than the rest of the country. Petrini didn't know much about Southern food culture, but he sure remembered that collard green. Which underlines a point made earlier that day during one of the conference sessions - a woman in the audience said, "We're not going to win this argument with politics, we're going to win it with flavor."
It was the second time we'd met, the first being a North Carolina Slow Food picnic in 2007. In the intervening three years, Petrini has become more practical and nuanced in his answers about the challenges facing the movement. Back then, I asked him about the perceived elitism of a movement that was primarily occurring in the white tablecloth restaurants and upscale markets of the country, when the folks who are most at risk for diet-based disease - the poor - had barely been touched by Slow Food. His answer then basically came down to a platitude about how if we eat less, better food wouldn't cost much more. Since then, the question of elitism is obviously one Petrini has come across repeatedly, and a large part of his keynote address that evening was devoted to addressing it.
At the day's first education session in the "Slow Food culture" track, Slow Food: From Education to Activism, the question of elitism came up almost as soon as the session's moderator, Julie Shaffer, opened the floor for questions. Participants worried that the politicizing of the movement would drive away the very people they most hoped to reach. A young man sitting in the front row asked how Slow Food could combat the perception of elitism. It occurred to me that it wasn't so much a question of perception - apart from right wing pundits who label every progressive thought as elitist, there aren't a whole lot of folks accusing the organics movement of shunning the working class. In fact, this is an accusation that comes mainly from within. Slow Foodists worry about elitism because they themselves see the limitations of the movement. There's a lot of frustration that Slow Food hasn't figured out how to reach the people who need it most. Organic food, especially in a state like Georgia where demand vastly outweighs supply and the State is less than supportive of small farmers, is expensive. No one wants to suggest that these small farmers ought to devalue their merchandise - small-scale farming is hardly a recipe for wealth under the best circumstances. But it's obvious that food is an issue that traverses so many serious societal issues, from environmentalism to health, there has to be a way for the Slow Food movement to have a positive impact, beyond wine tastings and gorgeous veggie plates at high end restaurants.
I've been proven wrong again. And I'm eating better!
About a year ago, I wrote a "first look" at Miso Izakaya (619 Edgewood Ave., 678-701-0128, www.tapanese.com) in Inman Park. Although I found the space charming, the food seemed to me to be a litany of clichés that could be found in just about any mainstream Japanese restaurant. That changed somewhat by the time Food Editor Besha Rodell reviewed the restaurant a few months later.
Now there's been a big change. I don't know what motivated chef/owner Guy Wong to move toward some very creative dishes, but the new menu is delightful. He has, for example, produced what amount to four Japanese sliders. He doesn't call them that, but that's what they are: sliders made with the delicate, melt-in-you-mouth buns popular throughout Asia. They are flat and Wong folds them over, pinning the bun and its contents together.
(Photo by James Camp)
Kim Severson of The New York Times reports that Scott Peacock has resigned from Watershed:
Scott had been with Watershed for 11 years, during which the restaurant become known for its interpretations of Southern food, including fried chicken, which regularly sells out on Tuesday nights, the only night it is available. Last week, the James Beard Foundation named him a semi-finalist in the Outstanding Chef category, a nationwide award.
Emily Saliers, a co-owner of Watershed, gave me a follow-up call this afternoon. She is one half of the Indigo Girls, and is in Miami getting ready for one of their concerts tonight. She called the separation amicable. The crew at the Watershed, which is accustomed to working without Mr. Peacock when he travels, will continue to put out the same food while Ms. Saliers and her co-owner, Ross Jones, search for a new executive chef.
A friend who is an anthropologist specializing in food mentioned to me last week that he'd seen a "really wonderful" video that Scott had made, chronicling some elderly Alabama residents and their memories of food. Apparently, that's at the top of his to-do list. Severson writes:
At the center of Scotts post-Watershed work will be a documentary based on oral histories of Alabamas oldest residents and their food memories. He also wants to write books, including a memoir partly about his longtime relationship with Edna Lewis, one of Americas great Southern chefs. Mr. Peacock took care of her until her death in 2006.
I've known Scott for many years. We spent a year eating bagels together every morning when he was between jobs -- before opening Horseradish Grill, where he was chef before Emily Saliers opened Watershed. Ironically, I've mentioned after my last few visits to Watershed that I couldn't understand why the brunch menu had remained unchanged for several years. Now I know why! He had other priorities.
The new issue of Christiane Lauterbach's Knife & Fork is out and features her annual list of the 10 best restaurants she reviewed last year.
This year she cites Abattoir, Antico Pizza, Bishoku, BLT Steak, Bo Bo Garden, Lazeez Tava Fry, Livingston, Lake Rabun Hotel & Restaurant, Miller Union and Varasano's Pizzeria.
The issue also includes reviews of one-star Havana Restaurant, Sauced and Ormsby's; two-star Tuk Tuk and 2.5-star Imane, which is on the newsletter's cover. There's a positive first impression of Lunacy Black Market and a tour of the Philadelphia dining scene.
To subscribe ($26 for one year), call 404-378-2775. No, there is still no e-mail listed in the publication.
Hobnob, located in the former Caribou Coffee at the corner of Piedmont Road and Monroe Drive, has been open for dinner a week and began serving lunch Monday of this week.
It is owned by the same brothers who operate Gilbert's on 10th Street, a wildly popular cafe and bar. It would be hard to say how many events I've gone to at Gilbert's -- from birthday parties to post-funeral gatherings.
Hobnob features a completely overhauled interior that is cozy but roomy. There are two outdoor areas for dining, too.
The restaurant has solved the notorious parking problem at the busy intersection by providing valet parking. Your car can end up across the street or in the lot of the Shell station around the corner.
Monday, I had a good lamb burger with fries (which I tore into before remembering to make a picture). Definitely give it a try and let us know your opinion.
(Photo by Cliff Bostock)
Above is the tastiest morsel I've eaten this week -- a Japanese take on the slider by Chef Guy Wong at Miso Izakaya in Inman Park. The patty is made of ground beef and pork belly. It's topped with a quail egg, grilled onions and sunomono cucumber.
The burger, unike the three other "sliders" is served open-face, so that you fold the traditional Japanese bun closed. Among the others is also this (right) panko-crusted pork cutlet with sake mustard cabbage and Japanese Worcestershire sauce.
Wong has revised much of the menu to include more creative dishes. Among the wackier, related to the sliders, is a take on the all-American hot dog, which I haven't tasted yet.
Average cost is $4 for the sliders and three would more than fill the average diner. (I ate four.)
Look for more in "Grazing" later this week.
(Photos by Cliff Bostock)
FOOD GROUP: Chocolate-covered café
MEAL PLAN: After purchasing the Chocolate Bar from original owner Karen Britain, and losing Seeger's alums Aaron Russell and Nick Rutherford shortly thereafter, Joyner Enterprises stripped down the menu (no more oysters with Bloody Mary granita or blackberries and ginger ice cream) and opened a new spot in Castleberry Hill.
EYE CANDY: Chocolate Bar's Castleberry digs already feel like they've seen better days. The modest room, swathed floor to ceiling in varying shades of browns and blacks, suffers from an all-too-literal interpretation of the restaurant's theme (and hardly looks good enough to eat). A display case, seemingly as fragile as soufflé, houses the sweet treats the case's door slid off its track and crashed into the cooler on one visit (for the second time that day, according to the server). Wall-mounted flat-screen TVs flicker silently with world news, making it feel more manly than romantic.
253-A Trinity Ave. 404-880-0809. Mon.-Tues., 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Wed.-Sat., 10 a.m.-2 a.m. www.thechocolatebardecatur.com.
MR. GOOD BAR: The space boasts two facing bars one for chocolate, the other for booze. Luxuriously rich homemade chocolate syrup makes for a velvety hot chocolate ($4). A few sips in, though, and your gums may start to hum with sugar shock. The same syrup is used in the bar's signature cocktail, the Chocolate Bar, a martini mixed with Bailey's Irish Cream and vodka ($10).
(Photo by Joeff Davis)
What does nostalgia taste like? Of course, its different for all of us. But nostalgia can be conjured, creating a kind of gastronomic déjà-vu Ive been here before, havent I? No, I guess not, but it feels eerily familiar.
At Sauced, Ria Pells new restaurant and lounge in 11:11 Teahouses former Inman Park spot, theres a lot of nostalgia conjuring going on. Pell has taken the strange, slightly cramped space and managed to turn its drawbacks into assets. The minute you walk in, youre transported to a kind of 50s/60s/70s flashback, part your grandparents wood-paneled den, part swinging bar from some scene you probably didnt take part in but wish you had. Sauced is masterfully quirky, bolstered by its small scale and Pells small touches the antlers on the walls; the cube cushions on the low black banquettes; the warm but sparse lighting.
On weekends, what looks like the host stand becomes a DJ table where either Pell or a guest spins vintage soul and camp classics. Bartenders pour cocktails with names such as Goodnight Saint Nick, a mixture of rye whiskey, orange-maple syrup and allspice that tastes like Christmas and looks as if its a prop in one of those garishly colored Jell-O cookbooks from the 50s.
(Photo by James Camp)
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