Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A visit to Bell Street Burritos in West Midtown

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2011 at 12:44 PM

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I ate dinner at Bell Street Burritos' new Westside location last night. And I can't wait to return. And return. And return.

The restaurant's story is already in danger of morphing into an urban legend. Owner Matt Hinton is a former theology professor who was addicted to the so-called San Francisco-style burritos at Tortillas, an appealingly shabby Midtown joint beloved by students, alternative types, rock musicians and foodies. It opened in the mid-'80s and was, according to Wikipedia, one of the first San Francisco-style burrito joints on the East Coast. It closed in 2003, in the shadow of obnoxious competitors like Moe's and Willy's.

Hinton, trying to supplement his income at Spelman College, decided to bring back Tortillas as West End Burritos in 2009. He made 50 burritos a week for delivery to customers. Then, with demand growing, he opened a stall at the Sweet Auburn Curb Market. The problem there is that the market's hours limit business to lunchtime.

At this new location — the original is not closing — Hinton has expanded the menu and added dinner hours. The burritos really are like something transported from Tortillas by time machine. My favorite will always be the shrimp burrito with roasted green chiles added to the plump red beans and rice, along with a generous squirt of green sauce. It's pure comfort food.

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New head brewer David Stein to revamp Twain's beer program

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2011 at 10:50 AM

Local brewer David Stein
  • Local brewer David Stein

Twain's Billiards and Tap has announced that local brewer David Stein will be taking up the position of Head Brewer on Dec. 5. An avid home brewer since 2005, Stein has spent the last 4 years entrenched in the local craft beer community, initially taking a job at Brick Store Pub and eventually landing at Ale Yeah! Craft Beer Market in Decatur. "I went to work at Brick Store to learn everything I could about beer," Stein says, "to build my palate and try virtually every beer I could get my hands on."

The young brewer has big plans for Twain's over the coming months. "First we have to finish off what’s still in the tanks," Stein says, "and then I plan to introduce all new and improved recipes to Twain’s current core line-up as quickly as possible."

Beer drinkers can look forward to Stein's fresh take on ingredients and brewing techniques. "In general, my beers will be on the progressive side, although I think that some styles need to be kept traditional." According to the budding brewmaster, "Twain's has a new barrel room so I plan on brewing some awesome, wood-aged and sour beers. This will include whiskey and rum barrel-aged beers, American wild ales, Belgian lambics and Flemish sours."

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Some things to look at on the Internet: Chick-fil-A, immigrants in the kitchen, etc.

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 1:40 PM

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  • STK facebook
Here are some interesting Internet-type things:

Gawker has the best take around on Chick-fil-A's lawsuit against a Vermont artist for selling T-shirts that say "Eat more kale."

Chapel Hill chef Bill Smith, who runs the kitchen at Crook's Corner, did a 5@5 yesterday for CNN's Eatocracy blog about why diversity matters in a kitchen. (Full disclosure - I waited tables at Crook's Corner, way back when I was a young'un.)

Here's something from the Wall Street Journal about STK, the New York-based steak house that's opening an outpost here in Atlanta in the upcoming weeks.

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Good gravy

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 10:07 AM

Our family Thanksgiving meal was fabulous, but it wasn't the turkey or the cranberries or the dressing that really distinguished it from other meals - it was the gravy. Gravy is the glue (forgive the unappetizing term) that brings the Thanksgiving meal together. It bridges the turkey to the dressing to the cranberries to the rolls. It magically works with just about everything. I could (almost) just drink it straight from the gravy boat (I do admit to having several straight shots of it while cooking). And it's something that I lamentably rarely eat the rest of the year, let alone cook at home. But why not?

Well, there are two reasons - gravy is not particularly healthy, and it is rather time consuming to make. That's a combination that can banish any recipe to the "don't bother" list, at least any recipe that does not include chocolate. Or caramel. Or large amounts of bacon. But, really, homemade gravy is not that bad for you - a bit of butter, yes, a bit more poultry fat, sure. But a lot of that fat gets skimmed away, leaving just a wee bit of fatty deliciousness. At least that's what I like to think.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

It's not a fad, says the New York Times

Posted By on Mon, Nov 28, 2011 at 1:00 PM

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The New York Times Magazine published a story Sunday about celiac disease and gluten-free diets. The article is something of a departure from the usual, since it's written by a journalist, Keith O'Brien, who was diagnosed with celiac disease when he was 26 in 1999.

As such, the article isn't influenced by the usual skepticism about the disease's widespread diagnosis in recent years. O'Brien interviewed the top scientists in the field, one of whom screened 13,000 people for the antibodies that indicate the condition. The results showed that 1 in every 133 Americans has celiac disease.

One scientist compared blood samples from the 1950s through the 1990s and "found that young people today are nearly five times as likely to have celiac disease, for reasons he and others researchers cannot explain."

In other words, the disease really is on the rise. It's not just a fad. The article looks at the way General Mills and other big companies have been responding to the epidemic — and producing sales estimated as high as $6.3 billion.

Many Atlanta restaurants have been offering gluten-free menu items for several years now. The Atlanta Gluten-Free Dining Club holds regular meet-ups at restaurants and its website includes a discussion forum. An especially prolific blog is Milledgeville professor Ginger Carter Miller's Gluten Free in Georgia...Finally. Also: Tiffany Janes' Gluten-free Atlanta. The Atlanta Examiner includes numerous articles on the subject (you'll have to use their search function).

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Atlanta Food Events, Nov. 28- Dec. 4: A winter supper, beer dinners and more

Posted By on Mon, Nov 28, 2011 at 11:57 AM

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Ormsby's Mon., Nov. 28, 6:30 p.m. The Manhattan Experience. The top bartenders in Atlanta have a showdown to see who makes the best Manhattan. Details

Local Three Kitchen and Bar Mon., Nov. 28, 7 p.m. Red Hare and Monday Night Beer Dinner. Five-course beer dinner hosted by Justin Ferna and the brewers. Details

Octane Coffee Westside Wed., Nov. 30, 5:30 p.m. Hop City Beer Tasting.A beer tasting from Hop City Craft Beer & Wine hosted at Octane. The tasting will feature craft beers from Napa Smith. Details

BLT Steak Thu., Dec. 1, 7:30 p.m. BLT Boucherie Celebration. A five-course lamb meal prepared by chef Holota. Wine pairings will also be available. Details

Inc. Street Food Roswell Thu., Dec. 1, 7:30 p.m. INC. Street Food Beer Dinner. A four-course beer dinner at INC. Street Food featuring craft beer pairings. Details

Farm Burger Thu., Dec. 1, 8:30 p.m. Winter Supper. A four-course, winter themed dinner prepared by Chefs Terry Koval and Dan Latham. Details

Kai Lin Art Gallery Sat., Dec. 3, 2-6 p.m. Mixer. The event will include a wine tasting, vendors, craft beer and cocktails, a raffle, and a toy drive. Details

The Bar at East Andrews Fri., Dec. 2, 5 p.m.-3 a.m. Buckhead Championship Pub Crawl. One cover includes admission to 9 bars with 7 hosted shots, 6 bands, 9 DJ's, food/drink specials, $4.50 Bud Light, raffle & catered dinner. Details

Loews Atlanta Hotel Sat., Dec. 3, 11 a.m., 2:30 & 6 p.m. and Sun., Dec. 4, 12 & 3:30 p.m. A culinary event presented by Buick and Food & Wine magazine. Sample dishes prepared by chefs Ming Tsai, Hugh Acheson and Ben Roche with wine pairings. Reservations required. Details

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Do you love shacks, baby?

Posted By on Mon, Nov 28, 2011 at 11:02 AM

There's a special place in my heart for the little, old shack that serves up great food. A tiny run-down place, often on the wrong side of the tracks, more often with metal bars over the windows. There's usually a walk up counter with a view of the kitchen, a down to earth proprietor manning the stove and the cash register at the same time while chatting up every customer who walks in the door. The food is often completely straightforward and incredibly nuanced at the same time, a time-tested recipe that defies imitation. And the best shacks manage to perpetually stay great and perpetually avoid the type of success (or notion of what success is) that might send them in search of shinier digs. In Memphis, it's Payne's on Lamar. In Nashville, it's Bolton's. In Atlanta? Well, I can't say that there is one shack that stands out above the others. Carver's Country Kitchen comes close. It's definitely time-worn, decrepit in a comfortable way, family-driven, and the food satisfies deeply. Ann's Snack Bar? Nah, too much of a gimmick now. Fatt Matt's? You've got to be kidding, right? There are a few fried fish shacks that might qualify, but none really seem to capture a uniquely Atlanta vibe. And maybe that's the thing - Memphis has their BBQ, Nashville has their hot chicken, and Atlanta has a melting pot without a singular dominant flavor. Maybe our signature shack is a banh mi joint, or crawfish by way of Vietnam, or an out of the way place with corn tortillas hechas a mano. I'm still looking for my Atlanta "love" shack, but maybe the search is simply better than the final destination.

So... what's your Atlanta "love" shack?

Boltons Spicy Chicken and Fish, Nashville

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One of the city's best to close

Posted By on Mon, Nov 28, 2011 at 10:30 AM

Hot dog impersonating Godzilla
  • Hot dog impersonating Godzilla
I ran into the owner of one of the best mid-priced restaurants in the city yesterday and got the mind-boggling news that he is closing after more than a decade in business. He has already accepted a real job elsewhere.

I promised not to reveal the restaurant's name at this time. The closing won't take place for a few months and will be formally announced later this month.

Why the closing? It's the economy, of course. "It's so hard to make a living in this business now," he said, "that you can end up hating it."

In order to bring in diners, he said, restaurants have to offer half-price coupons, special menus and other incentives. "Meanwhile," he said, "Clark Howard is on the radio saying, 'Sure you can still go to your favorite restaurant. Just order one entree and split it.'" Another common practice: skip an appetizer and fill up on free bread.

Atlanta's fine-dining scene has all but disappeared. I hope we're not going to be seeing more of the same among second-tier restaurants while the hamburger and hot dog continue their Godzilla-like takeover of the landscape.

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hunger skyrockets in Georgia's wealthiest area

Posted By on Sat, Nov 26, 2011 at 10:30 AM

When CBS's "Sunday Morning" show did a piece on food stamps and the "new poor," where did they go for the story? To Atlanta's suburbs:

In Forsyth County's rolling subdivisions near Atlanta, Easy Street seems to run forever. What recession? The average household here earns $88,000 - the highest in Georgia, 13th highest in America.

But for more families here, prosperity is a pretense. The job's lost, the savings are gone, and the big house is either in foreclosure or on its way. And just keeping food on the table is a struggle.

So Forsyth's newly-needy file into local food banks.

Please watch the video. If you are among those who conclude that the 15 percent of Americans now on food stamps are shirking their responsibilities, the video may give you a different perspective. Two years after the Great Recession supposedly ended, food stamp use continues to skyrocket.

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Prepping for Saturday's game

Posted By on Sat, Nov 26, 2011 at 1:30 AM

Black Friday at the Varsity
  • Black Friday at the Varsity

Always fashionable
  • Always fashionable
I hope you had a pleasant Thanksgiving. Wayne's mama, who is 80, drove to Atlanta from her home in Columbia, SC, with ice chests full of food she had prepared, as she has done for several years. She is amazing. We're going to see a movie Saturday just to keep her from cleaning house. No, I'm not kidding.

On Black Friday we went to the Varsity with other members of his family. Apparently this is something they've done in years past that I've managed to avoid. I did report on a visit to the Varsity alone about a year ago. I explained then that even when I was a teenager, the food made me instantly sick. No, it has nothing to do with a snobby palate. It has to do with a GI tract that can't tolerate loads of grease.

So, I took 2.5-times my usual dose of drugs this visit and decided to avoid the Trinity of Gut Busters — the hot dogs, the chili and the onion rings. Instead, I got two slider-sized burgers, some fries and a Frosted Orange. I did not double-over in agony. In fact, the fries and the FO were enjoyable and the burgers were sublimely benign.

Apparently, everyone else in the city decided to have their own post-Thanksgiving meal at the Varsity. Finding two adjacent tables for eight was like solving the Rubik's Cube. Maybe the thousand people who milled in and out during our visit were prepping for Saturday's annual Tech. vs. Georgia game, when the Varsity may serve as many as 20,000 people.

It's all about the experience, of course. It's fun to watch kids get their first taste of impending obesity. And, no matter how the food tastes, the place is such an icon for those of us who grew up in Atlanta that the memories it evokes are mainly sweet.

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