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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Q&A: Steak Shapiro of 'Atlanta Eats'

EAT AND TELL: Steak Shapiro interviews diners at 4th & Swift
  • Joeff Davis
  • EAT AND TELL: Steak Shapiro interviews diners at 4th & Swift

It's an unusual Friday night at 4th & Swift. "Atlanta Eats" host Steak Shapiro sits at a table in the low-lit bar, his face illuminated by the bluish glow of an iPad. He eagerly orders his usual, a vodka gimlet up with a twist, but scarcely notices when the martini glass is set before him. Instead, he taps intently at the small screen, knees bobbing with anticipation. A producer approaches the table and in one, familiar motion, Shapiro downs his drink, wipes his chin and makes his way to the kitchen where cameramen, sound techs, and a small army of assorted crew have already assembled.

He joins chef Jay Swift at a cooking station as the show's executive producer gestures toward a plate of Three Little Piggies - a signature dish of pork served three ways. "I need you to slice it, lean in, and get a bite. Then talk about what it tastes like. Ready to roll? Don't forget to look at the camera. OK, go... "

After nearly two decades in Atlanta sports talk radio - he's currently a host on 790 The Zone's Mayhem in A.M." - Shapiro has spent most of the last five months this way: visiting local restaurants and filming segments for his new Atlanta dining show, "Atlanta Eats." CL recently caught up with Shapiro on set to get a feel for the show, and more importantly, the man in front of the camera.

What's your background?

I've been in Atlanta now for 17 years. I came from Boston, went to school in New Orleans though. I started a sports talk station 15 years ago. I was the like the on-air owner, head of marketing, head of programming all that stuff.

What did you eat for breakfast this morning?

What did I have for breakfast? Well, I'm on the air during breakfast but normally I'd go to Goldberg's on Roswell Road. I mean, I'm at Goldberg's every Saturday or Sunday with the whole family. So as soon as we wake up, I've got three kids, 7, 5, and 1, we're at Goldberg's.

Most people know you as a sports guy, where did your passion for food come from?

I've got about 30 years of this built-in obsessing about where I'm gonna eat. My parents, well my dad passed away a year ago, but they have never once driven by a place and thought, that looks like a nice spot, let's try it. It's like everything was researched. We'd go to New York and my mom would have a folder, she'd be like for breakfast we're going to Barney Greengrass and this is what we have to order and then lunch we're going to ... So that's kind of how it evolved.

What's the concept behind "Atlanta Eats?"

Kind of like when we started 790 The Zone and nobody was doing sports talk radio, nobody here has really developed what we're doing, which is a show that is completely Atlanta-focused and a combination of "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives," "Man vs. Food," and Anthony Bourdain, Atlanta style, our own take on it.

How often does your sports guy life intersect with your food guy life?

Ever since we sold the station two years ago I've been looking to do something with food and media and restaurants. People would say all you want to do is talk about food and restaurants. So this gives me an outlet. My co-hosts are relieved because now I don't have to talk about food and restaurants on the air anymore.

If the Atlanta Falcons were an Atlanta restaurant, which one would they be?

They'd probably be more like a Ford Fry restaurant because they're so likable, and they're so professionally done. The Falcons have now become one of the leading franchises in football, but I'd say Bone's and Chops and those places are like the Steelers, or the Cowboys. The Falcons are cooler than that, local, independent. Totally modest ...

Like JCT. Kitchen, perhaps?

Yeah, that's a good call. Because JCT.'s been there about seven years, the Falcons have been about five. And it's not pretentious.

What are your least favorite foods? Is there anything that you cannot eat?

You know, I haven't come totally in touch with Indian food, knowing how to navigate it.

You've said that sometimes you feel like Atlanta is five years behind. Where do you think the Atlanta food is at this point in time?

Well, when I said five years behind, part of it was the media creativity. Restaurant-wise? No, I don't think we're five years behind. First of all, Southern cuisine is huge right now. I think we're never gonna be New York, and nobody's gonna be that. But I mean, we're right there with D.C., Boston, Miami. Atlanta does a big night out better than anybody.

Has your perception of Atlanta dining changed at all since you've been doing the show?

One of the quotes we had in our business plan was from Tom Wolfe who said in his book about Atlanta A Man in Full, "Restaurants are the theater of Atlanta." Kind of like, that's how people entertain here, more than theater, more than museums. Everything's about where we're eating and who we're going with, and the more I'm immersed in it, the more I realize that's how people really entertain themselves in the city.

What makes eating in Atlanta unique?

What I like is the diversity. I mean the fact that we have this Buford Highway and it's up in Doraville where all the Korean food is, to have that in a major Southern city that's doin' it that ethnic? And now all the Hispanic influence, to have that? To have great delis like Goldberg's, to have that eight-block steakhouse radius that's Chops Bone's, New York Prime, the Palm, and Hal's. And then the meat and threes, that's Southern. And barbecue's huge. I think we're a really interesting look.

Catch "Atlanta Eats" Saturdays on Peachtree TV at 10:30 a.m. and CBS at noon. For more information visit www.atlantaeats.com.

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