Thursday, April 3, 2014

Gazing out Grant Park Coffeehouse's window

Posted by on Thu, Apr 3, 2014 at 2:00 PM

Coffee with a Confederate

Okay, it's a stretch to connect this photo to food. But I did glimpse the guy out the window of Grant Park Coffeehouse. He's been jogging around Grant Park, waving the Confederate flag, for years. I caught this shot of him last winter in front of the Cyclorama, the city's longtime kitschy monument to the Battle of Atlanta, next to the zoo.

At the time, I asked one of the multi-racial staff if he took offense at the guy. He said he didn't particularly, but that he had seen people at the bus stop across the street, many of them zoo employees, yell at him, even chase him angrily. "One of them came in the next day and said he'd actually talked to him. He said he was a nice guy, after all. So who knows?"

Oh wait. Here's a connection to food, from one of the verses of "Dixie":

Dar's buckwheat cakes an Injun batter,
Makes your fat a little fatter;
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land.

If only we could look away - way away.

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Dinner at Negril Village

Posted by on Thu, Apr 3, 2014 at 1:06 PM

Four of us dined at the brand-new Negril Village last Friday night. The restaurant is the spawn of a restaurant of the same name in New York City. Although the menu is mainly Jamaican/Caribbean - jerk chicken and such - there are a few atypical dishes like this shrimp and grits to which the kitchen adds big chunks of lobster. The Caribbean influence is the coconut milk with which the grits are made. And, allegedly, the seafood is cooked with some Jamaican spices. My palate did not discern them.

The restaurant is located in the old fire station on North Avenue near Peachtree Street, across from the Bank of America (where you can park, but not for free). The space was last occupied by Engine 11 and the owners of Negril have created a dramatically improved interior.

I'll be writing a First Look of the place in a couple of weeks.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Back to Cafe Lapin and relieving allergies at So Ba and Saigon Basil

Posted by on Wed, Apr 2, 2014 at 9:12 AM

Last week I had lunch at Cafe Lapin in Peachtree Battle Shopping Center. The dining room was full enough that we had to wait a few minutes for a table.

Besides my two friends and I, there were only three men amid the flock of Buckhead ladies and stuffed bunny rabbits. That's not a complaint. I don't really understand why, but it seems to be almost all women wherever we lunch in Buckhead on Fridays. Maybe it's a tradition?

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

More on Petite Auberge

Posted by on Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 8:54 AM

I lunched at Petite Auberge a couple of weeks ago for this week's Grazing column. I ordered this version of steak-frites (right) from the $12 three-course lunch that's available every day. The starter is always the soup of the day, which was turkey-rice-vegetable - little better than canned.

The restaurant, among the city's oldest, has a "boutique" (above) that vends 25-plus varieties of olive oil and vinegar. You can sample them and mix flavors. You might want to ask yourself if you really want to infuse a strong grassy olive oil with peach-flavored vinegar (or something). In other words, lay off the weed before you go there.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

From Crawfish Shack to Chateau de Saigon

Posted by on Tue, Mar 4, 2014 at 1:02 PM

It being Mardi Gras and all, a friend wanted good seafood but not the high cost of The Optimist and Lure last Friday night, so we headed to Crawfish Shack Seafood on Buford Highway. Befitting the wild diversity of the area, this Cajun restaurant is operated by Hieu Pham, the Atlanta-born child of a Vietnamese father and a Cambodian mother. He developed his passion for cooking crawfish while attending a Vietnamese Baptist Church convention in Louisiana.

Since Pham opened the restaurant in 2008, it has become cray-cray popular (pun intended). So popular that after we stood in line 20 minutes to order, we were told we'd wait another 45 minutes for our food to arrive at the table. And even then, we'd be lucky if we got a seat, as you can deduce from the photo above.

Continue reading »

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Jim Stacy's milkshake brings all the gluten-tolerant boys and girls to Pallookaville

Posted by on Thu, Jan 2, 2014 at 9:19 AM

I paid another visit to Pallookaville Fine Foods for lunch Thursday and dared to try one of the milkshake specials: coffee ice cream, candied ginger, toasted coconut, molasses ... and Sriracha. I'm still debating its success taste-wise, but, hey, as conceptual art, it's a great analysis of the current American palate.

A sign on the outside of the door - gotta love the carnival font - warns customers they are approaching a largely vegan-free experience. In fact, owner Jim Stacy says he's developing more dishes for the gluten-intolerant and the meat-is-murder folks.

I've filed a "first look" at the restaurant for an upcoming issue.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Checking out Ann's Snack Bar after five years

Posted by on Wed, Dec 4, 2013 at 10:04 AM

I found myself out Memorial Drive Friday and realized, as I was buying a car battery, that Ann's Snack Bar was just a few blocks away. I hurried over for the first time in probably five years.

Just in case you didn't know, the Wall Street Journal's critic named Miss Ann's plate-sized Ghetto Burger his favorite burger in America in 2007 (despite failing to mention its slather of chili). The citation created lines with hours-long waits. These have moderated somewhat but no addict can be deterred by a wait, anyway.

I thought the day after Thanksgiving might mean a respite from the wait and I was sort of right. Business was constant - mainly teenagers, it seemed - but most folks ordered their burgers to go. There's also a porch with a lot of seating, but it's not too cozy on a winter day. In any event, I scored a bar stool right away.

Then I waited 30 minutes for my double cheeseburger, fries and lemonade. I'm not going to go into a florid description of the burger. It, like all the others on the menu, is a respite from the gourmet burgers that have flooded America. These are big messy piles that threaten to inflict a temporomandibular disorder.

There were three people working behind the counter during my visit while Miss Ann sat at one end chatting with customers. Nonstop. It was rumored for several years that the diner was for sale. I asked the very hospitable woman helping out in the kitchen what had happened. She said "the deal fell through." The New York Times published an article in 2010 blaming the bad economy.

I do have a warning about the place. I'm sorry to say it has become very dirty. I'm not talking about the floor particularly, but the walls are all coated with grease. It needs major sprucing.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Eating at 1 a.m. at Mama's Cocina Latina

Posted by on Tue, Dec 3, 2013 at 11:05 AM

As the un-scoopable Tomorrow's News Today reported recently, the iconic late-night Taco Cabana has suddenly been sold and renamed Mama's Cocina Latina.

I've been unable to learn who the new owners are, but Mama's is not part of a chain. The change occurs shortly after Taco Cabana's parent company announced a public offer of $2 million in common stock.

They said it couldn't be done but I actually ordered the al pastor torta at Mama's Friday night about 1 a.m. That was after consuming a gigantic burger at Ann's Snack Bar around 2 p.m. I thought I wouldn't be hungry for 24 hours. I was wrong and the former Taco Cabana seemed like the only choice.

The menu hasn't changed much. My torta wasn't bad, but I'm not sure why that are calling its pork filling al pastor. There was no taste of pineapple and I did no see a rotisserie in the kitchen. Nor was the meat in any part caramelized and there wasn't a spot of orange to be found. It was more like shredded carnitas with grilled onions, some avocado, and a few jalapeno slices.

I was at least partly right about my hunger. I couldn't eat the bread and scraped the meat onto the plate and anointed it with one of the red sauces on the condiment bar. (The green sauce was like water.)

Whatever else I could say about Mama's, I was glad to see a Carmen-Miranda-like face on the sign out front.

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Friday night report: Stir It Up reopens in Midtown

Posted by on Tue, Dec 3, 2013 at 10:03 AM

When Stir It Up, a Jamaican restaurant in Little Five Points, closed back in August, I was forlorn. Owners (phenomenally beautiful) Vivian and (phenomenally talented) Christopher Williams made the decision after a series of conflicts with their landlord.

Now - oh happy day - the restaurant has reopened in Midtown on 12th Street. My Friday night dining pals and I dined there last week during its "soft opening." We had visited the original location more than any other restaurant during the last three-plus years.

The food ranges from hot-and-spicy jerk chicken (pictured) or shrimp to milder dishes like brown stews made with various meats and seafood. Thus, the scotch-bonnet scaredy cats can dine deliciously without fear. Williams' sauces, as I wrote in 2011, are layered with flavors. It's not that the brown stew doesn't have a piquant quality, but it's comparatively subtle, offset by diversionary sweet notes.

The menu is abbreviated for the time-being. The salted cod with cabbage and fried dumplings, a particularly savory dish, is not on the current menu but will return, along with others in a week or two.

The restaurant is roomier but still cozy, with a heated patio and downstairs space still in the works. It is open for lunch as well as dinner 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 1-8 p.m. Sunday. The phone number, hard to find for now, is 404-600-5871. Honestly, I'd call ahead to make sure it's open.

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Remembering Ria Pell

Posted by on Mon, Dec 2, 2013 at 10:03 AM

I join everyone else in the city who mourns the death of Ria Pell. She owned Ria's Bluebird diner and Sauced, which she sold to BoccaLupo soon after winning a "Chopped" competition on the Food Network.

Ria was a town character as much as a chef. She was kind, funny, and had a powerful sense of the campy and the kitschy. There were flashes of it all over Sauced, from the paneling to 50s-style lamps and taxidermy. As I recollect, years earlier she operated a restaurant in Little Five Points whose decor duplicated that of a mobile home.

Ria was into the punk scene and was a co-founder of MondoHomo, a queer arts and music festival (that was discontinued after its sixth year in 2012). Ria and I agreed in several conversations that queer culture needs to be nurtured and developed despite the increasing assimilation of the LGBQT population. MondoHomo also explored ways that art can facilitate political change - something you rarely see in Atlanta.

As it happens Donnie Reider, another organizer of MondoHomo, died in November too. Ria cooked for his memorial gathering.

I live very near Ria's Bluebird and recall its opening 14 years ago. It launched the revitalization of commercial buildings at the corner of Memorial Drive at Cherokee Ave. Over the years, the diner's lunch and breakfast dishes have grown more inventive, but Ria remained famous for her pancakes - something she complained about on "Chopped." She wanted to demonstrate her broader skills.

Ria was one of those people who proved that eccentricity is not a liability. It is an asset and should be cultivated. I'm sure Charles Bukowski would have approved of her when he wrote, "Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead."

(A celebration is planned Friday, Dec 13, at Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points. The AJC has plenty of pictures from last Saturday's graveside services at Westview Cemetery. More than 1,000 people attended.)

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