What’s Cookin, Atlanta? Pt. II
“Food’s become cool in the past 20-30 years. What people are demanding now is authenticity. Who grew this vegetable? How was it cultivated? What route did it travel to my dinner table?”
Continuing our journey… where would you go for dinner?
Atlanta’s become sort of a melting pot. It’s in that spot where it’s still figuring itself out so there’s nothing that specifically characterizes our food here as truly Atlantaian. This isn’t more clear than on a drive down Buford Highway which is a smorgasbord of good ethnic food. Most people associate Atlanta with southern / soul food though and that’s a big part of it.
I like to think of soul food as substantial yet uncomplicated. It’s simple, unpretentious food that’s always filling. My top two picks are local dinosaurs, Busy Bee Cafe and Paschal’s. Not only is the food hearty but when you walk into these places, you feel that they’re steeped in history. There’s decades of food and conversation absorbed in the furniture and walls.
After that though, the best of what Atlanta has to offer covers a wide range of cuisines. One spot that’s highly underrated is Tasty China. It’s a hole in the wall dump, more Schezuan than Chinese and most authentic Chinese food you’ll get in Atlanta. The food there is numbingly spicy and incredible.
Another one of my favorites is a Thai spot called Little Bangkok. The kitchen is tiny, ram packed full of old Thai ladies making food.
If you’re into BBQ, I’d recommend going to Fox Brothers. When you go there ask for the tips. These are the ends where all the fat, flavor and juice is. Usually those parts are discarded. Also, ask for their brisket and cheek. The best part of any animal’s head is the cheek.
My pick for the best restaurant in Atlanta has to to go Bacchanalia (pictured at top). The masterminds behind this place are Chefs/Owners Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison. The food is top notch and they have a five-course prix fixe menu. What’s fantastic is Anne and Clifford own a farm in Cartersville and much of the produce they use is sourced from there.
How’s the food scene Atlanta changing right now?
One thing that’s funny and unique here is this pizza war that’s going on. Ever since Varasano’s came down there’s been a one-upmanship with pizzarias like Fritti, Mac Coal’s Oven, Antico’s and Versano’s. It’s this behind the scenes pizza war and all in good jest. One of them tout’s they use the best kind of water and the other brags about their locally grown heirloom tomatoes. It’s great because it forces each of them to push their boundaries further and make a better product.
Of all of them, Antico’s is my favorite. Not only are their pizza’s great but they have this cool atmosphere that encourages food camaraderie. You end up sitting next to people you don’t know, chatting them up, trying their pizza and they try yours. It’s all very fun.
There’s also a boom of next-gen Korean restaurants in Atlanta. It’s probably one of the only cities, outside of LA, where we have this burgeoning Korean population that’s becoming wealthier. They’re opening up more plazas and restaurants. Hands down my favorite is Book Chang Dong, a Korean BBQ spot on Pleasant Hill. Try their spare ribs and and fried sardine - it’s an actual whole fried sardine.
Honey Pig is another good next-gen Korean place. They cook your food on these cast-iron lids at your table and throw on huge chunks of pork and render it down right in front of you. Everything they do there is fantastic. It’s in this special, growing section of the city where the food just keeps getting better which each new restaurant because there’s a growing ethnic population there - each of them further pushing their culinary boundaries.
Finally, food’s become cool in the past 20-30 years. What people are demanding now is authenticity. Who grew this vegetable? How was it cultivated? What route did it travel to my dinner table? A part of this is the “slow foods” movement which local Atlanta chefs, slow on the uptake, have started to embrace in recent years. Their menus are driven by what they can get their hands on that week or what’s in season. Sometimes you see chefs who source produce from their own farms, as is the case with chefs Anne and Clifford from Star Provisions. This is a direct response to people wanting to know where their food is coming from. You’re seeing more ingredient-driven menus and people who come there just for that quality.
What’s Cookin, Atlanta? Pt. I
This post contains excerpts from an interview with Kiran Patel.
Tell us a little about yourself…
I remember the first time I got my own place. My parents dropped me off at my apartment in college and my first thought was “I have my own kitchen now! I can cook whatever I want.” This was a profound moment for me. I’ve had a love affair with food ever since I was a kid. I was fascinated with learning how to cook. I love seeing what happens when you mixed ingredients and that buzz you get when someone loves your creation. Here I was now with my own kitchen and it gave me the opportunity to dive deep into my penchant for cooking. I quickly realized this was my passion.
So naturally I ended up leaving the University of Georgia for Le Cordon Bleu in Atlanta. After graduating there, I managed Fresh to Order in two locations for three years (started as a line cook, quickly moved up). In the last few months I’ve branched out to start my own catering company providig dessert bar services for weddings and small events, specializing in chocolate truffles and candies.
Where do you love eating in Atlanta? Take us through a day long adventure :)
Breakfast: 7 - 10 AM
My guilty pleasure for breakfast is The Flying Biscuit Cafe. I’m not usually into chains but this is one local emerging chain that I’m really liking. Everything they do - they do very well. Get the Hollywood omelet.
Highland Bakery in Midtown also serves up a rich and decadent breakfast. Their baked goods are always fluffy, flaky and awesome probably because they mill the grain that goes into their bread themselves.
“Elevenses”: 11ish AM
There’s always this odd time between breakfast and lunch when I get hungry. I call this a case of the “elevenses”. My solution: Cafe Gourmandesis (pictured at top).
One of my favorite restaurants in Atlanta was Au Pied de Cochon. After they shut down I sought out the guys who used run the place. One of them, Chef Christophe, moved to Suwannee and opened up a small bistro called Cafe Gourmandises. Even though it’s outside the perimeter, it’s worth the drive.
Gourmandises serves up the best authentic French food I’ve ever had. The food is fucking amazing - everything from the lamb to deserts to quiches. He makes these crispy steak lamb sandwiches that are phenomenal. The lamb’s thin, bacon-like and retains a juicy quality. (this is imp. because lamb can easily become tough if overcooked). It’s made with quality bread, topped with simple, fresh ingredients and Dijon mustard. Blows my mind. He also makes one quiche a day which are always fantastic.
Lunch & Farmer’s Markets: 1 - 4 PM
Float Away Cafe is a perfect spot for a light lunch. Their menu changes constantly. The last time I went they served up a fusion of southern and Mediterranean food.
After lunch I go pick up a few things at the market. Although it’s a chain, Hmart is one of my favorite places to go shopping. If you haven’t been to one, then it’s a huge learning experience. They carry everything you’d possibly want. The place sparks excitement and wonder. For example, you can find any organ part here - among them - a pig’s uterus and eggs that are partially developed. I’d love to sneak into the houses of the people buying these things and see how they’re using it in their food.
For people into locally grown food or fans of the “slow food” movement, there are two great farmers markets in town. The East Atlanta Village Farmers Market is open from 4-8 PM on Thursdays and The Whistle Stop Farmer’s Market in Norcross is open Tuesdays from 4-8 PM. It’s places like these where you get to meet people who are growing their own fruits, pickling their own veggie and making their own jams and soaps. You get a sense that they have a real connection with what it is that they’re making.
When you go to a grocery store and buy all the same stuff week after week - you have no connection with that food. You have no idea where it came from, who made it and who grew it. What we’re seeing happen with the mainstream food culture today is people want to understand where their food came from because they value their health. When you meet people who grow their own fruits and veggies, they give you a level of detail about that product that you can’t get elsewhere. They’ll tell you if a specific batch grew out really well or if it needs a few more days to ripen. That conversation that then gives you an instant connection with what you’re buying and an understanding of where it came from.
When you meet people growing their own plants, it’s always a good time hearing their stories. One time I met an old lady at the Norcross farmer’s market who was growing these heirloom tomatoes that were huge. Whenever she walked by her plants or tended them, she literally talked to them. She told me how she gave them the same love and attention she would her children. It’s fascinating.
Part two of this interview covers dinner and emerging trends in the food culture in Atlanta.