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.