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    Dine Like a Local

  • Serpas True Food Creates Entree Envy

    By Mary Welch

    Caution! Dining at Serpas True Food can give you whiplash! Yes, so many amazing looking dishes will pass your table that you'll turn into a rubberneck.

    “Oh look! Don’t the scallops look amazing? Is that the tuna tartar? Fabulous! The lamb shanks look delicious!”

    But don’t worry. Whatever you order is not only delicious, but also sure to give your fellow diners entree envy. That’s how great the food is at this Fourth Ward dining establishment that is run by some of the city’s biggest culinary heavyweights.

    Executive chef and owner Scott Serpas has attracted the attention of food critics at Gourmet, GQ, Wine Spectator, and Food & Wine for his approach to Southern food with a Louisiana flair. His résumé includes serving as executive chef at TWO Urban Licks, Sia’s in Alpharetta and Baby Routh’s (with local iconic chef Kevin Rathbun).

    Joining Serpas is Jeff White, general manager, who also has worked with Rathbun and helped open Roy’s, a Hawaiian-meets-Asian fusion restaurant, that was located in Buckhead for many years.

    Located at The Pavilion at Studioplex (the intersection of Irwin Street and Auburn Avenue), Serpas has the look and feel of a large warehouse or loft but with a lot more warmth. Some of the decorations give a quirky nod to the environment, such as cut-up menus being used as small napkins under dishes or candles being set in wine bottles with the tops cut off.

    Helping create the proper casual-yet-upscale atmosphere is a wait staff that is friendly, quick and aims to make your evening as pleasant as possible.

    "Pleasant" is an understatement. Everything on the menu we tried was outstanding and those that we didn’t try sure did look good as they were presented to other diners. Food envy is a natural by-product of dining here.

    The Serpas team prides itself on using the best fresh locally farmed produce, and we were impressed that each entree had its own creative side dishes. Each dish was thoughtfully created, beautifully presented with a masterful blend of tastes that blended into a most satisfactory meal.

    But let’s start with the appetizers. We were told by Serpas fans to order the house-smoked salmon chips, the tuna tartar (with green apples and chili sesame dressing) and the lemon crab cream cheese fritters. We chose the cheese fritters and found them truly addictive. Think of cheese with a hint of crab with a soft fried covering. Simply pop-in-your-mouth and smile.

    Yummy cheese fritters

    We chose the flash-fried oysters served with pickled chiles and mirliton. Tender, juicy with just enough sass to make this favorite dish interesting, the oysters are a perennial winner. And we tried the pigs in the blanket -- house-made andouille, puff pastry and Creole mustard. Memories of party pigs in the blanket were quickly dispelled and replaced with utmost joy.

    Sassy flash-fried oysters

    Our appetizers were so scrumptious that we couldn’t wait for our entrees -- and again, seeing what other diners ordered just increased our anticipation. Among the signature dishes are jumbo sea scallops with spaghetti squash, baby shiitakes and Panang curry; trout with crab and mushroom stuffing; braised lamb shank with gigandes beans, turnips and radishes; and veal porterhouse with bleu cheese gratin, tiny green beans and shiitakes.

    We opted for the pan-roasted rock fish with Georgia shrimp, sunchokes, Brussels petals and heirloom tomatoes. We had never eaten rock fish, but it reminded us of flounder or sea bass. The vegetable side-kicks added a much-needed intensity to the fish, resulting in a melding of flavors that burst with each bite.

    Our companion went with the 14-ounce rib eye with bleu cheese-loaded baked potato and local spinach. It’s a restaurant standard offering, but there was nothing “standard” about this rib eye. Tender and favorable, this steak made an impression and set itself apart from its competition elsewhere.

    We opted for braised garlic greens and smoked cheddar grits. We must confess that we thought the braised greens meant collard greens, but they were a delightful combination of several greens, thus making each bite different from the next. The garlic didn’t overpower, but its presence was definitely tasted.

     

    Greens with garlic (just right)

    We should have gotten two orders of grits. They were so creamy, thick and sweet that they could have sufficed as dessert. Honestly, we were delightfully satisfied to call it a night after the grits. But, fortunately, we did not.

    We opted for the pralines and cream cheesecake with chocolate cookie crust and caramel sauce, and beignets with homemade peanut butter cream and blueberry jelly on the side. When the cheesecake arrived, our colleague wasn’t thrilled with the small size (plus he was expecting the usual triangle cake). But don’t worry, the cheesecake was so rich, so creamy, so intense that he was completely satisfied. And he still found some space to eat one of the three beignets. The beignets were light, fluffy and would be perfectly at home at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.

    Creamy cheesecake

    Serpas offers a fine dining experience, and friends of ours said the brunch is among the best in town. Portions are large. The food screams freshness and creativity but not pretentiousness. It’s down-home food with class.

    You will be thrilled with everything you order at Serpas and, at the same time, wish you had ordered everything on the menu. Some restaurants are good people-watching places; Serpas is a good place to watch great-looking dishes pass by while you wait for yours to arrive. Just don’t be too obvious coveting your neighbor’s orders. And rest assured, they will be salivating over your choices as well.

    Photos by Grady McGill

    Mary Welch is a veteran journalist who writes about travel, lifestyle and business. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Fulton County Daily Report and Family Vacation Critic.

  • Goin’ Steady with a Restaurant (Atkins Park)

    By Mary Welch

    Have you ever gone steady with a restaurant? You know, the kind of place where you always tend to unconsciously end up? And, then, like a relationship where you just tend to drift apart, you somehow slowly stop going?

    That was us with Atkins Park Restaurant and Bar in Virginia Highland. For a long time we were there at least once a week. And, then, as often happens with relationships, we drifted away. It wasn’t as though we had a new favorite restaurant. Truly, it was us, not them.

    So with a little bit of trepidation and guilt, we walked over to Atkins Park to try the new brunch menu. Oh, the guilt, the silliness, the lost time. How could we have forgotten how great Atkins Park Is? Although frankly, we really don’t think the Atkins Park of our memory was as good as this brunch.

    Physically, not much, if anything, has changed. The same pictures of Atlanta in years past are still on the walls. Atkins Park, which opened in 1922, rightly, is proud of being the oldest continually operating bar.

    While the menu at its Smyrna location is elaborate, the menu at the Virginia Highland restaurant is quite simple but fully satisfying.

    We started the brunch with a mimosa and Bloody Mary, which was a bit on the spicy side. We quickly went to the complimentary biscuits and muffins and requested pork sausage gravy on the side. The gravy was so rich, so yummy that we literally were spooning the edges to get every last drop.

    We then ordered crispy Brussels sprouts and flash-fried oysters. If we stopped right there and only had these two appetizers, we would have left immensely happy and satisfied. The Brussels sprouts were soft yet crispy thanks to a quick fry and served with a bacon aioli. They truly were as sweet as butter with a bit of sass, thanks to the aioli.

    Similarly the oysters were flash fried so the exterior wasn’t hard like they are in too many restaurants that deep fry them. Therefore, the method allowed the true taste of the oyster to shine through and yield a warm, soft oyster inside the coating. We were in heaven.


    Brussels sprouts and oysters (yum)

    Our counterpart started with a cup of creamy tomato basil soup. He considers himself an expert on this particular soup and gave it two thumbs up. He appreciated the chunks of tomatoes still found in the soup, increasing its robust flavor.

    He then tried the buttermilk pancakes with maple butter and syrup along with Applewood smoked bacon. He also went with the shrimp and grits, again a perennial favorite of his. The shrimp and grits were enhanced by roasted peppers and caramelized onions, prompting him to declare it was a bit more spicy that he was used to but very favorable.


    Buttermilk pancakes and Applewood smoked bacon, oh my

    There has to be a quick mention of the Applewood smoked bacon. Rich in flavor and cooked to perfection, it came truly the way bacon is meant to be cooked.

    Among the other brunch entrees are: house-cured salmon pastrami with potato pancakes, chorizo and egg tacos, Grand Marnier French toast, short rib and eggs, black bean cakes, fried chicken biscuits and pork belly Benedict.

    For some reason, we opted to go with the Highland omelet. We say this because the omelet contains spinach and tomatoes, two ingredients that we don’t like in an omelet. They tend to run and make the omelet all mushy and slimy. But, regardless, we opted for it and hoped for the best. Well, Atkins Park delivered big time.

    The spinach was al dente, still bright in color, rich in flavor and not watery. Same with the tomatoes. All together, when white cheddar cheese and andouille sausages are added, the omelet is a winner. Again, it was perfectly prepared -- not too runny, not too hard.

    The omelet is a winner.

    This truly was an incredibly enjoyable brunch. Whether you live in the Virginia Highland area or not, this is a destination stop worth putting on your calendar. The food is fresh, locally sourced, properly prepared and served by a helpful, professional wait staff.

    Eating at Atkins Park was a revelation. It’s so exciting to rekindle a past love and find that it’s better than ever.

    Mary Welch is a veteran journalist who writes about travel, lifestyle and business. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Fulton County Daily Report and Family Vacation Critic.

  • Me Gusta Mi Cocina

    By Ashley O'Dell

    Last weekend, I learned what happens when you combine two of my favorite things - Mexican food and brunch. The answer? Midtown's Mi Cocina.

    In a town where pretty much every restaurant has some type of brunch menu, Mi Cocina breathes a breath of fresh air into everyone's favorite meal. Mi Cocina's brunch menu combines the spices of South America with traditional brunch dishes, ensuring there's something to fit every craving.

     

    We started with chips and salsa, as well as queso, which proved beyond addicting. I'm sure I'm still dreaming of it. Do yourself a favor and give both the salsa and queso a try. The salsa is light with a "just-right" level of spice, while the queso is richy and hearty. Though it's tempting, don't fill up on chips, because the best is yet to come!

    For our entrees, I opted for the chilaquiles, while my friend dug into the brisket con huevos.

     

    I ordered the chilaquiles on recommendation from our server, and I'm glad I took her advice. Mi Cocina's chilaquiles takes a detour from the traditional Mexican dish, in that it features tortilla strips instead of quartered and fried tortillas. The result is a casserole-like concoction with eggs, cheese, pulled chicken, salsa verde and crema. Hungry yet? Assuming your answer is yes, keep reading. It also comes with delicious potatoes, refried beans and fresh veggies.

    The brisket con huevos is equally as tasty! This dish features slow-roasted brisket topped with eggs cooked to order and smothered in ranchero sauce. Beans are served along the hot items, and the order is rounded out with fresh fruit and sweet crema.

     

    While we opted for traditional favorites, I would be remiss to not mention Mi Cocina's brunch taco menu. Breakfast tacos with your choice of bacon, brisket, chorizo or black pepper sausage are the highlights, with an cheese and egg taco for the veggies out there.

    And what brunch is complete without some type of "hair of the dog" beverage? Bar service starts at 12:30 p.m. An insider tip for you - get there at 12:10 p.m. Everyone knows Atlanta restaurants are able to serve booze at the 12:30 mark, so tables fill up rather quickly right then. Get there a bit early to beat the rush!

    Both my partner in crime and I opted for the Agave Margarita. After all, with a tag line like "nectar of the gods" it's hard to say no, and we are glad we couldn't resist. For those who like a little kick with their margarita, try the jalapeno-agave margarita. Same great flavor as the regular agave marg, but with the added heat of the jalapenos.

    The next time you wake up on a weekend and you know you're in dire need of brunch, run, don't walk to Mi Cocina at Peachtree and 11th. Have a margarita and trust me when I say, it will be the best decision you'll make all weekend.

    Born and raised in Alabama, Ashley O'Dell has lived in Atlanta since 2008. She has a love for all things culinary and enjoys writing about Atlanta restaurants and events. When she's not writing, Ashley can be found exploring Atlanta's neighborhoods, restaurants and live music venues. You can find her on Twitter at @AshleyOAtlanta.

  • Rí Rá: ‘Come hungry. Leave full and really happy’

    By Mary Welch

    “Come hungry. Leave full and really happy.” That was the message my 21-year-old son, Grady, left on one of those social media restaurant review sites. And, while it is certainly accurate, we truly believe that Irish pub sensation Rí Rá deserves more than a few words.

    Authentic Irish pub in Midtown

    Rí Rá is a great authentic Irish pub nestled into the bustling mixed-use complex in the burgeoning 12th and Midtown block. Walk into this surprisingly large restaurant and you are transported back to Ireland. The bar was restored from old Irish pubs. In fact, it took more than two years and 11,000 hours to finish the pub, including the 10,000 pieces from the Harland and Wolff floor (the shipyard where the Titanic was built), which were restored in Wicklow but reconstructed at the restaurant.

    Bar, restored from old Irish pubs (photo by Heidi Geldhauser)

    Not only is the interior from the old country, but the manager, Dermot Lloyd, and our wonderful waitress, Clare, both are from Ireland. Their accents made it more authentic than all the potatoes on the menu.

    And, what a place it is. When you walk in, you immediately see the amazing bar and some small tables. Go back and there is an extended restaurant as well as a party room for private functions. What’s great is that it doesn’t matter where you sit, you will enjoy yourself and your food while you listen as others laugh and converse. It’s a place that feels at home instantly. Isn’t that really what you want in a pub?

    Although Rí Rá has a great pub menu with burgers, Reubens and barbecue chicken, we wanted to experience a heartier cuisine and went with what the pub calls “The Classics” or contemporary interpretations of Irish favorites.

    Because of a strong recommendation from a friend, we started with potato cakes and were delighted. Two large mashed potatoes, along with cheese, were pan seared and then topped with Guinness barbecue pulled pork. This dish has everything for a hands-across-the-ocean culinary get-together -- potatoes, cheese, pulled pork, Guinness. What’s not to love?

    Potato cakes

    Our wings-loving sidekick was so entranced by the Guinness barbecue pork on his potato cake that he ordered a pound of Guinness barbecue wings. The wings were encased in a thick, dark, sticky coating that provided an unexpected hit of heat. What was nice about these wings is that they were large enough that a robust flavor didn’t overwhelm them.

    A surprise was the house-smoked salmon with a potato blini, lemon aiolo, chopped eggs, pickled onions and capers. Usually when we order this favorite, the salmon is thin slivers, a delicacy that is quite delicate. Not this time. This salmon was fresh, cold and most of all substantial. No itty-bitty pieces on an itty-bitty blini! This was a pancake-size blini with almost a salad-size portion of salmon, greens and side items. The sweetness of the salmon blended effortlessly with the lemon and pickled onions.

    We next went with two Irish favorites, fish and chips and cottage pie. The fish was delicate, perfectly fried with just enough salt to bring back memories of eating fried cod out of a newspaper while walking along the River Liffey in Dublin.


    Fish and chips

    The cottage pie is not for the faint-of-heart eater. It is minced beef, vegetables and gravy crowned with a cheddar potato crust. Our diner was eagerly eating the whipped potatoes and eventually found the gravy and minced beef. He was plenty happy just eating the cheesy potato crust, and when his fork finally hit the meat and gravy it was like finding the filling in a Hostess Twinkie. Jackpot!

    Cottage pie

    Other items on the menu include bangers and mash, corned beef, salmon and a traditional Irish breakfast.

    We really had little desire for dessert but couldn’t pass up the Guinness sundae with a warm house-baked black and tan brownie, vanilla ice cream and Guinness chocolate.

    Rí Rá needs to be on your radar for amazing brunches, after-work drinks (the list of beer and Irish whiskey is among the best in town), private parties and delicious hearty food.

    The concept of the Irish pub is a place to go, enjoy being alone or enjoy being with friends while you have a drink and partake in substantial, stick-to-the-ribs food. Rí Rá is such a place, and like “Cheers” where everyone knows your name, after the first visit, everyone at this wonderful pub will know your name as well.

    Mary Welch is a veteran journalist who writes about travel, lifestyle and business. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Fulton County Daily Report and Family Vacation Critic.


  • Veni Vidi Vici Rises from the Ashes (Literally)

    By Mary Welch

    Just like Atlanta and the Phoenix, sometimes you just have to rise from the ashes, rebuild it and make it better.

    That’s exactly the attitude of venerable Atlanta restaurant Veni Vidi Vici had after a kitchen fire last summer destroyed the rotisserie where they used to roast chicken, duck and pork that were used in several dishes.

    Veni Vidi Vici, Italian food in Midtown

    The Buckhead Life Group restaurant wisely is using the opportunity to totally revamp its menu, attitude and its energy level. We dined on a Saturday night. The restaurant was full (and remained so the entire evening), and the atmosphere was electric with diners sharing food, talking about and delighting in the varied dishes on the table.

    “That’s really what we want,” says executive chef Jamie Adams. “We’re serving a more authentic Italian-style experience by serving much more fresh seafood, and we’re serving it family style. The portions, especially the pasta dishes, are smaller so that guests can choose multiple courses to try and share among the table.”

    Executive chef Jamie Adams

    As with most Italian restaurants, the antipasti dishes are simple, varied and delicious. We tried the grilled octopus, meatballs, fritto misto, mussels, clams, cheese and the VVV Board, which consists of cacciatorini and sopressata salami, prosciutto, marinated olives, robiola and asiago cheese served with a dried fig puree. In our group, three especially stood out. The meatballs were a mixture of duck, turkey, rabbit and beef served with sweet onions and shiitake mushrooms. Not exactly what we remember our Italian grandmother served, but we’re not going to quibble. They were exquisite and delicious.

    The Veni Vidi Vici Board

    Fitto misto -- crispy calamari and clam strips -- provided just the amount of crispness allowing the natural flavor to shine through. Our personal favorites were the clams steamed in a cherry tomato and Prosecco saffron broth because they were plump, fresh and bursting with flavor. VVV just may have the best sourced clams in the city.

    The pasta dishes came fast and furiously as agnolotti (roasted chicken, duck and rotini ravioli) served with brown butter, sage and pecan (my personal favorite) was quickly followed by spaghetti carbonaro, tortelli and orecchiette, a flavor-busting dish with sausage, spicy broccoli and cacio di roma.

    Agnolotti pasta

    For those wanting more protein, our favorite was the braised Alabama rabbit cooked in a crispy polenta, caramelized fennel and braising jus.  Others may prefer the grilled garlic and rosemary pork ribs or the chicken breast Roman style with roasted peppers and tomatoes. Regardless of selection, you will be pleased by the Midtown restaurant’s innovative and unique take on these dishes.

    Coniglio (rabbit)

    Accompanying this new attitude is a completely revamped wine menu featuring mostly Italian wines not featured in other Atlanta restaurants. Prices are quite reasonable with most bottles in the $30 to $50 range. VVV offers a nice shortcut to its menu by offering Pick of the Week. It makes for a great way to select wines that may be unfamiliar to you and keep you looking cool.

    The best way to remember a restaurant is to have the most delicious dessert, and VVV’s crème brûlée serves that purpose -- and more. It was creamy with a tang from the pistachios that cut through the sweetness perfectly. Not only that, it provided a subtle change in the usual crème brûlée that was simply amazing. It was the talk of the valet line.

    It’s time to revisit this 14th Street favorite. VVV is a delightful blend of sophistication and casual elegance that the Buckhead Life Group has perfected. It is just right for a special evening. It’s a trattoria for relaxing and unwinding or the right spot for a meal before the symphony or theater.

    The new dishes are less complex, less overwhelming and lighter, thus allowing for the few simple ingredients to blend together to delight the palate, not assault it.

    Sometimes it takes a fire to light a fire under a chef and restaurant in order to get a fresh, varied, distinctive and delicious rebirth. Here’s to Atlanta, its Phoenix history of rising from the fire – and an exciting reborn restaurant, Veni Vidi Vici.

    Photos by Sara Hanna

    Mary Welch is a veteran journalist who writes about travel, lifestyle and business. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Fulton County Daily Report and Family Vacation Critic.


  • Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q Brings Pitmaster Dinners to Atlanta

    By Ashley O’Dell

    What do you get when you combine one of the hottest barbecue joints in Atlanta with an award-winning competition team/restaurant on St. Simon’s Island?

    You get the Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q and Southern Soul Barbeque Pitmaster Dinner, a very full stomach and a greater appreciation for just what goes in to cooking some of the country’s best barbeque.

    Atlanta icon Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q recently hosted St. Simon’s Southern Soul Barbeque for a pit master dinner that showcased the best of restaurant cooking and competition barbecue.

    Southern Soul Barbeque has some serious credentials in the barbecue world. You may recognize the name and the face of their pit master, Harrison Sapp, from TLC’s “BBQ Pitmasters” where the team competed on Season 2. You might also recognize the name from ‘cue competitions like Memphis in May or major food events like the Charleston Wine & Food Festival. Regardless of how you know the name, you know that when Southern Soul Barbeque is involved, things are about to get good.

    Good is an understatement for what we were treated to on this particular night.

    It was a cool November evening in Atlanta, and as we gathered around a fire pit at Fox Bros. and sipped hot toddies, under a tent a few feet away the Southern Soul Barbeque and the Fox Brothers teams went to work on a Southern-inspired, coastal menu that makes my mouth water even thinking about it now.

    As the fire roared and drinks were poured, passed appetizers made their way around the crowd. Fried oyster deviled eggs, chicken fried quail and wild Georgia shrimp salad sandwiches started the evening off right, as did the Woodford Reserve cocktails and Sweetwater 420.



    I opted for the bourbon hot toddy, made with Woodford, mild honey and lemon juice, served hot. It was the perfect concoction to warm you from the inside out on a cold evening. Next up was the Woodford spice, a combination of bourbon, molasses, Coca-Cola, paprika, green Tabasco and fresh jalapeno.

    After mixing, mingling, snacking and drinking the diners moved inside to get down to business. We dove in to green chili cornbread and Southern Soul’s Brunswick stew. Fox Bros. cornbread is a staple of my order there, but this was my first experience with Southern Soul’s Brunswick stew, and words can’t do it justice. The drive to St. Simon’s would be worth it for the stew alone.



    Next up was what the menu called “belly fillers.” You know, because at this point there was still so much room to be filled in our bellies. Right. Down the communal tables rolled platters of barbeque goodness. Chicken thighs, pulled pork and Southern Soul’s St. Louis-style spareribs filled our plates alongside Sea Island red pea hoppin’ John and bacon and blue cheese potato salad. Belly fillers, indeed.

     

    It was at this point our BBQ education started. Harrison Sapp and company gave us the lowdown on the differences between competition and restaurant barbeque, the (not so) secret powers of apple juice and how the money muscle got its name.

    As buttermilk pie with muscadine sauce and vanilla bean whipped cream was served, one thing was certain – each of us in attendance had a sated smile on our face and a new appreciation for all things smoked and barbecued.

    The Southern Soul Pitmaster Dinner was one in a series of guest appearances scheduled for Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q. Stay tuned to their Twitter and Facebook pages for the next installment, but in the meantime, head over to the Little Five Points/Candler Park establishment for your own Texas-sized and Texas-style barbecue dinner and check it off your Atlanta must-eat bucket list.

    Born and raised in Alabama, Ashley O'Dell (@AshleyOatlanta) has lived in Atlanta since 2008. She has a love for all things culinary and enjoys writing about Southern food culture on her blog, Dash and Dine Atlanta. When she's not writing, Ashley can be found exploring Atlanta's neighborhoods, restaurants and live music venues

  • Your Five, Our Five: Atlanta’s Favorite Steakhouses

    By Ashley O’Dell


    Is there anything much better than a mouth-watering steak? Throw in great service, iconic Atlanta restaurants and a quality glass of red wine and you are in steakhouse heaven. We asked our Discover Atlanta fans about their favorite steak in the city, so without further ado, I present the top five faves and five of our editors’ picks.

    Your Five

     

    1. Bone's 

    Topping the list for our Facebook fans is Bone's, and it shouldn’t come as any surprise given the love the restaurant has received from the likes of GQ and Zagat. Bone's has also taken top honors in the Best of Atlanta – Steakhouse category for 16 years, so they must be doing something right!

    2. McKendrick’s Steak House

    A close second was McKendrick’s, an Atlanta favorite. Atlanta Magazine listed it as one of the best in Atlanta and who are we to argue? Zagat credits McKendrick’s as having “old-fashioned service that makes you feel special.” The wine list has received Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence every year since 2003, so sit back, take a sip and enjoy.

    3. Kevin Rathbun Steak

    Kevin Rathbun, Atlanta’s favorite Iron Chef, makes two appearances on this list. Needless to say, the man knows steak. Kevin Rathbun Steak is a favorite spot for special occasions and was rated one of the best steakhouses in the country by both Travel + Leisure and Details magazines. Our tip? Don’t skip dessert here. He might be known for steak, but the dessert menu is truly divine.

    4. Ruth’s Chris Steak House

    Aside from having some great steaks, the beauty of Ruth’s Chris lies in its versatility. Whether you’re looking for a romantic night out or a spot for a business lunch, Ruth’s Chris provides the perfect backdrop. With several locations around Atlanta, you can even pick your favorite part of town to grab dinner.

    5. Chops Lobster Bar

    Situated in Buckhead, Chops Lobster Bar is known for not only their great steaks, but also their fresh, flown-in-daily seafood. Combined with their prime aged beef, they have a menu that will leave a mouth-watering impression. Looking for a Chops crowd favorite? Try the crab cakes!

    Our Five


    1. KR SteakBar

    KR SteakBar, opened by Kevin Rathbun in the summer of 2013, already has stolen our hearts and stomachs. The small plate Italian fare is perfectly suited for this intimate neighborhood restaurant located in the Peachtree Hills area of Buckhead. Though the menu ranges from pasta to pork loin, the true focus is on the steak offerings. (Thanks to KR SteakBar for the photo, below.)

    2. STK Atlanta

    Ladies, this one’s for you, so listen up! Put down your salad fork and pick up your steak knife – STK’s menu was designed to be female-friendly, serving up small, medium and large cuts of meat. Don’t leave off the sides here; the mac and cheese is to die for. Insider tip: Wash it down with a Cucumber Stiletto. Delish! Looking for even more adventure? Check STK out on Magnum Mondays for great prices on the bubbly!

    3. Prime

    Another Buckhead spot, Prime is located at Lenox Square and was one of the first restaurants in the city to embrace the sushi and steakhouse concept. We’ll leave it at this – Prime takes surf and turf to a whole new level.

    4. BLT Steak

    Located in the W Atlanta Downtown, BLT Steak is a convenient choice for downtown visitors and locals alike. BLT takes the chic modern atmosphere of the W and combines it with the rich warmth of a steakhouse, giving it the sophistication and style that Atlanta’s top restaurants are known for.

    5. STRIP Steaks and Sushi

    Last but not least! STRIP is located in Atlantic Station and is the perfect spot when you’ve worked up an appetite with all of that retail therapy. It’s just as great a choice for a romantic date night. STRIP is a lively hotspot with multiple bars and a DJ spinning beats for those who want to shake it on the dance floor.

    Did we miss one? Are you hungry yet? Let us know what you think over on Facebook or Twitter.

    Born and raised in Alabama, Ashley O'Dell has lived in Atlanta since 2008. She has a love for all things culinary and enjoys writing about Southern food culture on her blog, Dash and Dine Atlanta. When she's not writing, Ashley can be found exploring Atlanta's neighborhoods, restaurants and live music venues.

  • Startling Design, Comfy Beds and Delicious Cuisine Punctuate Le Meridien

    By Mary Welch

    When the W Hotel at the Perimeter quietly became a Le Méridien Hotel, few took notice. But that is changing as the newbie is quickly gaining a reputation as a world-class addition to metro Atlanta’s hospitality offerings, complete with a restaurant that can compete with Atlanta’s best restaurants. Attention travelers, weekend staycationers, meeting planners and gourmet diners! Le Méridien, a Starwoods hotel, is in town and open for business. And, we’re rolling out the welcome mat.

    Before we even step into the hotel we know this was going to be an exciting, interactive stay. As we pull up to the check-in circle, soul music plays in the background and moving electronic art projects onto the walls by the doors. 

    The lobby, called Le Méridien Hub, may be the perfect hotel lobby and is designed to be a social gathering place for creative people to converse, debate and exchange ideas. The lobby features a massive bar (called The Latitude Bar) and large comfortable sofas to sit, relax and chat.

    For more private, intimate conversations there is a side alcove, complete with fireplace. Want more privacy? There are several padded booths up against a wall perfect for a tête-a-tête or alone time. There are also two small conference rooms off the lobby area. A door by the fireplace leads to a large comfortable outdoor patio area, complete with another fireplace.

    Helping to encourage relaxation and conversation in the lobby is a new program that is being rolled out in all Le Méridiens, including Atlanta, by year’s end.  Le Méridien Master Baristas will boast a technical skill set required beyond making basic coffee drinks. Master baristas will undergo an intensive training program, designed by Le Méridien and its global coffee partner, illy. Le Méridien Master Baristas will lead coffee-related initiatives and standards at each hotel as well as serve as lead coffee cultural ambassadors, maintaining knowledge of current coffee trends while raising the local community’s awareness of coffee.

    There is not a detail missing from this exquisitely designed and stylized hotel. Case in point: The hall ceilings are not flat but arched; so is the curtain rod in the bedroom. The bathroom tiles give the illusion of rolling ribbons. Sharp black, white and gray furniture -- with splashes of bright color -- is offset by curves and textures in an intriguing mixture that truly delights the eye and softens the experience.

    Our king suite is roomy and perfect not only for a wonderful stay, but for business meetings as well, with the living room featuring a sectional couch arranged around a large coffee table with a large open-style desk overlooking the scene.

    But the real star is the signature bed and wonderful hypoallergenic pillows. The bed and pillows are so comfortable that our sinus issues float away as we sleep through the entire night without waking. Glorious.

    Of course, every great hotel requires an equally fabulous restaurant, and Le Méridien doesn’t disappoint. Ever notice how a hotel’s restaurant is either really great or really generic? We once were at a large national hotel in Virginia Beach mere yards from the ocean where the waitress told us the fish was flown in frozen from its centralized food dispensary.

    Don’t worry. Portico Global Cuisine is a delight. Its menu is a perfect mix of different cuisines with a bit of a Mediterranean bent. For instance, shared appetizers include a cheese board, gambas a la plancha (prawns); roasted duck leg and an olive mix.

    We try the incredibly fresh and tart Caesar salad and the roasted tomato and bell pepper soup. The soup is a surprise as an artistic swirl of bell pepper on top of the tomato soup brings a bit of unexpected heat.

    Appetizers include wild mushroom flatbread, fried Spanish chipirones (fried calamari) and Southern grit cake. The mussels feature Merguez lamb sausage, grilled baguette and a saffron tomato broth. We order extra bread to drain the bowl of any extra broth.

    The entree options are perfectly selected so there is something for everyone, but not too many decisions to make. The seared scallops are served with bacon and corn succotash, English pea puree and citrus vanilla emulsion. What is great about this dish is that every bite of the scallops has a different taste as a result of touching whatever is next to it on the elongated plate. In other words, we get a hint of bacon in one bite and a citrus blast on the next. Truly every bite is a surprise.

    The 16-ounce prime N.Y. strip also serves up a surprise. Along with the watercress melange, there is this very tasty white sauce. We can’t place it. Is it cream-based? Not exactly? Mayonnaise? Again, not exactly. The mysterious but delicious white sauce turns out to be a parsnip silk. Parsnip, trust us, never tasted this good before.

    Other options are wild salmon, porcini ravioli, grilled Agus beef tenderloin, grilled trout, slow-cooked airline chicken breast and a vegetable plate with toasted quinoa, seasonal vegetables and citrus fruits.

    A perfectly made cappuccino rounds out a dining experience that equals the best around the area.

    Of course not every stay is perfect and that is certainly true of this fine hotel. Our biggest criticism is that the fancy illy coffee machine is a bit too complicated to figure out without having a morning wake-up cup of coffee. It honestly takes us about five minutes to figure out how to work the contraption. We probably could have figured it out easier if we had a cup of coffee to wake us up but that was the Catch-22 of the situation. But then in true Le Méridien fashion, the coffee is so delicious and distinctive that it is hard to be upset -- especially after the second and third cups.

    Le Méridien will carve out its own audience in the Atlanta hospitality market, and the  city is better for it. So if you want a visual and artistic explosion coupled with amazing food, service, hospitality and possibly the most comfortable beds in Atlanta, give Le Méridien a try.


    Mary Welch is a veteran journalist who writes about travel, lifestyle and business. Her work has appeared in publications such as the “Atlanta Journal Constitution,” “The Fulton County Daily Report” and “Family Vacation Critic.”

     

     

  • Oh Me Oh My Oooooh Moe’s Bar B Que!

    By Mary Welch

    We love barbecue. Let’s just make that plain right now. All kinds of barbecue -- Texas, North Carolina, Memphis, St. Louis, Kansas City. You name it, we’ve tried it and loved it.

    But, bless my soul -- as they say -- I’d never heard of Alabama barbecue. But that’s what they serve at Moe’s Original Bar B Que at 349 14th St. -- barbecue with a pickle, marinated slaw, and red and white sauces. We had never had white sauce with barbecue before, and now we are converts. In fact, the white sauce is served as the dipping sauce with the chicken wings, and we prefer it to French or ranch dressing. Honestly. Although we don’t have the exact recipe, a quick search of the Internet says that Alabama white sauce consists largely of mayonnaise, white wine vinegar, mustard, brown sugar and horseradish.

    Moe’s draws an eclectic crowd -- Georgia. Tech students and professors, neighborhood types, Turner employees and those who love ‘cue -- just like a genuine neighborhood restaurant and bar. There are regulars who come in either for takeout or dine in. The fact that there is ample free parking behind the restaurant helps.

    Moe’s decor is not kitschy shack-chic, the way a lot of places are. There’s lots of distressed wood, a comfortable long bar and wonderful paintings done by Preston Smith, who is the co-owner with Brett Mancuso. Smith is the perfect restaurateur. He enjoys sitting at the bar talking with customers, and when asked about the secret in the baked beans he will describe how they are made with such enthusiasm you’d swear his mama made them.

    Moe’s is very intent on being a neighborhood restaurant. There is an interesting collection of beers, and the place is packed on weekends with people drinking beer and watching football. There are also daily specials such as fried chicken and brisket. We were too late for brisket Thursday, but we have friends who swear by fried chicken Friday.

    Another wonderful feature that separates Moe’s from many other barbecue places -- and other restaurants as well -- is that it offers a wide variety of vegetables. All are fresh and prepared at the restaurant. The menu always has baked beans, mac ‘n cheese, marinated slaw, potato salad and chips. But, Moe's offers about another half dozen as daily specials. The night we dined, the daily specials included collard greens, squash soufflé, black-eyed peas, fried okra, lima beans and green beans. While all had a Southern bent to them, there were different twists to many of the vegetables. Instead of relying heavily on cheese, for instance, the squash soufflé was mayonnaise-based.  



    The baked beans had a smoked flavor that was the result of a few dozen ingredients being added to the beans, according to Smith. It was our favorite side, getting two enthusiastic thumbs up. The potato salad was the perfect balance between mustard and mayonnaise. Collards were even better when eaten with the jalapeño corn bread. We were in heaven.

    Of course, the real stars of the place are the barbecue dishes. Moe’s uses fruit wood to smoke the meat, which delivers a sweetness to the meats, and then adds a more familiar red sauce as well as its signature white. We tried the pulled pork -- true heaven. It truly just melted in our mouths. The ribs and smoked turkey were also awesome. The turkey was a pleasant surprise. It was succulent, tender and tasty and delivered the right amount of heat.



    We tasted the smoked chicken wings, which were moist, large and perfectly seasoned. They are truly among the best wings in town. The white sauce, as we indicated earlier, threw in a cool pop of flavor and contrast.



    The desserts come in a very small plastic container that initially had us wondering if we were getting the kiddie portion. But don’t worry. The banana pudding and coconut cream pie were so creamy and rich that they more than satisfied.  

    Moe’s is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets in the area’s barbecue competition. But its reputation is spreading beyond Midtown, and rightfully so. Drop by and experience Alabama barbecue at its best, and you’ll become a fan of the secret white sauce as well.

    Mary Welch is a veteran journalist who writes about travel, lifestyle and business. Her work has appeared in publications such as the “Atlanta Journal Constitution,” “The Fulton County Daily Report” and “Family Vacation Critic.”

  • Stillhouse: Culinary Game Changer

     By Mary Welch

    If you think Atlanta has enough hamburger places – well, think again. Stillhouse Craft Burgers & Moonshine has moved into Buckhead, and it’s a culinary game changer. Located in the increasingly exciting and diverse East Andrews Entertainment District, Stillhouse is a charming mix of regionally sourced products with imagination gone wild.



    We’ll start with the burgers. Even before you look at the menu you know this is going to be a new experience. Why? Because any burgers being delivered to nearby tables have the buns upside down. Baking cheese and putting other ingredients on the bottom of the bun makes sense because, as our wonderful server, says, “Most people turn the bun upside down to add ketchup or mustard, so we make it easy for you.”



    The burgers are amazing, but the key is not to think about it too much. It’s similar to going to a great international restaurant and being unfamiliar with the ingredients or combinations. Usually they tend to be the best meals ever. In other words, trust that the restaurant’s culinary wizards know how to mix and mingle ingredients and that it’ll taste beyond great. For instance, there is the sweet Southern chicken burger made with Coca-Cola moonshine-marinated chicken breast, grilled pineapple, pimento cheese and spinach. Come to think of it, this burger is a well-rounded meal!

    The Buckhead burger is another winner with two beef patties, duck confit and goat cheese, green tomato relish, pickle beets and fresh spinach.



    We try the PB&J Burger. That’s right! It’s two beef patties with Georgia peanut hummus, fig jam, fresh sliced peach, blue cheese and pecans. The sweetness of the jam and hummus provides an interesting contrast to the beef and is not only filling but also delicious.

    We also try the Augusta BBQ burger, with two beef patties, pimento cheese, BBQ sauce, pickle, pulled pork and cole slaw. Our combination hamburger and BBQ lover declares it a real find. In fact, he loves the BBQ/hamburger combination so much that we take home the Southern burger, which adds sweet mustard BBQ, grilled pineapple, North Carolina Gouda, collard greens and thick-cut country bacon to the two beef patties.

    Like we said, it takes a weird sort of culinary mind to come up with these combinations, but they work! And, judging by the skeptical faces of nearby diners when ordering and the big smiles on their faces after a few bites, we can attest that the menu pleases. And, as with many great restaurants, half the fun is going along for the ride, jumping off the cliff of “normal” and having the old taste buds thrilled.

    The appetizers are also enticing. The mussel moonshine, steamed in Troy & Sons Platinum moonshine, is a must order. The broth is so tasty that we order more bread so we can eat it all. Other appetizers include devil eggs, fried green tomatoes, peanut butter hummus, and baby spinach and goat cheese salads. (Chopped bacon, crab cake, chicken and oysters can be added to the salads.)

    We also try the collard greens, which are a perfect combination of sweet and spicy, and the bacon cream corn.

    And, while there are several desserts on the menu, we will be neglectful if we don’t highly recommend the coconut cream pie. While the filling is smooth and flavorful, we really love the buttery, thick crust. So order it.

    The second delightful part of Stillhouse is liquid -- as in moonshine. No, this isn’t the kind that the Beverly Hillbillies made from the still in the back. Stillhouse uses six charred oak barrels, which are prominently displayed in the back bar. The spirits are aged a full month and then served straight or in equally creative mixed cocktails. Of course, a restaurant that serves peanut butter and jelly on burgers will take some creative liberties with beverages, and many of their moonshine infusions combine ingredients such as Vidalia onion jalapȇno, pineapple coconut, strawberry basil, caramel Krispy Kreme, ginger peach and watermelon mint.

    In addition, guests can opt to have their spirits “smoked” with apple, cherry, pecan, aged oak bourbon barrel or maple wood chips.

    Among the must-order drinks are an aged white Manhattan, a bottle in a barrel and a GA moonshine cocktail.

    Stillhouse has a warm, friendly atmosphere that entices people to stay, relax, enjoy and talk about friends and meet new friends. It is easy to see that Stillhouse could become Buckhead’s version of “Cheers,” except the food is much better.

    Mary Welch is a veteran journalist who writes about travel, lifestyle and business. Her work has appeared in publications such as the “Atlanta Journal Constitution,” “The Fulton County Daily Report” and “Family Vacation Critic.”


  • New Menu at Article 14: Less is More

    By Mary Welch

    Fashion experts say the key to a great wardrobe is to pare down one’s wardrobe to the basics -- items that you love are always in style and are perfect for every occasion.

    Article 14, the popular Midtown restaurant, did the same thing. Opened a little over a year ago, Article 14 has refreshed and refined its menu featuring traditional, regional dishes that are made with the finest locally grown ingredients.

    Chris Blobaum, corporate executive chef, says they wanted to redo the menu for several reasons. “We, first of all, wanted to revamp the menu going into the new season. But we also wanted to create a more approachable menu with some lighter healthier options. We wanted to have an offering of smaller, sharing plates including many that would complement our bar menus,” he says. “We wanted a price point that was more competitive and attractive to the Midtown community. Another very important goal was to reach out to our local farmers and celebrate the quality fresh ingredients that they bring to market.

    The new menu is brilliant. It offers something for everyone, but diners don’t have to spend needless energy poring over a long and complex menu. There are eight entrees, for instance -- market risotto, sea scallops (pictured below), halibut, chicken breast, salmon, bavette steak, pork chop and rib eye. Really, isn’t that enough?



    Besides four salads, there are six starters and 12 small plates.

    We opt for a Caesar salad, and we are presented with an appetizer-size salad as opposed to the much larger salad we had when we last visited Article 14. This is just as delicious.

    The homemade tomato soup bursts with the flavor of vine-ripened tomatoes. We also try the chicken liver pậté, with crostini, vidalia onion and bacon marmalade. What a delight. It is smooth, creamy and with a delicate taste. As much as we love the chicken liver pậté, we find the star of the appetizers to be the steamed clams in Sweetwater ale with chorizo and grilled rustic bread. There is a real down-home taste to it – strong, salty, hearty, real. It is the exact opposite of the chicken liver pậté in texture and taste. Both are delicious.


     

    After a thoroughly enjoyable start, we go with the pan-roasted sea scallops with summer succotash and curry vinaigrette. We are encouraged to choose the scallops over sautéed northern halibut with Niçoise olive tapenade and local butter beans.

    We are confident about the scallops, but a bit worried about the succotash. Honestly, succotash? It turns out to be the perfect complement to the scallops; full of flavor and crunchiness, it gives a boost to the scallops.

    The grilled cowboy rib eye is a match for even the hungriest of men, and the grilled Vidalia onion rings are, natch, a perfect accompaniment.

    Article 14 knows exactly how to please diners -- give them the best and let the food do the talking. This new stripped-down menu makes it easier to order while still bringing a creative freshness to the options. Whether it is for brunch, lunch, dinner or cocktails and a light snack before a performance at one of the many Midtown arts options, Article 14 should be tops on your list of go-to restaurants.

    Mary Welch is a veteran journalist who writes about travel, lifestyle and business. Her work has appeared in publications such as the “Atlanta Journal Constitution,” “The Fulton County Daily Report” and “Family Vacation Critic.”
     

     


  • Need a Sugar Fix? Here's the Cure

    By Carol Carter

    Sometimes, you just gotta have sugar. In Atlanta, that could mean a trip to The Varsity for a fried pie (Make mine peach) or a stop at Zesto for a sundae or ice cream.

     

    If you’re really in need of a sugar fix, then screech on your brakes when the neon sign at Krispy Kreme lights up and reads, “Hot Doughnuts Now.” Seriously, is there anything better than a hot glazed doughnut? As my mom would say, “It’s good for what ails you.”

    A friend handed out popsicles at a little gathering, and the big hit of the day was chocolate sea salt pops. Who knew?

    Next time you need some sugar to see you through, try one of these signature desserts (for example, banana cream pie, homemade ice cream sandwiches and a 10-layer carrot cake) at a few favorite Atlanta restaurants.   

    Carol Carter writes for Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau

  • Tin Drum Asiacafe: Fast, Healthy, Reasonably Priced

    By Mary Welch

    We are always on the lookout for interesting food that is fast, healthy and reasonably priced. We found it in Tin Drum Asiacafe -- and we couldn’t be more delighted.

    Now celebrating its 10th year, Tin Drum has 12 locations around town and in Athens, Augusta, Cumming and Roswell, and we intend to visit them all. We do, in fact, visit the Atlantic Station location, and, frankly are a little hesitant. Why? We check some of the social sites that give it lukewarm reviews. But don’t worry. Not only are the manager and the team at Atlantic Station aware of the previous reviews, they are determined to bring a fresh perspective and atmosphere to the restaurant. In fact, the Atlantic Station location is now corporate owned and has a crisp, shiny look and a dedicated staff who always goes the extra mile to deliver great customer service and fast, delicious food.



    We start our venture at Tin Drum with several appetizers, including made-fresh-daily Thai coconut soup (premium coconut milk, sweet Thai chili, lemon juice, fish sauce, mushrooms and scallions); a veggie spring roll and crab ‘n cheese spring roll. The manager says the crab ‘n cheese spring roll is one of the most popular choices and is “to die for.”



    We decide to be the judge and, in fact, are enthralled with the sweet combination of cheese and crab. It literally melts in our mouths. The soup is hearty and creamy with a lemony silky texture.

    We find room for a teriyaki chicken taco – a large taco served with steamed rice, cabbage slaw, cilantro, scallions and soy-sesame vinaigrette. “Panko” crispy shrimp and Thai chicken tacos are also available. For someone wanting a quick snack or belly filler instead of a candy bar, this is the go-to dish. It is substantial without being a whole meal.

    Tin Drum divides its entrees into four groups: house dishes, Asian classics, street noodles and rice dishes. We start with one of the house dishes -- mango stir fry -- that features a sweet chili sauce, fresh mangos, basil, onions, bell peppers, jalapȇnos, crispy chicken and steamed white rice. What a refreshing dish! The mango competes perfectly with the spices for our attention with the basil serving as the ingredient that blends it all together. We order it with fried rice, which makes for a heartier dish.

    Next up is Tin Drum curry – sweet coconut chili sauce, red curry, baby spinach, crushed peanut and crispy cream. This is the perfect introduction to curry -- sweet and refreshingly spicy at the same time. We ask for extra sauce because we want every piece of rice smothered in it.



    Now we opt for an Asian classic, pad Thai noodle, featuring a sweet Thai citrus sauce, stir-fry rice noodles, scallions, bean sprouts, carrots, lime, crushed peanut, egg and sautéed chicken. This has become almost a go-to standard at local Asian/Thai restaurants and for good reason. It’s a mild dish that more than satisfies.

    The real star of the night is Panang curry, featuring red curry coconut sauce, broccoli, bell peppers, tomatoes, sautéed chicken and steamed white rice. It is smooth, spicy and exotic. In fact, our companion pretty much claims it as his.

    Tin Drum is so much more than just a fast/casual restaurant. The food is fresh, the meat is all natural and the tofu is USDA organic. The folks at Tin Drum care about what you eat. When you go to the website, click on each menu option to see a complete nutritional rundown, including calories, carbs, protein, fat, saturated fat, fiber, sodium and cholesterol.

    There is a gluten-free menu as well as several plates for kids.

    There are fountain drinks, but also house-brewed iced tea (traditional black, blackberry jasmine, passion fruit or green); several hot tea options, organic orange mango juice, young coconut water and fresh ginger ale.

    Tin Drum offers a tasty, sophisticated, hearty and varied menu that is reasonably priced, healthy and served quickly in a pleasant setting. What more do you need? Maybe a Tin Drum in your neighborhood.

    Mary Welch is a veteran journalist who writes about travel, lifestyle and business. Her work has appeared in publications such as the “Atlanta Journal Constitution,” “The Fulton County Daily Report” and “Family Vacation Critic.”
  • Midtown’s Mi Cocina: Upscale Tex-Mex

    By Mary Welch

    Mexican food, in this country, often means Tex-Mex, that blend of cuisines that is particularly popular in Texas. So, when a Texas-based Tex-Mex restaurant opens up in Atlanta, we must pay attention.

    Midtown’s Mi Cocina is a delightful and delicious eye-opener of upscale Tex-Mex dishes rarely seen in the area. Founded in Dallas in 1991, Mi Cocina was an instant success (which should tell you something right there) and has since opened restaurants throughout Texas and Oklahoma. Deciding to head north, Mi Cocina opened a restaurant in Maryland, and a year ago in Atlanta at the corner of Peachtree and 11th streets.

    Mi Cocina is worth a visit for lunch, dinner or brunch. If you just want to sit on the patio and have an amusing (and large) cocktail, well, that’s fine, too. The drinks really are works of art whether you are having a “mambo taxi” (classic frozen margarita) or one of about a dozen variations. In addition, premium tequilas also beckon.

    Mi Cocina is a beautiful, large restaurant with an upstairs room for private meetings and parties. Missing from the walls and tables are sombreros and little donkeys. This is a fun place for a date, business lunch or girls’ night out.

    The salsa arrives quickly, and, with the first taste, it becomes obvious that it is freshly made with the finest of ingredients and spices. It packs a little kick that surprises.

    Wanting to eat healthy, we order the quinceañera salad, which consists of chopped romaine hearts, tomato, avocado, cucumber, pineapple and mango with chile-lime vinaigrette and almonds. This salad is like riding a roller coaster. You hit a spot with some hot spices, and the next bite is a cooling bit of mango or avocado. Your tastes buds are primed for excitement and surprise, and this dish delivers.



    Among the specials are tacos mi tierra – served “street style,” topped with diced, grilled fajita beef, serranos and onions; and mama’s chicken – pan-seared chicken breast and onion sauté served with arroz. Other favorites are tacos “de brisket,” filled with shredded brisket, oven roasted overnight, and served with queso blanco, arroz, ensalada and sliced avocados; salmon a la parilla, grilled salmon with agave-guajillio glaze; and carne asada, which is aged special choice rib-eye steak served with arroz, bean soup, guacamole y pico de gallo.



    Mi Cocino is a welcome addition to the Midtown area, and will bring a smile to the face of everyone who wants a wide selection of delicious, fresh and well-crafted Tex-Mex dishes. And, gluten-free diners take note: There's a menu  for you, too.

    Mary Welch is a veteran journalist who writes about travel, lifestyle and business. Her work has appeared in publications such as the “Atlanta Journal Constitution,” “The Fulton County Daily Report” and “Family Vacation Critic.”

  • You Might Flip Over FLIP Burger

     By Mary Welch

    When FLIP Burger Boutique opened several years ago, hamburgers in Atlanta consisted of a patty, bun, lettuce and tomatoes. And then Richard Blais showed Atlantans -- and the world -- the potential creativity that can be found in a burger. Burger lovers have never been the same.

    Afte FLIP, it didn’t take long for the burger explosion to hit Atlanta – with a new burger joint opening in every other strip center – but FLIP is not only the original, it is still the site for burger innovation.

    FLIP’s menu has changed over the years, but it is still the eatery for inventive food and to-die-for milkshakes. FLIP has three locations -- Howell Mill Road, Buckhead (by the Roswell Road-Piedmont Road intersection) and Birmingham, Ala. A new location should open next month in the Poncey-Highlands area.

    FLIP’s decor is a perfect blend of modern and comfortable with pale grays and red accents and a long, sparkly bar area. The heavily padded booths allow for privacy and an intimate setting while the communal tables yield a more fun and festive setting.

    In addition to deciding what to eat, perhaps the biggest dilemma is deciding to have a milkshake with the meal or as dessert. It really could go either way with choices such as Krispy Kreme, Nutella and burnt marshmallow, foie gras and strawberry shortshake. We choose the Krispy Kreme, and it is everything we can imagine. Sweet, with little chunks of doughnuts, topped with liquid nitrate to achieve a dramatic entrance of smoke when served; it is a definite hit.



    We can go on several social network sites and find lengthy threads about the preference of the Krispy Kreme versus the Nutella, which is the restaurant’s best seller. The conversation just frankly can be solved by repeated trips back to FLIP to test and enjoy them all. All milkshakes, by the way, can become adult drinks with the addition of their own special alcohol pairing. Krispy Kreme can be enhanced with 360 Glazed Donut Vodka; Nutella’s boost comes from Kahlúa, and both the strawberry and foie gras shakes can be spiked with UV whipped vodka.

    The starts are simple: Caesar salad, steakhouse salad, summer salad, spicy pozole chili, and tomato bisque with fried okra and kaffir lime cream. We order the generous Caesar salad and are caught off guard by a twist to the usual tangy taste. It turns out, according to our helpful server, that the restaurant smokes its homemade Caesar dressing. It works, adding an extra level of gravitas or flavor to the dish. We highly recommend.



    The next challenge is to decide among the burgers, which are the stars of the show. There is the butcher’s cut (beef with bleu cheese, caramelized onions and soy truffle vinaigrette); RBQ (beef, pulled brisket and coleslaw); earth + turf (mushroom beef blend, caramelized onions and Gruyere cheese); Oaxaca (beef, seasoned avocado and smoked mayo); raw tuna tartare; chorizo-spiced pork with hash browns, fried egg and Manchego cheese; fried chicken breast with spicy Duke’s mayo: and a turkey burger with crushed avocado and pomegranate ketchup. For vegetarians, there is the fauxlafel, which consists of chickpea patty, htipiti feta spread, cucumber, pickled beets and a red onion.

    We opt for a lamb burger (top photo below) – Border Springs lamb, herbed goat cheese, saffron pickled zucchini and harissa ketchup. Our less adventurous diner chooses the “bigger” (bottom photo below) – a half-pound beet patty, caramelized onions, portabello mushroom, horseradish mayo with the special FLIP sauce.

     



    The bigger is a hamburger-lover’s delight. The large burger is juicy and hearty, plus the flavors merge into burger perfection. Our lamb-loving companion is at first taken aback by the toppings and dives in with a bit of hesitation. But after one bite, he attacks the burger with zesto. The pickled zucchini is the perfect cool, tangy foil to the earthiness of the lamb.

    FLIP offers a variety of sides including pole bean salad, warm asparagus, fried okra and fried B+B pickles. We try the fry side sampler, which includes three sides that can be ordered individually. We suggest ordering the trifecta. It’s worth it. The fry side sampler consists of vodka battered onion rings, sweet potato tots and house-made French fries. Each is fried to crunchy perfection, but what we love are the dips, including smoked mayo and ketchup, beer mustard and buttermilk ranch.



    Dessert is two simple choices: strawberry rhubarb fried pie or chocolate fried pie, both served with vanilla ice cream. We select the chocolate fried pie, a simple moon-shaped fried pie with unsweetened chocolate in the middle. It serves as a great finale, not too sweet, but, like all the Flipping food, it makes a statement.



    What is really interesting about FLIP is that we’ve frequented a number of the burger restaurants in town and always come out puzzled that we’ve paid almost $30 for essentially two burgers, fries and maybe one milkshake. FLIP’s prices are very reasonable, especially when the quality and uniqueness of the dishes are thrown in. Prices for a burger are in the $8 to $14 range. It’s an incredible value for a meal that will please customers of all ages and culinary preferences.

    Add on the culinary caché of Richard Blais, one of the country’s most innovative chefs and winner of BRAVO’s season 8 “Top Chef All-Stars” and you have a memory of a lunch or dinner at FLIP that will bring a smile to your face -- and make you go back again and again.

    Mary Welch is a veteran journalist who writes about travel, lifestyle and business. Her work has appeared in publications such as the “Atlanta Journal Constitution,” “The Fulton County Daily Report” and “Family Vacation Critic.”
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