Wednesday, September 29, 2010

finding atlanta

atlanta is a wonderful mix of old southern hospitality with a new, vibrant urban movement. the friendly factor was extremely overwhelming for me, almost something i wasn't familiar with but i accepted it with open arms. and the food scene is glorious! my host for the weekend was jenna cloyd -a great friend who i share many fond memories with during college and beyond, and is now embarking her own journey in the budding town. her taste is only the best which ultimately meant great food spots and a lot of memorable sight seeing.

we first went to a more then thirty year old establishment with the grandest coffee in town and a bakery to buzz about. they take their coffee very seriously and the options were endless - more than two pages of lattes, cappuccinos, and even alcoholic delights. i ordered a cappuccino that had a hint of hazelnut and not only was it delectable but i also adored its overall presentation - especially the sugar cubes on the side. i also tried their crab poblano soup and jenna had the croque madame - both light but filled with tons of flavor. later on in the trip i had a chance to try their chocolate pumpkin cake and i can honestly say it was one of the best cakes i have ever had in my life. i am still thinking about it - between the pumpkin cake and the sensational chocolate buttercream icing, i felt tears as the slice slowly diminished right in front of me. i want more. before getting ready for a great night out we made a quick stop to the local mall and i was introduced to the glorious store called madewelland was crushed to know such a clothing store doesn't exist in south florida. they had tons of great tailored pants, print tops, boots and accessories galore. i also want more of this.

for dinner we went to the popular and uber trendy two urban licks, known for their wood-fired meats and fresh seafood. it was packed when we got there but i was happy that we got to sit at the bar that overlooks the open kitchen. we started with cocktails and i got to revel in a 'spicy' drink made with chilis and tequila - very different but i loved it. to nosh, i got what they call 'lamb lollipops' - which were small, juicy pieces of lamb on popsicle sticks served over a blackberry jam and chevre cream... spot on with the sweet and savory. jenna ordered the smoked jerk chicken, made with a great blend of spices and served with a terrific, gooey mac & cheese. our stomachs were very content. later that night we hopped around the buckhead bar scene and i got to try a local beer called sweet water blue which i was swooned by. we drank and danced away - reminded me of the good ol' college days with ms. jenna cloyd herself.

day two was a food lovers paradise. there was literally no stopping the two of us. we literally looked like two bobble head dolls each time food was presented to us - just a lot of nodding in agreement and yes and please. 

with the rise in popularity of burgers, it's become exciting to visit so many dining spots that are just known for the very meal and jenna made sure we went to one of the best in atlanta - the vortex. the decor is loud and all over the place... the outside itself doesn't really say "please, come in!" with a giant, somewhat scary skull and eyes that are in the shape of... well, a vortex. the inside is biker friendly, no one under 18 is allowed and just another packed restaurant filled with starved customers. going with the biker theme, servers have a (purposely) tough attitude and their menu specifically asks you not to ask any stupid questions. there is even a "tip or die" section. this place was winning me over quickly. as much as i wanted to order their house burger, i couldn't help but notice all the specialty burgers. my eyes were instantly locked to the 'hell burger' which was topped with roasted jalapenos, a habanero relish and pepperjack cheese and read "don't order it if you're a wussy 'cause there are no returns." game on! the burger was huge and as dominant as the spices were, the patty was really the headliner. served with french fries on the side, it was everything i hoped it would be... spicy, cheesy and delicious. jenna and i also tried their fried pickles - a very popular southern food that tasted just like anything you would dip in batter and fry - awesome! the end of the meal ended in the inevitable taking off of the belt and rubbing of belly. we were happy campers.

after lunch, we strolled by some virginia highland and little five points - two smaller sections in the greater atlanta area with tons of shops, restaurants and life all around. while we were driving jenna literally came to a quick halt and the tires screeched (added for dramatic effect) when she saw a small ice-cream stand and yelled "that's the king of pops! we have to get it, they're so popular in atlanta!" like i was going to say no. so we parked in the gas station lot the ice-cream stand was stationed at that day and got to taste the most delicious ice-cream popsicle i have ever tasted. there was a long line of locals who were ready to buy the handcrafted popsicles for just $2.50. the super good looking guy selling them (i believe the king of pops himself) uses local ingredients to make flavors like raspberry lime, georgia peach, banana pudding and the one i bought, mexican chocolate. the hints of cayenne with the chocolate made my eyes roll and while devouring it i managed to get it all over the dress i was wearing. success.

our next stop was highland bakery to pick up some cupcakes for jenna's roommates as a sweet surprise. there are several options to choose from in the restaurant side but the bakery is well known for providing some of atlanta's greatest sugary goods. from fresh breads to croissants, tarts and cakes - lots of cakes. jenna picked a few delicious and heavenly looking cupcakes - red velvet, german chocolate, coconut, vanilla and an exquisite butter pecan. (jenna's roommates and myself enjoyed the wonderful cupcakes later on in the day.)

we then trotted our way to little five points which is a small neighborhood with a vintage and retro feel. tons of thrifting, clothing boutiques, record shops and glorious small dining spots. after browsing stores we decided to grab a brewski at porter beer bar. certainly a place that takes their beer seriously with an endless list of local and imported beers. it appeared to be a very small space but after we passed the fully seated bar it took us to the back where the seats kept elevating and welcomed many more places to enjoy their beers and cuisine. the wooden decor was surrounded by lots of odd knick knacks like suitcases, jars and pictures. although we planned on just having a drink, after browsing the menu there was no way we couldn't order something. since we were still kinda full from our vortex burgers and popsicles, we went a little light and ordered the salt and vinegar popcorn appetizer and something else i relish in ordering - a cheese platter! to drink i got the founder's red rye which is a mixture of belgian caramel malts with a hint of grapefruit. it went down pretty smooth and the hint of citrus and hops was enjoyed on my part. we grazed on the popcorn and would occasionally make a really stark face because the hints of vinegar would hit our nose and overwhelmed our palates. but the cheese platter accompanied with dried cherries, slices of toasted baguettes, toasted pecans and an assortment of brie, reggiano and goat cheeses was everything i would hope for in a cheese platter - earthy, rich, creamy and just entirely satisfying. this place was definitely a highlight of my trip.

after a quick nap and necessary run we were ready for another night out in buckhead. we had a quick bite at a regular spot a lot of people in atlanta go to called fellini's pizza. the concept was simple - depending on whether you want to order a slice or entire pie, you can choose from their house special (lots of meats and veggies), spinach mushroom (jenna's choice), ham and pineapple, white and my order - vegetarian. you can also make your own slice or pie from their many toppings to choose from. it was light and the ingredients were fresh - very easy to see why the locals love it.

the next day jenna and i got to enjoy a terrific day at lake lanier with some new friends. the weather was perfect, drinks were ongoing, played lots of rounds of flip cup, danced the day away, cruised the lake in a boat while singing out loud and i even got to try hushpuppies for the first time at a local restaurant. it was truly a great time and once again, met some of the friendliest people who made us feel very welcome and at home. 

monday had arrived and i had just one more day to enjoy atlanta. the morning back from lake lanier we decided to soak up the revelry from the day before with a hearty brunch and once again, jenna took me to the best of the best restaurants - murphy's in virginia highland. it's an adorable restaurant with a great ambiance and food to rave about. since it was labor day, they were offering their delicious brunch menu for all the patrons enjoying their day off. my eyes were glued to their bakery wish was full of pies, cakes and other delights that i could only imagine how sweet and heavenly they must have tasted. with their windows open, allowing the slight breeze to come in and the sun shining - i was excited to feast. my iced coffee that i ordered came with frozen coffee ice cubes and before we even ordered our adorable waiter handed us a basket of carbohydrate glory - blueberry lemon muffins and freshly baked biscuits served with a honey butter and jams. i mean let's be honest, this is where the meal could have ended but it was complimentary along with your brunch. i was hearing hallelujah music in the background. i ordered the 'eggs virginia highland' which were poached eggs, spinach and mushroom served over a warm focaccia bread all drizzled with a sweet and savory sun-dried tomato hollandaise. it came with cheddar grits on the side and it was the cheesiest bowl of grits imaginable and paired perfectly with the meal. the combination of eggs and fresh ingredients in my main dish alongside one of the best hollandaise sauces i have ever tried was utterly incredible. jenna went with the waldorf chicken salad served in a croissant. this was one of the best meals i have had in a while. i already absolutely love brunch and to eat local, seasonal ingredients at its best in a warm, chic atmosphere was a true joy.

we decided to walk off a few calories and check out some shops around the area and got to see another great array of boutiques and shops. my favorite was a store called bella cucina - a small, perfectly adorned shop filled with antipasti jars, spreads, pastas, chocolates, tableware and goodies galore. they even had a small tasting station where you got to enjoy some of their many spreads with crackers on the side. bella cucina is a fast-growing brand, started by a woman who wanted to share the joys of simple, italian food. you can purchase the products online and at many retail stores, including one of the best cooking stores sur la table - where i recently found their artichoke lemon pesto. it was a great find and one that i still can't stop talking about. 

so far on this trip we had eaten a lot of great american inspired cuisine and it was time to switch it up for dinner and try something a little more spicy and boy did we. jenna did her research and found a superb mom and pop thai & malaysian restaurant called top spice. there weren't too many diners but that didn't take away from the taste bud dance i was doing after eating here. for an appetizer we tried the roti canai which was like a lightly fried dough (pancake form) served with a spicy and creamy chicken curry sauce. for our main entrees we ordered the spicy seafood noodle dish filled with a variety of wok seared scallops, mussels and calamari in spicy basil sauce with flat rice noodles and the red curry which came with several peppers in a red chili paste and coconut milk. the food was bountiful and portions were so generous we had to take the rest home. they're not kidding with spices here and overall a great dining destination that will certainly make you keep coming back. 

our monday night ended very low key since i had an early flight and jenna had to get back to school mode the next day. finding atlanta was an unforgettable experience filled with many 'y'alls', local ingredients and warm sceneries. it was a pleasure meeting so many young professionals who take work very seriously but playing even more. it was nice to see a good balance in lifestyles. i have every intention of returning since there were so many places that i was not able to see, including a good session at piedmont park and a decent chicken and waffles meal.