Food - A holiday wish list for Atlanta’s dining scene

Besha’s letter to Santy Claus

Dear Santy Claus,

It’s been a long time since I’ve written, I know. Probably 27 years, huh? And back then I was asking for things you might be able to deliver down a chimney, like Star Wars Legos or Slime. (Remember Slime?! That came in the plastic green garbage can? I think you DID bring me that, and the can broke open in my backpack. ... I still remember the smell, like play dough mixed with snot. What does snot even smell like, seeing as it comes from your nose? Never mind, I digress.)

My wishes this year are less deliverable in the down-the-chimney sense. But hey, you’re magic, right? I’m sure you have some pull with the powers that be, whoever the hell they are. Here are my holiday wishes for the coming year.

Please dear Santy, can we have some Lebanese food? We are blessed in Atlanta to have some of the greatest ethnic food options in the country, but Lebanese is a real gap. I can think of a couple of Lebanese places, but none that make me really, truly satisfied.

It would also be awesome if we could get some delis. And decent bagels. Inside the Perimeter if possible.

I’d love some truly healthy, delicious, slightly upscale food along the lines of Beleza’s menu when it first opened. I know, we already got that and we didn’t support it. There were other factors at work, but I’m not gonna get into them here ... except to say I think we’re ready now. Give us another chance!

In asking for these things, I am willing to give up a few places peddling tacos, cupcakes, burgers, crappy bar food, and even — gasp — Southern farm-to-table cuisine. Some of my favorite restaurants fall into this last category but there is a glut.

Santy, please put coal in the stockings of all those restaurant managers out there who force their waiters to read the menu aloud and do a pre-rehearsed act at every table. I have bitched about this enough to warrant my own lump of coal, I know, so I’ll leave it at that. But seriously, do they have service like that in the North Pole? It drives me nuts.

Here’s a big wish, but one that would keep on giving to all Georgians for decades to come: Please get rid of the three-tier alcohol distribution system. What I’m really asking for is more craft beer brewers, and more access to cool wines and spirits. But I know the easiest way to get these things is to get rid of the laws that make it so difficult for breweries to start up and thrive here, and for shops, bars, and restaurateurs to be able to buy directly from producers. It’s a big ask, I know. But hey, we got Sunday sales passed, so maybe legislators will realize how much Atlantans love their booze and act accordingly. Maybe? Please?

On a related but not contingent note, I wish for more interesting wine lists. I wish for a few real wine bars — not even snobby, fancy ones! Neighborhood ones that serve sandwiches and wine and some cheese maybe. It’s like we started with beer, bypassed wine, and went straight to cocktails. I’m not complaining about the cocktails (I LOVE the cocktails) but we need to step up our wine game in this town. I can see the beginnings of this happening, so let 2012 be the year of awesome wine in Atlanta.

I’d really love, in 2012, if chefs would follow their passions rather than trends. I know a chef who recently opened a restaurant with a — you guessed it — Southern farm-to-table theme. Fine. What bothers me about it is that I happen to know that this particular chef’s true passion lies with Asian food. Now, what do you think Atlanta could really use? Another upscale, down-home mac-and-cheese purveyor, or a thoughtful, chef-driven Asian bistro? (A la Chapel Hill, N.C.’s Lantern? I dare to dream too large, I fear.) The thing is, following trends may seem safer in this uncertain time, but folks who have followed their hearts and tastes have done pretty well in recent years. Holeman & Finch, the Top Flr and Sound Table crew, and Antico all come to mind as places that were opened with the owners’ sensibilities as basically the only guiding principles.

Here’s my last wish: It’s been hard out there for people who own restaurants. Please help them to succeed, hopefully by doing what I suggest above — following their hearts. You know better than I, dear Santy, what it will take to make that happen. A better economy? A more adventurous dining public? Less grumpy food critics (ha!)? I’m not sure. But whatever it is, please try. That would be a great gift to Atlanta.

Thanks so much. Hope you enjoy the cookies and bourbon I left you!

Love, Besha

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