Loading...
 

GRAZING: Cupcakes, cabaret, and Cajun food

Baker Dude Bakery Cafe and the Po’Boy Shop are open for your gastronomic needs 

Grazing 1
Photo credit: Cliff Bostock
GOURMANDIZING DELIGHTS: On display at the new Baker Dude Bakery Café.

I was sitting at a small, round table in the corner of a new bakery café in Grant Park. It was about 5 p.m. I appeared to be the only customer, although about five employees were chatting and joking behind the counter and in the dining area. Soon after I took the first bite of a nectarine-plum galette, a woman sitting on a sofa to my right began singing softly. I was startled, even a bit scared, but I reminded myself that Donald Trump has driven many good people to strange coping mechanisms. Let her sing. It’s safer than Zoloft. Then things got even weirder. She stood up and walked toward the opposite wall, singing more loudly. Then another employee and the bakery owner joined her, belting out a ballad. A fourth employee sat at a long table staring at his phone. A bit later, he broke into a few dance moves.

Welcome to the Baker Dude, maybe the most offbeat cafe in Atlanta. It is located in Building B of The Beacon Atlanta, the Belt Line development that contains Patria Cocina, the Mexican restaurant I wrote about last month. It’s a pleasant site with big windows that unfortunately don’t have an outdoor view. There is, however, a kitchen window beneath the invitation, “Let us entertain all your senses,” painted on the wall. The staff is clad in the café’s accent color, royal blue.

Owner Orran Booher is a native of Jamaica who started baking cakes alongside his mother as a child, as well as participating in a performance arts club. He moved to New York in 1997, when he was 20, and to Atlanta in 2002 for a corporate job. While he worked, he continued singing and acting around town for a few years, baked cakes for friends and colleagues, and ended up becoming the father of twin boys. About three years ago, wanting a major change in his life, he began baking cupcakes for sale online and at farmers markets. Then he opened a cupcake kiosk at Peachtree Center. Now, he’s combined his two passions — performing and baking — in the Baker Dude Bakery Café

BAKER DUDE: The Cezanne sandwich. Photo by Cliff Bostock.
BAKER DUDE: The Cezanne sandwich. Photo by Cliff Bostock.

I confessed to Booher that I am a lifelong cupcake hater, though I managed to slightly overcome my disgust when they became such a huge fad early in this century. I explained that when I was a child I found icing disgusting. When I was about eight, I went to a birthday party where, instead of cake, they served big sloppy cupcakes with inches of green Crisco-like icing that had dried out and cracked. They were so nauseating that whenever I wanted to change my situation — like going home “sick” from school — I’d visualize those cupcakes and vomit. As it turned out, Booher developed his cupcakes out of a similar, if not phobic, distaste for too much icing on a cupcake with no flavor except sugar. His cupcakes are comparatively small with a French-like twist of icing that doesn’t entirely coat the cake. They are gorgeously packaged so that the icing isn’t disturbed in transport. The dulce de leche one I sampled was a marvel. Ditto for the German chocolate (which was the only icing I’d eat as a kid). You can even buy vegan and Paleo cupcakes here.



But cupcakes are only part of the menu. With the help of executive chef Michel Hetu-Robert and “cake goddess” Teri Farr, the Baker Dude also offers other pastries and savory dishes for breakfast and lunch. I haven’t tried the whole loaves of bread, the morning omelettes or pancakes, but I’ve enjoyed the galette, a caprese-like sandwich with kale pesto, a pear and Gorgonzola quiche, and a heartily thick lasagna, my favorite. The only item I didn’t care for was a keto-compatible chocolate brownie made with avocado. There are plenty of other options, including savory buckwheat crepes for brunch, salads, and even sandwiches for kids, like pb&j. You’ll notice there are no cookies or coffee drinks. I’m guessing the reason is the existence of the development’s coffee shop, Buteco, and the soon-to-open A Haute Cookie.

ON THE BELTLINE: The lasagne Baker Dude Bakery Café. Photo by Cliff Bostock.
ON THE BELTLINE: The lasagne Baker Dude Bakery Café. Photo by Cliff Bostock.

Now, for me, the performances obviously add a pleasantly surreal character to the café. Booher told me that they can range from spontaneous outbreaks of song and acoustic guitar to an 8 p.m. Friday-night cabaret featuring Stiletto, a drag performer, who is accompanied by pianist Robert Reeb. On Saturday night, plays are planned. You best call ahead or check the website for details. 


The Po’Boy Shop opens
A new Cajun spot, The Po’Boy Shop, has opened in Decatur in the strip center on Clairmont that houses nothing but restaurants, including the deservedly fetishized Community Q BBQ. I’ve visited twice with friends. The place has been overrun — to the degree it had to close two hours early on a Friday night. Despite the crowd, I’ve not had a long wait. They just underestimated the amount of food they needed to prepare. You can sit inside, where it’s noisy as hell, or outside on the patio.

Any effort to produce a Cajun menu outside New Orleans produces the same kind of argument that people have about barbecue and deli food. Everybody has a different notion of authenticity. The Po’Boy Shop is obviously mindful of that. When I quizzed one of the owners about the olive salad in the muffaletta, he assured me that it’s house-made, but he was quick to say that the sandwich is not made with the New Orleans traditional round loaf of bread. On the other hand, he said, all po’boys are made with the French bread from New Orleans’ Leidenheimer bakery. 

I went for the muffaletta. It included the requisite mortadella, capicola, salami, provolone, mozzarella, and an indeed well-made olive salad. But that bread. It was mushy as hell and totally unphotogenic. I ordered the gumbo both visits because the first try was very unsatisfying. It was salty and strongly fishy. An excess of shrimp shells may have produced the fishiness but the shrimp themselves were way over-cooked and mainly absent. The sausage was sliced pizza-thin. Happily, it was much improved the second visit — thicker with all components, including veggies and perfect shrimp. The sausage, although in much greater quantity, remained papery thin. Fix that. I loved the gumbo’s brazen dark roux my second visit.

Photo by Cliff Bostock.
Photo by Cliff Bostock.

Fried shrimp and oysters are available on po’boys or plates and tasted hot, juicy, and just-made both visits. Maybe you’ll think I’m fussy, but, even though I was eating in, my nine oysters were unappetizingly served — thrown in an oversized paper take-out container with two hushpuppies and tiny plastic containers of cole slaw and remoulade. The oysters, like the shrimp, do much better on the po’boy bread. Catfish, grouper, and chicken tenderloins are also available. There’s a cheeseburger, a vegan burger, and the notorious Debris, a sandwich made with roast beef slow-cooked so long it falls apart, producing fat “debris” used to make gravy. Like my mother’s, it’s served with a horseradish sauce.

Other dishes include house-made Cajun meat pies (excellent!), red beans and rice (good!), and bourbon-glazed bread pudding (you tell me!). Would I go back? Yes. Be warned: They don’t have a license to serve alcohol at this writing, so call ahead if you need to drink. And be sure to talk to your server. My first one was a former ballet dancer who, before that, was on her high-school wrestling team in Marietta. 

Here and there
Warning! I returned to Hattie B’s Hot Chicken after reviewing it here a few months ago when I ordered the “damn hot” version and found it surprisingly mild. Whoa! There must have been a mix-up in the kitchen, because my second try was blistering hot. Halfway through a breast, my mouth went numb, so I finished the rest with no difficulty. … I’m sure you’ve noticed the mac-and-cheese fad of 10-plus years ago has erupted again — like a volcano spewing cheesy lava over everything. I made the mistake of ordering Panera’s barbecue-chicken version recently. If you like rubbery pulled chicken and thin cream heavily doused with violently sweet ketchup, you’ll love it. … It’s been two years since I visited Nam Phuong on Buford Highway, generally considered the best Vietnamese restaurant in the city. It’s not on the menu, but the kitchen made me my favorite crispy rice and pork caramelized in a hot pot with fish sauce. It was the best version I’ve ever had and worth the $15 tab — relatively high for any dish there.

Baker Dude Bakery Café, 1039 Grant St., Suite B18, 404-997-8177, bakerdude.com

The Po’Boy Shop, 1369 Clairmont Road,   Decatur. 678-974-8725, thepoboyshopatl.com



More By This Writer

array(86) {
  ["title"]=>
  string(93) "GRAZING: Talat Market: Where scoring a takeout meal is harder than getting laid in a pandemic"
  ["modification_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-06-04T15:29:56+00:00"
  ["creation_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-06-04T15:19:54+00:00"
  ["contributors"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(30) "jim.harris@creativeloafing.com"
  }
  ["date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-06-04T15:14:59+00:00"
  ["tracker_status"]=>
  string(1) "o"
  ["tracker_id"]=>
  string(2) "11"
  ["view_permission"]=>
  string(13) "view_trackers"
  ["tracker_field_contentTitle"]=>
  string(93) "GRAZING: Talat Market: Where scoring a takeout meal is harder than getting laid in a pandemic"
  ["tracker_field_contentCreator"]=>
  string(30) "jim.harris@creativeloafing.com"
  ["tracker_field_contentCreator_text"]=>
  string(10) "Jim Harris"
  ["tracker_field_contentByline"]=>
  string(13) "Cliff Bostock"
  ["tracker_field_contentByline_exact"]=>
  string(13) "Cliff Bostock"
  ["tracker_field_contentBylinePerson"]=>
  string(1) "0"
  ["tracker_field_description"]=>
  string(26) "But the reward is the same"
  ["tracker_field_description_raw"]=>
  string(26) "But the reward is the same"
  ["tracker_field_contentDate"]=>
  string(25) "2020-06-04T15:14:59+00:00"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage"]=>
  string(103) "Content:_:GRAZING: Talat Market: Where scoring a takeout meal is harder than getting laid in a pandemic"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_text"]=>
  string(8338) "I intentionally arrived 10 minutes early when I went to pick up my meal at the new Talat Market in Summerhill. I knew curb service was their modus operandi, but my sneaky plan was to go inside and at least get a look at the dining room, which was, of course, under coronavirus-shutdown. I leaned back in my car, opened the door, put my left foot out, and was startled by a scream. “Sir! Sir! Are you here to pick up an order? May I help you? Sir? What is your name, sir?”

I peeked outside and saw that the woman asking to see my papers was smiling, but holding her social distance at, oh, 30 feet. I identified myself. She paced into the restaurant and paced back out with a large paper bag that she held at arm’s length, reminding me of my second-grade friend Joel, who walked into class holding a dead squirrel at the same distance. I put the bag on the passenger’s seat, and, just as our second-grade teacher made Joel do, I furiously cleaned my hands with antibacterial soap before grabbing the steering wheel and nervously driving home.

Is it ever going to end? Unless you have a second-grader’s immune system, it’s still risky to dine with other humans. While a lot of restaurants have reopened — 40 in the Buford Highway corridor! — most have not. By the time you read this, the city’s bars and clubs will have been authorized to reopen, so maybe alcohol will help spread Eric Trump’s neurological disorder that causes the pandemic to seem like a Democratic hoax which will disappear after the November election. In other words, if you are a Republican, eat, drink and be merry now. I concur!

Atlanta’s foodies have anticipated the opening of Talat with the same fervor as Little Bear, which I wrote about last month. They have a similar history, having both gained enormous popularity as pop-ups at Gato in Ormewood Park. Chefs/co-owners Parnass Savang and Rod Lassiter spent two years there before exiting last August to begin working on their brick-and-mortar plan while still popping up at various locations around the city. This was after Talat was named one of Bon Appetit’s best new restaurants of 2018 and Savang had been named a James Beard semi-finalist, as was Jarrett Stieber, owner of Little Bear. The two restaurants also share the ill fate of opening in the same neighborhood during the pandemic and having to limit their service to takeout. They’ve also both done well enough — they sell out quickly — to retain their small staffs.

I dined at Talat’s Gato location at least four times and, like everyone else, was floored by the food. Savang’s story has been microscopically recounted (see Eater Atlanta). He grew up in his parents’ Americanized Thai restaurant, Danthai, in Lawrenceville, and planned to flee the restaurant business after high school. But it was in his blood and, after two years, he embarked on a career that sent him to the Culinary Institute of America and had him working with some of the city’s best chefs, like Hugh Acheson and Ryan Smith (who was a huge inspiration to Stieber). While working at Kimball House, he convinced co-worker Rod Lassiter to join him as sous chef and co-owner of Talat, which means “market” and pays homage to the Thai markets he visited with his mother as a kid. He credits “staging” gigs at restaurants in Bangkok and Portland with distilling his vision for authentically inspired Thai food, more like the kind his parents actually ate at home instead of the Americanized version their restaurant served.



The Portland restaurant where he staged, Pok Pok, is famous for adapting Thailand’s street food, which is highly seasonal and varies by region with the same kind of intense cultural and agricultural differences as, say, Mexico’s Oaxacan province. A region’s dishes — here or in Thailand — are an expression of its particular culture interacting with the ground to which it is attached. Thus, Savang’s cooking transforms Thai food by bringing specifically located, native technique into contact with Georgia dirt. While local sourcing sounds like the agenda of nearly every young chef, it requires special deftness to bring those ingredients smoothly into cooperation with a culture on the other side of the globe. That is why I’d call this unusually authentic but other-than-authentic Thai cooking. It’s not the clumsy fusion food of the ’80s. It is a new cuisine. This, at least, is my reading of Talat’s food.

That said, beyond the greater spiciness, it’s not so easy to detect specific subtleties even though it’s easy as pie to know you are eating something extraordinary. The takeout menu, like many others around town, features multiple dishes — seven during my meal — for two people and costs an absurdly cheap $50 total. Let me get the warning over with: Scoring a meal — 52 are available daily, Wednesday-Sunday — is frankly a nightmare. You order online, starting at noon, two days before your preferred pick-up day. Here’s what happened to me: I got online at noon, was surprised to see a slot available, filled out all my information, hit “submit” and was booted back a page. I wasn’t sure if I’d been charged. I was so confused, I called and left a message and sent an email, but I decided to try again. Whoa! I was informed a later time was available. I filled everything out and — boom! — the same thing happened. My fingers flew into a typing rage a third time, and I scored! In short, meals were selling out between the time I entered my credit card number and hit the submit button.

My meal was expectedly wonderful, with few disappointments. Takeout presentation is not especially attractive or convenient. When you’re serving soups and curries, I guess there are few alternatives for transport, but I came very close to spilling the pork-based broth from its large plastic container that was thin and slippery. The soup included pork and shrimp sausage, glass noodles, wood ear mushrooms, daylilies, scallions, and cilantro. To serve, I suggest you pour the liquid first into two bowls and then divvy up the solids at the bottom of the container. The soup was a springtime wake-up to the palate by way of funky flavors pulled out of the ground by a hungry pig.

Next up was yum khao thawt — Savang’s signature crispy rice, stained with red chile jam, tossed with beets, peanuts, ginger, cilantro, shallots, and little gem lettuce. So red. I’m sure you see the Southern influence. Another plastic container contained more red, this time as a coconut-milk curry with asparagus, pineapple, spring onions, and Thai basil. The pineapple’s sweet notes were a bit much for me, even with the spicy zing, but I loved the fresh grilled asparagus, slightly bitter, replacing the green beans we usually see around town. You’ll want to serve this over the large portion of jasmine rice that comes with every meal.

Then there was the protein: crispy pork belly served with a garlic-pepper vinegar. This offered clean, clear, melting flavors, with the vinegar striking me, improbably, as an allusion to barbecue. Maybe my favorite dish was the luscious, stir-fried eggplant seasoned with garlic, fresh chiles, and Thai basil. It included an oyster sauce. I usually detest the heavy brown oyster sauces that obscure every other flavor on a plate, but this was light to the degree I didn’t even recognize it. Dessert was the menu’s explicitly Southern absurdity — your mama’s banana custard turned lividly green with pandan, an aromatic leaf common throughout Southeast Asia. Just in case the pudding and its vanilla wafers were too sweet, Savang threw some fried shallots on top. I have to say, the packaging of this gooey delight was a bit off-putting. Basically you have to scrape it off the bottom of its cardboard box … and you will scrape.

I did ride by the restaurant and peeked in the window of the sleek, gray building that was formerly a small market. You’ll enjoy the neon pineapple on the outside wall. The dining room seats about 30, includes a bar, and features a mural intended to complement a mid-century modern look. Check out the restaurant’s Instagram page, @talat_marketatl, for a view of everything. —CL—

(Talat Market, 112 Ormond St. S.E., 404-257-6255, talatmarketatl.com.)"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_raw"]=>
  string(8669) "I intentionally arrived 10 minutes early when I went to pick up my meal at the new Talat Market in Summerhill. I knew curb service was their modus operandi, but my sneaky plan was to go inside and at least get a look at the dining room, which was, of course, under coronavirus-shutdown. I leaned back in my car, opened the door, put my left foot out, and was startled by a scream. “Sir! Sir! Are you here to pick up an order? May I help you? Sir? What is your name, sir?”

I peeked outside and saw that the woman asking to see my papers was smiling, but holding her social distance at, oh, 30 feet. I identified myself. She paced into the restaurant and paced back out with a large paper bag that she held at arm’s length, reminding me of my second-grade friend Joel, who walked into class holding a dead squirrel at the same distance. I put the bag on the passenger’s seat, and, just as our second-grade teacher made Joel do, I furiously cleaned my hands with antibacterial soap before grabbing the steering wheel and nervously driving home.

Is it ever going to end? Unless you have a second-grader’s immune system, it’s still risky to dine with other humans. While a lot of restaurants have reopened — 40 in the Buford Highway corridor! — most have not. By the time you read this, the city’s bars and clubs will have been authorized to reopen, so maybe alcohol will help spread Eric Trump’s neurological disorder that causes the pandemic to seem like a Democratic hoax which will disappear after the November election. In other words, if you are a Republican, eat, drink and be merry ''now''. I concur!

Atlanta’s foodies have anticipated the opening of Talat with the same fervor as Little Bear, which I wrote about last month. They have a similar history, having both gained enormous popularity as pop-ups at Gato in Ormewood Park. Chefs/co-owners Parnass Savang and Rod Lassiter spent two years there before exiting last August to begin working on their brick-and-mortar plan while still popping up at various locations around the city. This was after Talat was named one of ''Bon Appetit''’s best new restaurants of 2018 and Savang had been named a James Beard semi-finalist, as was Jarrett Stieber, owner of Little Bear. The two restaurants also share the ill fate of opening in the same neighborhood during the pandemic and having to limit their service to takeout. They’ve also both done well enough — they sell out quickly — to retain their small staffs.

I dined at Talat’s Gato location at least four times and, like everyone else, was floored by the food. Savang’s story has been microscopically recounted (see Eater Atlanta). He grew up in his parents’ Americanized Thai restaurant, Danthai, in Lawrenceville, and planned to flee the restaurant business after high school. But it was in his blood and, after two years, he embarked on a career that sent him to the Culinary Institute of America and had him working with some of the city’s best chefs, like Hugh Acheson and Ryan Smith (who was a huge inspiration to Stieber). While working at Kimball House, he convinced co-worker Rod Lassiter to join him as sous chef and co-owner of Talat, which means “market” and pays homage to the Thai markets he visited with his mother as a kid. He credits “staging” gigs at restaurants in Bangkok and Portland with distilling his vision for authentically inspired Thai food, more like the kind his parents actually ate at home instead of the Americanized version their restaurant served.

{BOX( bg="#66bfff")}
{img fileId="31434|31435|31436" stylebox="float: left; margin-right:10px; width:30%;" desc="desc" width="30%" responsive="y" button="popup"}
{img fileId="31437|31438|31439" stylebox="float: left; margin-right:10px; width:30%;" desc="desc" width="30%" responsive="y" button="popup"}
{BOX}

The Portland restaurant where he staged, Pok Pok, is famous for adapting Thailand’s street food, which is highly seasonal and varies by region with the same kind of intense cultural and agricultural differences as, say, Mexico’s Oaxacan province. A region’s dishes — here or in Thailand — are an expression of its particular culture interacting with the ground to which it is attached. Thus, Savang’s cooking transforms Thai food by bringing specifically located, native technique into contact with Georgia dirt. While local sourcing sounds like the agenda of nearly every young chef, it requires special deftness to bring those ingredients smoothly into cooperation with a culture on the other side of the globe. That is why I’d call this unusually authentic but other-than-authentic Thai cooking. It’s not the clumsy fusion food of the ’80s. It is a new cuisine. This, at least, is my reading of Talat’s food.

That said, beyond the greater spiciness, it’s not so easy to detect specific subtleties even though it’s easy as pie to know you are eating something extraordinary. The takeout menu, like many others around town, features multiple dishes — seven during my meal — for two people and costs an absurdly cheap $50 total. Let me get the warning over with: Scoring a meal — 52 are available daily, Wednesday-Sunday — is frankly a nightmare. You order online, starting at noon, two days before your preferred pick-up day. Here’s what happened to me: I got online at noon, was surprised to see a slot available, filled out all my information, hit “submit” and was booted back a page. I wasn’t sure if I’d been charged. I was so confused, I called and left a message and sent an email, but I decided to try again. Whoa! I was informed a later time was available. I filled everything out and — boom! — the same thing happened. My fingers flew into a typing rage a third time, and I scored! In short, meals were selling out between the time I entered my credit card number and hit the submit button.

My meal was expectedly wonderful, with few disappointments. Takeout presentation is not especially attractive or convenient. When you’re serving soups and curries, I guess there are few alternatives for transport, but I came very close to spilling the pork-based broth from its large plastic container that was thin and slippery. The soup included pork and shrimp sausage, glass noodles, wood ear mushrooms, daylilies, scallions, and cilantro. To serve, I suggest you pour the liquid first into two bowls and then divvy up the solids at the bottom of the container. The soup was a springtime wake-up to the palate by way of funky flavors pulled out of the ground by a hungry pig.

Next up was yum khao thawt — Savang’s signature crispy rice, stained with red chile jam, tossed with beets, peanuts, ginger, cilantro, shallots, and little gem lettuce. So red. I’m sure you see the Southern influence. Another plastic container contained more red, this time as a coconut-milk curry with asparagus, pineapple, spring onions, and Thai basil. The pineapple’s sweet notes were a bit much for me, even with the spicy zing, but I loved the fresh grilled asparagus, slightly bitter, replacing the green beans we usually see around town. You’ll want to serve this over the large portion of jasmine rice that comes with every meal.

Then there was the protein: crispy pork belly served with a garlic-pepper vinegar. This offered clean, clear, melting flavors, with the vinegar striking me, improbably, as an allusion to barbecue. Maybe my favorite dish was the luscious, stir-fried eggplant seasoned with garlic, fresh chiles, and Thai basil. It included an oyster sauce. I usually detest the heavy brown oyster sauces that obscure every other flavor on a plate, but this was light to the degree I didn’t even recognize it. Dessert was the menu’s explicitly Southern absurdity — your mama’s banana custard turned lividly green with pandan, an aromatic leaf common throughout Southeast Asia. Just in case the pudding and its vanilla wafers were too sweet, Savang threw some fried shallots on top. I have to say, the packaging of this gooey delight was a bit off-putting. Basically you have to scrape it off the bottom of its cardboard box … and you will scrape.

I did ride by the restaurant and peeked in the window of the sleek, gray building that was formerly a small market. You’ll enjoy the neon pineapple on the outside wall. The dining room seats about 30, includes a bar, and features a mural intended to complement a mid-century modern look. Check out the restaurant’s Instagram page, @talat_marketatl, for a view of everything. __—CL—__

(__''Talat Market, 112 Ormond St. S.E., 404-257-6255, talatmarketatl.com.''__)"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_creation_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-06-04T15:19:54+00:00"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_modification_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-06-04T15:28:29+00:00"
  ["tracker_field_photos"]=>
  string(5) "31437"
  ["tracker_field_contentPhotoCredit"]=>
  string(13) "Cliff Bostock"
  ["tracker_field_contentPhotoTitle"]=>
  string(169) "STUDY IN RED: Red chile jam colors crispy rice, and beets take it a shade deeper. PHOTO CREDIT: Cliff Bostock Peanuts challenge rice in a battle for crunchy superiority."
  ["tracker_field_contentCategory"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(3) "245"
    [1]=>
    string(3) "620"
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentCategory_text"]=>
  string(7) "245 620"
  ["tracker_field_contentControlCategory"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["tracker_field_scene"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(3) "749"
  }
  ["tracker_field_scene_text"]=>
  string(3) "749"
  ["tracker_field_contentNeighborhood"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentLocation"]=>
  string(6) "0,0,10"
  ["tracker_field_contentRelations_multi"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(0) ""
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentRelatedContent_multi"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(0) ""
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentRelatedWikiPages_multi"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(0) ""
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentFreeTags"]=>
  string(7) "grazing"
  ["tracker_field_contentBASEAuthorID"]=>
  int(0)
  ["tracker_field_section"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["language"]=>
  string(7) "unknown"
  ["attachments"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(5) "31437"
  }
  ["comment_count"]=>
  int(0)
  ["categories"]=>
  array(3) {
    [0]=>
    int(245)
    [1]=>
    int(620)
    [2]=>
    int(749)
  }
  ["deep_categories"]=>
  array(6) {
    [0]=>
    int(242)
    [1]=>
    int(245)
    [2]=>
    int(620)
    [3]=>
    int(564)
    [4]=>
    int(743)
    [5]=>
    int(749)
  }
  ["categories_under_28"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_28"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_1"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_1"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_177"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_177"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_209"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_209"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_163"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_163"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_171"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_171"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_153"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_153"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_242"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    int(245)
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_242"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    int(245)
    [1]=>
    int(620)
  }
  ["categories_under_564"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_564"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    int(743)
    [1]=>
    int(749)
  }
  ["categories_under_1182"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_1182"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["freetags"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(3) "471"
  }
  ["freetags_text"]=>
  string(7) "grazing"
  ["geo_located"]=>
  string(1) "n"
  ["allowed_groups"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(6) "Admins"
    [1]=>
    string(9) "Anonymous"
  }
  ["allowed_users"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(30) "jim.harris@creativeloafing.com"
  }
  ["relations"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(27) "tiki.file.attach:file:31437"
    [1]=>
    string(141) "tiki.wiki.linkeditem.invert:wiki page:Content:_:GRAZING: Talat Market: Where scoring a takeout meal is harder than getting laid in a pandemic"
  }
  ["relation_objects"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["relation_types"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(16) "tiki.file.attach"
    [1]=>
    string(27) "tiki.wiki.linkeditem.invert"
  }
  ["relation_count"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(18) "tiki.file.attach:1"
    [1]=>
    string(29) "tiki.wiki.linkeditem.invert:1"
  }
  ["title_initial"]=>
  string(1) "G"
  ["title_firstword"]=>
  string(7) "GRAZING"
  ["searchable"]=>
  string(1) "y"
  ["url"]=>
  string(10) "item471360"
  ["object_type"]=>
  string(11) "trackeritem"
  ["object_id"]=>
  string(6) "471360"
  ["contents"]=>
  string(9123) " GRAZ JUN B2f Web CRISPY PORK BELLY: Chef Parnass Savang seizes Southern and Thai dishes and brings them into highly edible accord. PHOTO CREDIT: Cliff Bostock 2020-06-04T15:07:39+00:00 GRAZ_JUN_b2f_web.jpg    grazing But the reward is the same 31437  2020-06-04T15:14:59+00:00 GRAZING: Talat Market: Where scoring a takeout meal is harder than getting laid in a pandemic jim.harris@creativeloafing.com Jim Harris Cliff Bostock  2020-06-04T15:14:59+00:00  I intentionally arrived 10 minutes early when I went to pick up my meal at the new Talat Market in Summerhill. I knew curb service was their modus operandi, but my sneaky plan was to go inside and at least get a look at the dining room, which was, of course, under coronavirus-shutdown. I leaned back in my car, opened the door, put my left foot out, and was startled by a scream. “Sir! Sir! Are you here to pick up an order? May I help you? Sir? What is your name, sir?”

I peeked outside and saw that the woman asking to see my papers was smiling, but holding her social distance at, oh, 30 feet. I identified myself. She paced into the restaurant and paced back out with a large paper bag that she held at arm’s length, reminding me of my second-grade friend Joel, who walked into class holding a dead squirrel at the same distance. I put the bag on the passenger’s seat, and, just as our second-grade teacher made Joel do, I furiously cleaned my hands with antibacterial soap before grabbing the steering wheel and nervously driving home.

Is it ever going to end? Unless you have a second-grader’s immune system, it’s still risky to dine with other humans. While a lot of restaurants have reopened — 40 in the Buford Highway corridor! — most have not. By the time you read this, the city’s bars and clubs will have been authorized to reopen, so maybe alcohol will help spread Eric Trump’s neurological disorder that causes the pandemic to seem like a Democratic hoax which will disappear after the November election. In other words, if you are a Republican, eat, drink and be merry now. I concur!

Atlanta’s foodies have anticipated the opening of Talat with the same fervor as Little Bear, which I wrote about last month. They have a similar history, having both gained enormous popularity as pop-ups at Gato in Ormewood Park. Chefs/co-owners Parnass Savang and Rod Lassiter spent two years there before exiting last August to begin working on their brick-and-mortar plan while still popping up at various locations around the city. This was after Talat was named one of Bon Appetit’s best new restaurants of 2018 and Savang had been named a James Beard semi-finalist, as was Jarrett Stieber, owner of Little Bear. The two restaurants also share the ill fate of opening in the same neighborhood during the pandemic and having to limit their service to takeout. They’ve also both done well enough — they sell out quickly — to retain their small staffs.

I dined at Talat’s Gato location at least four times and, like everyone else, was floored by the food. Savang’s story has been microscopically recounted (see Eater Atlanta). He grew up in his parents’ Americanized Thai restaurant, Danthai, in Lawrenceville, and planned to flee the restaurant business after high school. But it was in his blood and, after two years, he embarked on a career that sent him to the Culinary Institute of America and had him working with some of the city’s best chefs, like Hugh Acheson and Ryan Smith (who was a huge inspiration to Stieber). While working at Kimball House, he convinced co-worker Rod Lassiter to join him as sous chef and co-owner of Talat, which means “market” and pays homage to the Thai markets he visited with his mother as a kid. He credits “staging” gigs at restaurants in Bangkok and Portland with distilling his vision for authentically inspired Thai food, more like the kind his parents actually ate at home instead of the Americanized version their restaurant served.



The Portland restaurant where he staged, Pok Pok, is famous for adapting Thailand’s street food, which is highly seasonal and varies by region with the same kind of intense cultural and agricultural differences as, say, Mexico’s Oaxacan province. A region’s dishes — here or in Thailand — are an expression of its particular culture interacting with the ground to which it is attached. Thus, Savang’s cooking transforms Thai food by bringing specifically located, native technique into contact with Georgia dirt. While local sourcing sounds like the agenda of nearly every young chef, it requires special deftness to bring those ingredients smoothly into cooperation with a culture on the other side of the globe. That is why I’d call this unusually authentic but other-than-authentic Thai cooking. It’s not the clumsy fusion food of the ’80s. It is a new cuisine. This, at least, is my reading of Talat’s food.

That said, beyond the greater spiciness, it’s not so easy to detect specific subtleties even though it’s easy as pie to know you are eating something extraordinary. The takeout menu, like many others around town, features multiple dishes — seven during my meal — for two people and costs an absurdly cheap $50 total. Let me get the warning over with: Scoring a meal — 52 are available daily, Wednesday-Sunday — is frankly a nightmare. You order online, starting at noon, two days before your preferred pick-up day. Here’s what happened to me: I got online at noon, was surprised to see a slot available, filled out all my information, hit “submit” and was booted back a page. I wasn’t sure if I’d been charged. I was so confused, I called and left a message and sent an email, but I decided to try again. Whoa! I was informed a later time was available. I filled everything out and — boom! — the same thing happened. My fingers flew into a typing rage a third time, and I scored! In short, meals were selling out between the time I entered my credit card number and hit the submit button.

My meal was expectedly wonderful, with few disappointments. Takeout presentation is not especially attractive or convenient. When you’re serving soups and curries, I guess there are few alternatives for transport, but I came very close to spilling the pork-based broth from its large plastic container that was thin and slippery. The soup included pork and shrimp sausage, glass noodles, wood ear mushrooms, daylilies, scallions, and cilantro. To serve, I suggest you pour the liquid first into two bowls and then divvy up the solids at the bottom of the container. The soup was a springtime wake-up to the palate by way of funky flavors pulled out of the ground by a hungry pig.

Next up was yum khao thawt — Savang’s signature crispy rice, stained with red chile jam, tossed with beets, peanuts, ginger, cilantro, shallots, and little gem lettuce. So red. I’m sure you see the Southern influence. Another plastic container contained more red, this time as a coconut-milk curry with asparagus, pineapple, spring onions, and Thai basil. The pineapple’s sweet notes were a bit much for me, even with the spicy zing, but I loved the fresh grilled asparagus, slightly bitter, replacing the green beans we usually see around town. You’ll want to serve this over the large portion of jasmine rice that comes with every meal.

Then there was the protein: crispy pork belly served with a garlic-pepper vinegar. This offered clean, clear, melting flavors, with the vinegar striking me, improbably, as an allusion to barbecue. Maybe my favorite dish was the luscious, stir-fried eggplant seasoned with garlic, fresh chiles, and Thai basil. It included an oyster sauce. I usually detest the heavy brown oyster sauces that obscure every other flavor on a plate, but this was light to the degree I didn’t even recognize it. Dessert was the menu’s explicitly Southern absurdity — your mama’s banana custard turned lividly green with pandan, an aromatic leaf common throughout Southeast Asia. Just in case the pudding and its vanilla wafers were too sweet, Savang threw some fried shallots on top. I have to say, the packaging of this gooey delight was a bit off-putting. Basically you have to scrape it off the bottom of its cardboard box … and you will scrape.

I did ride by the restaurant and peeked in the window of the sleek, gray building that was formerly a small market. You’ll enjoy the neon pineapple on the outside wall. The dining room seats about 30, includes a bar, and features a mural intended to complement a mid-century modern look. Check out the restaurant’s Instagram page, @talat_marketatl, for a view of everything. —CL—

(Talat Market, 112 Ormond St. S.E., 404-257-6255, talatmarketatl.com.)    Cliff Bostock STUDY IN RED: Red chile jam colors crispy rice, and beets take it a shade deeper. PHOTO CREDIT: Cliff Bostock Peanuts challenge rice in a battle for crunchy superiority.  0,0,10    grazing                             GRAZING: Talat Market: Where scoring a takeout meal is harder than getting laid in a pandemic "
  ["score"]=>
  float(0)
  ["_index"]=>
  string(21) "atlantawiki_tiki_main"
  ["objectlink"]=>
  string(275) "GRAZING: Talat Market: Where scoring a takeout meal is harder than getting laid in a pandemic"
  ["photos"]=>
  string(264) "CRISPY PORK BELLY: Chef Parnass Savang seizes Southern and Thai dishes and brings them into highly edible accord. PHOTO CREDIT: Cliff Bostock

"
  ["desc"]=>
  string(35) "But the reward is the same"
  ["eventDate"]=>
  string(35) "But the reward is the same"
  ["noads"]=>
  string(10) "y"
}

Article

Thursday June 4, 2020 11:14 am EDT
But the reward is the same | more...
array(86) {
  ["title"]=>
  string(87) "GRAZING: Little Bear: In planning for six years, open two weeks, currently takeout only"
  ["modification_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-05-13T17:16:24+00:00"
  ["creation_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-05-11T19:35:46+00:00"
  ["contributors"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(30) "jim.harris@creativeloafing.com"
    [1]=>
    string(30) "tony.paris@creativeloafing.com"
  }
  ["date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-05-01T04:09:00+00:00"
  ["tracker_status"]=>
  string(1) "o"
  ["tracker_id"]=>
  string(2) "11"
  ["view_permission"]=>
  string(13) "view_trackers"
  ["tracker_field_contentTitle"]=>
  string(87) "GRAZING: Little Bear: In planning for six years, open two weeks, currently takeout only"
  ["tracker_field_contentCreator"]=>
  string(30) "jim.harris@creativeloafing.com"
  ["tracker_field_contentCreator_text"]=>
  string(10) "Jim Harris"
  ["tracker_field_contentByline"]=>
  string(13) "Cliff Bostock"
  ["tracker_field_contentByline_exact"]=>
  string(13) "Cliff Bostock"
  ["tracker_field_contentBylinePerson"]=>
  string(1) "0"
  ["tracker_field_description"]=>
  string(64) "Jarrett Stieber ‘radically’ transforms the dining experience"
  ["tracker_field_description_raw"]=>
  string(64) "Jarrett Stieber ‘radically’ transforms the dining experience"
  ["tracker_field_contentDate"]=>
  string(25) "2020-05-01T04:09:00+00:00"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage"]=>
  string(97) "Content:_:GRAZING: Little Bear: In planning for six years, open two weeks, currently takeout only"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_text"]=>
  string(10409) "Every plague has its silver lining. For the first two weeks of March, I unsuccessfully tried to get a table at Jarrett Stieber’s greatly anticipated new restaurant, Little Bear, in Summerhill. Then the plague arrived and turned the restaurant — six years in the making — into a takeout joint. So, the silver lining is that you and I get to more easily score five or six courses of Stieber’s prix fixe menu. 

But that’s the only silver lining I’ve encountered lately. When I wrote my last column in March, the mayor had not yet locked down the city. Since then, the coronavirus has created a tsunami of misery, sweeping through all sectors of the economy. Layoffs, furloughs, cutbacks, closings, and firings have been especially difficult for restaurants. Most operate on a slim profit margin to begin with and — let’s be honest — most employees are poorly paid and living paycheck-to-paycheck. For many, it’s a transition or side job while they seek a more stable career opportunity. Since the crash, many forms of assistance, from free meals to fundraised cash, have become available to unemployed restaurant workers, but we are standing on the precipice of a second Great Recession, which caused reorganization of the entire economy. We’re likely destined again for a new “normal.”

As it happens, “normal” is not a word that would suit Jarrett Stieber, regardless of the economy. I, like most of Atlanta, have been intrigued by his cooking ever since he opened the pop-up, Eat Me Speak Me. He started out miserably unappreciated by the public at Candler Park Market and The General Muir in 2013. High points of that time included cooking blood sausage on a panini press and being overshadowed by matzoh balls. In 2014, he moved EMSM to Gato and it arguably become the city’s favorite pop-up. In 2017, he moved the operation to SOS Tiki Bar, which he vacated last year to get Little Bear rolling.

While many other restaurants have cut staff and turned to takeout, Stieber’s business is doing so well that he has not had to lay off any of his small crew or reduce pay. There are many reasons why. The food is of course the preeminent one. It’s often described as “whimsical.”  Stieber guesses that’s partly because of the menu’s humor. An example is the standing title of his shareable prix fixe menu: “Just fuck me up, fam’,” sarcastically referring to the true experience of family dining. The restaurant’s proprietor, by the way, is the greatly anthropomorphized Pyrenees mountain dog that Stieber and his wife Hallie own. His real name is Fernando but his nickname is, yes, Little Bear. (Please, no ABBA jokes.) Maybe the clearest example of linguistic whimsy is the front window’s announcement that the restaurant has won a rating of 2.5 tires from Michelin Tire Dining. It’s goofy but it all adds up to a pointedly satirical attitude toward the pretensions of fine dining.

The funny thing is that Stieber is a James Beard semifinalist and, on the surface, his food resembles contemporary fine dining: smallish plates of strictly local produce and proteins, unexpected flavor combinations, artful presentation. Consider the Spanish-inspired menu featured during the week I fetched a meal there. One dish was a rectangular portion of a Spanish-style tortilla made with baked eggs and mild turnips, covered with a “ropa vieja sauce” and “an egregious amount of olive oil.”  WTF is ropa vieja sauce? I’ve eaten a ton of ropa vieja, a favorite Cuban dish, but I don’t think of it as a Spanish dish or as a sauce. Stieber clarified in an email: “We thought it would be fun to include some flavors from places Spain forced their will on… Ropa vieja as more of a red-wine, braised meat gravy sauce to serve on another dish sounded fun to us.” So, there you have it: a classic tor-tilla that deliciously dishonors Spanish colonialism.


 

There were also the inevitable patatas bravas, but Stieber makes them with sweet potatoes, cooking them to addictive crispy-creamy perfection in a concoction of pork fat, coffee, and chili oil, then drizzled with aioli. The protein of the week was Catalan-style pork meatballs combined with a fetish of Catalonia — roasted green onions under salbitxada, a usually red sauce turned weirdly green by Stieber. The opening soup, caldo de Gallego, was absolutely the best version I’ve ever had. I opened the container and the odor of fennel blasted the room like the sins in Pandora’s box. It was made with red peas instead of white beans and was hellishly fiery. Stieber swears it wasn’t intentional, but the meal ended with a pastry, a pestiño — fried, honey-glazed dough flavored with benne and anise, which echoed the licorice flavor of the fennel that began the meal. It was apparently also coincidental that pestiños are only available during Christmas and Holy Week in Spain and were indeed served by Little Bear during Holy Week. The meal also included a stunning salad of gem lettuce, dill, radishes, and shavings of sharp idiazabal cheese, made from sheep’s milk. There was, finally, a second dessert of traditional almond cake, dusted with powdered sugar, allegedly flavored with strawberries.

 

So, what, besides the satirical approach, makes this food actually different from fine dining? For one significant thing, there’s the cost. The menu I’ve described was $55 for two. On the brink of recession, that may not sound inexpensive — and you better tip $15 minimum — but it’s as many as seven dishes of entirely local ingredients for two! Still, to me the truly notable thing is the artistry. Stieber, chef de cuisine Jacob Armando, and executive sous chef Trevor Vick work just the opposite of most kitchens. Instead of going shopping with a recipe, they go shopping and then dream up a recipe. Stieber describes the process: 

“The thought process for making a dish is pretty simple, actually. Unlike most restaurants, we order from the farms we buy from first, then use what we get to put together our menu instead of thinking of a dish then ordering whatever product we need to make it happen. So from there, we kind of use the ingredients like pieces in a puzzle so we can make dishes that have a balance of color, texture, and eye appeal. Usually the formula is basically to balance those elements, then make sure there’s something a little unusual or unique so that we can remain creative and stand out. That twist could be an unusual flavor combination, a different technique, or preparation for something which might be done a different way more often, etc. Another thing we like to do is layer condiments/sauces in our dishes so that every bite has the intended starting flavor of the dish, and you don’t have to struggle to get a solid bite, but, as you eat the dish and drag things around, elements mix together and create new flavors by the end.”

This is an impressive description of how creativity spurns originality, similar to the Greeks’ explanation. In their view creativity is not internally generated but arises outside of us. They personified that process as an encounter with the muse. In the same way, Stieber is saying that inspiration begins with the available ingredients. That’s often demonstrated as a game on the nightmare known as food TV, but the process is impossible to sustain in a high-volume restaurant, using ordinary ingredients. I don’t mean to suggest that Stieber is a complete savant. He’s been cooking half his life, having begun at 15 when he haunted Alon’s before getting a paid job there at 16. Also a musician, he enrolled at UNC-Asheville to study music recording but rapidly realized he wanted to continue playing and writing music, not engineering it. He came back to Atlanta, where his practical parents told him he was going to need a real job to back up his music making. So he landed at Le Cordon Bleu in Tucker. That was in 2007. While there, he got a job at Hector Santiago’s restaurant, Pura Vida, which was my favorite restaurant in the city during its few years of preternatural existence. It was there that Stieber learned how an uninhibited, inventive chef can radically transform the experience of dining.


 

After Stieber graduated, he migrated from kitchen to kitchen in Atlanta. Restaurants on his resume include Restaurant Eugene, Holeman & Finch, and Empire State South, all of which employed Ryan Smith, now the chef/owner of Staplehouse. If you’re familiar with Smith’s brilliant work, you’ll instantly spot its influence in Stieber’s. The main difference, I think, is rigor. As I told a friend, Stieber’s cooking is what you would get if Hector Santiago fucked with Ryan Smith’s food. It’s a bit messier, compellingly so, but almost in a conversely studied way. Sort of like perfect “messy hair.” In fact, I jokingly accused Stieber of being OCD. He explained — elaborately — why he was not. 

 

Stieber doesn’t deny that his particular method — refined for seven years with Eat Me Speak Me — is risky, so that he’s constantly testing, tweaking, giving up, and restarting. But creativity always risks occasional failure and, even more painful, mediocrity. The only problem I had with my Little Bear experience was trivial — the effect of takeout itself. The crew arranges every dish in detail in its own sturdy black takeout box, so transferring anything to a plate is going to disrupt the beauty. I did find most of the food more tepid than I like, but we all know that hot food in a box ain’t pretty by the time you get it home. The restaurant also vends “Fernando’s Liver Stimulus Package” —  boutique wines, spritz kits, beer, and cider.

I suggest you order now, because when Donald Trump reopens the gates to Moneyland, you won’t get a table at Little Bear. —CL—

Little Bear, 71-A Georgia Ave. S.E., 404-500-5396, littlebearatl.com. Open for takeout only, Wednesday–Sunday. You can order by phone, 10:30 a.m-8 p.m., for pickup 5-8 p.m. Vegetarian and vegan options are available when ordered a day in advance. The menu and photos are posted weekly to Twitter and Instagram, @littlebearatl. Unemployed restaurant workers who need a meal may DM chef de cuisine Jacob Armando via Instagram, @fourtimespicy. He is preparing and delivering free meals on Tuesday nights."
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_raw"]=>
  string(10749) "Every plague has its silver lining. For the first two weeks of March, I unsuccessfully tried to get a table at Jarrett Stieber’s greatly anticipated new restaurant, Little Bear, in Summerhill. Then the plague arrived and turned the restaurant — six years in the making — into a takeout joint. So, the silver lining is that you and I get to more easily score five or six courses of Stieber’s prix fixe menu. 

But that’s the only silver lining I’ve encountered lately. When I wrote my last column in March, the mayor had not yet locked down the city. Since then, the coronavirus has created a tsunami of misery, sweeping through all sectors of the economy. Layoffs, furloughs, cutbacks, closings, and firings have been especially difficult for restaurants. Most operate on a slim profit margin to begin with and — let’s be honest — most employees are poorly paid and living paycheck-to-paycheck. For many, it’s a transition or side job while they seek a more stable career opportunity. Since the crash, many forms of assistance, from free meals to fundraised cash, have become available to unemployed restaurant workers, but we are standing on the precipice of a second Great Recession, which caused reorganization of the entire economy. We’re likely destined again for a new “normal.”

As it happens, “normal” is not a word that would suit Jarrett Stieber, regardless of the economy. I, like most of Atlanta, have been intrigued by his cooking ever since he opened the pop-up, Eat Me Speak Me. He started out miserably unappreciated by the public at Candler Park Market and The General Muir in 2013. High points of that time included cooking blood sausage on a panini press and being overshadowed by matzoh balls. In 2014, he moved EMSM to Gato and it arguably become the city’s favorite pop-up. In 2017, he moved the operation to SOS Tiki Bar, which he vacated last year to get Little Bear rolling.

While many other restaurants have cut staff and turned to takeout, Stieber’s business is doing so well that he has not had to lay off any of his small crew or reduce pay. There are many reasons why. The food is of course the preeminent one. It’s often described as “whimsical.”  Stieber guesses that’s partly because of the menu’s humor. An example is the standing title of his shareable prix fixe menu: “Just fuck me up, fam’,” sarcastically referring to the true experience of family dining. The restaurant’s proprietor, by the way, is the greatly anthropomorphized Pyrenees mountain dog that Stieber and his wife Hallie own. His real name is Fernando but his nickname is, yes, Little Bear. (Please, no ABBA jokes.) Maybe the clearest example of linguistic whimsy is the front window’s announcement that the restaurant has won a rating of 2.5 tires from Michelin Tire Dining. It’s goofy but it all adds up to a pointedly satirical attitude toward the pretensions of fine dining.

The funny thing is that Stieber is a James Beard semifinalist and, on the surface, his food resembles contemporary fine dining: smallish plates of strictly local produce and proteins, unexpected flavor combinations, artful presentation. Consider the Spanish-inspired menu featured during the week I fetched a meal there. One dish was a rectangular portion of a Spanish-style tortilla made with baked eggs and mild turnips, covered with a “ropa vieja sauce” and “an egregious amount of olive oil.”  WTF is ropa vieja sauce? I’ve eaten a ton of ropa vieja, a favorite Cuban dish, but I don’t think of it as a Spanish dish or as a sauce. Stieber clarified in an email: “We thought it would be fun to include some flavors from places Spain forced their will on… Ropa vieja as more of a red-wine, braised meat gravy sauce to serve on another dish sounded fun to us.” So, there you have it: a classic tor-tilla that deliciously dishonors Spanish colonialism.

{BOX( bg="#66bfff" width="100%")}{img fileId="31011|31013|31014|31015" responsive="y" stylebox="float: left; margin:10px;" desc="desc" width="200px" button="popup"}{BOX}
 

There were also the inevitable patatas bravas, but Stieber makes them with sweet potatoes, cooking them to addictive crispy-creamy perfection in a concoction of pork fat, coffee, and chili oil, then drizzled with aioli. The protein of the week was Catalan-style pork meatballs combined with a fetish of Catalonia — roasted green onions under salbitxada, a usually red sauce turned weirdly green by Stieber. The opening soup, caldo de Gallego, was absolutely the best version I’ve ever had. I opened the container and the odor of fennel blasted the room like the sins in Pandora’s box. It was made with red peas instead of white beans and was hellishly fiery. Stieber swears it wasn’t intentional, but the meal ended with a pastry, a pestiño — fried, honey-glazed dough flavored with benne and anise, which echoed the licorice flavor of the fennel that began the meal. It was apparently also coincidental that pestiños are only available during Christmas and Holy Week in Spain and were indeed served by Little Bear during Holy Week. The meal also included a stunning salad of gem lettuce, dill, radishes, and shavings of sharp idiazabal cheese, made from sheep’s milk. There was, finally, a second dessert of traditional almond cake, dusted with powdered sugar, allegedly flavored with strawberries.

 

So, what, besides the satirical approach, makes this food actually different from fine dining? For one significant thing, there’s the cost. The menu I’ve described was $55 for two. On the brink of recession, that may not sound inexpensive — and you better tip $15 minimum — but it’s as many as seven dishes of entirely local ingredients for two! Still, to me the truly notable thing is the artistry. Stieber, chef de cuisine Jacob Armando, and executive sous chef Trevor Vick work just the opposite of most kitchens. Instead of going shopping with a recipe, they go shopping and then dream up a recipe. Stieber describes the process: 

“The thought process for making a dish is pretty simple, actually. Unlike most restaurants, we order from the farms we buy from first, then use what we get to put together our menu instead of thinking of a dish then ordering whatever product we need to make it happen. So from there, we kind of use the ingredients like pieces in a puzzle so we can make dishes that have a balance of color, texture, and eye appeal. Usually the formula is basically to balance those elements, then make sure there’s something a little unusual or unique so that we can remain creative and stand out. That twist could be an unusual flavor combination, a different technique, or preparation for something which might be done a different way more often, etc. Another thing we like to do is layer condiments/sauces in our dishes so that every bite has the intended starting flavor of the dish, and you don’t have to struggle to get a solid bite, but, as you eat the dish and drag things around, elements mix together and create new flavors by the end.”

This is an impressive description of how creativity spurns originality, similar to the Greeks’ explanation. In their view creativity is not internally generated but arises outside of us. They personified that process as an encounter with the muse. In the same way, Stieber is saying that inspiration begins with the available ingredients. That’s often demonstrated as a game on the nightmare known as food TV, but the process is impossible to sustain in a high-volume restaurant, using ordinary ingredients. I don’t mean to suggest that Stieber is a complete savant. He’s been cooking half his life, having begun at 15 when he haunted Alon’s before getting a paid job there at 16. Also a musician, he enrolled at UNC-Asheville to study music recording but rapidly realized he wanted to continue playing and writing music, not engineering it. He came back to Atlanta, where his practical parents told him he was going to need a real job to back up his music making. So he landed at Le Cordon Bleu in Tucker. That was in 2007. While there, he got a job at Hector Santiago’s restaurant, Pura Vida, which was my favorite restaurant in the city during its few years of preternatural existence. It was there that Stieber learned how an uninhibited, inventive chef can radically transform the experience of dining.

{BOX( bg="#66bfff" width="100%")}{img fileId="31016|31017|31018" responsive="y" stylebox="float: left; margin:15px;" desc="desc" width="280px" button="popup"}{BOX}
 

After Stieber graduated, he migrated from kitchen to kitchen in Atlanta. Restaurants on his resume include Restaurant Eugene, Holeman & Finch, and Empire State South, all of which employed Ryan Smith, now the chef/owner of Staplehouse. If you’re familiar with Smith’s brilliant work, you’ll instantly spot its influence in Stieber’s. The main difference, I think, is rigor. As I told a friend, Stieber’s cooking is what you would get if Hector Santiago fucked with Ryan Smith’s food. It’s a bit messier, compellingly so, but almost in a conversely studied way. Sort of like perfect “messy hair.” In fact, I jokingly accused Stieber of being OCD. He explained — elaborately — why he was not. 

 

Stieber doesn’t deny that his particular method — refined for seven years with Eat Me Speak Me — is risky, so that he’s constantly testing, tweaking, giving up, and restarting. But creativity always risks occasional failure and, even more painful, mediocrity. The only problem I had with my Little Bear experience was trivial — the effect of takeout itself. The crew arranges every dish in detail in its own sturdy black takeout box, so transferring anything to a plate is going to disrupt the beauty. I did find most of the food more tepid than I like, but we all know that hot food in a box ain’t pretty by the time you get it home. The restaurant also vends “Fernando’s Liver Stimulus Package” —  boutique wines, spritz kits, beer, and cider.

I suggest you order now, because when Donald Trump reopens the gates to Moneyland, you won’t get a table at Little Bear. __—CL—__

''Little Bear, 71-A Georgia Ave. S.E., 404-500-5396, littlebearatl.com. Open for takeout only, Wednesday–Sunday. You can order by phone, 10:30 a.m-8 p.m., for pickup 5-8 p.m. Vegetarian and vegan options are available when ordered a day in advance. The menu and photos are posted weekly to Twitter and Instagram, @littlebearatl. Unemployed restaurant workers who need a meal may DM chef de cuisine Jacob Armando via Instagram, @fourtimespicy. He is preparing and delivering free meals on Tuesday nights.''"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_creation_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-05-11T19:35:46+00:00"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_modification_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-05-11T19:57:26+00:00"
  ["tracker_field_photos"]=>
  string(5) "31012"
  ["tracker_field_contentPhotoCredit"]=>
  string(13) "Cliff Bostock"
  ["tracker_field_contentPhotoTitle"]=>
  string(231) "LITTLE BEAR: The nondescript exterior in Summerhill reflects the tamer side of Jarrett Stieber's carefully imperfect aesthetic. It's like the black takeout boxes that contain food fit for eating with your very best magic mushrooms."
  ["tracker_field_contentCategory"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(3) "245"
    [1]=>
    string(3) "620"
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentCategory_text"]=>
  string(7) "245 620"
  ["tracker_field_contentControlCategory"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["tracker_field_scene"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(3) "749"
    [1]=>
    string(3) "747"
  }
  ["tracker_field_scene_text"]=>
  string(7) "749 747"
  ["tracker_field_contentNeighborhood"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentLocation"]=>
  string(6) "0,0,18"
  ["tracker_field_contentRelations_multi"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(0) ""
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentRelatedContent_multi"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(0) ""
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentRelatedWikiPages_multi"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(0) ""
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentFreeTags"]=>
  string(7) "grazing"
  ["tracker_field_contentBASEAuthorID"]=>
  int(0)
  ["tracker_field_section"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["language"]=>
  string(7) "unknown"
  ["attachments"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(5) "31012"
  }
  ["comment_count"]=>
  int(0)
  ["categories"]=>
  array(4) {
    [0]=>
    int(245)
    [1]=>
    int(620)
    [2]=>
    int(747)
    [3]=>
    int(749)
  }
  ["deep_categories"]=>
  array(7) {
    [0]=>
    int(242)
    [1]=>
    int(245)
    [2]=>
    int(620)
    [3]=>
    int(564)
    [4]=>
    int(743)
    [5]=>
    int(747)
    [6]=>
    int(749)
  }
  ["categories_under_28"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_28"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_1"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_1"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_177"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_177"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_209"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_209"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_163"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_163"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_171"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_171"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_153"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_153"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_242"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    int(245)
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_242"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    int(245)
    [1]=>
    int(620)
  }
  ["categories_under_564"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_564"]=>
  array(3) {
    [0]=>
    int(743)
    [1]=>
    int(747)
    [2]=>
    int(749)
  }
  ["categories_under_1182"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_1182"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["freetags"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(3) "471"
  }
  ["freetags_text"]=>
  string(7) "grazing"
  ["geo_located"]=>
  string(1) "n"
  ["allowed_groups"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(6) "Admins"
    [1]=>
    string(9) "Anonymous"
  }
  ["allowed_users"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(30) "jim.harris@creativeloafing.com"
  }
  ["relations"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(27) "tiki.file.attach:file:31012"
    [1]=>
    string(135) "tiki.wiki.linkeditem.invert:wiki page:Content:_:GRAZING: Little Bear: In planning for six years, open two weeks, currently takeout only"
  }
  ["relation_objects"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["relation_types"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(16) "tiki.file.attach"
    [1]=>
    string(27) "tiki.wiki.linkeditem.invert"
  }
  ["relation_count"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(18) "tiki.file.attach:1"
    [1]=>
    string(29) "tiki.wiki.linkeditem.invert:1"
  }
  ["title_initial"]=>
  string(1) "G"
  ["title_firstword"]=>
  string(7) "GRAZING"
  ["searchable"]=>
  string(1) "y"
  ["url"]=>
  string(10) "item470665"
  ["object_type"]=>
  string(11) "trackeritem"
  ["object_id"]=>
  string(6) "470665"
  ["contents"]=>
  string(11385) " GRAZ B10 LITTLE BEAR: The nondescript exterior in Summerhill reflects the tamer side of Jarrett Stieber's carefully imperfect aesthetic. It's like the black takeout boxes that contain food fit for eating with your very best magic mushrooms. Photo credit: Cliff Bostock 2020-05-11T17:50:48+00:00 GRAZ__b10.jpg    grazing Jarrett Stieber ‘radically’ transforms the dining experience 31012  2020-05-01T04:09:00+00:00 GRAZING: Little Bear: In planning for six years, open two weeks, currently takeout only jim.harris@creativeloafing.com Jim Harris Cliff Bostock  2020-05-01T04:09:00+00:00  Every plague has its silver lining. For the first two weeks of March, I unsuccessfully tried to get a table at Jarrett Stieber’s greatly anticipated new restaurant, Little Bear, in Summerhill. Then the plague arrived and turned the restaurant — six years in the making — into a takeout joint. So, the silver lining is that you and I get to more easily score five or six courses of Stieber’s prix fixe menu. 

But that’s the only silver lining I’ve encountered lately. When I wrote my last column in March, the mayor had not yet locked down the city. Since then, the coronavirus has created a tsunami of misery, sweeping through all sectors of the economy. Layoffs, furloughs, cutbacks, closings, and firings have been especially difficult for restaurants. Most operate on a slim profit margin to begin with and — let’s be honest — most employees are poorly paid and living paycheck-to-paycheck. For many, it’s a transition or side job while they seek a more stable career opportunity. Since the crash, many forms of assistance, from free meals to fundraised cash, have become available to unemployed restaurant workers, but we are standing on the precipice of a second Great Recession, which caused reorganization of the entire economy. We’re likely destined again for a new “normal.”

As it happens, “normal” is not a word that would suit Jarrett Stieber, regardless of the economy. I, like most of Atlanta, have been intrigued by his cooking ever since he opened the pop-up, Eat Me Speak Me. He started out miserably unappreciated by the public at Candler Park Market and The General Muir in 2013. High points of that time included cooking blood sausage on a panini press and being overshadowed by matzoh balls. In 2014, he moved EMSM to Gato and it arguably become the city’s favorite pop-up. In 2017, he moved the operation to SOS Tiki Bar, which he vacated last year to get Little Bear rolling.

While many other restaurants have cut staff and turned to takeout, Stieber’s business is doing so well that he has not had to lay off any of his small crew or reduce pay. There are many reasons why. The food is of course the preeminent one. It’s often described as “whimsical.”  Stieber guesses that’s partly because of the menu’s humor. An example is the standing title of his shareable prix fixe menu: “Just fuck me up, fam’,” sarcastically referring to the true experience of family dining. The restaurant’s proprietor, by the way, is the greatly anthropomorphized Pyrenees mountain dog that Stieber and his wife Hallie own. His real name is Fernando but his nickname is, yes, Little Bear. (Please, no ABBA jokes.) Maybe the clearest example of linguistic whimsy is the front window’s announcement that the restaurant has won a rating of 2.5 tires from Michelin Tire Dining. It’s goofy but it all adds up to a pointedly satirical attitude toward the pretensions of fine dining.

The funny thing is that Stieber is a James Beard semifinalist and, on the surface, his food resembles contemporary fine dining: smallish plates of strictly local produce and proteins, unexpected flavor combinations, artful presentation. Consider the Spanish-inspired menu featured during the week I fetched a meal there. One dish was a rectangular portion of a Spanish-style tortilla made with baked eggs and mild turnips, covered with a “ropa vieja sauce” and “an egregious amount of olive oil.”  WTF is ropa vieja sauce? I’ve eaten a ton of ropa vieja, a favorite Cuban dish, but I don’t think of it as a Spanish dish or as a sauce. Stieber clarified in an email: “We thought it would be fun to include some flavors from places Spain forced their will on… Ropa vieja as more of a red-wine, braised meat gravy sauce to serve on another dish sounded fun to us.” So, there you have it: a classic tor-tilla that deliciously dishonors Spanish colonialism.


 

There were also the inevitable patatas bravas, but Stieber makes them with sweet potatoes, cooking them to addictive crispy-creamy perfection in a concoction of pork fat, coffee, and chili oil, then drizzled with aioli. The protein of the week was Catalan-style pork meatballs combined with a fetish of Catalonia — roasted green onions under salbitxada, a usually red sauce turned weirdly green by Stieber. The opening soup, caldo de Gallego, was absolutely the best version I’ve ever had. I opened the container and the odor of fennel blasted the room like the sins in Pandora’s box. It was made with red peas instead of white beans and was hellishly fiery. Stieber swears it wasn’t intentional, but the meal ended with a pastry, a pestiño — fried, honey-glazed dough flavored with benne and anise, which echoed the licorice flavor of the fennel that began the meal. It was apparently also coincidental that pestiños are only available during Christmas and Holy Week in Spain and were indeed served by Little Bear during Holy Week. The meal also included a stunning salad of gem lettuce, dill, radishes, and shavings of sharp idiazabal cheese, made from sheep’s milk. There was, finally, a second dessert of traditional almond cake, dusted with powdered sugar, allegedly flavored with strawberries.

 

So, what, besides the satirical approach, makes this food actually different from fine dining? For one significant thing, there’s the cost. The menu I’ve described was $55 for two. On the brink of recession, that may not sound inexpensive — and you better tip $15 minimum — but it’s as many as seven dishes of entirely local ingredients for two! Still, to me the truly notable thing is the artistry. Stieber, chef de cuisine Jacob Armando, and executive sous chef Trevor Vick work just the opposite of most kitchens. Instead of going shopping with a recipe, they go shopping and then dream up a recipe. Stieber describes the process: 

“The thought process for making a dish is pretty simple, actually. Unlike most restaurants, we order from the farms we buy from first, then use what we get to put together our menu instead of thinking of a dish then ordering whatever product we need to make it happen. So from there, we kind of use the ingredients like pieces in a puzzle so we can make dishes that have a balance of color, texture, and eye appeal. Usually the formula is basically to balance those elements, then make sure there’s something a little unusual or unique so that we can remain creative and stand out. That twist could be an unusual flavor combination, a different technique, or preparation for something which might be done a different way more often, etc. Another thing we like to do is layer condiments/sauces in our dishes so that every bite has the intended starting flavor of the dish, and you don’t have to struggle to get a solid bite, but, as you eat the dish and drag things around, elements mix together and create new flavors by the end.”

This is an impressive description of how creativity spurns originality, similar to the Greeks’ explanation. In their view creativity is not internally generated but arises outside of us. They personified that process as an encounter with the muse. In the same way, Stieber is saying that inspiration begins with the available ingredients. That’s often demonstrated as a game on the nightmare known as food TV, but the process is impossible to sustain in a high-volume restaurant, using ordinary ingredients. I don’t mean to suggest that Stieber is a complete savant. He’s been cooking half his life, having begun at 15 when he haunted Alon’s before getting a paid job there at 16. Also a musician, he enrolled at UNC-Asheville to study music recording but rapidly realized he wanted to continue playing and writing music, not engineering it. He came back to Atlanta, where his practical parents told him he was going to need a real job to back up his music making. So he landed at Le Cordon Bleu in Tucker. That was in 2007. While there, he got a job at Hector Santiago’s restaurant, Pura Vida, which was my favorite restaurant in the city during its few years of preternatural existence. It was there that Stieber learned how an uninhibited, inventive chef can radically transform the experience of dining.


 

After Stieber graduated, he migrated from kitchen to kitchen in Atlanta. Restaurants on his resume include Restaurant Eugene, Holeman & Finch, and Empire State South, all of which employed Ryan Smith, now the chef/owner of Staplehouse. If you’re familiar with Smith’s brilliant work, you’ll instantly spot its influence in Stieber’s. The main difference, I think, is rigor. As I told a friend, Stieber’s cooking is what you would get if Hector Santiago fucked with Ryan Smith’s food. It’s a bit messier, compellingly so, but almost in a conversely studied way. Sort of like perfect “messy hair.” In fact, I jokingly accused Stieber of being OCD. He explained — elaborately — why he was not. 

 

Stieber doesn’t deny that his particular method — refined for seven years with Eat Me Speak Me — is risky, so that he’s constantly testing, tweaking, giving up, and restarting. But creativity always risks occasional failure and, even more painful, mediocrity. The only problem I had with my Little Bear experience was trivial — the effect of takeout itself. The crew arranges every dish in detail in its own sturdy black takeout box, so transferring anything to a plate is going to disrupt the beauty. I did find most of the food more tepid than I like, but we all know that hot food in a box ain’t pretty by the time you get it home. The restaurant also vends “Fernando’s Liver Stimulus Package” —  boutique wines, spritz kits, beer, and cider.

I suggest you order now, because when Donald Trump reopens the gates to Moneyland, you won’t get a table at Little Bear. —CL—

Little Bear, 71-A Georgia Ave. S.E., 404-500-5396, littlebearatl.com. Open for takeout only, Wednesday–Sunday. You can order by phone, 10:30 a.m-8 p.m., for pickup 5-8 p.m. Vegetarian and vegan options are available when ordered a day in advance. The menu and photos are posted weekly to Twitter and Instagram, @littlebearatl. Unemployed restaurant workers who need a meal may DM chef de cuisine Jacob Armando via Instagram, @fourtimespicy. He is preparing and delivering free meals on Tuesday nights.    Cliff Bostock LITTLE BEAR: The nondescript exterior in Summerhill reflects the tamer side of Jarrett Stieber's carefully imperfect aesthetic. It's like the black takeout boxes that contain food fit for eating with your very best magic mushrooms.  0,0,18    grazing                             GRAZING: Little Bear: In planning for six years, open two weeks, currently takeout only "
  ["score"]=>
  float(0)
  ["_index"]=>
  string(21) "atlantawiki_tiki_main"
  ["objectlink"]=>
  string(269) "GRAZING: Little Bear: In planning for six years, open two weeks, currently takeout only"
  ["photos"]=>
  string(382) "LITTLE BEAR: The nondescript exterior in Summerhill reflects the tamer side of Jarrett Stieber's carefully imperfect aesthetic. It's like the black takeout boxes that contain food fit for eating with your very best magic mushrooms. Photo credit: Cliff Bostock

"
  ["desc"]=>
  string(73) "Jarrett Stieber ‘radically’ transforms the dining experience"
  ["eventDate"]=>
  string(73) "Jarrett Stieber ‘radically’ transforms the dining experience"
  ["noads"]=>
  string(10) "y"
}

Article

Friday May 1, 2020 12:09 am EDT
Jarrett Stieber ‘radically’ transforms the dining experience | more...
array(87) {
  ["title"]=>
  string(67) "GRAZING: Eat calmly: Your panic is weaponized by the authoritarians"
  ["modification_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-04-26T19:50:33+00:00"
  ["creation_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-04-06T15:34:01+00:00"
  ["contributors"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(30) "jim.harris@creativeloafing.com"
    [1]=>
    string(29) "ben.eason@creativeloafing.com"
  }
  ["date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-04-06T15:32:15+00:00"
  ["tracker_status"]=>
  string(1) "o"
  ["tracker_id"]=>
  string(2) "11"
  ["view_permission"]=>
  string(13) "view_trackers"
  ["tracker_field_contentTitle"]=>
  string(67) "GRAZING: Eat calmly: Your panic is weaponized by the authoritarians"
  ["tracker_field_contentCreator"]=>
  string(30) "jim.harris@creativeloafing.com"
  ["tracker_field_contentCreator_text"]=>
  string(10) "Jim Harris"
  ["tracker_field_contentByline"]=>
  string(13) "Cliff Bostock"
  ["tracker_field_contentByline_exact"]=>
  string(13) "Cliff Bostock"
  ["tracker_field_contentBylinePerson"]=>
  string(1) "0"
  ["tracker_field_contentDate"]=>
  string(25) "2020-04-06T15:32:15+00:00"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage"]=>
  string(77) "Content:_:GRAZING: Eat calmly: Your panic is weaponized by the authoritarians"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_text"]=>
  string(9977) "It’s hard to write enthusiastically about restaurants when they’ve become precarious stages for a public health drama. As I am writing this, Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered New York City restaurants and bars to close and, just as I turn this in, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has mandated the same for Atlanta. The coronavirus pandemic is causing mass hysteria unlike any most Americans have seen since 9/11.

It will get better. I am unfortunately old enough that I remember several scary national dramas. One that keeps coming to mind is the Cuban Missile Crisis, when neighbors were building fallout shelters to survive a nuclear attack by the Soviet Russians. Like now, everyone was hiding at home except to rush to the grocery store to buy canned food to eat while the expected radiation kept them underground. Many parents kept their kids out of school for a few weeks. Years later, it was clear that the nuclear flames of catastrophe were greatly fanned by our government’s lack of preparedness and its wounded ego. Sound familiar? Fast forward to the early ’80s and we had a president — a showman like today’s — who ignored the AIDS epidemic for several years, giving the disease a head start. Conservatives, backed by evangelicals, used the crisis they first ignored to validate their homophobia and authoritarianism, even threatening to put gay men in concentration camps. That is what worries me most. Authoritarians like Trump amplify crisis and fear to seize more power. Trump is gloating, for example, because the crisis has led the Fed to feed his greed.

My apocalyptic political fears aside, what are reasonable responses? A growing number of states and municipalities have closed restaurants and bars, but not entirely. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not food itself that poses a hazard. The closings are mainly related to the need to create “social distance” to reduce the ease of transmission. Thus, customers suffer no risk by ordering food to go or for delivery. Many restaurants that did remain open for full service before the mayor’s decision, had taken precautions, such as clearing space by reducing the number of tables, and radically increasing sanitation practices. When I sat at Starbucks soon after the panic began, staff members were wiping tables clean every 30 minutes. Nonetheless, an employee told me that the iconic coffee shop may limit business to window takeout (like so many others). On March 21, Starbucks issued the following statement: “We have temporarily closed our in-store cafes, but select grocery and drive-thru locations remain open. Starbucks Delivers on Uber Eats is also available in select markets. Visit our store locator for the latest store hours and open locations. — editor

It’s also important to keep in mind that a radical reduction in clientele has devastating effects in an industry with a relatively narrow profit margin. Too many restaurants are employing the well-known tactic of denial. When I asked Jason Hill, owner-chef of Wisteria, if he had lost business as of March 15, he said, “We all have. Anyone who says different is lying.” He is nonetheless optimistic, noting that people have emptied grocery stores. “Because of that alone, we will all be slow for a few days.” He hopes diners will return, at least for take-out, when their cupboards are bare and their panic has subsided. Meanwhile, please don’t fall for creepy offers of $40 hand sanitizers or buy discount coupons for restaurant meals without calling ahead.

If you want a view of the way people in the industry are being affected personally, check out Bon Appetit’s ongoing reports from industry workers on their website. One of the writers is the always pull-no-punches Deborah VanTrece, owner-chef of Twisted Soul in Atlanta. She explains that she is at high risk herself because of asthma. While dealing with the duress of that, she saw her reservations drop 60 percent. Many report even greater loss of catering gigs. I’ve heard these complaints from other restaurateurs but they often are quickly followed with — I’m paraphrasing — a statement like, “Please don’t identify me; I don’t want to discourage customers and employees with disastrous predictions.”

VanTrece, however, points eloquently to the possibly immense personal cost of the epidemic: “Emotionally, I’m like, ‘What the fuck? What the fuck?’ To have gone through all I’ve gone through: trying to get a brick and mortar opened in the first place, being an African American woman in a man’s field, fighting my way through that to get into a position of respect and being able to mentor others, figuring out where the money’s gonna come from, struggling to survive the past few years, looking for good employees. Finally I’m up there at the top of my game. Who could’ve imagined a virus might be the thing to take small businesses like mine out of the game?”

It’s particularly difficult to see the way restaurant closings and cutbacks threaten the general well-being of industry workers. They are at high risk of infection, of course, but they are also notoriously low-paid, so losing hours has a quick and dramatic effect on many. One source of assistance to food service workers in crisis is Giving Kitchen (404-254-1227, #givingkitchen). The organization has invited those diagnosed with coronavirus in need of financial assistance to contact them quickly. They can also help those who have otherwise been affected by the epidemic. Giving Kitchen has assisted more than 4,000 workers since 2012, and I urge you to make a contribution.

A source of news and advice for staff and customers alike, is a new social media campaign, #AtlRestaurantsUnite, created by restaurant owners. You’ll find tips on everything from maintaining financial stability to creating social distance inside a restaurant. [https://garestaurants.org|The Georgia Restaurant Association provides industry updates. The incredibly prolific Beth McKibben of Eater Atlanta has been reporting the epidemic’s effects virtually minute-by-minute.

This will pass. The consequences may be overwhelming. Some estimates of infection — not death! — run as high as 60 percent of the population. Please help by continuing to patronize restaurants in any way you can (did I mention gift cards?). Make donations. Restaurants and bars have made Atlanta a vibrant city. If you act out of fear instead of kindness and reason, you will fuel those of our society who enlarge fiscal and political power by scapegoating and lying.



GOING LATINO

I’ve hit two new Latino spots in the last month. First up is My Abuelas (“Our Grandmothers”), a Puerto-Rican café at the Spindle Kitchen. The owner-chefs are Luis Martinez and Monica Martinez, who have been hosting pop-ups for nearly two years. If you’re not familiar with the Spindle, it’s a bike shop attached to a dining space in the Studioplex. It has hosted innumerable pop-ups and short-term tenants, but My Abuelas will be there for a year.

My Abuelas is not the first Puerto Rican venue in Atlanta. Hector Santiago of Pura Vida (R.I.P.), El Super Pan, and the new (more Mexican) El Burro Pollo set the bar here, but My Abuelas may give him a run for the money. The Abuelas menu is brief and changes frequently. During my recent visit, three entrees were offered. Two of them were vegetarian lasagna (pastelon), one vegan and one not. The third entrée, which my companion and I both ordered, was pernil — marinated, roasted pork. It was super juicy but I missed the crunchy skin that usually distinguishes the dish. It was served with tasty red beans and rice and basically tasteless, dry tostones. I have to say that the kitchen needs to work on presentation. Our (paper) plates were dominated by the bowl of rice and beans, while the pernil seemed to be hiding off to the side, masquerading as a smooth stone. It proved to be a larger portion than it looked. And that’s a good thing, given that the entrees are $15 each. Part of that is due to the restaurant’s use of sourced ingredients.

You can easily reduce the cost by grazing on starters and sweets. I ordered a chicken empanada that was huge and — no joke — among the best I’ve ever eaten. Others are available stuffed with meat or a meat substitute. Two of these would make an adequate lunch — especially if you order dessert, which you should. La Dolce Madness, a bakery, has joined My Abuelas at the Spindle. Definitely try the tres leches, a huge serving that you will devour all on your own. Because of a mix-up in our orders, Monica Martinez gave me a free, cakey pastry with, I think, a guava topping. It deserves praise, but I can’t imagine anything better than the tres leches.
My Abuelas, 659 Auburn Ave., 404-823-2046 thespindleatl.com

I’ve also visited Lazy Llama Cantina, a Tex-Mex pub that has replaced Hobnob at the corner of Piedmont and Monroe. Although I was annoyed that nobody could explain the name of the place, I did like most of the food. Consulting chef Jeffrey Gardner has created a menu of impressive tacos. I especially recommend the al pastor and the carne asada. These, like everything else, are composed in the kitchen so that you don’t get to ruin them by dumping, say, red sauce on top of green sauce fetched from a salsa bar.

I also liked a gigantic quesadilla filled with charred corn, browned mushrooms, red and green peppers, and a very small amount of cheese. I’ve sampled one dessert — the churros. They are fried until super-crunchy and served with chocolate and caramel sauces. The bar has a gigantic menu of tequilas, and the staff is great. They serve brunch on weekends, and there are regular nightly events. There are 20 TV screens for watching sports and about 12 portraits of llamas you can talk to after the mescal kicks in.
Lazy Llama, 1551 Piedmont Ave., 404-968-2288, lazyllamacantina.com"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_raw"]=>
  string(10303) "It’s hard to write enthusiastically about restaurants when they’ve become precarious stages for a public health drama. As I am writing this, Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered New York City restaurants and bars to close and, just as I turn this in, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has mandated the same for Atlanta. The coronavirus pandemic is causing mass hysteria unlike any most Americans have seen since 9/11.

It will get better. I am unfortunately old enough that I remember several scary national dramas. One that keeps coming to mind is the Cuban Missile Crisis, when neighbors were building fallout shelters to survive a nuclear attack by the Soviet Russians. Like now, everyone was hiding at home except to rush to the grocery store to buy canned food to eat while the expected radiation kept them underground. Many parents kept their kids out of school for a few weeks. Years later, it was clear that the nuclear flames of catastrophe were greatly fanned by our government’s lack of preparedness and its wounded ego. Sound familiar? Fast forward to the early ’80s and we had a president — a showman like today’s — who ignored the AIDS epidemic for several years, giving the disease a head start. Conservatives, backed by evangelicals, used the crisis they first ignored to validate their homophobia and authoritarianism, even threatening to put gay men in concentration camps. That is what worries me most. Authoritarians like Trump amplify crisis and fear to seize more power. Trump is gloating, for example, because the crisis has led the Fed to feed his greed.

My apocalyptic political fears aside, what are reasonable responses? A growing number of states and municipalities have closed restaurants and bars, but not entirely. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not food itself that poses a hazard. The closings are mainly related to the need to create “social distance” to reduce the ease of transmission. Thus, customers suffer no risk by ordering food to go or for delivery. Many restaurants that did remain open for full service before the mayor’s decision, had taken precautions, such as clearing space by reducing the number of tables, and radically increasing sanitation practices. When I sat at Starbucks soon after the panic began, staff members were wiping tables clean every 30 minutes. Nonetheless, an employee told me that the iconic coffee shop may limit business to window takeout (like so many others). [[On March 21, Starbucks issued the following statement: “We have temporarily closed our in-store cafes, but select grocery and drive-thru locations remain open. Starbucks Delivers on Uber Eats is also available in select markets. Visit our store locator for the latest store hours and open locations. — editor]

It’s also important to keep in mind that a radical reduction in clientele has devastating effects in an industry with a relatively narrow profit margin. Too many restaurants are employing the well-known tactic of denial. When I asked Jason Hill, owner-chef of Wisteria, if he had lost business as of March 15, he said, “We all have. Anyone who says different is lying.” He is nonetheless optimistic, noting that people have emptied grocery stores. “Because of that alone, we will all be slow for a few days.” He hopes diners will return, at least for take-out, when their cupboards are bare and their panic has subsided. Meanwhile, please don’t fall for creepy offers of $40 hand sanitizers or buy discount coupons for restaurant meals without calling ahead.

If you want a view of the way people in the industry are being affected personally, check out [bonappetit.com/story/food-businesses-covid-19|''Bon Appetit''’s ongoing reports from industry workers on their website]. One of the writers is the always pull-no-punches Deborah VanTrece, owner-chef of Twisted Soul in Atlanta. She explains that she is at high risk herself because of asthma. While dealing with the duress of that, she saw her reservations drop 60 percent. Many report even greater loss of catering gigs. I’ve heard these complaints from other restaurateurs but they often are quickly followed with — I’m paraphrasing — a statement like, “Please don’t identify me; I don’t want to discourage customers and employees with disastrous predictions.”

VanTrece, however, points eloquently to the possibly immense personal cost of the epidemic: “Emotionally, I’m like, ‘What the fuck? What the ''fuck?’'' To have gone through all I’ve gone through: trying to get a brick and mortar opened in the first place, being an African American woman in a man’s field, fighting my way through that to get into a position of respect and being able to mentor others, figuring out where the money’s gonna come from, struggling to survive the past few years, looking for good employees. Finally I’m up there at the top of my game. Who could’ve imagined a ''virus'' might be the thing to take small businesses like mine out of the game?”

It’s particularly difficult to see the way restaurant closings and cutbacks threaten the general well-being of industry workers. They are at high risk of infection, of course, but they are also notoriously low-paid, so losing hours has a quick and dramatic effect on many. One source of assistance to food service workers in crisis is Giving Kitchen (404-254-1227, #givingkitchen). The organization has invited those diagnosed with coronavirus in need of financial assistance to contact them quickly. They can also help those who have otherwise been affected by the epidemic. Giving Kitchen has assisted more than 4,000 workers since 2012, and I urge you to make a contribution.

A source of news and advice for staff and customers alike, is a new social media campaign, #AtlRestaurantsUnite, created by restaurant owners. You’ll find tips on everything from maintaining financial stability to creating social distance inside a restaurant. [https://garestaurants.org|The Georgia Restaurant Association provides industry updates. The incredibly prolific Beth McKibben of [http://atlanta.eater.com|Eater Atlanta] has been reporting the epidemic’s effects virtually minute-by-minute.

This will pass. The consequences may be overwhelming. Some estimates of infection — not death! — run as high as 60 percent of the population. Please help by continuing to patronize restaurants in any way you can (did I mention gift cards?). Make donations. Restaurants and bars have made Atlanta a vibrant city. If you act out of fear instead of kindness and reason, you will fuel those of our society who enlarge fiscal and political power by scapegoating and lying.

{BOX( bg="#66bfff" width="100%")}{img fileId="30458|30459|30460" responsive="y" stylebox="float: left; margin:15px;" desc="desc" width="240px" button="popup"}{BOX}

GOING LATINO

I’ve hit two new Latino spots in the last month. First up is __My Abuelas__ (“Our Grandmothers”), a Puerto-Rican café at the Spindle Kitchen. The owner-chefs are Luis Martinez and Monica Martinez, who have been hosting pop-ups for nearly two years. If you’re not familiar with the Spindle, it’s a bike shop attached to a dining space in the Studioplex. It has hosted innumerable pop-ups and short-term tenants, but My Abuelas will be there for a year.

My Abuelas is not the first Puerto Rican venue in Atlanta. Hector Santiago of Pura Vida (R.I.P.), El Super Pan, and the new (more Mexican) El Burro Pollo set the bar here, but My Abuelas may give him a run for the money. The Abuelas menu is brief and changes frequently. During my recent visit, three entrees were offered. Two of them were vegetarian lasagna (pastelon), one vegan and one not. The third entrée, which my companion and I both ordered, was pernil — marinated, roasted pork. It was super juicy but I missed the crunchy skin that usually distinguishes the dish. It was served with tasty red beans and rice and basically tasteless, dry tostones. I have to say that the kitchen needs to work on presentation. Our (paper) plates were dominated by the bowl of rice and beans, while the pernil seemed to be hiding off to the side, masquerading as a smooth stone. It proved to be a larger portion than it looked. And that’s a good thing, given that the entrees are $15 each. Part of that is due to the restaurant’s use of sourced ingredients.

You can easily reduce the cost by grazing on starters and sweets. I ordered a chicken empanada that was huge and — no joke — among the best I’ve ever eaten. Others are available stuffed with meat or a meat substitute. Two of these would make an adequate lunch — especially if you order dessert, which you should. La Dolce Madness, a bakery, has joined My Abuelas at the Spindle. Definitely try the tres leches, a huge serving that you will devour all on your own. Because of a mix-up in our orders, Monica Martinez gave me a free, cakey pastry with, I think, a guava topping. It deserves praise, but I can’t imagine anything better than the tres leches.
''My Abuelas, 659 Auburn Ave., 404-823-2046 [http://thespindleatl.com|thespindleatl.com]''

I’ve also visited __Lazy Llama Cantina__, a Tex-Mex pub that has replaced Hobnob at the corner of Piedmont and Monroe. Although I was annoyed that nobody could explain the name of the place, I did like most of the food. Consulting chef Jeffrey Gardner has created a menu of impressive tacos. I especially recommend the al pastor and the carne asada. These, like everything else, are composed in the kitchen so that you don’t get to ruin them by dumping, say, red sauce on top of green sauce fetched from a salsa bar.

I also liked a gigantic quesadilla filled with charred corn, browned mushrooms, red and green peppers, and a very small amount of cheese. I’ve sampled one dessert — the churros. They are fried until super-crunchy and served with chocolate and caramel sauces. The bar has a gigantic menu of tequilas, and the staff is great. They serve brunch on weekends, and there are regular nightly events. There are 20 TV screens for watching sports and about 12 portraits of llamas you can talk to after the mescal kicks in.
''Lazy Llama, 1551 Piedmont Ave., 404-968-2288, [http://lazyllamacantina.com|lazyllamacantina.com]''"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_creation_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-04-06T15:34:01+00:00"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_modification_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-04-06T17:22:11+00:00"
  ["tracker_field_photos"]=>
  string(5) "30457"
  ["tracker_field_contentPhotoCredit"]=>
  string(13) "Cliff Bostock"
  ["tracker_field_contentPhotoTitle"]=>
  string(62) "PUERTO RICAN PRIDE: The interior of My Abuelas at The Spindle."
  ["tracker_field_contentCategory"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(3) "620"
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentCategory_text"]=>
  string(3) "620"
  ["tracker_field_contentControlCategory"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["tracker_field_scene"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentNeighborhood"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentLocation"]=>
  string(6) "0,0,10"
  ["tracker_field_contentRelations"]=>
  string(94) "trackeritem:470520
trackeritem:470521
trackeritem:470525
trackeritem:470524
trackeritem:470526"
  ["tracker_field_contentRelations_multi"]=>
  array(5) {
    [0]=>
    string(18) "trackeritem:470520"
    [1]=>
    string(18) "trackeritem:470521"
    [2]=>
    string(18) "trackeritem:470525"
    [3]=>
    string(18) "trackeritem:470524"
    [4]=>
    string(18) "trackeritem:470526"
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentRelations_plain"]=>
  string(189) "jason.hill@creativeloafing.com (itemId:470520 trackerid:9), deborah.vantrece@creativeloafing.com (itemId:470521 trackerid:9), monica.martinez@creativeloafing.com (itemId:470525 trackerid:9)"
  ["tracker_field_contentRelations_text"]=>
  string(192) "jason.hill@creativeloafing.com (itemId:470520 trackerid:9), deborah.vantrece@creativeloafing.com (itemId:470521 trackerid:9) and monica.martinez@creativeloafing.com (itemId:470525 trackerid:9)"
  ["tracker_field_contentRelatedContent_multi"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(0) ""
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentRelatedWikiPages"]=>
  string(29) "wiki page:cl-issue-april-2020"
  ["tracker_field_contentRelatedWikiPages_multi"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(29) "wiki page:cl-issue-april-2020"
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentFreeTags"]=>
  string(7) "grazing"
  ["tracker_field_contentBASEAuthorID"]=>
  int(0)
  ["tracker_field_section"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["language"]=>
  string(7) "unknown"
  ["attachments"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(5) "30457"
  }
  ["comment_count"]=>
  int(0)
  ["categories"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    int(620)
  }
  ["deep_categories"]=>
  array(3) {
    [0]=>
    int(242)
    [1]=>
    int(245)
    [2]=>
    int(620)
  }
  ["categories_under_28"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_28"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_1"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_1"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_177"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_177"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_209"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_209"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_163"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_163"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_171"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_171"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_153"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_153"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_242"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_242"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    int(245)
    [1]=>
    int(620)
  }
  ["categories_under_564"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_564"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_1182"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_1182"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["freetags"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(3) "471"
  }
  ["freetags_text"]=>
  string(7) "grazing"
  ["geo_located"]=>
  string(1) "n"
  ["allowed_groups"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(6) "Admins"
    [1]=>
    string(9) "Anonymous"
  }
  ["allowed_users"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(30) "jim.harris@creativeloafing.com"
  }
  ["relations"]=>
  array(13) {
    [0]=>
    string(27) "tiki.file.attach:file:30457"
    [1]=>
    string(49) "items.related.pages:wiki page:cl-issue-april-2020"
    [2]=>
    string(40) "content.related.items:trackeritem:470520"
    [3]=>
    string(40) "content.related.items:trackeritem:470521"
    [4]=>
    string(40) "content.related.items:trackeritem:470525"
    [5]=>
    string(40) "content.related.items:trackeritem:470524"
    [6]=>
    string(40) "content.related.items:trackeritem:470526"
    [7]=>
    string(115) "tiki.wiki.linkeditem.invert:wiki page:Content:_:GRAZING: Eat calmly: Your panic is weaponized by the authoritarians"
    [8]=>
    string(43) "clatl.business.links.invert:trackeritem:278"
    [9]=>
    string(46) "clatl.business.links.invert:trackeritem:470522"
    [10]=>
    string(46) "clatl.business.links.invert:trackeritem:470524"
    [11]=>
    string(46) "clatl.business.links.invert:trackeritem:470527"
    [12]=>
    string(46) "clatl.business.links.invert:trackeritem:470528"
  }
  ["relation_objects"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["relation_types"]=>
  array(5) {
    [0]=>
    string(16) "tiki.file.attach"
    [1]=>
    string(19) "items.related.pages"
    [2]=>
    string(21) "content.related.items"
    [3]=>
    string(27) "tiki.wiki.linkeditem.invert"
    [4]=>
    string(27) "clatl.business.links.invert"
  }
  ["relation_count"]=>
  array(5) {
    [0]=>
    string(18) "tiki.file.attach:1"
    [1]=>
    string(21) "items.related.pages:1"
    [2]=>
    string(23) "content.related.items:5"
    [3]=>
    string(29) "tiki.wiki.linkeditem.invert:1"
    [4]=>
    string(29) "clatl.business.links.invert:5"
  }
  ["title_initial"]=>
  string(1) "G"
  ["title_firstword"]=>
  string(7) "GRAZING"
  ["searchable"]=>
  string(1) "y"
  ["url"]=>
  string(10) "item470406"
  ["object_type"]=>
  string(11) "trackeritem"
  ["object_id"]=>
  string(6) "470406"
  ["contents"]=>
  string(10758) " My Abuelas Restaurant at the Spindle Kitchen PUERTO RICAN PRIDE: The interior of My Abuelas at The Spindle. Photo credit: Cliff Bostock 2020-04-06T16:00:58+00:00 GRAZ_G9JLrQx8THuvzjIDZDLq0A_web.jpg    grazing  30457  2020-04-06T15:32:15+00:00 GRAZING: Eat calmly: Your panic is weaponized by the authoritarians jim.harris@creativeloafing.com Jim Harris Cliff Bostock  2020-04-06T15:32:15+00:00  It’s hard to write enthusiastically about restaurants when they’ve become precarious stages for a public health drama. As I am writing this, Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered New York City restaurants and bars to close and, just as I turn this in, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has mandated the same for Atlanta. The coronavirus pandemic is causing mass hysteria unlike any most Americans have seen since 9/11.

It will get better. I am unfortunately old enough that I remember several scary national dramas. One that keeps coming to mind is the Cuban Missile Crisis, when neighbors were building fallout shelters to survive a nuclear attack by the Soviet Russians. Like now, everyone was hiding at home except to rush to the grocery store to buy canned food to eat while the expected radiation kept them underground. Many parents kept their kids out of school for a few weeks. Years later, it was clear that the nuclear flames of catastrophe were greatly fanned by our government’s lack of preparedness and its wounded ego. Sound familiar? Fast forward to the early ’80s and we had a president — a showman like today’s — who ignored the AIDS epidemic for several years, giving the disease a head start. Conservatives, backed by evangelicals, used the crisis they first ignored to validate their homophobia and authoritarianism, even threatening to put gay men in concentration camps. That is what worries me most. Authoritarians like Trump amplify crisis and fear to seize more power. Trump is gloating, for example, because the crisis has led the Fed to feed his greed.

My apocalyptic political fears aside, what are reasonable responses? A growing number of states and municipalities have closed restaurants and bars, but not entirely. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not food itself that poses a hazard. The closings are mainly related to the need to create “social distance” to reduce the ease of transmission. Thus, customers suffer no risk by ordering food to go or for delivery. Many restaurants that did remain open for full service before the mayor’s decision, had taken precautions, such as clearing space by reducing the number of tables, and radically increasing sanitation practices. When I sat at Starbucks soon after the panic began, staff members were wiping tables clean every 30 minutes. Nonetheless, an employee told me that the iconic coffee shop may limit business to window takeout (like so many others). On March 21, Starbucks issued the following statement: “We have temporarily closed our in-store cafes, but select grocery and drive-thru locations remain open. Starbucks Delivers on Uber Eats is also available in select markets. Visit our store locator for the latest store hours and open locations. — editor

It’s also important to keep in mind that a radical reduction in clientele has devastating effects in an industry with a relatively narrow profit margin. Too many restaurants are employing the well-known tactic of denial. When I asked Jason Hill, owner-chef of Wisteria, if he had lost business as of March 15, he said, “We all have. Anyone who says different is lying.” He is nonetheless optimistic, noting that people have emptied grocery stores. “Because of that alone, we will all be slow for a few days.” He hopes diners will return, at least for take-out, when their cupboards are bare and their panic has subsided. Meanwhile, please don’t fall for creepy offers of $40 hand sanitizers or buy discount coupons for restaurant meals without calling ahead.

If you want a view of the way people in the industry are being affected personally, check out Bon Appetit’s ongoing reports from industry workers on their website. One of the writers is the always pull-no-punches Deborah VanTrece, owner-chef of Twisted Soul in Atlanta. She explains that she is at high risk herself because of asthma. While dealing with the duress of that, she saw her reservations drop 60 percent. Many report even greater loss of catering gigs. I’ve heard these complaints from other restaurateurs but they often are quickly followed with — I’m paraphrasing — a statement like, “Please don’t identify me; I don’t want to discourage customers and employees with disastrous predictions.”

VanTrece, however, points eloquently to the possibly immense personal cost of the epidemic: “Emotionally, I’m like, ‘What the fuck? What the fuck?’ To have gone through all I’ve gone through: trying to get a brick and mortar opened in the first place, being an African American woman in a man’s field, fighting my way through that to get into a position of respect and being able to mentor others, figuring out where the money’s gonna come from, struggling to survive the past few years, looking for good employees. Finally I’m up there at the top of my game. Who could’ve imagined a virus might be the thing to take small businesses like mine out of the game?”

It’s particularly difficult to see the way restaurant closings and cutbacks threaten the general well-being of industry workers. They are at high risk of infection, of course, but they are also notoriously low-paid, so losing hours has a quick and dramatic effect on many. One source of assistance to food service workers in crisis is Giving Kitchen (404-254-1227, #givingkitchen). The organization has invited those diagnosed with coronavirus in need of financial assistance to contact them quickly. They can also help those who have otherwise been affected by the epidemic. Giving Kitchen has assisted more than 4,000 workers since 2012, and I urge you to make a contribution.

A source of news and advice for staff and customers alike, is a new social media campaign, #AtlRestaurantsUnite, created by restaurant owners. You’ll find tips on everything from maintaining financial stability to creating social distance inside a restaurant. [https://garestaurants.org|The Georgia Restaurant Association provides industry updates. The incredibly prolific Beth McKibben of Eater Atlanta has been reporting the epidemic’s effects virtually minute-by-minute.

This will pass. The consequences may be overwhelming. Some estimates of infection — not death! — run as high as 60 percent of the population. Please help by continuing to patronize restaurants in any way you can (did I mention gift cards?). Make donations. Restaurants and bars have made Atlanta a vibrant city. If you act out of fear instead of kindness and reason, you will fuel those of our society who enlarge fiscal and political power by scapegoating and lying.



GOING LATINO

I’ve hit two new Latino spots in the last month. First up is My Abuelas (“Our Grandmothers”), a Puerto-Rican café at the Spindle Kitchen. The owner-chefs are Luis Martinez and Monica Martinez, who have been hosting pop-ups for nearly two years. If you’re not familiar with the Spindle, it’s a bike shop attached to a dining space in the Studioplex. It has hosted innumerable pop-ups and short-term tenants, but My Abuelas will be there for a year.

My Abuelas is not the first Puerto Rican venue in Atlanta. Hector Santiago of Pura Vida (R.I.P.), El Super Pan, and the new (more Mexican) El Burro Pollo set the bar here, but My Abuelas may give him a run for the money. The Abuelas menu is brief and changes frequently. During my recent visit, three entrees were offered. Two of them were vegetarian lasagna (pastelon), one vegan and one not. The third entrée, which my companion and I both ordered, was pernil — marinated, roasted pork. It was super juicy but I missed the crunchy skin that usually distinguishes the dish. It was served with tasty red beans and rice and basically tasteless, dry tostones. I have to say that the kitchen needs to work on presentation. Our (paper) plates were dominated by the bowl of rice and beans, while the pernil seemed to be hiding off to the side, masquerading as a smooth stone. It proved to be a larger portion than it looked. And that’s a good thing, given that the entrees are $15 each. Part of that is due to the restaurant’s use of sourced ingredients.

You can easily reduce the cost by grazing on starters and sweets. I ordered a chicken empanada that was huge and — no joke — among the best I’ve ever eaten. Others are available stuffed with meat or a meat substitute. Two of these would make an adequate lunch — especially if you order dessert, which you should. La Dolce Madness, a bakery, has joined My Abuelas at the Spindle. Definitely try the tres leches, a huge serving that you will devour all on your own. Because of a mix-up in our orders, Monica Martinez gave me a free, cakey pastry with, I think, a guava topping. It deserves praise, but I can’t imagine anything better than the tres leches.
My Abuelas, 659 Auburn Ave., 404-823-2046 thespindleatl.com

I’ve also visited Lazy Llama Cantina, a Tex-Mex pub that has replaced Hobnob at the corner of Piedmont and Monroe. Although I was annoyed that nobody could explain the name of the place, I did like most of the food. Consulting chef Jeffrey Gardner has created a menu of impressive tacos. I especially recommend the al pastor and the carne asada. These, like everything else, are composed in the kitchen so that you don’t get to ruin them by dumping, say, red sauce on top of green sauce fetched from a salsa bar.

I also liked a gigantic quesadilla filled with charred corn, browned mushrooms, red and green peppers, and a very small amount of cheese. I’ve sampled one dessert — the churros. They are fried until super-crunchy and served with chocolate and caramel sauces. The bar has a gigantic menu of tequilas, and the staff is great. They serve brunch on weekends, and there are regular nightly events. There are 20 TV screens for watching sports and about 12 portraits of llamas you can talk to after the mescal kicks in.
Lazy Llama, 1551 Piedmont Ave., 404-968-2288, lazyllamacantina.com    Cliff Bostock PUERTO RICAN PRIDE: The interior of My Abuelas at The Spindle.  0,0,10 jason.hill@creativeloafing.com (itemId:470520 trackerid:9), deborah.vantrece@creativeloafing.com (itemId:470521 trackerid:9), monica.martinez@creativeloafing.com (itemId:470525 trackerid:9)   grazing                             GRAZING: Eat calmly: Your panic is weaponized by the authoritarians "
  ["score"]=>
  float(0)
  ["_index"]=>
  string(21) "atlantawiki_tiki_main"
  ["objectlink"]=>
  string(249) "GRAZING: Eat calmly: Your panic is weaponized by the authoritarians"
  ["photos"]=>
  string(213) "PUERTO RICAN PRIDE: The interior of My Abuelas at The Spindle. Photo credit: Cliff Bostock

"
  ["desc"]=>
  string(32) "No description provided"
  ["eventDate"]=>
  string(32) "No description provided"
  ["noads"]=>
  string(10) "y"
}

Article

Monday April 6, 2020 11:32 am EDT
It’s hard to write enthusiastically about restaurants when they’ve become precarious stages for a public health drama. As I am writing this, Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered New York City restaurants and bars to close and, just as I turn this in, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has mandated the same for Atlanta. The coronavirus pandemic is causing mass hysteria unlike any most Americans have seen... | more...
array(85) {
  ["title"]=>
  string(26) "GRAZING: Sketches of Spain"
  ["modification_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-03-02T21:41:08+00:00"
  ["creation_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-03-02T21:11:30+00:00"
  ["contributors"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(30) "jim.harris@creativeloafing.com"
  }
  ["date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-03-02T21:08:27+00:00"
  ["tracker_status"]=>
  string(1) "o"
  ["tracker_id"]=>
  string(2) "11"
  ["view_permission"]=>
  string(13) "view_trackers"
  ["tracker_field_contentTitle"]=>
  string(26) "GRAZING: Sketches of Spain"
  ["tracker_field_contentCreator"]=>
  string(30) "jim.harris@creativeloafing.com"
  ["tracker_field_contentCreator_text"]=>
  string(10) "Jim Harris"
  ["tracker_field_contentByline"]=>
  string(13) "Cliff Bostock"
  ["tracker_field_contentByline_exact"]=>
  string(13) "Cliff Bostock"
  ["tracker_field_contentBylinePerson"]=>
  string(1) "0"
  ["tracker_field_description"]=>
  string(86) "The good life invades the BeltLine, Mamak offers vegan, the Harp spurts 40 intoxicants"
  ["tracker_field_description_raw"]=>
  string(86) "The good life invades the BeltLine, Mamak offers vegan, the Harp spurts 40 intoxicants"
  ["tracker_field_contentDate"]=>
  string(25) "2020-03-02T21:08:27+00:00"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage"]=>
  string(36) "Content:_:GRAZING: Sketches of Spain"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_text"]=>
  string(8324) "Almost 20 years ago, on September 12, 2001, I was sitting in my favorite café in Seville, feeling very lonely after the horrifying events of the preceding day. The chef came out of the kitchen with a plate of ham and a newspaper. He sat at the table, telling me how happy he was to see me and asked how I was feeling. I told him I was numb. He opened the newspaper to show me page after page of the devastation that had occurred the day before at the World Trade Center in New York City. I was completely unnerved. Soon, other customers gathered around the table, looking at the pictures. Five or six of them sat down, and for the next few hours we grazed and talked about America. 


I wanted more than anything to move to Spain. That’s where, as I’ve often put it, I felt more like myself than anywhere else. An avalanche of obligations — that plus the Euro — made moving impossible, but Spain remains the place where my imagination still roves. For that reason, it’s always a bit difficult for me to visit a restaurant here that features Spanish food. In the same way immigrants are never quite content with restaurant versions of the food their mothers cooked back home, nostalgia makes me hypercritical.

For many years, it was virtually impossible to find Spanish food in Atlanta. Now, it’s not so hard. The latest restaurant to open is Buena Vida Tapas & Sol. Most of the Spanish venues here seem to emphasize the cuisine of Barcelona and the Basque region. Buena Vida draws its inspiration from southern Spain — from Ibiza off the eastern coast and from the interior region, Andalusia, where Seville is located. It’s where flamenco originated; where Moors, Christians, and Jews coexisted, especially aesthetically; and where the poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca lived. It’s hot as hell most of the year and that, I assume, explains “the sol” — the sun — of the restaurant’s name. 

I could hardly wait to visit. After two foiled attempts, I finally made it on a Sunday afternoon when, alas, the extensive tapas menu is radically abbreviated for a brunch menu featuring fusion entrees like shrimp and grits. There are a couple of appealing dishes made with morcilla (blood sausage), such as the hash with piquillo peppers, sweet potatoes, mushroom confit, poached eggs, and Hollandaise. Tempting, but I was there for tapas and did manage to find some classics that are also on the dinner menu. My favorite was the croquetas — four crunchy-fried orbs filled with a luxuriously creamy béchamel in which diced Serrano and Iberico ham were suspended. They were dotted with a smoky, slightly tangy pimentón (paprika) aioli. You’re probably going to be a bit annoyed that the ham isn’t more substantial, but understand that this dish originated to make use of scraps of meat. In any case, believe me, the ham’s taste will come forward after a few bites. I’m not sure why two varieties of ham are used — Iberico is the more exotic and costly — but it reminded me of the many plates of ham I ate at that café in Seville. The owner/chef knew the pedigree of every pig — where it was raised, what it was fed, how long it had lived. If you want a more generous taste of a variety of hams, you can order a plate of it along with cheeses at Buena Vida.

Another tapa that is ubiquitous is the Spanish-style tortilla — a wedge of a thick, browned omelet usually packed with creamy potatoes. Here, the kitchen uses a changing variety of vegetables in addition to the potatoes — namely red peppers, zucchini, onions, and kale during my visit. The omelet was topped with a spoonful of intensely aromatic aioli that drizzled into a pool on the chive-scattered plate. Next up was a serving of three piquillos stuffed with Georgia goat cheese. You’re going to immediately notice a fruity taste. That’s because the kitchen uses Arbequina olive oil from Catalonia, complemented by an acidic shot of lemon. The piquillos are crazily scattered with fried chickpeas — a really ingenious foil for the creamy textures. The dinner menu includes many vegetarian and vegan choices, including Beyondigas — albondigas (meatballs) made with Beyond Meat. There are also seafood and meat tapas including a Sevilla-style hot chicken. I mean …. Basta with the hot chicken! There are three major items for the table — a roasted chicken, a gigantic rib eye, and a whole fish. 

The talent behind the food here is executive chef Landon Thompson, a James Beard semifinalist who was chef de cuisine at Iberian Pig and executive chef at Cooks & Soldiers, both owed by the Castellucci Hospitality Group. Those two restaurants are without argument the best Spanish venues in the city. While Cooks & Soldiers has a much fancier menu, Buena Vida has a friendlier price point — surprising, given its location in the North and Line apartment complex which, according to its website, is very “refined” and exists “at the crossroads of everything that matters.” That means, of course, that it’s on the BeltLine and, like its neighbors, mimics the residential architecture of Soviet Russia. Buena Vida’s owners — Adam Berlin and Juan Sebastian Calle — have remedied that to some degree with an obviously Ibiza-inspired, pastel-drenched interior. Pink is everywhere, backgrounding some cool murals and pottery. At the front entrance there’s a neon greeting, in memory of Calle’s younger sister, which says “Te quiero mucho.” It’s that sincerity in the face of inevitable darkness that made me fall in love with southern Spain, and, while Buena Vida is still a work in progress, I’m looking forward to returning despite my estrangement from the place I belong.  (Buena Vida Tapas & Sol, 385 N. Angier Ave., 404-948-2312, buenavidatapas.com)

A NEW VEGAN OPTION: The people who own Mamak, the Malaysian favorite on Buford Highway, have opened Mamak Vegan Kitchen nearby in Chamblee. It’s next to their other new venue, Chom Chom Vietnamese Kitchen, which I wrote about last month. I visited recently with two friends and we had a meal that lived up to the quality of the meat-eater’s Mamak. 

I really wish I had the depth of character and self-discipline to become a vegetarian, but I do not. Because I know I can get up in the middle of the night and eat fried chicken, I have no desire to eat faux meat when I go to a vegetarian restaurant. I just want inventive vegetable dishes. Nonetheless, I felt compelled to try the rendang made (à la Buena Vida) with Beyond Meat at Mamak since my two companions stuck to undisguised vegetables and tofu. The original Mamak makes a superb rendang, and everything about the vegan version was as good on my first bite. But as I continued to eat, I felt like I was chewing a tenderized sponge. It had springy, meaty texture but it was too uniform. Likewise, all of the flavor at first was from the sauce, with nothing behind it like the natural flavor of meat. I could cope, but then there emerged an increasingly strong taste of, um, nothingness. I used to hate tofu, but tofu doesn’t pretend to be something else, and it doesn’t really deviate from the flavor it absorbs.

My friends’ choices were awesome. My favorite was the kari sayur, a slightly piquant curry of creamy eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, chunks of tough tofu, and especially delicious crispy okra. My other friend ordered chow kway teow — flat rice noodles tossed in a wok with tofu, bean sprouts, snow peas, and a chili paste. My miniscule problem with it was the presence of a bit too much soy sauce for my taste but, honestly, I have a low tolerance for it. My friend thought I was an idiot, but, really, I’m not. The menu’s picture was barely tinted with the sauce. (Mamak Vegan Kitchen, 2390 Chamblee Tucker Road, 678-909-8188, mamakvegan.com)

BUENO AND CHEAP: I admit that while I was eating at Buena Vida, I kept thinking about Eclipse di Luna, where I’ve frequently eaten lunch over the years. Its menu offers inexpensive tapas — artful classics and novelties — along with specials. Recently I had an easily fetishized sandwich of pork belly, arugula, tomatoes, and roasted jalapeno aioli on ciabatta. Plus they got paella. (Eclipse di Luna, 764 Miami Circle, 404-846-0449, eclipsediluna.net)"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_raw"]=>
  string(8689) "Almost 20 years ago, on September 12, 2001, I was sitting in my favorite café in Seville, feeling very lonely after the horrifying events of the preceding day. The chef came out of the kitchen with a plate of ham and a newspaper. He sat at the table, telling me how happy he was to see me and asked how I was feeling. I told him I was numb. He opened the newspaper to show me page after page of the devastation that had occurred the day before at the World Trade Center in New York City. I was completely unnerved. Soon, other customers gathered around the table, looking at the pictures. Five or six of them sat down, and for the next few hours we grazed and talked about America. 

{BOX( float="left" bg="#66bfff" width="260px")}{img fileId="29623|29626|29624|29625" responsive="y" stylebox="float: left; margin:5px;" desc="desc" width="200px" button="popup"}{BOX}{BOX( float="right" bg="#66bfff" width="260px")}{img fileId="29628|29627|29629|29630" responsive="y" stylebox="float: left; margin:5px;" desc="desc" width="200px" button="popup"}{BOX}
I wanted more than anything to move to Spain. That’s where, as I’ve often put it, I felt more like myself than anywhere else. An avalanche of obligations — that plus the Euro — made moving impossible, but Spain remains the place where my imagination still roves. For that reason, it’s always a bit difficult for me to visit a restaurant here that features Spanish food. In the same way immigrants are never quite content with restaurant versions of the food their mothers cooked back home, nostalgia makes me hypercritical.

For many years, it was virtually impossible to find Spanish food in Atlanta. Now, it’s not so hard. The latest restaurant to open is Buena Vida Tapas & Sol. Most of the Spanish venues here seem to emphasize the cuisine of Barcelona and the Basque region. Buena Vida draws its inspiration from southern Spain — from Ibiza off the eastern coast and from the interior region, Andalusia, where Seville is located. It’s where flamenco originated; where Moors, Christians, and Jews coexisted, especially aesthetically; and where the poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca lived. It’s hot as hell most of the year and that, I assume, explains “the sol” — the sun — of the restaurant’s name. 

I could hardly wait to visit. After two foiled attempts, I finally made it on a Sunday afternoon when, alas, the extensive tapas menu is radically abbreviated for a brunch menu featuring fusion entrees like shrimp and grits. There are a couple of appealing dishes made with morcilla (blood sausage), such as the hash with piquillo peppers, sweet potatoes, mushroom confit, poached eggs, and Hollandaise. Tempting, but I was there for tapas and did manage to find some classics that are also on the dinner menu. My favorite was the croquetas — four crunchy-fried orbs filled with a luxuriously creamy béchamel in which diced Serrano and Iberico ham were suspended. They were dotted with a smoky, slightly tangy pimentón (paprika) aioli. You’re probably going to be a bit annoyed that the ham isn’t more substantial, but understand that this dish originated to make use of scraps of meat. In any case, believe me, the ham’s taste will come forward after a few bites. I’m not sure why two varieties of ham are used — Iberico is the more exotic and costly — but it reminded me of the many plates of ham I ate at that café in Seville. The owner/chef knew the pedigree of every pig — where it was raised, what it was fed, how long it had lived. If you want a more generous taste of a variety of hams, you can order a plate of it along with cheeses at Buena Vida.

Another tapa that is ubiquitous is the Spanish-style tortilla — a wedge of a thick, browned omelet usually packed with creamy potatoes. Here, the kitchen uses a changing variety of vegetables in addition to the potatoes — namely red peppers, zucchini, onions, and kale during my visit. The omelet was topped with a spoonful of intensely aromatic aioli that drizzled into a pool on the chive-scattered plate. Next up was a serving of three piquillos stuffed with Georgia goat cheese. You’re going to immediately notice a fruity taste. That’s because the kitchen uses Arbequina olive oil from Catalonia, complemented by an acidic shot of lemon. The piquillos are crazily scattered with fried chickpeas — a really ingenious foil for the creamy textures. The dinner menu includes many vegetarian and vegan choices, including Beyondigas — albondigas (meatballs) made with Beyond Meat. There are also seafood and meat tapas including a Sevilla-style hot chicken. I mean …. Basta with the hot chicken! There are three major items for the table — a roasted chicken, a gigantic rib eye, and a whole fish. 

The talent behind the food here is executive chef Landon Thompson, a James Beard semifinalist who was chef de cuisine at Iberian Pig and executive chef at Cooks & Soldiers, both owed by the Castellucci Hospitality Group. Those two restaurants are without argument the best Spanish venues in the city. While Cooks & Soldiers has a much fancier menu, Buena Vida has a friendlier price point — surprising, given its location in the North and Line apartment complex which, according to its website, is very “refined” and exists “at the crossroads of everything that matters.” That means, of course, that it’s on the BeltLine and, like its neighbors, mimics the residential architecture of Soviet Russia. Buena Vida’s owners — Adam Berlin and Juan Sebastian Calle — have remedied that to some degree with an obviously Ibiza-inspired, pastel-drenched interior. Pink is everywhere, backgrounding some cool murals and pottery. At the front entrance there’s a neon greeting, in memory of Calle’s younger sister, which says “Te quiero mucho.” It’s that sincerity in the face of inevitable darkness that made me fall in love with southern Spain, and, while Buena Vida is still a work in progress, I’m looking forward to returning despite my estrangement from the place I belong.  (Buena Vida Tapas & Sol, 385 N. Angier Ave., 404-948-2312, buenavidatapas.com)

A NEW VEGAN OPTION: The people who own Mamak, the Malaysian favorite on Buford Highway, have opened Mamak Vegan Kitchen nearby in Chamblee. It’s next to their other new venue, Chom Chom Vietnamese Kitchen, which I wrote about last month. I visited recently with two friends and we had a meal that lived up to the quality of the meat-eater’s Mamak. 

I really wish I had the depth of character and self-discipline to become a vegetarian, but I do not. Because I know I can get up in the middle of the night and eat fried chicken, I have no desire to eat faux meat when I go to a vegetarian restaurant. I just want inventive vegetable dishes. Nonetheless, I felt compelled to try the rendang made (à la Buena Vida) with Beyond Meat at Mamak since my two companions stuck to undisguised vegetables and tofu. The original Mamak makes a superb rendang, and everything about the vegan version was as good on my first bite. But as I continued to eat, I felt like I was chewing a tenderized sponge. It had springy, meaty texture but it was too uniform. Likewise, all of the flavor at first was from the sauce, with nothing behind it like the natural flavor of meat. I could cope, but then there emerged an increasingly strong taste of, um, nothingness. I used to hate tofu, but tofu doesn’t pretend to be something else, and it doesn’t really deviate from the flavor it absorbs.

My friends’ choices were awesome. My favorite was the kari sayur, a slightly piquant curry of creamy eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, chunks of tough tofu, and especially delicious crispy okra. My other friend ordered chow kway teow — flat rice noodles tossed in a wok with tofu, bean sprouts, snow peas, and a chili paste. My miniscule problem with it was the presence of a bit too much soy sauce for my taste but, honestly, I have a low tolerance for it. My friend thought I was an idiot, but, really, I’m not. The menu’s picture was barely tinted with the sauce. (Mamak Vegan Kitchen, 2390 Chamblee Tucker Road, 678-909-8188, mamakvegan.com)

BUENO AND CHEAP: I admit that while I was eating at Buena Vida, I kept thinking about Eclipse di Luna, where I’ve frequently eaten lunch over the years. Its menu offers inexpensive tapas — artful classics and novelties — along with specials. Recently I had an easily fetishized sandwich of pork belly, arugula, tomatoes, and roasted jalapeno aioli on ciabatta. Plus they got paella. (Eclipse di Luna, 764 Miami Circle, 404-846-0449, eclipsediluna.net)"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_creation_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-03-02T21:11:30+00:00"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_modification_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-03-02T21:40:10+00:00"
  ["tracker_field_photos"]=>
  string(5) "29631"
  ["tracker_field_contentPhotoCredit"]=>
  string(13) "Cliff Bostock"
  ["tracker_field_contentPhotoTitle"]=>
  string(224) "SWEET: Piquillos are sweet by nature and Buena Vida adds fruitiness with Arbequina olive oil from Catalonia, plus a tempering shot of lemon. The peppers are stuffed with herbed goat cheese and garnished with fried chickpeas."
  ["tracker_field_contentCategory"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(3) "245"
    [1]=>
    string(3) "620"
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentCategory_text"]=>
  string(7) "245 620"
  ["tracker_field_contentControlCategory"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["tracker_field_scene"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentNeighborhood"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentLocation"]=>
  string(6) "0,0,10"
  ["tracker_field_contentRelations_multi"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(0) ""
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentRelatedContent_multi"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(0) ""
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentRelatedWikiPages_multi"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(0) ""
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentFreeTags"]=>
  string(7) "grazing"
  ["tracker_field_contentBASEAuthorID"]=>
  int(0)
  ["tracker_field_section"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["language"]=>
  string(7) "unknown"
  ["attachments"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(5) "29631"
  }
  ["comment_count"]=>
  int(0)
  ["categories"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    int(245)
    [1]=>
    int(620)
  }
  ["deep_categories"]=>
  array(3) {
    [0]=>
    int(242)
    [1]=>
    int(245)
    [2]=>
    int(620)
  }
  ["categories_under_28"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_28"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_1"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_1"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_177"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_177"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_209"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_209"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_163"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_163"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_171"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_171"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_153"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_153"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_242"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    int(245)
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_242"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    int(245)
    [1]=>
    int(620)
  }
  ["categories_under_564"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_564"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_1182"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_1182"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["freetags"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(3) "471"
  }
  ["freetags_text"]=>
  string(7) "grazing"
  ["geo_located"]=>
  string(1) "n"
  ["allowed_groups"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(6) "Admins"
    [1]=>
    string(9) "Anonymous"
  }
  ["allowed_users"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(30) "jim.harris@creativeloafing.com"
  }
  ["relations"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(27) "tiki.file.attach:file:29631"
    [1]=>
    string(74) "tiki.wiki.linkeditem.invert:wiki page:Content:_:GRAZING: Sketches of Spain"
  }
  ["relation_objects"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["relation_types"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(16) "tiki.file.attach"
    [1]=>
    string(27) "tiki.wiki.linkeditem.invert"
  }
  ["relation_count"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(18) "tiki.file.attach:1"
    [1]=>
    string(29) "tiki.wiki.linkeditem.invert:1"
  }
  ["title_initial"]=>
  string(1) "G"
  ["title_firstword"]=>
  string(7) "GRAZING"
  ["searchable"]=>
  string(1) "y"
  ["url"]=>
  string(10) "item469614"
  ["object_type"]=>
  string(11) "trackeritem"
  ["object_id"]=>
  string(6) "469614"
  ["contents"]=>
  string(8963) " GRAZ Mar 2020 3523 Hero  2020-03-02T21:10:18+00:00 GRAZ_Mar_2020_3523_hero.jpg    grazing The good life invades the BeltLine, Mamak offers vegan, the Harp spurts 40 intoxicants 29631  2020-03-02T21:08:27+00:00 GRAZING: Sketches of Spain jim.harris@creativeloafing.com Jim Harris Cliff Bostock  2020-03-02T21:08:27+00:00  Almost 20 years ago, on September 12, 2001, I was sitting in my favorite café in Seville, feeling very lonely after the horrifying events of the preceding day. The chef came out of the kitchen with a plate of ham and a newspaper. He sat at the table, telling me how happy he was to see me and asked how I was feeling. I told him I was numb. He opened the newspaper to show me page after page of the devastation that had occurred the day before at the World Trade Center in New York City. I was completely unnerved. Soon, other customers gathered around the table, looking at the pictures. Five or six of them sat down, and for the next few hours we grazed and talked about America. 


I wanted more than anything to move to Spain. That’s where, as I’ve often put it, I felt more like myself than anywhere else. An avalanche of obligations — that plus the Euro — made moving impossible, but Spain remains the place where my imagination still roves. For that reason, it’s always a bit difficult for me to visit a restaurant here that features Spanish food. In the same way immigrants are never quite content with restaurant versions of the food their mothers cooked back home, nostalgia makes me hypercritical.

For many years, it was virtually impossible to find Spanish food in Atlanta. Now, it’s not so hard. The latest restaurant to open is Buena Vida Tapas & Sol. Most of the Spanish venues here seem to emphasize the cuisine of Barcelona and the Basque region. Buena Vida draws its inspiration from southern Spain — from Ibiza off the eastern coast and from the interior region, Andalusia, where Seville is located. It’s where flamenco originated; where Moors, Christians, and Jews coexisted, especially aesthetically; and where the poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca lived. It’s hot as hell most of the year and that, I assume, explains “the sol” — the sun — of the restaurant’s name. 

I could hardly wait to visit. After two foiled attempts, I finally made it on a Sunday afternoon when, alas, the extensive tapas menu is radically abbreviated for a brunch menu featuring fusion entrees like shrimp and grits. There are a couple of appealing dishes made with morcilla (blood sausage), such as the hash with piquillo peppers, sweet potatoes, mushroom confit, poached eggs, and Hollandaise. Tempting, but I was there for tapas and did manage to find some classics that are also on the dinner menu. My favorite was the croquetas — four crunchy-fried orbs filled with a luxuriously creamy béchamel in which diced Serrano and Iberico ham were suspended. They were dotted with a smoky, slightly tangy pimentón (paprika) aioli. You’re probably going to be a bit annoyed that the ham isn’t more substantial, but understand that this dish originated to make use of scraps of meat. In any case, believe me, the ham’s taste will come forward after a few bites. I’m not sure why two varieties of ham are used — Iberico is the more exotic and costly — but it reminded me of the many plates of ham I ate at that café in Seville. The owner/chef knew the pedigree of every pig — where it was raised, what it was fed, how long it had lived. If you want a more generous taste of a variety of hams, you can order a plate of it along with cheeses at Buena Vida.

Another tapa that is ubiquitous is the Spanish-style tortilla — a wedge of a thick, browned omelet usually packed with creamy potatoes. Here, the kitchen uses a changing variety of vegetables in addition to the potatoes — namely red peppers, zucchini, onions, and kale during my visit. The omelet was topped with a spoonful of intensely aromatic aioli that drizzled into a pool on the chive-scattered plate. Next up was a serving of three piquillos stuffed with Georgia goat cheese. You’re going to immediately notice a fruity taste. That’s because the kitchen uses Arbequina olive oil from Catalonia, complemented by an acidic shot of lemon. The piquillos are crazily scattered with fried chickpeas — a really ingenious foil for the creamy textures. The dinner menu includes many vegetarian and vegan choices, including Beyondigas — albondigas (meatballs) made with Beyond Meat. There are also seafood and meat tapas including a Sevilla-style hot chicken. I mean …. Basta with the hot chicken! There are three major items for the table — a roasted chicken, a gigantic rib eye, and a whole fish. 

The talent behind the food here is executive chef Landon Thompson, a James Beard semifinalist who was chef de cuisine at Iberian Pig and executive chef at Cooks & Soldiers, both owed by the Castellucci Hospitality Group. Those two restaurants are without argument the best Spanish venues in the city. While Cooks & Soldiers has a much fancier menu, Buena Vida has a friendlier price point — surprising, given its location in the North and Line apartment complex which, according to its website, is very “refined” and exists “at the crossroads of everything that matters.” That means, of course, that it’s on the BeltLine and, like its neighbors, mimics the residential architecture of Soviet Russia. Buena Vida’s owners — Adam Berlin and Juan Sebastian Calle — have remedied that to some degree with an obviously Ibiza-inspired, pastel-drenched interior. Pink is everywhere, backgrounding some cool murals and pottery. At the front entrance there’s a neon greeting, in memory of Calle’s younger sister, which says “Te quiero mucho.” It’s that sincerity in the face of inevitable darkness that made me fall in love with southern Spain, and, while Buena Vida is still a work in progress, I’m looking forward to returning despite my estrangement from the place I belong.  (Buena Vida Tapas & Sol, 385 N. Angier Ave., 404-948-2312, buenavidatapas.com)

A NEW VEGAN OPTION: The people who own Mamak, the Malaysian favorite on Buford Highway, have opened Mamak Vegan Kitchen nearby in Chamblee. It’s next to their other new venue, Chom Chom Vietnamese Kitchen, which I wrote about last month. I visited recently with two friends and we had a meal that lived up to the quality of the meat-eater’s Mamak. 

I really wish I had the depth of character and self-discipline to become a vegetarian, but I do not. Because I know I can get up in the middle of the night and eat fried chicken, I have no desire to eat faux meat when I go to a vegetarian restaurant. I just want inventive vegetable dishes. Nonetheless, I felt compelled to try the rendang made (à la Buena Vida) with Beyond Meat at Mamak since my two companions stuck to undisguised vegetables and tofu. The original Mamak makes a superb rendang, and everything about the vegan version was as good on my first bite. But as I continued to eat, I felt like I was chewing a tenderized sponge. It had springy, meaty texture but it was too uniform. Likewise, all of the flavor at first was from the sauce, with nothing behind it like the natural flavor of meat. I could cope, but then there emerged an increasingly strong taste of, um, nothingness. I used to hate tofu, but tofu doesn’t pretend to be something else, and it doesn’t really deviate from the flavor it absorbs.

My friends’ choices were awesome. My favorite was the kari sayur, a slightly piquant curry of creamy eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, chunks of tough tofu, and especially delicious crispy okra. My other friend ordered chow kway teow — flat rice noodles tossed in a wok with tofu, bean sprouts, snow peas, and a chili paste. My miniscule problem with it was the presence of a bit too much soy sauce for my taste but, honestly, I have a low tolerance for it. My friend thought I was an idiot, but, really, I’m not. The menu’s picture was barely tinted with the sauce. (Mamak Vegan Kitchen, 2390 Chamblee Tucker Road, 678-909-8188, mamakvegan.com)

BUENO AND CHEAP: I admit that while I was eating at Buena Vida, I kept thinking about Eclipse di Luna, where I’ve frequently eaten lunch over the years. Its menu offers inexpensive tapas — artful classics and novelties — along with specials. Recently I had an easily fetishized sandwich of pork belly, arugula, tomatoes, and roasted jalapeno aioli on ciabatta. Plus they got paella. (Eclipse di Luna, 764 Miami Circle, 404-846-0449, eclipsediluna.net)    Cliff Bostock SWEET: Piquillos are sweet by nature and Buena Vida adds fruitiness with Arbequina olive oil from Catalonia, plus a tempering shot of lemon. The peppers are stuffed with herbed goat cheese and garnished with fried chickpeas.  0,0,10    grazing                             GRAZING: Sketches of Spain "
  ["score"]=>
  float(0)
  ["_index"]=>
  string(21) "atlantawiki_tiki_main"
  ["objectlink"]=>
  string(208) "GRAZING: Sketches of Spain"
  ["photos"]=>
  string(146) "GRAZ Mar 2020 3523 Hero

"
  ["desc"]=>
  string(95) "The good life invades the BeltLine, Mamak offers vegan, the Harp spurts 40 intoxicants"
  ["eventDate"]=>
  string(95) "The good life invades the BeltLine, Mamak offers vegan, the Harp spurts 40 intoxicants"
  ["noads"]=>
  string(10) "y"
}

Article

Monday March 2, 2020 04:08 pm EST
The good life invades the BeltLine, Mamak offers vegan, the Harp spurts 40 intoxicants | more...
array(86) {
  ["title"]=>
  string(58) "GRAZING: Five restaurants to please, repulse, and bore you"
  ["modification_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-02-04T20:23:14+00:00"
  ["creation_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-02-04T18:50:30+00:00"
  ["contributors"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(23) "will.cardwell@gmail.com"
    [1]=>
    string(30) "jim.harris@creativeloafing.com"
  }
  ["date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-02-04T18:45:54+00:00"
  ["tracker_status"]=>
  string(1) "o"
  ["tracker_id"]=>
  string(2) "11"
  ["view_permission"]=>
  string(13) "view_trackers"
  ["tracker_field_contentTitle"]=>
  string(58) "GRAZING: Five restaurants to please, repulse, and bore you"
  ["tracker_field_contentCreator"]=>
  string(23) "will.cardwell@gmail.com"
  ["tracker_field_contentCreator_text"]=>
  string(13) "Will Cardwell"
  ["tracker_field_contentByline"]=>
  string(13) "CLIFF BOSTOCK"
  ["tracker_field_contentByline_exact"]=>
  string(13) "CLIFF BOSTOCK"
  ["tracker_field_contentBylinePerson"]=>
  string(1) "0"
  ["tracker_field_description"]=>
  string(30) "First visit, first impressions"
  ["tracker_field_description_raw"]=>
  string(30) "First visit, first impressions"
  ["tracker_field_contentDate"]=>
  string(25) "2020-02-04T18:45:54+00:00"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage"]=>
  string(68) "Content:_:GRAZING: Five restaurants to please, repulse, and bore you"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_text"]=>
  string(8353) "I’ve been everywhere in the last month, so what follows is a random sampling of my peripatetic palate. These are descriptions of first visits, but there are nonetheless clear winners, losers, and mystifyingly boring oddities.

MTH Pizza: I’ve been eating with the same bunch of friends every Friday night for years. One of them lives in Kennesaw and is constantly pulling us northward to exotic locales like Smyrna. Recently, we visited this newish pizzeria from the super-talented Muss & Turner deli guys. The restaurant is decorated with graffiti art, including a warning that pineapple is not permitted in the kitchen. I’m down with that! The first “Hawaiian” pizza I ate was in Germany 25 years ago and I’ve mainly avoided the monstrosity ever since.

The pizzas here are a bit difficult to classify. They are not squishy-thin Neapolitan pies. Nor are they as thick as New York pies. So they have heft, but not so much that you can’t fold the slices. All pies are 16 inches and will feed four people, especially with starters. We ordered two of the eight house-composed pies, including a margherita and one called “the hell boy.” The latter featured the usual mozzarella, provolone, and tomato sauce, plus some hot chilies, pepperoni, and nduja, which is a spicy pork pate that originated in the Calabria region of Italy before becoming an obsession with many American foodies a few years back. I much preferred this spicy pizza to the margherita, which, in its simplicity, is regarded as the test of a pizzaiolo. Unfortunately, MTH’s tomato sauce completely overwhelmed the basil and the rather stingy portion of fresh mozzarella. I’d definitely order something different. You can construct your own pie, if none of the six other house-composed pies attracts you.


We also tried two starters. First was the well-executed if rather retro roasted cauliflower and broccoli with chili flakes, bread crumbs, and sultana grapes. I insisted we also order the burrata di bufala, a usually decadent orb of mozzarella that is supposed to be firm on the outside and lusciously creamy inside. I’m sorry to say that the burrata here came to our table ice-cold – it should be room temperature – and the interior was barely spreadable on the accompanying flat bread. I won’t completely condemn it because it came with a fig spread and figs make everything better. During our meal, by the way, a toddler began screaming with a marinara-curdling intensity that reminded me I am human and that this is a family restaurant, not a fussy pizzeria. It’s quite enjoyable. (1675 Cumberland Parkway, Smyrna, 678-424-1333, mthpizza.com.)

Street Bistro: This weird venture replaces Hong Kong Harbour, the 40-year-old restaurant that introduced many Midtown diners to authentic Cantonese cooking. For years, it was the place many local chefs went for late-night dining. Now, it looks like a nearly empty, gigantic hangar with a concrete floor and a comparatively tiny bar for ordering inexpensive chicken wings, burgers, sandwiches, fried seafood, and rice dishes. Some dishes have an Asian accent, like my Korean “burger” made with shaved slices of bulgogi. My friend ordered a straightforward plant-based burger. Honestly, both tasted okay, as did our sides of fries, but the restaurant needs focus, a coherent menu, and some kind of décor. Until then, you could smoke a ton of weed and go there around 11 p.m. to make selfies of yourself as a refugee inside a post-apocalyptic waystation on your way to a New World. (2184 Cheshire Bridge Rd., 404-325-7630, atlstreetbistro.com.)

Wonderkid: Speaking of post-apocalyptic refugees, this new diner in Reynoldstown could be an entry to a paradoxically retro New World. It is located in the 60-year-old, redeveloping Atlanta Dairies complex which inspires rosy memories of cheerful milkmen and cows with names like Bossy and Buttercup. (Could they be grazing along the nearby BeltLine?) Wonderkid itself recalls that same era’s crypto-fancy diners with plush pleather booths, moody lighting, and ice clinking in cocktails while Peggy Lee croons during evening hours. The place is the work of super-creative types like designer Smith Hanes, the owners of the Lawrence and Bonton, and the King of Pops bros.

Executive chef Justin Dixon’s menu is largely Waffle House on entheogens plucked from a garden on the BeltLine. There are two breakfast menus. One serves five dishes like avocado toast with smoked salmon, and eggs Benedict with biscuits and country ham, available 8-11 a.m. The other menu provides “breakfast all day,” including fried catfish and shrimp grits; poached eggs over braised, spicy tomatoes with a grilled-cheese sandwich; a pan-roasted sirloin steak with eggs and black-pepper gravy; omelettes; and a burger. We didn’t order any of these dishes but chose from the main menu of 11 heavier dishes. First up was a brilliant starter of three classic deviled eggs topped with razor-thin country ham and a long spike of pickled okra. Our entrees instantly reminded us of nachos. Mine included a falafel waffle (yes, that’s right) with capers, cheddar cheese, horseradish, and bone-marrow aioli. The second entree was steak tatare with hash browns, too much horseradish, capers, and odd bone-marrow aioli. Both were messy, without much form, but I also ordered a comical chicken pot pie full of root vegetables, black pepper gravy, and, of course, chicken. It was covered with a football-size balloon of puff pastry, which could cause more delight than a kid’s first birthday cake. Of the entrees, it was my favorite even though I doubt the pastry is house-made.

::::

There is also a bar inside that sells mad soft-serve ice cream treats from the King of Pops guys. We didn’t try that. We also missed the changing daily menu of specials. One such menu online was offering cassoulet, one of my favorite dishes on the planet. When you go, look for this menu which likely gives Chef Dixon extra room to riff on classics. (777 Memorial Dr., 404-331-0720, wonderkidatl.com.)

Chris’ Carribbean Bistro: I don’t get it. This Smyrna restaurant’s owner grew up in Jamaica, so you’d expect some spicy food. Au contraire. For the most part, the food here is unrelentingly bland, even though it’s mostly well prepared. I’m assuming this is a concession to the lame palates of Smyrna, but I don’t know. We had jerk wings, mango wings, eggrolls, and, my favorite of everything, crispy conch fritters. The restaurant is known for its jerk-chicken lasagna, which two of us ordered. It’s a deliriously seductive mess, and everything works – except for the tiny strands of shredded jerk chicken which were literally unrecognizable in both portions on our table. The best entrée was a rich seafood stew, while blackened snapper topped with shrimp and a butter sauce took second place. (4479 S Cobb Dr., Smyrna, 678-695-3133, chriscaribbean.com.)

Chom Chom Vietnamese Kitchen: It’s hard to believe yet another large Vietnamese restaurant has opened in Chamblee. This one is inside a towering white building with a big sign that says “Magnum” in gold letters, just like the condom maker’s logo. It’s a mystery. Chom Chom’s particular space was previously occupied by China Delight. It’s sparely decorated with heavily windowed green walls and a high ceiling with some quirky lighting. There are six varieties of spring and summer rolls to begin your meal, but I suggest you go for the fried soft-shell crab with tamarind sauce. We also liked the pork-filled fried wontons. I highly recommend the restaurant’s classic “shaking beef,” cubes of rare tenderloin served with the usual coarse salt and lime to amp up the already intense flavor. You’ll find plenty of bun (rice noodle) bowls, but I recommend you avoid the “Hanoi” one. It’s basically a deconstructed version with lemongrass pork sausage patties, pork belly, bean sprouts, garlic, noodles, and herbs plated separately with a shallow bowl of fish sauce. You mix and match, rather than toss it all together as you would the typical bowl. Too much work. The restaurant also has lunch specials and you will want to take home one of the splendid banh mi (sandwiches) for a 3 a.m. snack. (2390 Chamblee Tucker Rd., 470-375-3190, chomchomatl.com.) —CL­—"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_raw"]=>
  string(8828) "I’ve been everywhere in the last month, so what follows is a random sampling of my peripatetic palate. These are descriptions of first visits, but there are nonetheless clear winners, losers, and mystifyingly boring oddities.

__MTH Pizza:__ I’ve been eating with the same bunch of friends every Friday night for years. One of them lives in Kennesaw and is constantly pulling us northward to exotic locales like Smyrna. Recently, we visited this newish pizzeria from the super-talented Muss & Turner deli guys. The restaurant is decorated with graffiti art, including a warning that pineapple is not permitted in the kitchen. I’m down with that! The first “Hawaiian” pizza I ate was in Germany 25 years ago and I’ve mainly avoided the monstrosity ever since.

The pizzas here are a bit difficult to classify. They are not squishy-thin Neapolitan pies. Nor are they as thick as New York pies. So they have heft, but not so much that you can’t fold the slices. All pies are 16 inches and will feed four people, especially with starters. We ordered two of the eight house-composed pies, including a margherita and one called “the hell boy.” The latter featured the usual mozzarella, provolone, and tomato sauce, plus some hot chilies, pepperoni, and nduja, which is a spicy pork pate that originated in the Calabria region of Italy before becoming an obsession with many American foodies a few years back. I much preferred this spicy pizza to the margherita, which, in its simplicity, is regarded as the test of a pizzaiolo. Unfortunately, MTH’s tomato sauce completely overwhelmed the basil and the rather stingy portion of fresh mozzarella. I’d definitely order something different. You can construct your own pie, if none of the six other house-composed pies attracts you.

{BOX( float="left" bg="#66bfff" width="260px")}{img fileId="28514|28515|28516|28517|28519" responsive="y" stylebox="float: left; margin:5px;" desc="desc" width="200px" button="popup"}{BOX}{BOX( float="right" bg="#66bfff" width="260px")}{img fileId="28520|28521|28522|28523|28525" responsive="y" stylebox="float: left; margin:5px;" desc="desc" width="200px" button="popup"}{BOX}
We also tried two starters. First was the well-executed if rather retro roasted cauliflower and broccoli with chili flakes, bread crumbs, and sultana grapes. I insisted we also order the burrata di bufala, a usually decadent orb of mozzarella that is supposed to be firm on the outside and lusciously creamy inside. I’m sorry to say that the burrata here came to our table ice-cold – it should be room temperature – and the interior was barely spreadable on the accompanying flat bread. I won’t completely condemn it because it came with a fig spread and figs make everything better. During our meal, by the way, a toddler began screaming with a marinara-curdling intensity that reminded me I am human and that this is a family restaurant, not a fussy pizzeria. It’s quite enjoyable. (1675 Cumberland Parkway, Smyrna, 678-424-1333, mthpizza.com.)

__Street Bistro:__ This weird venture replaces Hong Kong Harbour, the 40-year-old restaurant that introduced many Midtown diners to authentic Cantonese cooking. For years, it was the place many local chefs went for late-night dining. Now, it looks like a nearly empty, gigantic hangar with a concrete floor and a comparatively tiny bar for ordering inexpensive chicken wings, burgers, sandwiches, fried seafood, and rice dishes. Some dishes have an Asian accent, like my Korean “burger” made with shaved slices of bulgogi. My friend ordered a straightforward plant-based burger. Honestly, both tasted okay, as did our sides of fries, but the restaurant needs focus, a coherent menu, and some kind of décor. Until then, you could smoke a ton of weed and go there around 11 p.m. to make selfies of yourself as a refugee inside a post-apocalyptic waystation on your way to a New World. (2184 Cheshire Bridge Rd., 404-325-7630, atlstreetbistro.com.)

__Wonderkid:__ Speaking of post-apocalyptic refugees, this new diner in Reynoldstown could be an entry to a paradoxically retro New World. It is located in the 60-year-old, redeveloping Atlanta Dairies complex which inspires rosy memories of cheerful milkmen and cows with names like Bossy and Buttercup. (Could they be grazing along the nearby BeltLine?) Wonderkid itself recalls that same era’s crypto-fancy diners with plush pleather booths, moody lighting, and ice clinking in cocktails while Peggy Lee croons during evening hours. The place is the work of super-creative types like designer Smith Hanes, the owners of the Lawrence and Bonton, and the King of Pops bros.

Executive chef Justin Dixon’s menu is largely Waffle House on entheogens plucked from a garden on the BeltLine. There are two breakfast menus. One serves five dishes like avocado toast with smoked salmon, and eggs Benedict with biscuits and country ham, available 8-11 a.m. The other menu provides “breakfast all day,” including fried catfish and shrimp grits; poached eggs over braised, spicy tomatoes with a grilled-cheese sandwich; a pan-roasted sirloin steak with eggs and black-pepper gravy; omelettes; and a burger. We didn’t order any of these dishes but chose from the main menu of 11 heavier dishes. First up was a brilliant starter of three classic deviled eggs topped with razor-thin country ham and a long spike of pickled okra. Our entrees instantly reminded us of nachos. Mine included a falafel waffle (yes, that’s right) with capers, cheddar cheese, horseradish, and bone-marrow aioli. The second entree was steak tatare with hash browns, too much horseradish, capers, and odd bone-marrow aioli. Both were messy, without much form, but I also ordered a comical chicken pot pie full of root vegetables, black pepper gravy, and, of course, chicken. It was covered with a football-size balloon of puff pastry, which could cause more delight than a kid’s first birthday cake. Of the entrees, it was my favorite even though I doubt the pastry is house-made.

::{img fileId="28524" desc="desc" styledesc="text-align: left;" max="800px"}::

There is also a bar inside that sells mad soft-serve ice cream treats from the King of Pops guys. We didn’t try that. We also missed the changing daily menu of specials. One such menu online was offering cassoulet, one of my favorite dishes on the planet. When you go, look for this menu which likely gives Chef Dixon extra room to riff on classics. (777 Memorial Dr., 404-331-0720, wonderkidatl.com.)

__Chris’ Carribbean Bistro:__ I don’t get it. This Smyrna restaurant’s owner grew up in Jamaica, so you’d expect some spicy food. Au contraire. For the most part, the food here is unrelentingly bland, even though it’s mostly well prepared. I’m assuming this is a concession to the lame palates of Smyrna, but I don’t know. We had jerk wings, mango wings, eggrolls, and, my favorite of everything, crispy conch fritters. The restaurant is known for its jerk-chicken lasagna, which two of us ordered. It’s a deliriously seductive mess, and everything works – except for the tiny strands of shredded jerk chicken which were literally unrecognizable in both portions on our table. The best entrée was a rich seafood stew, while blackened snapper topped with shrimp and a butter sauce took second place. (4479 S Cobb Dr., Smyrna, 678-695-3133, chriscaribbean.com.)

__Chom Chom Vietnamese Kitchen:__ It’s hard to believe yet another large Vietnamese restaurant has opened in Chamblee. This one is inside a towering white building with a big sign that says “Magnum” in gold letters, just like the condom maker’s logo. It’s a mystery. Chom Chom’s particular space was previously occupied by China Delight. It’s sparely decorated with heavily windowed green walls and a high ceiling with some quirky lighting. There are six varieties of spring and summer rolls to begin your meal, but I suggest you go for the fried soft-shell crab with tamarind sauce. We also liked the pork-filled fried wontons. I highly recommend the restaurant’s classic “shaking beef,” cubes of rare tenderloin served with the usual coarse salt and lime to amp up the already intense flavor. You’ll find plenty of bun (rice noodle) bowls, but I recommend you avoid the “Hanoi” one. It’s basically a deconstructed version with lemongrass pork sausage patties, pork belly, bean sprouts, garlic, noodles, and herbs plated separately with a shallow bowl of fish sauce. You mix and match, rather than toss it all together as you would the typical bowl. Too much work. The restaurant also has lunch specials and you will want to take home one of the splendid banh mi (sandwiches) for a 3 a.m. snack. (2390 Chamblee Tucker Rd., 470-375-3190, chomchomatl.com.) —__CL__­—"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_creation_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-02-04T18:50:30+00:00"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_modification_date"]=>
  string(25) "2020-02-04T20:23:00+00:00"
  ["tracker_field_photos"]=>
  string(5) "28518"
  ["tracker_field_contentPhotoCredit"]=>
  string(13) "Cliff Bostock"
  ["tracker_field_contentPhotoTitle"]=>
  string(100) "HE’S NOT THE JERK: The totally delicious jerkless jerk chicken lasagna at Chris' Caribbean Bistro."
  ["tracker_field_contentCategory"]=>
  array(4) {
    [0]=>
    string(3) "245"
    [1]=>
    string(3) "621"
    [2]=>
    string(3) "620"
    [3]=>
    string(3) "536"
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentCategory_text"]=>
  string(15) "245 621 620 536"
  ["tracker_field_contentControlCategory"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["tracker_field_scene"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(3) "743"
    [1]=>
    string(3) "749"
  }
  ["tracker_field_scene_text"]=>
  string(7) "743 749"
  ["tracker_field_contentNeighborhood"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentLocation"]=>
  string(5) "0,0,5"
  ["tracker_field_contentRelations_multi"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(0) ""
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentRelatedContent_multi"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(0) ""
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentRelatedWikiPages_multi"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(0) ""
  }
  ["tracker_field_contentFreeTags"]=>
  string(7) "grazing"
  ["tracker_field_contentBASEAuthorID"]=>
  int(0)
  ["tracker_field_section"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["language"]=>
  string(7) "unknown"
  ["attachments"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(5) "28518"
  }
  ["comment_count"]=>
  int(0)
  ["categories"]=>
  array(6) {
    [0]=>
    int(245)
    [1]=>
    int(536)
    [2]=>
    int(620)
    [3]=>
    int(621)
    [4]=>
    int(743)
    [5]=>
    int(749)
  }
  ["deep_categories"]=>
  array(8) {
    [0]=>
    int(242)
    [1]=>
    int(245)
    [2]=>
    int(536)
    [3]=>
    int(620)
    [4]=>
    int(621)
    [5]=>
    int(564)
    [6]=>
    int(743)
    [7]=>
    int(749)
  }
  ["categories_under_28"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_28"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_1"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_1"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_177"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_177"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_209"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_209"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_163"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_163"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_171"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_171"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_153"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_153"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["categories_under_242"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    int(245)
    [1]=>
    int(536)
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_242"]=>
  array(4) {
    [0]=>
    int(245)
    [1]=>
    int(536)
    [2]=>
    int(620)
    [3]=>
    int(621)
  }
  ["categories_under_564"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    int(743)
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_564"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    int(743)
    [1]=>
    int(749)
  }
  ["categories_under_1182"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["deep_categories_under_1182"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["freetags"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(3) "471"
  }
  ["freetags_text"]=>
  string(7) "grazing"
  ["geo_located"]=>
  string(1) "n"
  ["allowed_groups"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(6) "Admins"
    [1]=>
    string(9) "Anonymous"
  }
  ["allowed_users"]=>
  array(1) {
    [0]=>
    string(23) "will.cardwell@gmail.com"
  }
  ["relations"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(27) "tiki.file.attach:file:28518"
    [1]=>
    string(106) "tiki.wiki.linkeditem.invert:wiki page:Content:_:GRAZING: Five restaurants to please, repulse, and bore you"
  }
  ["relation_objects"]=>
  array(0) {
  }
  ["relation_types"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(16) "tiki.file.attach"
    [1]=>
    string(27) "tiki.wiki.linkeditem.invert"
  }
  ["relation_count"]=>
  array(2) {
    [0]=>
    string(18) "tiki.file.attach:1"
    [1]=>
    string(29) "tiki.wiki.linkeditem.invert:1"
  }
  ["title_initial"]=>
  string(1) "G"
  ["title_firstword"]=>
  string(7) "GRAZING"
  ["searchable"]=>
  string(1) "y"
  ["url"]=>
  string(10) "item468241"
  ["object_type"]=>
  string(11) "trackeritem"
  ["object_id"]=>
  string(6) "468241"
  ["contents"]=>
  string(8843) " GRAZ 3209  2020-02-04T19:15:14+00:00 GRAZ_3209.jpg    grazing First visit, first impressions 28518  2020-02-04T18:45:54+00:00 GRAZING: Five restaurants to please, repulse, and bore you will.cardwell@gmail.com Will Cardwell CLIFF BOSTOCK  2020-02-04T18:45:54+00:00  I’ve been everywhere in the last month, so what follows is a random sampling of my peripatetic palate. These are descriptions of first visits, but there are nonetheless clear winners, losers, and mystifyingly boring oddities.

MTH Pizza: I’ve been eating with the same bunch of friends every Friday night for years. One of them lives in Kennesaw and is constantly pulling us northward to exotic locales like Smyrna. Recently, we visited this newish pizzeria from the super-talented Muss & Turner deli guys. The restaurant is decorated with graffiti art, including a warning that pineapple is not permitted in the kitchen. I’m down with that! The first “Hawaiian” pizza I ate was in Germany 25 years ago and I’ve mainly avoided the monstrosity ever since.

The pizzas here are a bit difficult to classify. They are not squishy-thin Neapolitan pies. Nor are they as thick as New York pies. So they have heft, but not so much that you can’t fold the slices. All pies are 16 inches and will feed four people, especially with starters. We ordered two of the eight house-composed pies, including a margherita and one called “the hell boy.” The latter featured the usual mozzarella, provolone, and tomato sauce, plus some hot chilies, pepperoni, and nduja, which is a spicy pork pate that originated in the Calabria region of Italy before becoming an obsession with many American foodies a few years back. I much preferred this spicy pizza to the margherita, which, in its simplicity, is regarded as the test of a pizzaiolo. Unfortunately, MTH’s tomato sauce completely overwhelmed the basil and the rather stingy portion of fresh mozzarella. I’d definitely order something different. You can construct your own pie, if none of the six other house-composed pies attracts you.


We also tried two starters. First was the well-executed if rather retro roasted cauliflower and broccoli with chili flakes, bread crumbs, and sultana grapes. I insisted we also order the burrata di bufala, a usually decadent orb of mozzarella that is supposed to be firm on the outside and lusciously creamy inside. I’m sorry to say that the burrata here came to our table ice-cold – it should be room temperature – and the interior was barely spreadable on the accompanying flat bread. I won’t completely condemn it because it came with a fig spread and figs make everything better. During our meal, by the way, a toddler began screaming with a marinara-curdling intensity that reminded me I am human and that this is a family restaurant, not a fussy pizzeria. It’s quite enjoyable. (1675 Cumberland Parkway, Smyrna, 678-424-1333, mthpizza.com.)

Street Bistro: This weird venture replaces Hong Kong Harbour, the 40-year-old restaurant that introduced many Midtown diners to authentic Cantonese cooking. For years, it was the place many local chefs went for late-night dining. Now, it looks like a nearly empty, gigantic hangar with a concrete floor and a comparatively tiny bar for ordering inexpensive chicken wings, burgers, sandwiches, fried seafood, and rice dishes. Some dishes have an Asian accent, like my Korean “burger” made with shaved slices of bulgogi. My friend ordered a straightforward plant-based burger. Honestly, both tasted okay, as did our sides of fries, but the restaurant needs focus, a coherent menu, and some kind of décor. Until then, you could smoke a ton of weed and go there around 11 p.m. to make selfies of yourself as a refugee inside a post-apocalyptic waystation on your way to a New World. (2184 Cheshire Bridge Rd., 404-325-7630, atlstreetbistro.com.)

Wonderkid: Speaking of post-apocalyptic refugees, this new diner in Reynoldstown could be an entry to a paradoxically retro New World. It is located in the 60-year-old, redeveloping Atlanta Dairies complex which inspires rosy memories of cheerful milkmen and cows with names like Bossy and Buttercup. (Could they be grazing along the nearby BeltLine?) Wonderkid itself recalls that same era’s crypto-fancy diners with plush pleather booths, moody lighting, and ice clinking in cocktails while Peggy Lee croons during evening hours. The place is the work of super-creative types like designer Smith Hanes, the owners of the Lawrence and Bonton, and the King of Pops bros.

Executive chef Justin Dixon’s menu is largely Waffle House on entheogens plucked from a garden on the BeltLine. There are two breakfast menus. One serves five dishes like avocado toast with smoked salmon, and eggs Benedict with biscuits and country ham, available 8-11 a.m. The other menu provides “breakfast all day,” including fried catfish and shrimp grits; poached eggs over braised, spicy tomatoes with a grilled-cheese sandwich; a pan-roasted sirloin steak with eggs and black-pepper gravy; omelettes; and a burger. We didn’t order any of these dishes but chose from the main menu of 11 heavier dishes. First up was a brilliant starter of three classic deviled eggs topped with razor-thin country ham and a long spike of pickled okra. Our entrees instantly reminded us of nachos. Mine included a falafel waffle (yes, that’s right) with capers, cheddar cheese, horseradish, and bone-marrow aioli. The second entree was steak tatare with hash browns, too much horseradish, capers, and odd bone-marrow aioli. Both were messy, without much form, but I also ordered a comical chicken pot pie full of root vegetables, black pepper gravy, and, of course, chicken. It was covered with a football-size balloon of puff pastry, which could cause more delight than a kid’s first birthday cake. Of the entrees, it was my favorite even though I doubt the pastry is house-made.

::::

There is also a bar inside that sells mad soft-serve ice cream treats from the King of Pops guys. We didn’t try that. We also missed the changing daily menu of specials. One such menu online was offering cassoulet, one of my favorite dishes on the planet. When you go, look for this menu which likely gives Chef Dixon extra room to riff on classics. (777 Memorial Dr., 404-331-0720, wonderkidatl.com.)

Chris’ Carribbean Bistro: I don’t get it. This Smyrna restaurant’s owner grew up in Jamaica, so you’d expect some spicy food. Au contraire. For the most part, the food here is unrelentingly bland, even though it’s mostly well prepared. I’m assuming this is a concession to the lame palates of Smyrna, but I don’t know. We had jerk wings, mango wings, eggrolls, and, my favorite of everything, crispy conch fritters. The restaurant is known for its jerk-chicken lasagna, which two of us ordered. It’s a deliriously seductive mess, and everything works – except for the tiny strands of shredded jerk chicken which were literally unrecognizable in both portions on our table. The best entrée was a rich seafood stew, while blackened snapper topped with shrimp and a butter sauce took second place. (4479 S Cobb Dr., Smyrna, 678-695-3133, chriscaribbean.com.)

Chom Chom Vietnamese Kitchen: It’s hard to believe yet another large Vietnamese restaurant has opened in Chamblee. This one is inside a towering white building with a big sign that says “Magnum” in gold letters, just like the condom maker’s logo. It’s a mystery. Chom Chom’s particular space was previously occupied by China Delight. It’s sparely decorated with heavily windowed green walls and a high ceiling with some quirky lighting. There are six varieties of spring and summer rolls to begin your meal, but I suggest you go for the fried soft-shell crab with tamarind sauce. We also liked the pork-filled fried wontons. I highly recommend the restaurant’s classic “shaking beef,” cubes of rare tenderloin served with the usual coarse salt and lime to amp up the already intense flavor. You’ll find plenty of bun (rice noodle) bowls, but I recommend you avoid the “Hanoi” one. It’s basically a deconstructed version with lemongrass pork sausage patties, pork belly, bean sprouts, garlic, noodles, and herbs plated separately with a shallow bowl of fish sauce. You mix and match, rather than toss it all together as you would the typical bowl. Too much work. The restaurant also has lunch specials and you will want to take home one of the splendid banh mi (sandwiches) for a 3 a.m. snack. (2390 Chamblee Tucker Rd., 470-375-3190, chomchomatl.com.) —CL­—    Cliff Bostock HE’S NOT THE JERK: The totally delicious jerkless jerk chicken lasagna at Chris' Caribbean Bistro.  0,0,5    grazing                             GRAZING: Five restaurants to please, repulse, and bore you "
  ["score"]=>
  float(0)
  ["_index"]=>
  string(21) "atlantawiki_tiki_main"
  ["objectlink"]=>
  string(240) "GRAZING: Five restaurants to please, repulse, and bore you"
  ["photos"]=>
  string(132) "GRAZ 3209

"
  ["desc"]=>
  string(39) "First visit, first impressions"
  ["eventDate"]=>
  string(39) "First visit, first impressions"
  ["noads"]=>
  string(10) "y"
}

Article

Tuesday February 4, 2020 01:45 pm EST
First visit, first impressions | more...
Search for more by Cliff Bostock