——————————————————————————————Tuesday Dinner: Empire State South——————————————————————————————

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Ever since receiving Hugh Acheson’s cookbook, A New Turn in the South, a couple of months back as a gift, the thought of heading down to Georgia to experience one of his restaurants has been fresh in my mind. Luckily, one of my closest childhood friends, Matt Lipkins, is a musician whose band, The Shadowboxers is based in Atlanta, and Chef Acheson opened his newest restaurant, Empire State South downtown in that very city. Hugh Acheson is known for his modern approach to Southern Cuisine, using French and Italian culinary technique and applying it to the local ingredients and traditions. ESS is no different. We kicked it off with a rye based cocktail, a spiced up Sazerac, mixed with Aperol, orange bitters, antica and sugar, and an impeccable Charcuterie plate, possibly the best part of the meal. Five meats — bologna, terrine and a chicken liver pate in a small ball jar — accompanied by freshly baked bread, three homemade mustards and an assortment of pickled veggies. The waitress picked the rest, sending a plethora of small plates: Farm Egg w/ Crispy Rice & Bologna (pictured above), Prime Steak Tartare (pictured below), Crisp Pork Belly, Crisp Sweetbreads, Octopus & Pork Sausages, Foie Gras Ravioli, and a light Vegetable dish to cap it off. The food was paired with a gin cocktail w/ rosewater, and two Uinta Wylde Pale Ale’s, both fantastic for the heavy food we were ingesting. For dessert, we got a taste of the “Not Carrot Cake” made with Parsnip, instead of carrot, and two perfect double espressos to sober us up for the evening’s rehearsal. The Shadowboxers were gearing up to play a big show on the final day of my trip, and I was content be a spectator.
I must give a shout out to Jarrett Stieber, ESS’s brilliant butcher, whose hospitality and charcuterie plate were unprecedented. Thank you for showing us what Atlanta food is all about. Hotlanta, as it’s called may not be know for its food, but this was a spectacular start of two days saturated with innovative Southern cuisine.


————————————————————————————————-Wednesday Lunch: The Optimist————————————————————————————————-

After a good night’s digestion, and a morning coffee, Matt and I headed to the Westside of Atlanta to try out The Optimist recently named Esquire’s “Best New Restaurant of the Year.” Known for its seafood, (from elegant wood roasted whole fish to beach-food classics) and beautiful restaurant design (a sprawling 330 seater in a converted warehouse,) the Optimist was quite perfect for a late lunch. We arrived right before lunch service ended, sat at the bar, and ordered up some beach classics, kicked up a notch: A bowl of seafood gumbo, with just the right spice, a fried oyster sandwich w/ homemade mayo and a blackened catfish sandwich topped with some pickled vegetables and a delicious lemon-garlic aioli. The bartender even treated us to a tasting of a few white wines, Rieslings, an AlbariƱo and a Chenin Blanc. Sometimes there is nothing better than camping out at the bar and this one was exceptionally nice. As a testament to the restaurant’s beauty, there were a couple of art school students photographing the space for their college’s design magazine.


———————————————————————————Wednesday Afternoon Sweets: King of Pops———————————————————————————-

King of Pops is an artisanal ice pop concept, driving and wheeling its scrumptious pops around Atlanta in trucks and carts. For those in the northeast that know their counterpart, People’s Pop based in New York City, pivoted against each other, I believe the Southern pop wins this civil war. Started by three brothers inspired by the paleta fruit pops of Central America, their mission is “to provide an ecologically responsible, fresh, all natural frozen treat in a fun neighborhood environment.” And they have done just that. In fact we stumbled upon their cart at the local gas station in Poncey-Highland. The woman working the cart took us through the daily changing options, and I settled on their mainstay Chocolate Sea Salt pop. I also got a taste of the Nectarine Cobbler and the Tangerine Rosewater which were fantastic flavors. Their pops are of the perfect consistency, tasting like ice cream on a stick, and are incredibly fresh. Word on the street is that they are expanding shortly further north, but if you are in Atlanta, be sure to seek out the King of Pops.

——————————————————————————————–Wednesday Dinner: A Family Meal——————————————————————————————–

Sometimes, a home cooked meal is necessary. When I am off from work, cooking converts my stress into food, relaxing my mind by keeping my hands occupied with utensils. In return for their hospitality, I put together a menu, simple, seasonal, and drinks to pair for the musicians and their guests. The evening’s menu consisted of a flatbread topped with figs and goat cheese; a Moroccan spiced stew filled with squash, potatoes, chickpeas and tomatoes; chicken thighs roasted with rosemary and butter; roasted cumin spiced carrots and a pomegranate tabuli. To pair, I bought Allagash Curieux, an incredible microbrewed beer from Portland, Maine, where they take a Tripel Ale and age it in Jim Bean barrels for 8 months, giving it subtle vanilla notes and hints of bourbon. At 11% ABV, we were well on our way.

——————————————————————————————–Thursday Brunch: Sun In My Belly——————————————————————————————–

According to Matt, Atlanta is famous for brunch, and we all know that after a long night, brunch is just what the doctor has ordered. We hopped in the car, because you must drive everywhere, and headed to East Atlanta, to a neighborhood cafe, known for its brunch. The food and space are as cheerful and delicious as the name, which apparently comes from a Pablo Picasso quote–when asked what sprouted his creativity, he responded with “The Sun In My Belly”. We sat for a while, discussing food and music, frequent topics of conversation, drank strong coffee and ate an excellent duo of sweet and savory breakfast specialties. First, “The Hangover”, as it was called: Fried eggs over a homemade biscuit, topped with cheddar cheese, avocado, sausage & Sriracha sauce with a side of smothered potatoes. Second, Challah French toast, which could have been a bit softer and eggier, stuffed with a delicious honeyed ricotta cheese and topped with fresh berries and maple syrup. This restaurant was one of the most relaxing places to hang out, eat and talk. Their Southern hospitality took the pace of life down a notch, and comfort exuded from the large windows allowing sun to stimulate my mind, and my belly.

————————————————————————————Thursday Night Feast: Cakes & Ale————————————————————————————

Chef Billy Allin elevated Atlanta’s food game again, when he moved, re-opened and redesigned his restaurant, Cakes & Ale earlier this year. This restaurant ranked in Bon Appetit’s “Top Ten New Restaurants of the Year” in both 2009 when it first opened and in 2012 when it re-opened a couple of blocks away in downtown Decatur, a neighborhood just beyond the Atlanta city limits. Known for his rustic, ingredient driven Southern cooking, Chef Allin personally greeted us at the table and ran us through the menu. He explained that an ideal meal at Cakes & Ale was to eat as a family, sharing items across the menu, broken into snacks, salads, small pasta plates, entrees and their famous large proteins cooked in a wood fire oven. From the complex autumn cocktail we had at the start, named “Project Snoeshow”–made up of bourbon, ruby port, cointreau, allspice dram & angostura bitters–to the simple Rib Eye steak we finished with, the meal was one of the best I have had in years. In between we sampled the Arancini (Sicilian rice balls), Rabbit Loin Ragu, Buratta salad and a whole roasted North Carolina Trout.
What gives me pleasure in food is paying tribute to the integrity of the ingredients, seasoning them correctly and cooking them to perfection. I believe Chef Billy Allin does exactly that, and I thank him for treating The Shadowboxers, their families and I to a spectacular meal, and a delicious end to 48 hours of eating, drinking and good listening.

P.S. The Shadowboxer’s first LP will be released on January 22nd with Vanguard Records so please look out for that and listen to their indie pop music filled with incredible vocal harmonies, like “Lover’s in Rome” below:  

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