Wow! What an amazing weekend. Kyle and I just got back from the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival. Kyle was invited to present dishes in the tasting tents on two days of the 3 day event.
On Friday he represented the Georgia Growers Association by preparing a dish using only local produce. He decided to do a composition containing watermelon dressed lightly in white balsamic vinegar and olive oil, fresh blueberries, candied pecans and vidalia onion soubis. It was a huge hit, especially because most of the food at the event was heavy and meat driven. The pecans were grown in Georgia, shipped with DC to be candied then driven down with us on a 10 hour car ride. They were delicious and worth the effort!
On Sunday Kyle participated in the Fried Chicken Trail. He and 5 other chefs presented their best fried chicken. Kyle did Buttermilk Fried Chicken served with buttered pecans, crispy smoked chicken skin and a freshly fried brioche doughnut glazed in maple chicken jus. It was by far the most complicated of the dishes at the event. Not only were we crazy enough to attempt to fry 2 different items on our dish, they also “couldn’t find” our marinated chicken until 10 minutes after the event started. We were doomed from the start. Luckily, Southern Hospitality is a real thing and the amazingly talented and sweet chef from Magnolias in Charleston, SC jumped over to help me plate up our dishes. It was hard work but it was worth it because people really loved the dish. We went through about 650 portions. And yes, I had to make 650 doughnuts…
But enough about us, I want to talk about our food experience in Atlanta. Having never been to Atlanta I wasn’t sure what to expect. I honestly didn’t expect much simply because I hadn’t heard much. Boy was I pleasantly surprised. I had some amazing meals while I was there. Abattoir was possibly one of the top 20 meals I have ever had… That is saying a lot since I’ve been eating out at great restaurants for the last 6 years. Rumor has it that the chef has just taken over. I was with a group of 6 and we ordered all the snacks, cold appetizers and hot appetizers. About 18 dishes in all. Some standouts include an octopus hot dog which was a cased sausage made from octopus, pork and chicken (I think). It was AMAZING. It had a beautiful texture, full octopus flavor and was served on a nicely toasted roll with condiments that made the flavor reminiscent of taco yaki. The pork rind came to the table “still talking to us” as the waiter put it. They were giant pillows of sizzling fried pork skin. They were simple but by far the most delicate texuture I’ve ever had. The charcuterie board had many lovely components. My least favorite was the prosciutto powder, which had a little more funk than I like but the blood sausage, which was still a brilliant red, was very impressive. Fried chickpeas, something very easy to make and usually good but not great, were made special with a cumin-salt seasoning that really had great flavor. My only regret was that we didn’t get back for entrees before we left.
Other notable meals were Fox Bros BBQ, where we had our first meal in Atlanta. Some of the local chefs told me there was much better BBQ at other shops but those pork ribs were the juiciest, most perfectly smoked and cooked ribs I have ever had. Maybe it was an extra “on” day in the kitchen but I’m sure glad we ate there. The braised collards were great too. Holeman and Finch was another knock out. The pan fried sweetbreads with bok choy and sorghum glaze was outstanding. Rabbit livers, carbonara and tartare were other standouts. We got the infamous burger and it was really really good but I think the chef is putting out some really great stuff and the burger is good but not as good as his more creative dishes. Although if I were sitting at the bar sipping cocktails for a few hours and then got that burger, I’d be one happy customer!
Empire State South wins for best hospitality. They stayed open extra late every night serving really well executed cocktails to loud, and at times obnoxious, chefs. I can’t even count the number of Pimm’s Cups I had over the course of 3 days. And we stopped in for a quick (and I mean 45 minutes quick) lunch on Friday and even though they were packed we got our food fast and perfect. Everything was very very good but the big standout was the most simple thing on the table. There was a side of rice and red beans that was so perfect beyond belief it blew my mind… And Kyle’s too. I absolutely LOVE when something that is normally not the star of the show jumps out at you like that. Attention to the little details like that are what separate a chef from a great chef.
I wish I had taken more pictures but I was so busy enjoying the food (and company) I just snapped quick shots with my phone. Atlanta, thanks for an amazing weekend! Can’t wait to see you next year.