Country Ham at the Silver Skillet

There are certain things I haven’t eaten in Atlanta yet that I must eat before I leave for the Big Apple. Among them are fried chicken at this famous downtown place (I forget the name), real BBQ somewhere OTP (loyal site readers will know what that means), and–of course–country ham at the Silver Skillet.

Today I checked off #3, after a bomb scare in the law school parking lot sent me scurrying away from Jewish Law. And what better thing to eat when scurrying away from Jewish Law than ham!

Here’s what a country ham plate at the Silver Skillet looks like:

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You have your eggs, your grits, your red eye gravy, your biscuit and–of course–your ham.

I was prepared to be disgusted (I really have never eaten ham in my entire life; again, a cultural thing) but found it to be surprisingly tasty (though a tad bit too salty). I could see what all the fuss was about, though I seriously worry over the health of anyone who eats this on a regular basis. The whole thing was a reasonable $7.00 and it kept me stuffed ’til dinner time.

Iris (Atlanta)

Fine dining usually requires the following:

1) Money;

2) Companionship;

3) An occassion for which to spend (1) and invite (2).

Tonight’s (3) was celebrating my excting non-food related news from earlier in the week. Tonight’s (2) was, of course, Lauren. And tonight’s (1) was generously donated–without their knoweldge, really–by mom and dad. I mean, I’m sure they’d approve: how often does one have a (3) to celebrate? It was all (4) a good cause.

Originally, I had suggested Bacchanalia because that’s one of Atlanta’s top restaurants, if not the very top. But they were booked. And I was kind of glad: when I was there with my parents several years ago, we were a bit underwhelmed.

Then I tried Bacchanalia’s sister restaurant, The Floataway Cafe, which is surely one of my favorite Atlanta fine dining spots. They were booked too.

Frustrated, I turned to the John Kessler page at the Access Atlanta website and read through his reviews. It was difficult because you couldn’t search by rating; so I had to read through a bunch of places I never heard of, only to find Kessler’s disapproval. Then I stumbled upon Iris–a place I had been to one time before and enjoyed–and decided it was the perfect spot to go. Not too dressy, not too formal, but quality 2-star food. In East Atlanta.

Have I told you about East Atlanta yet? It’s like Atlanta’s answer to Greenwich Village. Only much, much smaller. And near a prison.

Lauren and I gussied ourselves up. Well, first, she wanted my fashion approval. She came into my room with a really funky, shiny orange skirt and a funky, black and white top.

“What do you think?” she said.

“Love the skirt,” I said. “Love the top. But they don’t go together.”

Wounded, she exited and returned, now with a denim skirt.

“Better,” I said. “Anything else?”

Hissing, she exited once more and returned with a black skirt.

“Excellent!” I said.

“Ladeeda,” she replied.

I, of course, looked perfect in my colorful button down shirt and snazzy jeans. We boarded my car and began the journey out east. We listened to my newly purchased “Purple Rain” CD.

“Dig if you will the picture,” sings Prince, “of you and I engaged in a kiss.”

“I dig it,” says Lauren, and begins making out with the CD case.

Finally, we arrive at Iris in funky East Atlanta. The valet takes our keys and we make our way to the door.

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“Table for two,” I say. “Under Gourmet. Amateur.”

“Ah, very good sir,” says the host. “Right this way.”

He leads us to a lovely area outside:

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We look at our menus:

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We order wine:

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[“Lauren,” I yell just now. “What kind of wine did we have at dinner?” She yells from the other room:

“Starts with a C… C-L-E-V-N-E?” Hmmm. “OK!” I say. “That’ll do!”]

The waiter suggests an appetizer of Kobe beef with a Mongolian BBQ sauce. “So tender, it’ll fall off the bone.” We order it:

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So tender it falls off the bone. “Mmm,” says Lauren. “This is delicious.”

Next, I indulged and ordered a lobster bisque while Lauren went for the less indulgent salad.

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I actually thought the lobster bisque was wonderful. Usually it’s so creamy that you feel like you’re drinking from an udder. This one was perfect. With tons of flavor. Among the best I’ve ever had.

And now for the entrees. The waiter warned me. I didn’t heed his advice. You see, on the menu were many entrees I was eager to try. The one that seemed most daring, most exciting for someone who has culinary ambitions beyond steak and potatoes, was the Venison Osso Bucco.

“It’s great,” said the waiter, “but really heavy for this kind of weather.”

Fool! I thought. Nothing’s too heavy for moi! But damn, he was right.

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It was delicious but so so rich and so so heavy. I loved all the condiments: there was a side of pineapple / apple compote. And sweet potato crisps. And a little fork to eat the marrow. I didn’t really eat the marrow because I was so full.

But I ate the whole thing, otherwise. “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing,” I said.

Lauren wisely chose the free-form ravioli with halibut.

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If it doesn’t look like ravioli, that’s because it’s not. It’s free form. But Lauren loved it.

And, for whatever reason, it seemed like a good idea to get dessert. I don’t know how I did it, but I did it.

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Apple crisp. Vanilla ice cream. Delicious. But deadly.

I tumbled out of my chair face down on the ground. Lauren got my feet, the waiter got my head.

“Roll him,” instructed Lauren.

They rolled me to the car.

“Fork lift!” yelled the waiter.

A large crane descended.

“Up she goes!” he laughed.

“I’m a he,” I mumbled.

“Yes you are,” said Lauren, taking the keys.

“Thank you,” she told the waiter.

She closed both doors and started the car.

“Even doves have pride,” instructed Prince.

“I’m sooo full,” I said.

“Next time,” said Lauren, “listen to the waiter.”

Agnes & Muriel’s (Atlanta)

Since I’ll be leaving Atlanta soon, I think it’s important that I leave behind a legacy of places to eat. Think of the millions of followers who will one day visit the city of my origin–like Avon historians visiting Stratford–without a guide as to where to go, what to do, where to chow down. I owe a duty to my far-flung readers–the Malaysians, the Parisians, and those Outside the Perimeter*–to point them on a path of gastronomical fulfillment; to paint my fair city with its many flavorful colors. I owe my readers a Top 10 Atlanta list and God help me if I don’t include Agnes and Muriel’s.

Look, I’ll be the first to admit: it’s not for everyone. I know people who say: “I had a bad experience at Agnes and Muriels.” I even relate to them because I too had a bad experience at Agnes and Muriels (food poisoning from the pot roast, but let’s not go there). Yet, when I’m shivering in some New York hovel, pining for my days below the Mason Dixon line, I’ll be craving not Seeger’s eggshell-stuffed caviar custard or the Ritz-Carlton’s shotglass oysters. I’ll be pining for a warm little hideaway; a kitschy house with Barbie Dolls, 50s television sets and flamboyant waiters. I’ll be pining for:

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Let’s start with the atmosphere. There is nothing like it—unless you live in a trailer park shrine to Howdy Doody; or MGM Studio’s Prime Time Cafe. (But even that pales in comparison). Let’s start with the exterior. Look how cute this house is:

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Don’t you want to go inside? Notice the inflatable bunny head inside the tree? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Check out this bizarre creation at the hostess stand:

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Or this fabulous coffee-cup chandelier:

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Do you see why I love this place? It’s kitsch! It’s fun! It’s Agnes and Muriels! And check out the babes:

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I think I’ve made my point. But now you’re probably wondering: “Ok, Adam, you showed us the decor; how’s the food?”

The food is fun! It’s kitsch! It’s yummy!

For starters, Lauren and I shared a plate of Fried Green Tomatoes:

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They were terrific, with some kind of smoked chili sauce and feta cheese. The tomatoes had lots of flavor.

Then for my entree: boneless fried chicken breasts, sweet potato fries, and noodle kugel.

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This food is comforting and so bad for you. And fusion in a very delicious way: Southern cooking by way of Liberace. You gotta love it.

AGNES AND MURIELS HAS BEEN DECLARED AN AMATEUR GOURMET ATLANTA TOP TEN HOT SPOT.

* For those not familiar with the parlance, “Outside The Perimeter” denotes anyone who lives outside of Atlanta proper. Its meaning, though, is rather derisive: it suggests inferior education, significant tooth decay and a son named Bubba. Living Outside the Perimeter (OTP), to be honest, means you’re a hick.

Oh Babbo, My Babbo: An Epic Poem

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And then the bread of crusty crust

sparking such debate

Lisa saying: “Eh, it’s ok”

And me saying: “It’s great!”

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The waitress steered us brave and clear

through a menu tough and tricky;

A pasta here, an entree there

and “God, not that, it’s icky!”

Beginning with an autumn salad,

Lisa declared: “It’s warm!”

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Mint Love Letters graced my plate;

Their function quashed their form.

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And then the entrees landed fast

our mouths screamed out: “Oh Looky!”

Lisa had the pumpkin lune

complete with grated cookie.

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I, in turn, enjoyed the duck

a full-on flavor attack;

when the waitress asked: “How’s everything here?”

I could only answer: “Quack, quack!”

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Our table cleared, we took a leap

two desserts that we would order:

chocolate hazelnut for Lisa

with a caramel chocolate border.

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I, of course, partook of lemon

crostini to be exact;

so tart, so sweet, my soul complete:

our dinner’s final act.

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Blissful was our countenance,

our faith in life all mended;

We left on wings of glory

Forsooth! My New York trip has ended.

Babbo Bathroom Review

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Fittingly, the last in our series of New York Bathroom Reviews belongs to the best: the Babbo bathroom was a bathroom-goers treat. Decorative flowers, a lovely smell, and a unique, quirky space: the Babbo bathroom has it all. There are very few bathrooms that evoke a desire to stay, and part of me–completing my task–seriously considered taking up residence right there atop the toilet. But alas, I returned to Lisa, and completed our meal. A little piece of my heart stayed behind, though. I should probably see a doctor about that.

Grade: A+

It’s ‘Wichcraaaaaaaft!

I carry a pocket Moleskin notepook in, of all places, my pocket. Matisse and Hemingway did too. At least that’s what it said on the Moleskin advertising material.

I have had my Moleskin notebook for over a year now. This is rather disappointing since my Moleskin notebook is filled with my ideas. Since the book has only like 100 or so pages, that means I’ve only had 100 or so pages worth of ideas in the course of a year. And I write really really big. Inspiration, therefore, strikes only rarely.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I occasionally use my Moleskin–only occasionally!–for trivial, of-the-moment data. No, not shopping lists (necessarily). But last time I came to New York, I displaced my ideas for a page of famous New York dining spots for me to check out. Some of them I dug up on Chowhound.com and others are very well known. One of those places was Craft.

Craft is a very famous, rather challenging fine dining establishment on 19th street. I say challenging because my parents went to Craft with their friends and were so challenged that they left after their appetizers and went somewhere else.

I walked by there today and checked out the menu. It was challenging and expensive and I was only looking for lunch.

Then I peeked in next door at CraftBar. This is a more laid back little sister of Craft, but still it looked a little intimidating. I didn’t want to sit at a fancy bar for lunch.

Giving up, I set my heart on a bagel at Ess-A-Bagel on 1st–a far walk. And yet as I started my walk, I noticed a third Craft establishment: ‘Wichcraft.

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I stuck my head in. Pretentious? No. Challenging? No. Actually, it was rather welcoming.

They had a nice selection of fancy sandwiches, soups and breakfast foods. The prices were comparable to Alon’s Bakery in Atlanta which, admittedly, is a bit pricey but Alon’s is not Craft-affiliated. And seeing as Tom Collichio (the famous Craft chef) is such a well-respected food figure, I figured I’d give it a shot.

I went with the soup and sandwich combo. Soup choices were: tomato or lentil. I went with tomato. Sandwich choices were a bit more challenging: proscuttio, a weird tuna one and another weird one. I went with proscuttio

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The soup was tasty, though it had a certain Old World taste I couldn’t quite place. The festering finger of Christopher Columbus? The sandwich was good–it tasted of quality, though it wasn’t something I would pine for one day in a rocking chair in my nursing home. But, all in all, I’m glad I went.

Amma (New York)

If you are a restaurant and you want to piss me off, here is what you should do. Send a waiter over to my table and have him say: “Would you like sparkling or flat water tonight?” Then, when me and my companions say “flat,” have the waiter return with a large bottle of water. Have him pour water until our glasses are full and then, when the bottle is empty, have him open a new one and continue filling our glasses. Then, to guild the lily, have him charge us $12 on the bill for two full bottles of what may as well have been tap water.

This was our experience tonight at Amma, an otherwise very good, very expensive Indian restaurant on 51st between 2nd and 3rd.

First, I met up with Ricky and Lisa outside Lisa’s office next to Radio City Music Hall.

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We walked down 51st towards the Home of Overpriced Water.

Finally, we reached it and Ricky and Lisa posed outside.

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Then we encountered a problem.

“How do we get into this restaurant?” asked Lisa.

We attempted the left side, the down side, the up side, until finally we ascended the stairs on the right side. Entering the dimly lit room, the owner approached us as if we were a band of vagabonds there to deflower a virgin on the bar.

“Can I help you?” he asked nervously. I have a very intimidating gait.

“We have a reservation,” Ricky said.

He looked us up and sat us in a corner. No one puts baby in a corner.

Already, the room was rather oppressive. It was uncomfortably silent, and waiters and servers and other non-identified employees stood like secret security agents in different corners of the room.

We unintentionally ordered our expensive water and then ordered our food. To start, we ordered a trio of samosas: peas, potatoes and chicken. Soon, a waiter brought out a plate and we cut each in half.

“Which is the chicken! Which is the peas! Which is the potatotes!” worried Lisa who is a vegetarian.

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“I think they’re all mixed together,” I declared sadly.

Lisa frowned. Ricky and I devoured the samosas.

Then a waiter came out with a plate. “Samosas!” he said.

“What did we just eat?” I asked.

“That was spinach and potato (something),” he answered.

“Oh,” we answered.

He placed the plate down.

“Which is the chicken! Which is the peas! Which is the potatoes!” worried Lisa.

The waiter pointed out the chicken and Lisa cut into the peas.

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They were very good.

Then our entrees arrived. Mine was delicious. Mine was lamb with an apricot fennel stuffing.

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Lisa was a little less enthused about her saag (with spinach and chickpeas). She says now: “I thought it was good at the time, I told you it was good at the time. The restaurant itself is what pissed me off. The prices of things and the fact that they don’t serve you rice, that’s what i didn’t like about it. I thought the food tasted good, though.”

And so there you have it. And now for the most important part…

AMMA BATHROOM REVIEW

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As you can see, the Amma bathroom is quite lovely. I particularly liked the flowers and the zesty citrus handsoap. I did, unfortunately, burn my hands on the incredibly hot water (my fault for not turning on the cold early enough, but still) but overall this bathroom has a lot of character.

Grade: B+

Gotham (New York)

Dana and I met our freshman year of high school in Trigonometry with Mrs. * who, by all accounts, was certifiably insane. There was the time, for example, that Mrs. * threw a chair across the room or, more peculiarly, stormed out of the classroom in a fury, slamming the door eight times against the wall and splashing water-fountain water on her face.

Dana and I connected quickly; her father and my father were both dentists. She then took me on as a project, much like Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. At the time, I was wearing jean shorts and champion t-shirts. She introduced me to the mall, and the preppy world of Banana Republic and J. Crew.

That summer, she and I went for a 6 week program at the University of Michigan. Our Michigan summer is a blur, but we followed that up the next summer with 6 weeks at UCLA. The high school years were dotted with adventures in cars, Proms, class trips to Europe and Billy Joel appreciation. The summer after our first year in college (we went to different colleges), we discovered New York together.

Living at NYU (across from Washington Square Park), our summer was spent hiking along Madison Avenue, or exploring SoHo, waiting in the TKTS line and stalking Woody Allen and Harrison Ford (our celebrity heroes). Whether getting caught in rain storms or being blessed by Hassidic rabbis, Dana and I fell in love with New York that summer.

And then time and distance kept us apart. We saw each other two or three times, and then there was static. She went on to Cardozo Law as I continued at Emory Law. We really hadn’t spoken in what must have been 5 years when I heard from her a few weeks ago. We struck up an e-mail exchange and spoke on the phone for a few hours. We made a plan to meet today at Gotham for lunch since it’s across the street from her law school.

I got there, as I always do, way too early. I snapped a picture of the outside:

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I walked around the block a few times. It was during this walk that my love for the city resurfaced. In the course of one block, I saw a group of people petting an adorable dog, a homeless man coughing up a loogie, and two cab drivers having a fight. The first one said: “You are a piece of shit!” And the other one, perhaps not really thinking before speaking, retorted: “You are a piece of ass!”

Finally, I returned to Gotham and saw a familiar figure approaching with a red umbrella. Her fingers lifted and signaled hello. I ran to greet her.

“Well hello!” she sang.

“Hey!” I sang back. We hugged.

We walked inside all smiles. We decided not to check our coats.

The interior was asutere without being intimidating. Huge lamps covered with fabric hung from the ceiling. A mock statue of liberty stood in the corner.

“Roberts, party of two,” I said to the maitre’d.

“Very good, sir,” he said, “right this way.”

We followed him to our table; an elevated two-top by the bar.

I sat facing the door and Dana faced the back.

“So!” she said, “tell me everything!”

“Well, let’s see…”

We caught eachother up on eachother’s lives. Then the waitress approached. She had an icy quality with a hint of warmth, like one of those sports balms.

“Good afternoon,” she said, “Welcome to Gotham. There are two additions to our menu today. The soup is…”

We listened attentively.

“Would you like tap or bottled water?”

This always gets me. If they use the word “tap,” it’s like they’re judging you. “Do you drink from the tap like a dog, you filthy animal?”

“Tap is fine,” we said.

We examined the menu. A Prixe Fixe lunch was available for $25.

“That sounds good,” we decided.

The waitress returned. I ordered the soup, the duck and the cake. Dana ordered the salad, the duck and the cake.

“Thank you,” said the waitress.

A bread boy brought bread.

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“Mmmm,” said Dana, “this bread is good.”

We caught up some more. We even gossiped. And then our first courses arrived.

Here is Dana’s salad (fennel and apple with walnuts):

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Here is my soup (potato and leek puree with lemon oil, spinach and toast with goat cheese):

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We tasted each others. Mine turned out the winner. “Yours has more flavor,” said Dana.

The plates were taken away. More catching up was done. And then the entrees arrived.

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I think we were both surprised. I think we expected a duck breast; instead we got duck pasta.

“I was expecting something different,” said Dana.

“Ya,” said I.

We tasted and it tasted fine. Not spectacular.

We talked while chewing about things past, things present, and things future.

“I think you’re going to love New York,” said Dana, between bites.

“I’m excited,” I said, between chews.

We finished our entrees. They were taken away.

Finally, the waitress returned with dessert. Chocolate cake with tangerine sorbet.

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“Mmm,” said Dana before even tasting.

“Mmm,” I agreed.

We scarfed down some cake; Dana ordered tea, I ordered coffee. The waitress snapped a picture of the two of us:

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Finally the check came. The meal had come to an end.

“This was fun,” I said.

“Ya,” said Dana.

We made plans to hang out again Sunday. We left without paying the bill. Just kidding.

I walked Dana to the subway and continued back here to write up this review. Now I have to digest quickly and make room for our 6 pm dinner at Amma. Boy, this New York Spring Break dining adventure is hard work!

In any case, it was great to catch up with Dana. Sort of like a VHS tape that you stopped watching 5 years ago and popped back in again. Except now it’s a DVD. And its hair is straighter.

BONUS BATHROOM REVIEW

As part of my New York dining adventure, I will (if the opportunity presents itself) photograph and evaluate the bathrooms at New York’s finer dining institutions. Today, we evaluate the bathroom at Gotham:

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I think this bathroom was disappointing. The countertops were green marble, yes, but the overall feel was one of a museum. There was no pleasant smell; even the soap didn’t smell especially good. The faucet was too high and caused water to splash on me as I washed my hands. The towels were nicer paper, but not anything glorious. All in all, the Gotham bathroom was underwhelming.

Gotham Bathroom Grade: C

Fat Matt’s Rib Shack

“What a terrible thing consciousness is.”

– Harold Bloom on King Lear Act IV (gleaned from The Village Voice)

Tonight, I was craving ribs. Lauren was going for tacos. “We’re going for tacos,” she said.

“Well,” I replied, “I’m in the mood for ribs.”

“Very well,” she said and exited.

Cue cell phone. Cue finger. Cue Mark.

“Mark,” I said, “I’m going for ribs. Interested?”

“Yes!” he said and told me to pick him up.

“Very well,” I said and exited.

[Adam picks up Mark. Mark and Adam drive to Fat Matt’s.]

We arrive at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. I force Mark to discontinue a story about vomit at his birthday party. We exit the car and behold a giant green wall.

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“Shall we?” I ask.

Mark refuses to say “let’s” because I cut off his vomit story.

Inside, a blues band is playing. I take a picture and it doesn’t come out. We approach the counter. I order first.

“A half slab of ribs, please, and a lemonade.”

I pay. $9.40. These ribs don’t come cheap.

Mark’s turn. “Two pork sandwiches and–”

Readers grow disinterested, concerned only with what I ate. Very well.

We sit inside because the tables outside are all taken. Here’s Mark beneath the giant menu:

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Quite quickly, the food arrives. Here are my ribs:

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I begin to take a picture of Mark’s food, but readers urge me not to.

Before I can begin my first bite, a table opens outside.

“Look a table!” declares Mark.

“Ah!” declares I.

We scurry outside and bask in the warm evening glow.

“Good work,” I say. “Now let’s eat.”

[Time passes. Ribs consumed.]

A NARRATIVE INTERRUPTION TO EVALUATE THE RIBS, TYING IN THE PRETENTIOUS OPENING HAROLD BLOOM QUOTE

Look, facts are facts. I have had good ribs at Fat Matt’s before. In fact, last time I was there I recall saying to my dining companion: “These are delicious. These are the best ribs I’ve ever had.”

Tonight’s ribs were not so delicious. They were tough, bony, slightly burnt and very difficult to eat. The sauce was good–tangy, flavorful–but they couldn’t save a bad cut of meat.

What I really found myself craving–and hence the pain of consciousness–was the rib platter at Houston’s. To BBQ purists, this is the equivalent of sacrilege.

“HOW DOTH YOU DESIRETH SUCH TRIPE!” booms Harold Bloom.

Quiet Bloom.

In any case, the Houston’s ribs may not be authentic, but they are: (a) easier to eat; (b) a better value; (c) always consistent.

What I really need to do, though, is take a BBQ tour of the South before I move away forever. Perhaps I will do that soon for this site. Until that day, though, my consciousness will suffer the tug of war between authentic-yet-hard-to-eat Fat Matt’s and commercial-yet-delicious Houston’s.

We now return to our regularly scheduled narrative.

CONCLUSION

“That was pretty good,” I say.

“Yeah,” says Mark. “Though the sauce was a little spicy tonight.”

I look down at my plate. I move all the napkins I used from the table on to the plate. As you can see, my “On Napkins” post was no lie:

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“Shall we?” I say.

“Let’s,” says Mark and we exit.