The Varisty (Atlanta)

Last semester I worked at Atlanta Legal Aid. My boss, an amicable sort, had many convictions, the most prevalent one being: “There is no onion ring better than the onion rings they make at The Varisty.”

Now I’m a reasonable man. I believe that reasonable convictions maintained by reasonable people should be viewed reasonably. However, something here seemed awry.

“You mean to tell me,” I said, “in all the world, there are no onion rings better than the ones at The Varsity?”

“No sir,” he said. “Definitely not.”

Tonight, I had to grab a quick dinner between class and rehearsal for The VD Show; a Valentine’s Day show I’m doing with Out of Hand Theater featuring a musical I wrote called “The Boy Who Went Blind” and a musical piece I wrote called “Women Outside The Bakery” to be performed at CJ’s Landing in Buckhead February 12th to the 14th; live music, prizes, and I’m playing with the band (I hope they let me sing “Hey Ya!”). I decided The Varisty would do the trick.

The Varisty is an Atlanta staple. You just see it and think “Atlanta” in all its good and bad connotations. I walked in and saw three white men eating alone in trucker hats. The counter was dead; sleepy black women in visors stood sullenly on the other side.

“A #1 please,” I said.

“You want onions?” asked the woman.

“OK,” I said.

I paid and received my tray.

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The chili dogs? Well they were good. I really like chili dogs. It’s my vice. Some people smoke cigarettes; some people do drugs. I eat chili dogs. Though, it should be noted, the chili is rather–umm–well it kind of tastes like cloth ground up and soaked in beef juice. I mean that in a good way.

The onion rings? They were the best part. The best in Atlanta? Surely. The best in the world?

Well, boss, maybe. Just maybe.

Dreaming Big: A Janet Jackson Breast Cake

Tomorrow night I plan to create something topical, something ambitious, something that will offend every member of the FCC (Federal Culinary Commission): A Janet Jackson Breast Cake.

How will I do this?

Well, I started a thread over at eGullet on the matter: Janet Jackson Breast Cake Thread; but I am also seeking your input.

How best to represent the nipple? A Hershey kiss?

What baking apparatus will yield the most breast-like result?

People, please. We are in a time of great need. Please help make my Janet breast cake a breast cake for the ages. If not for me, do it for the children.

Sincerely,

The Amateur Gourmet

Check it out!

Woohoo! I feel like the pampered subject of E! Fashion Emergency, Extreme Makeover and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy all rolled into one. Ain’t this new site design fantastic? Thanks to Colleen who I discovered via another great site, NYC Eats.

Anyway, here’s to a happy new site design! Things’ll only get better from here on in…

A very happy,

Amateur Gourmet

Charitable Chicken Soup for My Roommate’s Soul

Poor Lauren. She has a cold. When Lauren gets colds they last for two weeks, minimum. And since I have been basking in my good health all weekend (excluding explicit epilogues), last night I called her cell phone on her way back from the airport and said: “Would you like me to make you chicken soup?”

She said: “Would you? That would be awesome.”

So I whipped out my Epicurious chicken soup recipe which, since it’s on the internet, I can reproduce for you here. It is not the most authentic chicken soup recipe: that would involve making your own chicken stock (a process that takes over four hours). But this recipe is incredibly delicious, incredibly nutrtious and–to quote the recipe itself: “perfect for a cold winter’s night.”

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OLD-FASHIONED CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP

16 cups canned low-salt chicken broth (<--I just bought two quarts worth and that was plenty) 1 3.5 lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces 1/2 cup chopped onion 2 carrots, peeled, thinly sliced 2 celery stalks, sliced 8 oz dried wide egg noodles 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley (<--I subbed dill for the parsley because I love dill in chicken soup) 1. Combine chicken broth and chicken in heavy large pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover partially and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Using tongs, transfer chicken to large bowl. Cool chicken and broth slightly. Discard skin and bones from chicken. Cut chicken meat into bite size pieces and reserve. Spoon fat off top of chicken broth. 2. Return broth to simmer. Add onions, carrots and celery. Simmer until vegetables soften, about 8 minutes. 3. Stir in noodles, parsley (or dill) and reserved chicken. Simmer until noodles are tender, about 5 minutes. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. It was really the last step that made this particular soup taste better than any I've made before. I don't think I ever use enough salt, so this time I was really generous and, according to Lauren, "this is the best one you've made by far."

Ask The Amateur Gourmet!

And now for the birth of a new feature–ASK THE AMATEUR GOURMET!–in which site readers from all over the world ask the Amateur Gourmet culinary questions that he is completely incapable of answering. Here we go!

Dear Amateur Gourmet,

Where does the word “sushi” come from? My husband says it’s Japanese, but I’m convinced it’s Italian. Can you help us save our marriage?

Sincerely,

Forlorn in Fort Lauderdale

Dear Forlorn,

Your husband is a moron. “Sushi” is indeed an Italian word, derived from the Su Shi clan of Naples, Italy. The Su Shi clan’s penchant for raw fish ingestion left them ostricized from their community, forcing them to go live with the Iron Chef Japenese (hence your husband’s confusion). Soon after, they lost their interest in raw fish and started a boy band that became known to the world as Menudo. Interestingly, Menudo is Spanish for “raw fish.” Hope that helps!

Sincerely,

The Amateur Gourmet

Note: If you want YOUR culinary question incorrectly answered by The Amateur Gourmet, e-mail him your query at adrober@mac.com or post a question in the comments section!

Gourmet Dinner, Thumbs Up Breakfast, Horrific Epilogue

Last night the culinary muse descended upon me and whispered into my ear.

“Challenge yourself, my boy!”

I rose to the challenge and whipped out three cookbooks: Mario Batali’s “Simple Italian Food,” Alice Waters’ “Chez Panisse Cooking” and Sarah Moulton’s “Cooking With Sarah Moulton.”

From the first, I made a bizarre salad of fennel, blood oranges, pomegranate seeds and pecorino cheese.

Here are the ingredients, pre-slicing:

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Strangely enough, my favorite element was the pecorino cheese. This is strange, you see, because I come from an anti-cheese family and have spent many an hour struggling to outmaneuver the shadow my family’s anti-cheese stance casts upon my appetite.

The cheese purchasing was strange too. The cheese woman at Whole Foods was incredibly kind and incredibly helpful but also, apparently, incredibly inept. When I asked for pecorino she said: “Well, unfortuantely, all we have is pecorino studded with peppercorns.” I tried a sample (which I enjoyed) but then almost died when a peppercorn exploded in the back of my throat and made me reevaluate my belief in a heliocentric universe.

“Well,” I said sadly, “I guess I’ll take it.”

She chopped me off a chunk, packaged it, labelled it and handed it to me.

“Thanks,” I said, and as I walked away I noticed a stack of cheeses on top of which was one labelled Pecorino without peppercorns.

I bit the bullet and bought the peppercorn one I was holding.

So, anyway, I still enjoyed the nonpeppercorn parts of the cheese as did other participating cheesetasters. The salad, though, was a bit of a dud.

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Next, it was time for a second crack at risotto. My first crack went incredibly well, as documented in my eGullet submission: My First Risotto (A Young Man and His Arborio Rice).

That first risotto, from the Chez Panisse book, was a wild mushroom risotto and so this time I thought I’d attempt the saffron risotto. Did you know that saffron is the stamen of the crocus flower? Forgive the sentiment, but that’s like putting an actual penis or vagina in your dinner.

“How delightful!” sings the muse.

The ingredients this time out were more basic: onions, pancetta, saffron (which is pretty pricey for the little envelope you get of penises), rice, chicken broth, butter and paremsan. The end result?

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At first I thought I ruined it by adding too much chicken broth at the end (which, according to the cookbook, creates a severe risk of broth / rice separation) but after some frantic stirring and soul-searching, the risotto came out fine.

How did it taste? Risotto-tasters seemed to enjoy it, though I felt it was lacking in flavor. I much preferred the wild mushroom one.

And then, as if we weren’t full enough, I chopped up a block of chocolate, added simmering milk and made Sarah Moulton’s decadent hot chocolate. (NO PHOTO AVAILABLE) How was it? Very chocolatey. Too chocolatey, in fact. I felt sick afterwards.

Then this morning, Chris and I trekked to a place he declared the best breakfast in Atlanta.

“Better than the Crescent Moon?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said confidently.

“Better than the Flying Biscuit?” I persisted.

“Yes, yes, yes,” he answered.

“Better than–”

“Look, it’s good all right, let’s just go there.”

So we went to the Thumbs Up Diner near Inman Park in what Chris called the 4th Ward section of Atlanta. (Apparently, this is where MLK was born).

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We waited a scant 15 minutes and were seated at a table by a window. I was slightly tormented by the menu (in a good way). Should I have the sassy scramble or the french toast special?

Let me tell you about the french toast special: two slices of french toast, with CARAMEL, apples, cranberries and powdered sugar. How amazing does that sound? But it seemed too desserty for breakfast. I would feel guilty all day.

So I ordered the sassy scramble: eggs, smoked salmon, herbs and cream cheese; side of potatoes and a biscuit. Here it is several minutes later:

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Chris ordered something whose name I forgot but that consisted of sausage and eggs over some kind of garlic-tomato concoction:

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Chris enjoyed his and I really enjoyed mine. In fact, I can safely say that it is the best sassy scramble I have had in Atlanta (including Crescent Moon and Flying Biscuit).

Here, by the way, is what the place looks like inside:

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A GRAPHIC, UNHAPPY EPILOGUE

Here’s where our story grows grotesque. I suggest that you stop reading here. No, really, please: stop reading here.

For while food writers concentrate on the orifice above the shoulders through which food enters, very few food writers–in fact, NO food writers–concentrate on that other orifice, the one from which food exits.

Oh, God, I’m ruining my blog.

Suffice it to say that on the car ride back my stomach began doing Mary Lou Retton’s winning routine from the 1986 olympics. I began employing severe lamasse techniques–hoo hoo hoo, ha ha ha–opening the window, fanning myself, all the while attempting to drive and carry on a conversation with Chris.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“Yes,” I chirped, “doing great.”

Was it the sassy scramble? Probably not. The risotto? The pecorino? The crocus penises? I think it was the hot chocolate. Whatever it was, though, it was enough to make this food writer consider an alternative career in astrophysics. Or law!

Nah.

It’s A Knife!

THE AMATEUR GOURMET IS PROUD TO ANNOUNCE THE BIRTH OF HIS NEW KITCHEN APPLIANCE

KNIFE

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BORN IN GERMANY, KNIFE IS A MEMBER OF THE WUSTHOF CLAN: STAINLESS STEEL, TEN INCH BLADE. HE WAS TEMPORARILY HOUSED IN THE CUTLERY WING OF WILLIAMS-SONOMA IN THE LENOX MALL:

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WHILE DRIVING HIM HOME, THE AMATEUR GOURMET NOTICED THAT TOWER RECORDS IS OUT OF BUSINESS AND THAT THE SPACE MIGHT BE GOOD FOR THE AMATEUR GOURMET’S DREAM BAKERY:

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THE AMATEUR GOURMET IS SEEKING NAMING SUGGESTIONS FOR KNIFE. THE WINNING SELECTION WILL WIN AN ALL EXPENSE PAID TRIP TO TACO BELL AND A COUPON FOR ONE FREE TACO*.

SINCERELY,

THE PROUD FATHER

*note: offer expires in five minutes. taco is defined as shell and lettuce; not shell, lettuce and meat.