I’m writing to you now from Emory Village, a flash from the past, as I prepare to speak to Emory Students at 2 PM, sign books at the Emory Book Store at 4 PM and then hustle over to Empire State South where I’m hosting a dinner at 6:15. There are still seats available, so, Atlantans, please come! Call 404-541-1105.
Now before all of this happens, I want to tell you about two incredible meals I’ve had so far since arriving in Atlanta on Friday. Let’s start with the brunch I had yesterday with Atlanta Magazine food critic Bill Addison at the One-Eared Stag near Imman Park.
Have you ever walked into a restaurant just knowing it’s going to be good?
One-Eared Stag has just the right feel, all the right signs. Like this wall:
Bill arrived at 12 and we sat at a sunny table in the back room. A little boy at a table with his family demanded a pumpkin pie from the chef (it was kind of adorable) and the chef apparently said, “Come back in a few weeks and we’ll have it.”
The menu is precisely what you want to see as a northerner visiting the South. Grits. Biscuits. Fried chicken. All the good stuff.
Knowing what was to come, we started our meal with a wonderfully balanced salad of celery and apples and Parmesan cheese:
In the background there, you’ll see scrambled eggs topped with fish roe. Look closer:
Even without the roe, these eggs would’ve been a knock-out. Creamy, buttery, still firm but light as air. And the salty fish eggs only made things better.
Now on to the serious stuff.
I bravely ordered chicken livers on grits, knowing that in a great chef’s hands I would love it. I was right.
Those grits were the kind of grits you hear testimony about in “My Cousin Vinny.” The real deal…properly cooked, thick, creamy. And the livers weren’t too gamey, tempered by the sweetness of caramelized onions.
The black pepper biscuits, served with pepper jelly, could’ve been hotter:
But they were so perfectly formed and so very Southern, I ate one with a big smile on my face.
The blueberry waffle was a total triumph…I couldn’t imagine a better one:
And then there’s the dish you saw at the top of this post… fried chicken with biscuits and gravy. I mean, we’re all going to die, right? So why not laugh death in the face with a dish like this… the chicken so flavorful and crisp (I mean: seriously crisp) and the gravy thick and the biscuits all tender and soft… This is Southern food at its best.
So thanks, Bill, for recommending this joint! I’d easily add it to my Atlanta Top 10.
The other restaurant I visited, Cardamom Hill (on Friday night), was one I was dying to try for two very good reasons: Asha Gomez and Omar Powell.
I cooked with Asha for my cookbook back when she was a celebrated home cook. In the interim, she opened a restaurant that’s now one of the best restaurants in America according to Bon Appetit. And Omar Powell, another home cook I cooked with for the book (his Jamaican food is some of the best I’ve ever had) is now her chef de cuisine. So how could I not be excited to eat here?
The food was dazzling. I mean, really.
It started with my mango ginger cocktail, topped with potent spices like cinnamon, star anise and freshly grated nutmeg.
At the table, Asha showed off her dynamic menu course by course. The first was a pork vindaloo served with an appam (a rice cake):
The strong flavors of the vindaloo were tempered by the sweetness of the appam, which was sweet from coconut milk.
Here’s my dinner date Josh (my friend who told me to start a blog back in 2004):
He agreed that all this food was dazzling.
Our next course featured a trio—a duck and plantain croquette, a seasonal fruit salad, and a bhajia (sweet potato and onion fritter with tamarind sauce):
All of that was terrific, but the best came next: a seafood curry.
There was such depth of flavor here, a smokiness so rich and deep it was almost like a mole (that was Josh’s observation). It’s probably Cardamom Hill’s most famous dish and justly so. Asha’s very proud of it and I felt very lucky to get to eat it with her hovering over our table.
The final savory course was equally flavorful—her braised short rib:
It may look like just an everyday short rib from the picture, but the flavors popped dramatically. (There’s a dish in my cookbook that Asha taught me; a braised beef dish that features a similar flavor profile, so you’ll get to try this soon yourself.)
The dessert was like an empanada with a sweet pudding inside:
A great final note to a memorable, lovely meal. Thanks Asha and Omar for being so talented at what you do! And congrats on a fantastic new restaurant.
OK, folks, I have to gargle and do some speech exercises before I do my talk in a few hours. Thanks, Atlanta, for treating me so nicely. Hope to meet a bunch of you in person over the next few hours.