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Archive for February, 2010

March Pizza Madness: Experts name Varasano’s among nation’s best

Nucci pie at Varasano's

Nucci pie at Varasano's

The nation’s two top pizza mavens — Adam Kuban and Ed Levine of the Slice blog – traveled the country for “Every Day with Rachael Ray” magazine in search of America’s best pizzerias. The result, which hits newsstands next week, are now online.

Varasano’s Pizzeria — former software engineer Jeff Varasano’s labor of obsessive love — was named one of the top eight in the nation. The top prize was awarded to Phoenix’s storied Pizzeria Bianco.

Kuban and Levine organized their meals in 64 of the nation’s top pizzerias like the N.C.A.A. brackets, with four divisions. Representing Atlanta in the South-Southwest division were Antico Pizza Napoletana and Varasano’s. Other top scorers included Di Fara Pizza of Brooklyn, Pizzeria Mozza of Los Angeles, and Flour + Water in San Francisco.

Kuban and Levine are answering lots of questions over at Slice.

(Disclosure — I did accompany Levine on his pizza-eating swing through Atlanta and am still …

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Vesuvius, home of volcanic pizza

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Pizzeria Vesuvius in the Old Fourth Ward is one of those restaurants that is appealing for its oddness. It occupies the vast yet choppy top floor of the space that was home to the Bureau — a star-crossed gastropub that opened and closed relatively quickly.

The sign out front, which depicts an erupting volcano and lava-like letters spelling out “Vesuvius” seriously looks like it announces a circa-1979 head shop rather than a pizzeria.

The parking on its stretch of Edgewood Ave. a block east of the highway overpass is sketchy at best.

Yet it is cheap, fun, stays open throughout the day, offers free WiFi and features some interesting things to eat. As one friend says, it’s a great restaurant to hide out in.

I like the specialty pizzas, which have a crisp crust and all kinds of fun flavor combinations. The medium pizzas ($10-$12) offer eight generous slices each.

photo 3The Vesuvius ($11, pictured above) is a hilarious take on Buffalo chicken wings, with smoked chicken, blue cheese, …

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Spring Awakening: Good water makes good coffee

photo-3This post begins with an admission.

I have been known to (ahem) forget to pay the water bill and not discover the oversight until the county cuts the utility. But I learn from my mistakes! As soon as it happens, I explain to the children that not showering is fun, and you can always brush your teeth with one of those big jugs of spring water that daddy rushed to the store to buy.

The last time this happened, the utility came back on a mere four hours after it was cut, and we had several gallons of spring water left.

I decided to use some of this water to make a pot of coffee, and let me just say: wow, wow, wow, wow.

The coffee tasted so fresh and clean. We had two whole-bean blends in the house (Batdorf & Bronson’s Dancing Goats, and Peet’s Major Dickason Blend), and we could really taste their distinct differences like never before. The Dancing Goats, which we often buy, reveals a lively sweet note when made with spring water. The Major Dickason tasted more smoky.

We’re never …

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Antico Pizza Napoletana’s 9-year-old pizzaiolo

Johnny di Palma — the 9-year-old son of Antico Pizza Napoletana’s Giovanni di Palma — shows a CNN crew how to toss a pie. He’s a regular Margherita off the ol’ peel. Buon appetito.

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The Standard closes, to reopen in spring

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The Standard in Grant Park is under new ownership and will stay closed for the time being, emerging from its cocoon in spring as a redesigned and changed restaurant.

The restaurant was the site of a horrific crime, just over a year ago, when bartender John Henderson was shot to death during a robbery. This incident brought to light the resurgence of crime in central Atlanta.

Here’s the notice from the restaurant’s Web site:

The Standard would like to thank Grant Park and Atlanta residents for their continued patronage and support. We are under a new ownership makeup and will be making exciting new changes over the next few weeks that will improve our ability to serve you better.

Please check our website and Facebook page for updates on our progress. Thanks again, and we look forward to serving you again very soon!

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Specialty Spirits Run Dry in Atlanta

Miles MacQuarrie at Leon's Full Service (AJC Staff)

Miles MacQuarrie at Leon's Full Service (AJC Staff)

I know it’s a little early, but is anyone up for a cocktail?

Well, if you want a handcrafted cocktail-culture cocktail — the kind made with gin from a micro-distiller, Italian marasca cherry liqueur and artisan vermouth — you may be in trouble. Creative mixologists, such as Miles MacQuarrie at Leon’s Full Service (left), are bemoaning the dearth of specialty spirits in the Atlanta market. Demand has far outstripped supply.

This was the subject of yesterday’s Sunday column.

Trendy spirits run dry

The “Easy Street” cocktail at Leon’s Full Service is anything but. Mixologist Miles Macquarrie concocted this retro-modern libation with Lairds Bonded apple brandy, almond-infused Prunier V.S. Cognac, Carpano Antica formula vermouth, green Chartreuse, Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters. Macquarrie is among a new vanguard of barkeeps who have turned their backs on the house gin and soda-gun tonic in favor of small-batch spirits, …

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911 Reservations: Actual fraud? [UPDATED]

Here’s a disturbing update on the 911 Reservations story:

I got an email from Louise Maurice, who purchased a Valentine’s Day reservation at Repast restaurant from 911 Reservations for $40. That amount was charged to her credit card through the service’s PayPal account.

I also spoke to Repast’s owner, Joe Truex, who said that he spoke on the phone to a man who tried to reconfirm the reservation and expressly told him that it would not be honored.

When I spoke with Gwinnett County district attorney Danny Porter about the legality of this service, he said it was fine as long as the administrators didn’t sell a reservation they knew wouldn’t be honored.

That begs the question: Does this sound like a case of theft by deception, pure and simple?

(UPDATE: At 4:25 p.m., Maurice received an email from 911 Reservations with a refund.)

(Full disclosure: I do know both Maurice and Truex socially.)

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Secret supper clubs

Ryan Hidinger (left) and his sous-chef Ben Barth (AJC Staff)

Ryan Hidinger (left) and his sous-chef Ben Barth (AJC Staff)

Freelance writer (and beer deity) Bob Townsend wrote a fascinating story about the emerging culture of underground supper clubs in Atlanta.

Has anyone been to one of these events? Worth it?

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Latest on 911 Reservations

All associated Web sites are down, and I received this statement from the publicist who had circulated a press release about the service:

John,
Thank you for voice mail regarding www.911Reservations.com.  Due to the feedback received and in the interest of the hospitality industry, the 911Reservations.com website was disabled as of 10pm last night and all reservations are being released.
Sincerely,
Laith Richards

Here is the print article that ran on the front page this morning.

Restaurants irate over seats-for-pay

John Kessler / Staff

Jennifer Boozer, the marketing director for the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, began plowing through 100 or more e-mail messages Wednesday morning when one stopped her cold. It was a promotional letter from a company called 911 Reservations, offering tables at “the swankiest restaurants in the city” on Valentine’s Day — for a fee.

“It just seemed really strange to me, ” said Boozer, who clicked through to the associated Web site and …

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First Look: West Cobb Diner

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Fried pickles with honey mustard and ranch ($4)

What it is: A casual restaurant with extremely friendly prices and huge portions. West Cobb Diner opened in a former Atlanta Bread Company in mid December and has been packed ever since. Set about 4 1/2 miles west of Marietta Square, it’s a part of town that has long needed better dining options.

Who’s there: Who isn’t? Lots of older couples, lots of young couples. But the main constituency seems to be families of all ages. It was big news on Yelp.com and the diner’s Facebook page when changing tables were installed in the restrooms. The weeknight rush seems to crest between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. If you arrive after 7:30 p.m., you’ll have better luck getting a table without waiting.

Fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade ($5)

Fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade ($5)

Crab cake sliders with remoulade ($8)

Crab cake sliders with remoulade ($8)

What the room’s like: Bright, and really not a lot different from its former incarnation. The waiting area in the former cafeteria line is kind of a holding pen. Best to …

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