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Archive for November, 2010

Chain reaction: California Pizza Kitchen

Vegetarian pizza, whole grain crust

Vegetarian pizza, whole grain crust

This post is a follow-up to my recent visit to two  chain restaurants. Food critics tend to stay away from chains but readers of the last post got a thoughtful and interesting discussion going, so I figured I’d give it another go.

True confession: back when I moved to Atlanta in 1997 I was excited to try my first California Pizza Kitchen. We were at Lenox Square and willingly waited 45 minutes for a table. I had heard about all the crazy combinations and the signature BBQ Chicken Pizza and thought it all sounded like a lot of fun. It was, sort of, though the sweet barbecue sauce instead of tomato sauce on the chicken pie seemed like a singularly bad idea. And then our toddler had a meltdown and we took turns walking her around the mall and shoving sweet-sauced pizza into our faces, so it wasn’t exactly a pleasurable meal.

That may be why it took 13 years for me to return — this time to the CPK near Perimeter Mall. The menu lists about 3 …

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Jon Watson: How to make a turducken

DSCN1383Without question, Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year. By a long shot.

Every November I get my absolute favorite present: food. Piles upon piles of rich, heavy, delicious food. I’ve heard that there is some “friends and family” jazz involved, and something about the pilgrims, but I’m usually too distracted by gravy boats and sweet potato casserole to notice.

In my household, we generally alternate between two kinds of bird every year – either a deep fried turkey or the meaty behemoth, the turducken. So, when the opportunity arose to document the creation of one of these multi-layered frankenfowls, I leapt at it.

No, seriously. I leapt…as in “jumped up and down.”

Some of you may remember John’s post about the “meat theme park” known as the Douglasville Retail Meats and Smokehouse back in ’09. Well, owner Dave Widaski now has a new location in Acworth by the name of Findley’s Butcher Shop, and its turducken making season.

Rather than re-hash …

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Park Bench moving to Irby Avenue

Photo credit: Eli Zandman

Photo credit: Eli Zandman

Once upon a time, the Buckhead Village was the epicenter of revelry and debauchery in Atlanta, with bars and clubs for as far as your glassy eyes could see.

But, thanks to a then-booming mixed-use real estate market and some good old fashioned classism, over 80% of the bars shuttered their doors and The Streets of Buckhead was born. It’s been over 3 years since demolition began and Buckhead residents have enjoyed the refreshing calm that comes with trading most of our nightlife for a lifeless, crane-filled, $1.5 billion hole in the ground.

However, one pocket of bars remained unscathed. Within easy stumbling distance of the intersection of West Paces Ferry and Roswell Road lies Irby Avenue, home to frat-boy favorites like 5 Paces Inn, Churchill’s, The Pool Hall, East Andrews, Stout, Red Door, and Kramer’s.

Buckhead binge drinkers can celebrate, because Park Bench is the newest kid on the Irby block. As Tomorrow’s News Today reported earlier …

Continue reading Park Bench moving to Irby Avenue »

Gene Lee: Oodles of noodles

Umaido ramen

Let me go ahead and establish something with you all: I LOVE noodles.

As a kid, my love affair started with cheap packets of instant ramen full of MSG. Then my mom introduced me to thick, chewy strands of udon sitting in scalding dashi broth topped with gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder) and diced scallions.

Shio tori-udon

And when hotter months rolled around, she would whip up (all from scratch) a popular Korean buckwheat noodle dish called nangmyeon that is served cold of all things. Her homemade beef broth was flavored with summer kimchi brine, and finished with toppings of thin beef slices, pickled cucumbers and a boiled egg. In some cases, the more ice floating around in it the better.


Then when I ventured on to bigger cities I discovered the glory that is Vietnamese pho, and that Japanese-style ramen didn’t just come from colorful instant packs.  Pho with brisket. Pho with flank. Pho with tripe and meatballs. Small pho, large pho.. Here a pho, there a pho, everywhere a pho …

Continue reading Gene Lee: Oodles of noodles »

Muscadine wine

Duncan Creek Wine

credit: Jenny Turknett

Many of us have comfort foods, rich and decadent. I’ve found a comfort wine.

Over the summer my husband and I spent a weekend at Chateau Elan as a quick getaway. It was just the two of us and we took a cooking class together at their Culinary Studio. We also toured the winery and sampled a number of wines. I didn’t expect to find a wine that I fell in love with. But I did.

Among the wines we tasted was a muscadine wine, Duncan Creek. As soon as I smelled it, I knew. Pure muscadine. There was promise, but would the wine deliver the full muscadine flavor as its smell suggested? Score. The muscadine flavor couldn’t have been more prominent.

Memories of chasing cousins through grapevines and racing to pick the first ripe purple muscadines and golden scuppernongs came rushing back. Memories of having muscadine ice cream at Callaway Gardens after prom. I didn’t realize I had so many memories associated with muscadines! If you grew up eating muscadines …

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Japanese soda, play with it or drink it?

Ramune drink


I’m jolted from my serene Japanese sushi dinner to a sound coming from my left. All I can see is some kid chugging one of these peculiar looking Japanese sodas down. But where did that noise come from??


The kid’s sister decides to get in on the action and this time I catch a glimpse of what was making the sound.  It turns out, this brand of Japanese soda called Ramune (a play on the word lemonade”) is a sugary carbonated drink kept fizzy by a glass marble sealed in the head of the bottle.  The bottle is called a Codd-neck bottle after its English engineer/inventor from the 1800’s, Hiram Codd.

Once you peel away the plastic wrap around the head, you’ll see a plastic cap-like device sitting on top. It encases another plastic device that you use to punch in the marble, hence the POP!

Watch the video below for instructions.

(Hand model – me. I’m available for dishwashing soap and/or glove ads)

I’m not really a sugary soda drinker but to recap — the lemon-lime …

Continue reading Japanese soda, play with it or drink it? »

John Kessler column: Letting butternut squash speak for itself

Salad with cubes of plain, steamed butternut squash

Salad with cubes of plain, steamed butternut squash

For this week’s column, I try to make the case for butternut squash au naturel.

Back to roots of butternut squash

When my kids were little we had a baby sitter who made a butternut squash recipe that was so delicious they routinely asked for it. I asked the baby sitter what she did to make my kids like vegetables so.

“Nothing, ” she demurred. “I just blend the cooked squash with some cream cheese, put it back in the skin and bake it. That’s all.”

So that evening I cut a squash in half and roasted it until it was tender, mashed the flesh with a nice spoonful of cream cheese and a little salt, baked it for about 30 minutes until it was steaming hot, and …

“Not as good, ” came the verdict from the peanut gallery. They ate a little and pushed the rest around their plates.

I eventually found out the secret wasn’t just a little cream cheese but an entire block of cream cheese. Of course the kids liked it: they were eating …

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Behind the Review: Empire State South


Empire State South's former chef Nick Melvin

Hugh Acheson is the owner/chef and boldface name at Empire State South – the restaurant reviewed in today’s newspaper. Although he keeps an apartment in Atlanta, Acheson actually lives in Athens, where he tends to his two other restaurants. He oversees the kitchen, but he doesn’t always run it.

The day-to-day kitchen manager in this kind of setup is what most places would call a “chef de cuisine” though Empire State South goes with the title “executive chef.” This is a cook who not only executes the head chef’s vision but also contributes to it by introducing specials that eventually work their way onto the menu. Being a chef de cuisine for a well known culinary personality is an ideal position for a up-and-coming chef with a distinctive culinary voice who will likely break out on his own one day.

When ESS opened in late August, the managing chef was Nick Melvin (pictured), who came to the restaurant after successful runs at Parish

Continue reading Behind the Review: Empire State South »

Havana South dining review, Buford



Cuban cigar boxes and faded photographs of rustic Caribbean settings hang on the walls of the dimly lit dining room at Havana South. Salsa music drifts from ceiling speakers as smiling waitresses transport pretty plates of food to diners. The vibe promises an authentic Cuban experience. And if it weren’t for the entrees, it would deliver on that promise because the best meal at Havana South can be found in its sides, starters and sandwiches.

Chicharon de pollo (all photos by Becky Stein)

Chicharon de pollo (all photos by Becky Stein)

The classic Cuban sandwich ($6.95) comes generously stuffed with slices of roast pork seasoned with mojo sauce (garlic, oil and lemon), thinly sliced ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. Unfortunately, rigor mortis had set in, making the bread a tough chew. A better option is the medianoche ($6.95). A popular late night snack (the name means “midnight”), it’s made by taking all the ingredients of the Cuban and pressing it between sweeter, softer slices of bread. The crunchy, …

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Empire State South dining review, Midtown



I pretend to listen to my wife and friends, but the wine list is making me too happy to pay them any attention. All its funny asides, pithy tastings notes and categories I’ve never seen elsewhere hold me rapt. What is the wine-growing region called “Mysterious Land of Great Values,” and is that red burgundy really $22?


"In Jars" (all photos by Becky Stein)

Smart, smart restaurant, this Empire State South. Open since late August on the ground floor of the 999 Peachtree building in Midtown, it manages to dish up its thoughtfulness in every detail. Love that front table laden with pastries to go (everyone takes a cakewalk around it). Love the way the menu references an old-school meat-and-three. Love the varietal coffee drinks. Love the bocce court!

Of course, you can’t eat a bocce ball. None of these curated details would matter a lick if the kitchen didn’t deliver. But it does, and not with some contrived vision of upscale Southern fare but with lusty flavors …

Continue reading Empire State South dining review, Midtown »