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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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A Domincan lunch with the Atlanta Hawks’ Al Horford

Al Horford and Amelia Vega at lunch (credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC)

Al Horford and Amelia Vega at lunch (credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC)

Every few months, an important shipment from Amelia Vega’s grandmother in the Dominican Republic arrives at the Atlanta home she shares with her husband, Al Horford. Inside the box will be a two-gallon plastic bag filled with a good half pound of fine Dominican oregano — fragrant, tangy, nose prickly. The way it always is over there and never here.

“Sometimes I wonder what would happen if FedEx takes its time,” Vega laughs. “What would they be thinking.”

Horford, the Atlanta Hawks center/power forward, and Vega, a former Miss Universe who juggles singing, television and modeling, both have their hands full with busy careers. The oregano, a taste of home, helps. So does the personal chef.

Horford and Vega were kind enough to invite me into their house for the kind of rib-sticking, home cooked, carb-heavy Dominican meal they both crave now and again even as they fastidiously watch their diets.

“We only eat like this three or four times a month,” says Vega as she loads Horford’s plate with rice, beans and chicken. “Normally I’ll have normal portions,” Horford said, eyes sparkling at the sight of his heaped portion. “But when it’s Dominican food…”

I initially reached out to Horford and asked if he would consider dining in a Dominican restaurant with me. I’m always curious about how foreign-born athletes living in the United States adopt to the American diet.

La bandera dominicana -- a typical, homey Dominican meal (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

La bandera dominicana -- a typical, homey Dominican meal (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

To my surprise, Horford turned out to have a big-time interest in food and readily assented. But picking the restaurant proved difficult. I only knew of two: Mi Pilon in Norcross, which I found decent rather than craveworthy, and the modest but good Cafe Restaurant Dominicano in Tucker. Horford was a fan of Quisqueya in Lilburn but hadn’t been back since it changed hands and had become Mamajuana. His schedule was complicated by the rehab he was undergoing for the torn pectoral muscle that had kept him out for the season.

Finally Horford let me know that the best Dominican food might be at his home. How would I feel about coming over? I assented in seconds flat.

After shooing their little dogs Mimi and Tiny upstairs, allowing me to gawk at their spectacular Miele kitchen and introducing their personal chef Fred Moree, Horford and Vega ushered me to the table.

Horford explained this particular meal is commonly called “la bandera dominicana,” or “the Dominican flag.” Rice, habichuelas guisadas (stewed red beans), stewed meat (chicken for this meal) and salad. We also had ripe plantains, which were baked rather than traditionally fried to cut down on fat, and chunks of irresistibly overripe avocado.

“This tastes so good,” says Vega, savoring each bite of the rich fruit, a rare caloric treat for lunch.

“Want me to heat you up some quinoa?” Moree calls from the kitchen.

“Not today,” Vega laughs. La bandera is, as far as meals go, sacrosanct. “Fred, this is sooooo good,” she adds.

Moree, who is not Dominican, had to learn the recipes but claims to be a quick culinary study.

“I used to work for an Indian family,” he says. “And, boy, I really had to learn to cook those vegetables a lot longer to make the food taste right for them.” For this household, he studied with the best — hands on with Horford’s and Vega’s mothers.

Horford’s mother makes an exceptionally refined version of sancocho, the iconic Dominican stew of mixed meats and root vegetables, and she has perfected the art of the concón, or burnt rice crust, to serve alongside. Moree’s version is apparently spot on.

Horford’s aunt Magda, whom he calls “my favorite cook ever,” also has shared recipes for her amazing stewed goat and her asopao, a soup made with either chicken or shrimp. “You put rice in the soup, and it grows,” he says, describing a texture halfway between rice soup and risotto.

Check out a photo gallery of lunch with Al Horford and Amelia Vega here.

When the Hawks travel, Horford is often the player who finds the great local restaurant. In Biloxi, Miss., he dragged a lot of tall dudes to Mary Mahoney’s Old French House for fresh seafood. In Atlanta, his teammates know to ask him for the best recommendations. Among Horford’s and Vega’s favorites are Barcelona for healthy tapas, La Tavola Trattoria for Italian food, and Tomo Japanese Restaurant for sushi.

“Tomo: That’s our favorite restaurant,” says Vega. “We’re there all the time.”

The conversation gets briefly away from food — Horford and I both admire Dominican writer Junot Diaz. (“He’s very raw!” Horford says.) But soon someone remarks on that distinctive sweetness of Dominican oregano, and we’re back to the frequent shipments and hand deliveries from visiting relatives that keep the Horford/Vega alive with the flavor of the Dominican Republic. There was honey from a grandmother’s bees, and soon someone is coming with a suitcase filled with pasteles en hoja, or banana-leaf tamales that are nothing like what you can find here. That will be cause for a celebration.

- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog

33 comments Add your comment

Steve Belkin

April 3rd, 2014
3:39 pm

I must say, I enjoyed his article.
In fact, this is the most interesting thing I have read about the Atlanta Hawks all season.
What a lovely family.
I’m going to go find out how I can get a two-pound bag of oregano shipped directly to me from the Dominican right now.
Thanks, Frank Deford.

Kar

April 3rd, 2014
4:04 pm

Dear heavens. Just hope that no one mistakes that oregano for something else or that they’re using it to ‘hide’ something else through the postal service.

Lauren

April 3rd, 2014
4:37 pm

Nice read, thanks!

Morgan

April 3rd, 2014
9:13 pm

Why is it that a large percentage of successful Africian-Americian men tend to marry outside of their race?

Teresa

April 3rd, 2014
9:35 pm

Morgan what are you talking about? They are both Dominican!
Why do people talk without knowing what they are talking about!

Leandro Caceres

April 3rd, 2014
10:12 pm

Nice Article.. As dominican i feel happy to see Amelia and Al talking about our dominican food.

Morgan

April 3rd, 2014
10:52 pm

Teresa, Al Horford’s dad is Tito Horford also a former professional basketball player. Tito Horford is from the Dominican Republic but his biological heritage is from Africa. His dad is an Afro-Dominican. His mother also looks Afro-Dominican. The parents have Africian ancestry but were born and raised in the Domincan Republic. So, I stand corrected. Al Horford was born and raised in the Dominican Republic but his racial ancestry is still Africian since he is a biological child of his Afro-Dominican parents.

Billy Wentz

April 4th, 2014
3:00 am

Sorry Morgan, but please help us understand any importance regarding any “biological heritage” within your comment? I didn’t really see race or ethnicity until you brought it up; I personally am under the impression that it matters nil. In a few years, this will matter even LESS as we become more of a global culture anyway. I’m what is considered “white” to society and even have African lineage in my family. I celebrate it all, without coming across like an ethnicity elitist, or nationalist. So who cares, go back to your cave.

jay

April 4th, 2014
6:51 am

Morgan, The guy married a former miss universe. Nuff said dumb arse.

Steve

April 4th, 2014
7:11 am

Morgan: Who gives you the authority to define who is “successful” in the African-American community!!! WOW!!!!!

Baltisraul....

April 4th, 2014
7:16 am

Morgan, why did you post anything at all about race? Very confusing stuff from you.

Shaun

April 4th, 2014
7:35 am

This is an awesome story, so where can you find the best Dominican food?

Hawks fan

April 4th, 2014
7:45 am

Al is going on vacations, prancing around Atlanta instead of traveling with the team and offering support. They are fighting for the 8th playoff spot and one of their “leaders” isnt there.

notevensurprised

April 4th, 2014
8:04 am

morgan i guess you are black becasue if you would have taken the time to read the whole article instead looking at the picture you would have read that they are both from the dominican republic..but of course which doesn’t surprise me you just look at pictures and fail/or can’t read…..

AzCat

April 4th, 2014
8:15 am

Boy, that went south in a heartbeat.

John, thanks for the interesting read. Did the three of you ever settle on what is good/great for Dominican food in Atlanta? I get the feeling the answer is a polite, indirect no based on the above.

Valerie

April 4th, 2014
8:35 am

Congrats to Al. Didnt know he was married. I would love to try Dominican food. Looks delicious!

Valerie

April 4th, 2014
8:36 am

Enter your comments here

BrownEyedGirl!

April 4th, 2014
9:36 am

In many other countries (and most Caribbean island), you are where you are from! A Cuban is a Cuban, Puerto Rican is a Puerto Rican, Dominican is a Dominican! It is this country that makes the distinction, which is so unfortunate because (with exception of Native Americans)we all came from somewhere else!

BrownEyedGirl!

April 4th, 2014
9:37 am

But none of that has anything to do with the article! I really enjoyed reading it and they seem like a really lovely couple! Can’t wait to try Dominican food!

Lizzy

April 4th, 2014
9:57 am

BrownEyedGirl – well said. There’s an unfortunate unwritten rule of sorts that there will be input that’s off-subject and not very nice. JK wrote an excellent article about the DR’s cuisine which has been much appreciated by us well-adjusted folks….let the small minded ones do their little small minded nonsense.

Fred

April 4th, 2014
10:12 am

Well actually BrownEyedGirl, your so called “native Americans” came from Siberia………….

I think I’ll try Cafe Dominican for lunch today. It’s close by and looks good. Never had Dominican before.

The Call Me Mr. Tibbs

April 4th, 2014
11:12 am

Thanks AJC – what a great way to start of the weekend.

Some folks experience great joy in just preparing meals for their loveones…me? I get joy from simply eating them.. :)

I knew it would not take long for the converstions on this blog to turn to race.

One day..maybe not in my lifetime or my children’s lifetime…but one day the color of a man’s skin will be no more significant than the color of his eyes.

One day…

Sydney…

AtlEng

April 4th, 2014
11:55 am

Morgan -

Your ignorance is showing. Apparently you don’t you know jack about the heritage of the Dominican Republic. It’s complicated. Go learn something and come back. It’s people like you that keep up the mess that complicates our race relations in this country.

AtlEng

April 4th, 2014
11:56 am

On another note, great article. Love those Dominican women. Hard not to argue with his choice.

AtlEng

April 4th, 2014
11:56 am

I meant hard TO argue.

They Call Me Mr. Tibbs

April 4th, 2014
12:03 pm

MLK said

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”.

AMEN

Sydney

Kar

April 4th, 2014
2:56 pm

I’m still stunned that they’re sending ten pounds of herbal ingrediants through the postal service without any issues.

Robert

April 4th, 2014
3:55 pm

Sure, Kessler, sure, you wanted to dine with Al Horford….yeah, that’s the ticket – Al Horford. Like we all believe that. I’m sure that wife of his had nothing to do with it. You sly dog.

Baltisraul....

April 4th, 2014
5:51 pm

Hawk fan- (a rarity ) if the team wanted him on the road with them, he would be on the road with them.. Great article, enjoyed the read, very nice couple!

Ned Ludd

April 4th, 2014
6:12 pm

concon is without a doubt the most difficult dish on this planet to accurately duplicate. One of the select dishes that can’t be described in quantities or cooking times. Like risotto it can carry the flavor of the various added ingredients but can only be perfected thru time and turmoil. Kudos to his Mom. Great read, great folks.

Kev

April 5th, 2014
5:46 pm

He’s not with the team because he has a torn pectoral muscle.

berry steve

April 5th, 2014
5:58 pm

Thanks Kev, I think Hawk Fan now knows how pro teams work with reguards to their injured players.

jessydesouz

April 7th, 2014
6:48 am

Nice article i enjoyed reading it…Here I am providing you the offers on Eclectic Bistro and Bar in Atlanta