Just because I haven’t been blogging doesn’t mean I haven’t been eating. Last summer I got a car and took the golden opportunity to drive around Atlanta. Long gone are the days when I would take a bus to a MARTA train station to another station, only to walk 2 miles in the freezing rain to a restaurant like … Buckhead Diner (sigh). Since I’ve been away, here are some of my favorite spots right now.
beignets with bourbon praline sauce at The Optimist
By far Ford Fry’s The Optimist is my favorite restaurant to open this year (2012). How is the shellfish here so fresh and so clean? Plump Georgia shrimp, mesmerizing lobster rolls, oysters so fresh you’ll think they lived next door — The Optimist has never disappointed me. The bar also makes a mean punch bowl that goes down as easy as water. On my most recent visit, beignets in a bourbon praline sauce (see above) made anything from New Orleans taste like trash. Fun fact: Esquire Magazine named The Optimist the “Best New Restaurant in 2012″ to open in the U.S. Well deserved, Chef Fry. Well deserved.
Empire State South
Empire State South (ESS) is like that awesome aunt who never disappoints you and always takes you away from the mundanity of your current life. Any meal here is a meal to be remembered. At breakfast, a pimento cheese and fried chicken biscuit is the only thing that gets me out of bed before 11 a.m. For lunch, start with pimento cheese and bacon marmalade. Everybody wins. Then there’s the fried pork sandwich and wild prawn sub. At dinner, the cheese plate is the best in town. Steak tartare and anything with a farm egg, pork belly or sweetbreads will confirm, in your mind, that ESS is one of the best spots in town.
Something delicious at Empire State South
Community Q BBQ
Community Q has come a long way since it first opened. Dry meats and cold sides were prevailing problems but since 2010 Community Q has found its stride. The beef rib is fit for a caveman: a giant hunk of juicy meat on a bone the length of my arm. The brisket sandwich on buttery texas toast is also a staple. When I’m not looking for bbq, the kitchen sink salad (if I’m feeling healthy) or the smoked chicken salad sandwich with grapes with a side of kale and sweet potato is a filling way to happiness. If I’m still hungry and still proud of making it to the gym earlier in the day, the bread pudding (any variation) is superb.
For those who can’t afford Bacchanalia but still want a taste of what this powerhouse culinary family can do, check out the Star Provisions deli. Foccacia with leek, goat cheese and thyme, a savory fried green tomato sandwich with meyer lemon mayo, a gloriously unctuos pork belly bahn mi, a silky cream of squash soup — Star Provisions makes everything in house, and a damn good job they do.
Little Five Points isn’t my scene at all. I stick out like a blonde in China. I will, though, make a special trip just for The Porter. The interior is narrow but surprisingly extensive. Dishes that come to mind: fries tossed in herbs and garlic oil, goat cheese fritters with clove honey, fish n’ chips, and the Reuben. It’s heavy stuff, indeed, but I feel like a champion every time.
I haven’t been to Brickstore in some time but between a beer list the length of the Bible and a hearty menu of done-right pub food, it’s hardly a bad choice any day of the week. Wholesome chicken tenders come with a spicy mustard sauce, but if you’re in the mood for something more grown up, the shepherds pie is as elegant and deliberate as you’ll find.
The Wrecking Bar Pub
On the days when I’m not looking for the grungy vibe of The Porter and Brickstore, I drive to the edge of Little Five Points to this unassuming stand-alone Victorian building. In the basement sits the Wrecking Bar Pub. With a cavernous interior heavy on the wood, the Wrecking Bar has a flexible space well-suited for romantic dates or large parties. The food is a few notches above Brickstore and pub food, in general. Goat cheese and wild mushrooms make for a superb flatbread and anything with porkbelly tends to please. The beer selection is smaller than Brickstore, but more focused, in my opinion. The servers, either way, are wonderful guides to help you along.
The new Watershed on Peachtree looks nothing like its original location in downtown Decatur, abandoning a kitschy garage funk for bright, wood-paneling and hardwood floors. The kitchen has also changed. Chef Joe Treux now stands where Scott Peacock once did, and the menu harnesses more Cajun and Asian influences. I haven’t tried their famous fried chicken (only served on Tuesdays) but the fried catfish plate with green beans tossed in fish sauce was excellent. I remember there being dessert served in a giant, class bowl.