EliseT Hits Hotlanta

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EliseT
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2011/08/02 15:15:26 (permalink)

EliseT Hits Hotlanta

SAT Day 1
 

 
I emerged from the airport into the heat of Atlanta and approached the taxi dispatcher, “Is a taxi or a town car more likely to stop somewhere to eat?
 
“You wanna eat?”
 
“Just you know, Like a chicken shack or something.”
 
Passer-by, addresses the dispatcher incredulously: We have chicken shacks in Atlanta?
 
Dispatcher: No.
 

 
My taxi driver started out wary of me, telling me there would be lots of nice places around my hotel. Finally I got through to him and he took me to Walter’s Soulfood Express Cafe. It’s a little neighborhood joint in little row of businesses On Cleveland Avenue. The employees were friendly, and sure enough, there was a basket of peaches by the register. Welcome to Atlanta. The driver and I both ordered oxtails, and I also ordered fried catfish, because I needed to stock up after all.
 

 
There was a problem with my payment at the hotel, so it took forever to get to my room. Normally fried catfish would have steamed all to hell. But it was still crispy and delicious, even cold. It looks like there may be dark meat under the coating, but it’s just dark from all of the spices. The greens were spicy perfection, and the mac and cheese were just what you would expect.
 

 
The Marriott Marquis is frighteningly tall. My room is in the 20s and still near the bottom. The rails that are supposed to keep you from falling the length of the CN Tower look like monkey bars, which seem like they would be a dare to a person on the right kind of drunk. My room is nice and quiet, and the bed is sheer heaven. What more can you ask for?
 

 
Even though I was pretty full I gobbled up the rice and gravy from under the oxtails as a midnight snack. The gravy was unbelievable.
 

 
The red velvet cake was supermoist and had the surprising addition of nuts and a little bit of raisins. I’m still pondering whether or not I should have gotten the key lime cake.
 

 
On the way home, the driver had said, “Now that I saw that turkey, I think I’m going to have to go right back there and get that turkey. It looked so good.”
 
I knew this was my guy, “What’s your day rate? Want to have breakfast with me at Mary Mac’s tomorrow?”
 
#1

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    ChiTownDiner
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/02 15:31:51 (permalink)
    I like your style...I drive!
    #2
    EliseT
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 04:04:20 (permalink)
    DAY 2 MARY MACs Aquarium Centennial Park VARSITY
     

     
    Sunday morning was my first real exposure to Atlanta. Everyone had told me I would be shocked by how friendly people were, but I’m so aggressively friendl I felt very much in my element. My cab driver, Alatese and I had a beautiful brunch at Mary Mac’s. The tearoom was one of many women-owned restuarants that cropped up during WWII. Although it is on its third owner, each was hand-picked and commited to cntinuing the legacy. You can read more about the history here. A complimentary cup of pot likker (the nutrient and flavor-rich water from boiling greens) and corn bread is brought to first-timers. “Now, you just crumble that cornbread right up in there.”
     

     
    After a greeting, a drink order and short history, you are given a check to fill out with your order. The embossed pencils are a popular and frequently stolen souvenir (yes, I have a pencil. With my waitressess’ blessing). Not being from the South, I had the order the de rigeur and obvious fried green tomatoes. Under the thick fried coating was a sweet, sour tang that is understandably addictive. They are accompanied by a Parmesan dressing similar to Ranch. Alatese declined to try them.
     

     
    For my main dish I ordered the fried chicken, which was recommended by Roadfood. I noticed the fried food in the South is still a little greasy, but the grease is clean and not off-putting. Normally I judge fried food by its lack of greasiness, but this is a different ballgame altogether. By now I had broken through Alatese’s shell of politeness which had caused him to refuse to taste any of my food. This time when I shoved a chicken wing at him and ordered, “Here, eat this” he took it without argument. Sometimes good food wins out.
     

     
    The Brunswick stew was smoky and earthy and filled with pork. The cheese grits were like really good mac and cheese made with grits instead of macaroni. I was looking around for my other sides and I had to call the waitress over and explain that when I ran out of room I continued writing my order on the back of the check.
     

     
    Clockwise from left: Sweet potato souffle with melted marshmallow, a good dish to save for dessert. Tomato pie, with an ethereal topping of breadcrumbs, Parmesan and butter that is somehow as light as air. Dressing, just like you hope it will be, dense with cornbread and topped with gravy, Mac and cheese perfection.
     

     
    I tried Alatese’s baked catfish. Normally I would have it fried, but it made me a convert. He kept saying in disbelief, “It is so perfect. It melts in my mouth.”
     
    Do I dare to eat a peach? Yes! Take a nice fresh fruit and load it with butter and sugar, add a pie crust and some ice cream, and I will make room. I did have to take half of my main dish home to make room, but slurping the slippery peach slices up like wiggling fishies was worth saving room for.
     
    Regular readers may have noticed that I love aquariums! Last week I happened to catch a show called “Really Big Things” about the Atlanta Aquarium. They have the largest tank in the West, maybe the world, and they are the only place where we can see the world’s biggest fish — the whale shark. I couldn’t get there fast enough.
     

     
    The Ocean Voyager Exhibit holds 6.3 million gallons making it the largest aquarium habitat in the world. It is home to 4 manta rays and 4 whale sharks. It was recently home to hammerhead sharks until some unauthorized snacking landed them in isolation. Although the whale sharks aren’t yet full-grown, they are still enormous.
    I wanted to jump right in the aquarium and take a swim. The tour guide saod, “Oh you can do that. Talk to them up front about special programs.”
    Heeheeheeeheeee 
     

     
    I had a run of luck. After visiting the Aquarium I heard the faint strains of music coming from Centennial Park. I followed my ear and found an Arts Festival. People were spread out on a huge expanse of grass relaxing on blankets.
     

     

     
    Omar Sosa was onstage playing his particular brand of Latin and Afro-Cuban jazz. Born in Cuba, he now resides in Barcelona so it was a rare chance to see him perform.
     

     
    An order of conch fritters with peas and rice set me back 12 bucks. Conch is often compared to clams. Fried into as fritter at its best it is like a flavorless clam. At its worst it shrinks up into a chewy wad that sticks in your teeth like Jujubee candies. That being said, the fritter dough was fantastic, as were the peas and rice, which we call kidney beans in the US.
     

     

     
    Alligator
     

     
    After such a long day I was feeling a little peckish. We pulled up to the Varsity . According to the website, “The World’s Largest Drive-in sits on more than two acres and can accommodate 600 cars and over eight hundred people inside…It sells more than two miles of hotdogs daily, a ton of onion rings, 2500 pounds of fresh cut potatoes, 5000 homemade fried pies, and 300 gallons of chili, all of which are made from scratch daily. The downtown Varsity is also the world’s largest single outlet for Coca-Cola.”
     

     
     
    Compared to the monster burgers of LA, the Varsity chili burger looked a little wimpy. But good things come in small packages, and somehow the patty and their house-made chili melded together into one explosive meat bomb of flavor.
     

     
    Not only was the hot dog covered in that rich chili, but the dog itself was quality. A nice, intense Nathan’s kosher dog flavor stood up to the chili making for one hell of a dog.
     

     
    In spite of their impressive record with coca-Cola, the Varsity is all about the Frosty Orange, known to regulars as the F.O. It is like an orange shake with a slushy texture and real juice flavor instead of that artificial “orange drink” taste.

    My only disappointment was the peach pie, which was soaked with grease. An hour’s wait to eat it may be to blame, but judging by the taste, even eaten hot I would guess it would be more greasy than crispy.
    Car hops, or ”Curb men” holler to each car that pulls into the long row of parking spaces, letting everyone know that they are on their way, even when there are four cars ahead of them.
    “What’ll Ya Have?”
     

     
    post edited by EliseT - 2011/08/03 04:10:53
    #3
    ann peeples
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 04:12:04 (permalink)
    Awesome, awesome, awesome! Always loved your trips......glad to see you again!
    #4
    fatdoc
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 05:45:22 (permalink)
    What Fun!  Thanks for the wonderful start to the day.  
     
    Fatdoc
    #5
    agnesrob
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 09:14:45 (permalink)
    Wonderful report Elise! Sounds like you had fun!
    #6
    ChiTownDiner
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 09:32:04 (permalink)
    We have family in Atlanta and visit often...your pictures are SO clear...love your report...many of our 0ld favorites!
    #7
    ScreamingChicken
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 09:36:19 (permalink)
    Great start, Elise!  2 days in...how many more to go?
     
    When you described yourself as aggressively friendly I checked your location and was surprised to see you live in Los Angeles.  Where are you originally from?
     
    Brad
    #8
    Ralph Melton
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 09:40:33 (permalink)
    I'm quite enjoying this report.
    #9
    hatteras04
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 09:41:25 (permalink)
    We had a day very similar to your report a few years ago.  We went to the aquarium, then the Varsity for lunch and then Mary Macs for dinner.  We had good experiences at each place as well. 
     
    If you like aquariums, have been to the one in Chattanooga?  We thought it was one of the better ones we've been to. 
    #10
    tiki
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 09:48:16 (permalink)
    elise--once again--killer report!
     
    #11
    Nancypalooza
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 09:52:35 (permalink)
    TOMATO PIE!  I got that the last time we were at Mary Mac's and now it's on a very short list of stuff I must have again soon.  I'm glad I'm going back there in October.  It sounds like you had a wonderful couple days out, and Alatese is a sport.  :)
    #12
    wanderingjew
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 09:57:15 (permalink)
    Elise
     
    Great report. I hope to return to Mary Mac's next year when I detour to Atlanta after seeing the new ballpark in Miami.
     
    I haven't been to Mary Mac's since 1994 and I'm obviously way overdue for a return visit.
     
    Wish I could say I have a desire to visit The Varsity (i've never been), but I don't.
    #13
    kland01s
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 10:08:32 (permalink)
    Great report Elise! I wish I could find a cabbie that's up for adventure like that!
    #14
    mar52
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 10:30:54 (permalink)
    Elise, you already know I love your reports.
     
    This one did not disappoint.
     
    Welcome back!
    #15
    EliseT
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 10:31:57 (permalink)
    Thanks, everyone! I flew in Sat afternoon and flew out the following Sat morning. A few days were lost attending the conference I was there for, but I managed to make the most of my free time.
     
    As for my aggressive friendliness , LA is a megalopolis, so it really depends on what neighborhood you are from and what crowd you run with. And good genes. My mom grew up on farms in Alberta and always knew every neighbor between our house and the church.
     
    -adds Chatanooga to my must-visit list
     
    ...I would never have ordered tomato pie if Michael Stern hadn't raved about it, and as always, he was right.
     
    Every time I fly into a new town I question the cabbies to find out where they are from, and if there are ethnic restaurants or local gems around. When I find a cabbie who is a foodie, I offer to buy them lunch if they pick the place. They always turn off the meter, and someties I make a new friend.
     
     
     
     
    #16
    TJ Jackson
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 10:45:55 (permalink)
    so did you make it to Varasano's?
    post edited by TJ Jackson - 2011/08/03 13:36:21
    #17
    mar52
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 10:47:27 (permalink)
    You are a brave woman.
     
     
    #18
    carpwidow
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 12:35:38 (permalink)
    Great report!  I lived in Atlanta for 15 years and have wonderful memories of my crazy early years when we used to go to the Varsity on Sunday MORNINGS to eat my favorite chili dogs, burgers and of course piles of their greasy, wonderful french fries and onion rings.  In all those years, I never visited Mary Mac's.  Looks like I need to visit some relatives and rediscover my old stomping grounds.  Thanks for the blast from the past!   
    #19
    hatteras04
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 13:12:36 (permalink)
    I agree about the tomato pie and i think this recipe I found and tried is pretty accurrate.  It at least satisfied a craving:
     
    http://www.atlantamagazine.com/southernrecipes/sides/story.aspx?ID=1274565
    #20
    Heartbreaksoup
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 14:51:26 (permalink)
    I am really looking forward to reading days 3-7.  Even the ones stuck in conference will be worth it.
    #21
    EliseT
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/03 23:06:12 (permalink)
    Ritz crackers!!! There was something familiar in that tomato pie topping and it was driving me crazy. They just said "breadcrumbs". The mystery is revealed!
    #22
    tcrouzer
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/04 07:02:49 (permalink)
    But where is the sugar in that Tomato Pie recipe? Any type of tomato pie or casserole I've ever seen come out of the South had some extra sugar thrown in!
     
    Great trip report, Elise! Your experience with the cabbie goes go to show that often people are good at heart. I try to look for that as much as I can.
    #23
    HDtravlr1
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/04 08:58:35 (permalink)
    Fantastic trip report!
    Thank you
    #24
    Shara
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/04 14:10:26 (permalink)
    Your trip reports are always more than enough to pull me out of lurk mode to say, "Yay! An Elise T report!
    #25
    eruby
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/08 15:46:18 (permalink)
    Excellent report!  Been quite a few years but always love Atlanta!
     
    "What'll ya have?!"
    #26
    edwmax
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/08 16:24:17 (permalink)
    hatteras04

    I agree about the tomato pie and i think this recipe I found and tried is pretty accurrate.  It at least satisfied a craving:

    http://www.atlantamagazine.com/southernrecipes/sides/story.aspx?ID=1274565

     
    Thanks for the link;  I just added this to my notebook and will be serving Tomato Pie in a few weeks to a group I cook for.
     
    Thanks Elsie for the report, although I lived in Hot-Lanta for 18 years ... 70's & 80's
    #27
    agnesrob
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/10 07:58:19 (permalink)
    I made this tomato pie last week. Sooo rich. It was unlike anything I've had. I'll make it again!
    #28
    EliseT
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/14 15:29:49 (permalink)
    HOTLANTA MONDAY
     

     
    Gladys Knight and Ron Winans opened their Chicken & Waffles with her son Shanga Hankerson. Shanga, who started out working in his father’s butcher shop, continues the tradition today.
     

     
    The decor is upscale coffee shop, and the clientele is diverse, from tourists to a big, hunky sports team that I got caught in the middle of as we squeezed through the front door. When they realized they were bouncing me around like a pinball and apologized, I was breathless, “That’s OK. I can probably stay here for about 5 more minutes.”
     
    Once I had settled in and cooled off with an unsweetened tea, I ordered the Midnight Train: Four southern fried jumbo chicken wings and one Original waffle. I call these giant soul food chicken wings “bat wings”. The catfish and shrimp and grits both looked tempting, but if you are in a restaurant named after a dish, you should probably order that dish.
     

     
    The chicken had that same Atlanta-greasy-but-in-a-good-way crunch. But I am an LA hometown girl and I have to say Roscoes has the better waffles. Although the imprint was pretty cool. Golden Malted.
     

     
    Monday night there was going to be a birthday party for a friend of mine. I hadn’t heard from anyone, so after awhile I gave up and went to a nearby brewery that had piqued my interest. I had been eating so much soul food I thought I could get something healthy and grilled. After a brunch of chicken and waffles I had vowed not to eat any more fried food.
     

     
    I don’t drink like I used to, but it was a brewery after all with their very own brewmaster, John Roberts. I tend to like ambers and reds. Upon the server’s recommendation I tried Max Red “A vibrantly red Vienna-Style lager, Max Red is a mild blend of a rich toasted malt character and subtle style but spicy hop finish.”
     

     
    The 100-year old brick building is decorated in a simple but modern pub style, a nice place to while away an evening. The servers were friendly and service was prompt.
    I had noticed that there were 2 main fish dishes in Atlanta – catfish and salmon. When people asked me which I suggested, I would try to reply with more charm than sarcasm, “That depends, are we in Seattle or in the South?” Locally sourced food is big in California, and their menu did mention Neiman Ranch steaks. But when I asked where the lamb was from, the waitress looked at me like she wanted to say, “I think it went to Harvard.”
     

     
    Since I was looking for something local and the fire on the open grill made the whole room smell good, I started with the wood-grilled Georgia quail with honey balsamic glaze, bleu cheese grits, and pecan pesto. A very modern dish. The quails were succulent – I know it is an overused word, but there is nothing to describe how juicy and sweet the breast meat was. The grits were properly cooked, even though I am not big on blue cheese. When I remember Atlanta, this dish is one that I know I will return to order.
     

     
    My main dish of shrimp was delicious and the truffle grits were much more to my taste. Mid-way through the meal I got a call to go to the birthday dinner, so I sort of rushed through the dish and ran off to meet my friends.
     

     
    There was quite a buzz around town about the newly opened Mexican restaurant, No Mas. Even Alatese, my taxi driver had suggested we check it out. But i come from Los Angeles, land of burritos, and I couldn’t imagine a Mexican restaurant in Atlanta coming close. No Mas turned out to be the site of my friend’s birthday party, and we all piled into a line of cars, even stuffing people in the hatchbacks like teenagers.
     

     

     
    I suspect a lot of the hype around No Mas was a result of their super-hip and colorful decor. It was definitely a nice party venue. Since I had just eaten, I chose to have a liquid dinner – a passion fruit margarita. That’s probably another reason for the hype – who has ever heard of a passion fruit margarita?
     

     
    I can’t really comment on the food, since I didn’t eat any. Everyone seemed satisfied but not impressed. The cocktails were really the star of the show. I stole a sip of my neighbor’s tortilla soup, and it was your standard generic tortilla soup – nothing wrong with it, but nothing to crow about. The combo platter looked downright unappetizing, so I won;t assault your senses with that picture. Instead, here is a close-up of the nachos, the ultimate drunk food.
     

     
    But this night was not so much about food as it was about good friends

    post edited by EliseT - 2011/08/14 15:32:44
    #29
    lleechef
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    Re:EliseT Hits Hotlanta 2011/08/14 16:27:12 (permalink)
    As always, nice report Elise and beautiful, enticing pictures.  You narrative though, never fails to crack me up.  Keep it up, my friend!! 
    #30
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