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Food Waves:

June 14, 2011

Culinary Compendium

What to eat and drink in Atlanta RIGHT NOW

By Nancy Staab

From three new Italian eateries to brew-tails, local foodie folk heroes and smoked ice cocktails, we have the dish on what is trending now on the Atlanta culinary scene

Gnude Carbonara at Double Zero Napoletana. Gnude Carbonara at Double Zero Napoletana.

Noveau Rustico:Three New Italian Places for Noshing

It’s an Italian smack down with new Sandy Springs restaurant Double Zero Napoletana [ the name referencing the ultimate standard for Napoletano pizza flour] from the Iberian Pig team squaring off with two other Italian concepts coming this summer: Cibo e Bevi  [translation: snacks and drinks] in Buckhead by the Food 101 group and No. 246 in Decatur by Ford Fry (JCT Kitchen) and Drew Belline ( formerly ofFloataway Café) slated to open July 12. We will have to wait to see who takes the prize as top tomato, but all three concepts manage to fall nicely into what New York magazine food critic Adam Platt calls the “nouveau rustico” trend.  Among the components:  snappy Italian names (in the case of two of the restos), carefully curated salumi boards, earthy from-scratch pastas and authentic peasant food ingredients like cured pork jowls. To this list we might also add:  a carefully curated wine and cocktail list (heavy on Campari and Aperol);  antipasti like arancini  (fried rice balls) and grilled octopus; an authentic wood-burning pizza oven imported from Naples; state-of-the-art espresso machine; Italian pastries and rustic-chic decors crafted by top local design teams (ai3 for Cibe e Beve and Smith Hanes for No. 246). We are not sure who ignited this new Italian trend in Atlanta: my guess is La Pietra Cucina and cult-fave Antico Pizza, not to mention the gold standard Sotto Sotto/Fritti, but we say bravissimo to these Italian imports. 

Star Eat-aly Dishes:

Double Zero Napoletana:  www.doublezeroatl.com

Uovo pizza with arugula, Fior di Latte, asparagus, watermelon radish, roasted red pepper, farm egg

“The Roast” –roasted pork shoulder served in cast iron with house-made accoutrements (pizza nuvole, pickled vegetables, grilled radicchio salad, pepper jelly, roasted garlic puree, Calabrian chiles, apple-almond mostarda). Serves four to six people.

Torta al Formaggio– Goat cheesecake, brown sugar plums, balsamic gastrique, rosemary-pinenut brittle, molasses cookie, red wine sorbet

Cibo e Beve:  www.ciboatlanta.com

Orecchiette with turnip greens, Riverview Farms sausage, asiago

Veal Milanese: Elliott Shimley Veal chop, arugula salad, heirloom tomatoes, parmigiano reggiano, saba, ligurian olive oil

Cannoli flight

No. 246:  www.no246.com

Charred octopus with smokey potatoes, pickled celery and chili-lemon vinaigrette

Meyer lemon and sheep’s milk ricotta agnolotti with parmesan

Chocolate tart with sea salt and extra virgin olive oil

Drive-By-Dining: Food Trucks

The local street carts/food trucks movement has come a long way since it’s humble beginnings about two years ago when the King of Pops gourmet paletas cart or a sighting of Super Jenny’s or Yumbii’s Korean taco truck whipped foodie bloggers into a frenzy.  Thanks to Hayley Richardson, founder of The Atlanta Street Food Coalition (www.atlantastreetfood.com), president Greg Smith (of the Westside Creamery truck) and loads of grass-roots local support, the movement has grown from sporadic to coordinated street-food-paloozas all over town. One of the latest offerings is the Street Food Thursdays every Thursday from 11AM to 2PM in Midtown  at Woodruff Arts Plaza  and the space outside of Empire Street South. It’s a thrill to see the office suits come down form their towers, loosen their ties, and chow on a Pup Truck dog while mingling with the street crowd, turning this walk-able portion of the city into an urban moveable feast. The Atlantic Station, under new owners, has also launched a Food Truck Fridays 11AM to 2PM that will extend into evening during their summer concert series, and Tuesday evenings from 5-10PM, you can find a convergence of carts at the new Howell Milll Food Park in Westside organized by Mark Lindenbaum with the Atlanta Street Food Coalition www.facebook.com/howellmillfoodpark.  On Wednesdays track the trucks in the parking lot of Rathbun’s in Inman Park. Also check out the original street food fest Urban Picnic one Saturday a month, at the Sweet Auburn Curb Market www.sweetauburncurbmarket.com

The Cart We Heart: The Fry Guy

Atlantans were up in arms when local government officials cracked down on The Fry Guy’s (aka chef Andrew Long’s) super successful operation in the Virginia-Highlands, but he’s since resurfaced with all the right permits to dole out paper cones of his crispy, twice-fried, Belgian-style frites. The fries are served with  15 gourmet dipping sauces that range from garlic aioli to honey Siracha mayo and a red curry ketchup. Track The Fry Guy’s locale at twitter.com/#!/atlfryguy.

Americana Eats: Hot Dogs, Ice Cream and Beer!

JCT. dog. Photo by Jeff Moore. JCT. dog. Photo by Jeff Moore.

HOT Dogs

Move over burgers. From the handmade, Springer Mountain Farms-sourced chicken sausage slingers at Delia’s Chicken Sausage Stand  (a new pop up sausage shack in East Atlanta from the Flying Biscuit founder and a Seeger’s alumn), to The Pup Truck hawking dogs on the go like the Chihuha (gourmet dog with cheese, onions and rotel jalepenos), Atlanta is bull(dog)ish for hot dogs. Richard Blais has a haute-dog joint in the works and top eateries like Star Provisions, Holeman and Finch, Local Three and The Bakeshop (the latter sourcing his dog from Spotted Trotter) are proffering their own takes on this ballpark favorite. Perhaps the most ambitious entry to the scene is JCT Kitchen, whose Weiner Wednesdays offer four versions of the dog at $2 a pop such as the smoked Coca-Cola BBQ weiner with Vidalia onion relish or the chicken liver weiner with apple butter, house mustard and tiny pickles. You can also get them for lunch Tues-Sat. but they’ll cost you $4 apiece.  Or go Bavarian with the wurst platter at Der Biergarten downtown. The craziest entry: The Good Food Truck’s “The Poodle” –i.e.  a beef hot dog slathered with apple maple slaw and served in a French toast bun: it’s breakfast/lunch and hangover food all in one.

Cream of the Crop

Lawyer/foodie Greg Smith has earned raves for his ice cream truck Westside Creamery. No creamsicles here, this is the grown-up version of frozen treats. His small-batch, “farm-to-bowl” creations with milk and cream sourced form a Georgia farm, include top-seller salted butter caramel and our fave: a divine strawberry and champagne sorbet www.westsidecreamery.com.

Morelli’s started the local gourmet ice cream trend with all-natural treats in daring flavors such as sweet corn, coconut jalapeno, chocolate Guiness and maple bacon brittle. Top Chef contender/Woodfire Grill chef Kevin Gillespie partnered up with Morellis’ on some custom flavors and now they have a second shop in Edgewood with ice-cream sandwich-shaped booths and a new milkshake and sundae bar so you can double-dip. www.morellisicecream.com.

Chances are that if you ordered ice cream from an Atlanta restaurant lately, it came from High Road, the preferred purveyor for dozens of restos and caterers from Dogwood and South City Kitchen to Dennis Dean and Bold American Catering. Until recently if you wanted to take a pint home you were out of luck, but we heard from the horse’s mouth that local Whole Foods will soon be selling the stuff so you can tuck into their densely whipped concoctions like mission fig, bourbon-burnt-sugar, red velvet or French toast from your own freezer. www.highroadcraft.com

Honeysuckle sorbets Honeysuckle sorbets

Honeysuckle Gelato just added their name to the local ice cream, well, gelato pool with gourmand flavors like lavender, mint julep and a watermelon sorbet. They also have more playful scoops like "The Kang" a toasted banana ice cream with peanut butter caramel swirl tribute to Elvis (hold the bacon) and their Waffle House flavor made with the house's own proprietary waffle batter! Co-founder Jackson Smith learned his craft with a mentorship at Il Laboratorio del Gelato, so he and his two business partners know what they are doing. Coming soon:  a roving truck so they can dispense their seasonal, small-batch sweets about town. www.honeysucklegelato.com

OK these have to be consumed in an actual restaurant, but we just had to give Honorable Mention to Miller Union’s divine house-made ice cream sandwiches from the lunch menu. The house-made ice cream flavors that are wedged between the chocolate cookies may rotate, such as butterscotch marshmallow, cherry, or a more grown up Earl Gray, but the result is always a creamy, dreamy nostalgia-trip wrapped in waxed paper.

Craft Beer and Brew-Tails

Nick Purdy of Wild Heaven. Nick Purdy of Wild Heaven.

After years of obsessive oenophiles, beer is back, baby, and creating quite a splash. Just a year in business together, former Paste magazine publisher Nick Purdy and his brewmaster Eric Johnson recently celebrated their first evolution from tap to bottle with two brews: Invocation (a Belgian style golden ale) and Ode to Mercy (an imperial brown ale that’s actually brewed with coffee beans--genius!), available at many local spirits stores. Their local micro-brewing company Wild Heaven has already earned raves from Food & Wine magazine and the guys have their sights set on a Decatur brewery in 2012. www.wildheavencraftbeers.com Meanwhile, several restaurants are adding beer to their mixology menu (and we’re not just talking Shandys) such as Fado, Yeah Burger, Escorpion and The Family Dog –the latter spiking Miller High Life with a secret special sauce and a fancy black salt sea rim! Speaking of Miller High Life, that’s also the brewski of choice in JCT Kitchen’s best-selling Double Cross, which mixes the beer with gin, lemon and thyme syrup for a summery sip. Want to take your beer consumption to another level? Check out the oddly tasty beer tart at Tap, reminiscent of a chess pie, in a buttery crust. We prefer it with a scoop of their also surprisingly good brown bread ice cream (more like crumbly bits of cinnamon toast). Lastly, for true brew afficionados there’s the cutely-named, newish Ale Yeah! store in Decatur with 485 craft beers on the shelf; gourmet cheeses, chocolates and charcuterie for pairing; and even a barley dispenser on hand should you spring for the home-brewing kit. www.aleyeahbeer.com

Atlanta Food Folk Heroes 2011

Here’s the tireless and talented folks that widened our food waves and drummed up the most love for our local food culture

Girls with True Grit(s): Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter of Atlanta Food and Wine Festival

Kudos to Atlanta Food and Wine Festival founders Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter, who successfully coordinated Atlanta’s inaugural Food and Wine Festival and brought it off brilliantly and smoothly with nary a hitch. We have their vision and perseverance to thank for bourbon and barbecue curated food tents, Coke-tail recipes with Holeman and Finch’s Greg Best, seminars on everything form puttin’ up by Hilary While to hot tamales courtesy of John Currence, a raise-the-roof private house party with Kevin Rathbun, plus more national star chef sightings than you can shake a stick at (John Besh, Frank Stitt, Michelle Bernstein, Dale DeGroff,  Stephan Pyles, Sean Brock, The Lee Brothers,  etc) . More than just a food frenzy, thoughtful programming married the haute and the homespun, the academic with the hedonistic and the just plain fun. And with Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine magazine as national sponsors, and national press and bloggers (including eater.com) swarming, these industrious ladies secured major national attention for our local culinary talents.  We’ve already got next year’s fest on our calendars:  Atlanta Food and Wine Festival  2012: May 17-20,  atlfoodandwinefestival.com

Foodie Scofflaws: Tucker Berta and the Midtown Street Food Thursdays Team

We love the creativity and moxie that Tucker Berta, director of PR for the Midtown Alliance, demonstrated in coordinating the city’s first major street cart convergence in Midtown this spring---Midtown’s Street Food Thursdays. Tucker Berta, who bills herself as a big local food proponent (as well as Midtown champion) put her head together with Greg Smith, President of the Atlanta Street Food Coalition, and the clever duo figured out a way to circumvent pesky food and health edicts via some legal maneuvering to secure special use and vendor permits. But the key to the puzzle was the generous donation of private land for the event by the Woodruff Arts Center and developers John Dewberry and Jamestown Properties.  Atlanta councilman Kwanza Hall also proved a vital advocate and cheerleader. (Most recently Hall proposed legislation that removes many of the restrictions for food trucks operating on private property and surface-parking lots.)  The results of this tenacious team's efforts? The most vibrant, community-building, scene to hit Midtown in quite some time.

ATL’s Most Lovably Neurotic Chef: Richard Blais

Who didn’t love watching neurotic, madly creative, sweet but slightly tortured chef Richard Blais (who admitted on national TV that he hates every dish he makes after he creates it) score the Bravo Top Chef All-Stars title over scheming, overly aggressive, Yankee-accented Mike Isabella? We loved the moniker for his TV restaurant Tongue and Cheek and hope he takes the concept here to Atlanta (including that artful amuse bouche oyster with crème fraiche pearls)! In the meantime, we will just bask in his always-delicious creative insanity at Flip (Chicken and Waffles with fried chicken, mole sauce, cabbage cilantro salad and corn jalapeno waffles anyone?) and await his next local project. We expect an official announcement any day about Haute Doggery  his new high-concept hot dog/sausage/charcuterie resto, which is slated to open in just weeks.

Southern Food Ways Fan Boy: Linton Hopkins

As the godfather of local food culture and Southern food ways, Linton Hopkins (Restaurant Eugene, Holeman & Finch) has already been enshrined many times in local and national press. But the guy just keeps pushing the culinary envelope and we can barely keep up. There he was at a recent Peachtree Farmer’s Market foraging for produce and giving seminars on pickling and putting up. He also has a cameo in the brilliant new film Grow! about young, organic farmers in Georgia, and, as the current President of the Southern Foodways Alliance, he makes sure our Southern culinary traditions remain intact. This spring he inaugurated a new Author Dinner series at Restaurant Eugene that’s pure genius, pairing authors with special dinner menus that reflect their work. Past guests have included notable food commentators, critics and chefs John T. Edge, Kim Severnson, and Gabrielle Hamilton.  Up next: an Eat Like a Man dinner with author/Esquire mag. journalist Tom Junod on July 11. And Hopkins has a serious eye for talent, recently snagging David Sweeny (chef of the late, lamented vegetarian palace Dynamic Dish) as his Chef de Jardin and award-winning Aaron Russell (Seeger’s and The Chocolate Bar) as his pastry Svengali. Russell just inaugurated a new  3- and 5 -course dessert tasting menu at the resto. Next door, his Holeman & Finch has won raves as a more casual, hipster gastro pub with clever Southern small plates and equally clever cocktails. Lastly, Linton expanded his culinary empire this spring with H& F Bottle Shop at Peachtree Battle shopping center run, in part, by Ashley Hall, a Kermit Lynch alum. There you can stock up on great wines, artisanal mixers, the house’s homemade Bloody Mary Mix and private label brandied cherries to up your mixology ante at home. Check out H& F Bottle Shop’s Thursday wine tastings, which tackle such themes as what to pair with picnic fried chicken or their new Unplugged and Uncorked event every Saturday night this summer, which pairs a wine tasting with live music from hot local acts for $35.  Restauranteugene.com; www.holeman-finch.com; hfbottleshop.com

Georgia Organics’ Mack Daddy: Ford Fry

Since moving here from Texas, chef/owner Ford Fry of JCT. Kitchen has proved his mettle by creating and maintaining a restaurant that continually runs on all 4 cylinders--from food and décor to beverages and service. More than that, Fry was one of the first Atlanta chefs to tap into guest-chef dinners. His resto has hosted Southern luminaries such as John Currence and Frank Stitt via his Farm to Table and Back Dinners, and he recently announced plans to mentor several of Atlanta’s own up- and-coming chefs and their projects. Up first: No. 246, his joint project with  former Floataway chef Drew Belline, that will bring seasonal, rustic Italian fare to Decatur. Fry also established the annual Attack of the Killer Tomato Fest , now in it’s third year, will all proceeds going to Georgia Organics. This year’s event is slated for Sunday July 17,  1-5 PM. (For tickets: http://www.jctkitchen.com). In fact, Ford Fry donated a whopping $30,875 to Georgia Organics in 2010 via his Farm to Table dinners, Attack of the Killer Tomato Fest and other initiatives.

Underground Gourmets and Food Raves!

The semi-illicit thrill of dining clandestinely with mystery guests, sometimes in arcane venues, and uncovering hidden food gems is all part of the rush behind the current underground gourmet trend. The New York Times recently stated that these “tribal gatherings of young chefs, vendors and their iron-stomached followers are remaking the traditional farmers market as an indie food rave.” Ok, granted it’s not 100% underground when it’s hit the press, but we still get a thrill from groups like Dinner Party (an invite-only supper club created by some of the savvy players from Sound Table), which cooks up innovative dishes in creative spaces like the Georgia Tech. basketball court!  www.dinnerpartyatlanta.comScofflaw Mondays is a clubby industry event for local mixologists with more than a whiff of the speakeasy about it. The group hosted renowned “King of Cocktails” Dale DeGroff last spring in their secret Midtown locale. We’d give the deets on how to join, but this one is 100% secret. Lastly, Underground Market was founded last year by California transplant Michaela Graham as a culinary incubator to promote edgy food experiments and concepts. Among recent eats on offer at Underground Market: New Orleans gumbo,  pig ear sandwiches, Cactus pico de gallo, Thai curry shrimp eggrolls with plantain/mango sauce, and cigar infused lollipops courtesy of Radical Sugar at the recent chocolate themed event. Sign up at www.atlantaundergroundmarket.com

Pork belly Pork belly "bacon" and scallops at South City Kitchen.

Fave Fat: Pork Belly

This unctuous cut of meat has been a chef favorite for a while now, with near-ubiquitous status on menus about town, but we’re not complaining. Some serve it humbly as a super loaded BLT (The Family Dog andOne-Eared Stag ); others as a soulful farm plate (ie. The sorghum glazed pork belly with ramp and pea purée and pickled rhubarb at Miller Union, the “three little piggies” dish at 4th and Swift, and crisp pork belly with roasted corn blini, chow-chow, sorghum vinaigrette at Park 75 ) or as Chinese steamed pork belly buns (Kaleidoscope, Holeman & Finch and Super Pan Latino) and lettuce wraps (Watershed). Others take a more sophisticated approach balancing the richness of pork belly with clean tastes of the sea such as the pork belly and octopus combo served seasonally at The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead Café and the scallops and “ fresh bacon” (aka pork belly) with herb salad and peach-pepper jelly at South City Kitchen.  Honorary Runner-Up: duck fat. It’s quickly inching up on pork belly with all the duck-fat fries (Kaleidoscope), potato chips (The Family Dog) and duck fat-fried okra (The Local Three) popping up on local menus.

Esoteric Drink Names

Sometimes you can decode the name of a drink and its relation to the ingredients, other times the names are so abstract and fanciful as to appear to be a avant-garde literary exercise. Either way, we are a fan of the lengths our professorial mixologists have gone lately, not only to craft authentic drinks, but give them wry monikers. Here’s a few recent favorites: 

“The Drunken Gardener” at Wahoo Grill:  Crop 100% organic cucumber vodka, fresh basil from the garden, simple syrup

 “Long Live the Queen” at Ecco, which is likened to  “a walk in the garden with Elizabeth” (ie. QEII) and features Bombay Sapphire with hints of elderflower, lemon, peach and mint

 “Murder on the Dance Floor” at Tap: white rum, roasted strawberries, fresh lemon juice topped with champagne and hibiscus water

 “Jet to Seoul” at Yeah! Burger:  Ty Ku Soju, organic pear and hibiscus juice

 “The Savage Detective” at Sound Table: Joven mezcal, Karlsson’s Gold vodka, punt e mes, white cacao, maraschino, lemon

 Kilted Pistolero at Holeman & Finch:  cazadores blanco, Drambuie, angostura bitters, citrus

 “Bitter and Stoned” at Leon’s Full Service:   Beefeater gin, house apricot-ginger liquer, lemon, cynar, house grapefruit bitters

Local Foodie Read

Like the haiku quality of its title, the book Meat. Salt. Time. is a compact but poetic tribute to one artisanal charcuterie maker who translated his heritage 400-year-old meat curing business from Biella, Italy,to, of all places, Salt Lake City, Utah.  Local chef and author Tony Seichrist (formerly of The Farmhouse at Serenbe and Holeman & Finch) uses salumi master Christiano Creminelli as an entry point into the fascinating alchemy of meat curing--dissecting the entire process from the butchering skills to the spicing of the salumi. The photography ranges from the analytic to the lyrical and the result is a beautiful tribute to craft culinary practices. See our more lengthy profile of Seichrist coming soon. Get the book at Bella Cucina, www.bellacucina.com or www.amazon.com

Smoking Allowed

Forget liquid nitrogen, the new show-off chef technique seems to be smoking:  whether smoked meats, smoked mayo, smoked salts and spices, smoked cocktails and even, yes, smoked ice! Read on for more on the latter phenomenon.

Super Condiments

Korean food, particularly barbecue, is getting major love by our local chefs and so is kimchee—the spicy Korean condiment formed from fermented red cabbage, chile peppers and a raft of spices. In addition to it’s bountiful presence at Buford Highway eateries, you can find it sprinkled on a cucumber salad at Tap, put into grits as an accompaniment to pork belly at Empire State South, as a kimchee ketchup topping the Korean barbecue burger at Flip, as a chilled soup at Honey Pig that bastion of Korean eats in Duluth, or the  kimchee slaw on the “We’ve Got Seoul” Korean barbecue taco at the new Bad Dog Taqueria in Decatur. Honorable Runner-Up for Trendiest Condiment: Sriacha sauce, a.k.a. Rooster Sauce, due to the rooster depicted on it’s bottle. This Chinese hot sauce is popping up on hipster menus all over town but only daredevil tastebuds need apply.

Kristen Hard at Cacao Buckhead. Kristen Hard at Cacao Buckhead.

Chocolate Divas

So alike, yet so different. Atlanta has been blessed with two brilliant chocolate artisans. Kristen Hard of Cacao develops her single-origin chocolate “from bean to bar” (one of only a handful of women in the country that can be categorized as official chocolate makers) and she has garnered a slew of elite awards and national press for her precious bonbons. Scientific and precise, she can talk breathlessly about the cultivation of the chocolate bean and it’s sourcing including her attempts to tap into the Ur chocolate bean, as well as the health benefits of this miracle ingredient.  On the other hand, her swoonworthy new chocolate boutique  Cacao Buckhead whispers of romance. There she proffers her exquisite, intensely flavored truffles like lavender apricot, coffee cardamom or fig preserve and balsamic, like jewels on tiny silver trays. (Hard is also expanding her first shop in Virginia Highland, which will conveniently be located right next to an expanded Bella Cucina on Va-Hi’s main drag). The Buckhead shop, which opened this spring next door to Fellini’s Pizza/La Fonda on Peachtree Road is a bijoux sweets salon swathed in white marble with glinting mirrors and Old World chandeliers that’s as dreamy as her decadent chocolates. www.cacaoatlanta.com. Coming soon: our exclusive profile of Hard and her new shop.

Meanwhile, earthy, alterna-chocolate-whisperer Taria Camarino (formerly of Top Flr, Highland Bakery and Restaurant Eugene fame) has opened up her own innovative sweet shop, Radical Sugar, also in Va-Hi neighborhood. However, in this case, the locale is a scrappy neighborhood just of Ponce at 680 Drewry Road. Look for a bright green door on a ramshackle little cottage and ignore the sketchy warehouse environs, because inside is a deliriously good selection of free-trade chocolate confections with imaginative flavors such as dark chocolate brie walnut fig, blackberry crème de violette with 70% Venezuelan chocolate or Massaman curry spiked chocolate sprinkled with exotic dustings like tamarind or black lava salt. Unlike Hard’s silver trays and elegant embossed packaging, Camarino’s confections are wrapped in basic brown butcher paper, and whereas Hard is perfectionistic and precise, Camarino has been known to wax rather hippy-dippy/mystical when speaking of dark chocolate and its “deep vibrations.” But after tasting her black heart bonbon with Madagascar vanilla and the kick of chiles, we feel the hum! The shop is open Thurs.-Sun. 2-7 PM, with special multi-course dessert tastings on Fridays and Saturdays for up to 12 people. www.sugarcoatedradical.org

Summer in a Salad

Our vote for best “summer in a salad” could have gone to any number of contenders but what seals the deal for Park 75’s deceptively simple shaved apple, Great Hill blue cheese and hydro-Bibb dish is the addition of Chef/beekeeper Robert Gerstenecker’s “fifth-floor” honey. Why fifth floor? Because he cultivates the honey himself in an apiary on the roof of The Four Seasons.  In fact, Gerstenecker's bees are on track to yield a whopping 200 pounds of honey this summer!  This sublime salad is local, sustainable and organic in a nutshell (or should we say bee hive). www.fourseasons.com/atlanta

Best Veggie Sandwich 

You couldn’t have convinced us that a meatless sandwich, featuring roasted cauliflower as the primary ingredient, could be anything but a virtuous bore.  However, that was before we sunk our teeth into Bocado’s roasted cauliflower sammie with Chinese and Thai eggplant, cilantro, and spicy mayo.  Complex, flavorful and with satisfying crunch plus the meatiness of the eggplant, this sandwich threatens to bump Bocado’s legendary burger and roasted poblano and pimento cheese off their pedestals. www.bocadoatlanta.com

Summer in a Glass 

We’re not sure why this sip is called Eviction Notice (perhaps it deserves mention in our drinks with outlandish names column) but this pink, slightly sweet and refreshing watermelon concoction is literally summer in a glass. Veer Acai spirit, watermelon juice, fresh lemon juice and basil create this simple but sublime sip at Tapwww.tapat1180.com

Edible Expansions

We can’t wait for  Bella Cucina's imminent move to it’s expanded space, just a few doors down on Highland Ave. in Virginia-Highland. The high priestess of Italian style and epicureanism, Alisa Barry, is expanding her gourmet/lifestyle boutique and with the new space will come a new take-out food bar for roast porchetta sandwiches, warm pressed Panini, freshly baked focaccia and sundry other delicacies in addition to her beautifully packaged Italian foods, cookbooks, tableware, antipasti and olive oils. www.bellacucina.com. We are likewise excited about Cakes & Ale’s expanded spot in Decatur, which will allow for a separate pastry area, a rooftop garden, a private dining space and outdoor café tables. We are sure the larger digs will allow Chez Panisse-trained chef Billy Allin’s culinary finesse to shine even brighter when he reopens in July. www.cakesandalerestaurant.com

Local Foodie Flick: Grow!

“Who knew farmer’s were so sexy?” was one of the marketing tag lines for this locally produced film, which focuses on young, organic farmers plying their trade in our own state of Georgia. Photographer/filmmakers Anthony-Masterson are the creators of this thoughtful, beautiful film which delves way beyond surface sex appeal to the poignant issues facing today’s young farmers and our food culture in general. Catch the film in the perfect pastoral setting July 16 when Serenbe Farms screens the flick outdoors in the wildflowers meadow. Bring you car, drive--in style, or pack a picnic and spread out with a blanket or chairs for a BYOB feast. Live bluegrass music from Little Country Giants at 7PM , foodie raffles and several street food trucks like Westside Creamery make it a summer hoe-down. The movie screens at 9PM, tickets $10 per person benefitting the Emergency Farmer's Fund for Georgia's farmers. For more info see:  http://growmovie.blogspot.com

And coming soon to LuxeCrush: our exclusive interview of the filmmakers and a cheat sheet of some the local farmers/farms featured in the film and where to find them at local markets.

Flash-Food

In tandem with the underground trend is the flash-food trend. You know, those coveted menu items that only pop up on certain days and at certain times and are often not even listed on the menu. The classic example is the by-now cult After 10PM burger at Holeman and Finch, which incited near riots until they also decided to offer it at Sunday brunch or slider Wednesdays at The Shed in Glenwood. More recently, it’s the seasonal summer lobster roll that is generating flash appearances, whether at The Bakeshop, Yeah Burger, Dogwood, JCT (Fri./Sat. lunch only) or the Saturday-night-only lobster roll at Bocado. What will be the next flash frenzy: after-dark dim sum?

Most Playful Grub Hub

It’s stunning to think that the rarefied, rather formal, gastronome’s temple Joël once occupied the space now inhabited by Local Three. So dramatic is the transformation that Joel Antunes must be gasping all the way from London’s shores where he is now posted. Goodbye red leather banquettes and Andalusian gazapacho with cucumber sorbet, hello kitschy tag sale pig portraits and a serious homage to the stoner movie The Big Lebowski. However, Local Three has been a runaway hit with populace and critics from day-one in a challenging space many had written off as doomed-- proving that this team of three (the two owners of Muss and Turner’s and chef Chris Hall) has mastered the culinary zeitgeist completely. Their motto: “Delicious Trumps. Pretense Stinks, Seasonal Makes Sense, Comfort Feels Good…” kind of says it all. Of course a bar that stocks 60 bourbons by the glass, boasts a warm décor by ai3, and playful dishes such as the Notorious P.I.G. house-cured charcuterie platter is worth checking out. But don't miss  more serious but satisfying dishes on the menu such as summer corn soup with pancetta, chili oile and cilantro or trout with crispy Brussels sprouts. And did we mention that the chef now invites patrons into what was once Joel’s forbidden temple-like  kitchen every Sunday for a self-serve brunch? www.localthree.com

The New Chefs to Watch 

It was a fairly slow year in terms of new restaurant openings, but these top toques certainly captured our attention with their accomplished cooking and popular grub hubs favored by fans and critics alike: La Fourchette’s Jeffrey Wall overcame his somewhat challenged space opposite Bones in Buckhead with exquisite French-Mediterranean fare that betrays his past stint at Joël and wine list crafted by Perrine Prieur (formerly of Joël, now of Perrine’s Wine Shop). We are still dreaming about his delicate, saffron-infused grilled loup de mer and hear that an adjoining Mediterranean pizza/flat bread resto may be in his future! www.lafourchetteatlanta.com

Executive chef Ryan Smith was not the opening chef at Empire State South, but he quickly swooped in and managed to put his own imprint on Hugh Achesons’ always-booming Midtown eatery. And with a resume that includes many hallowed culinary palaces like Bacchanalia, Canoe, Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch, Smith is clearly a seasoned chef who brings clean, subtle flavors to the fore in ESS’s menu of  “composed meat and threes.” www.empirestatesouth.com

Robert Phalen got all the bloggers buzzing when Holy Taco came to town. This hip, East Atlanta hot spot was serving up tacos and pan-Latin tapas with a decided twist. Think edgy ingredients like buttermilk fried chicken hearts, roasted beef tongue and goat’s meat, in addition to the more expected taco fillings. This Shaun Doty, Gunther Seeger and Alon Balshon alumn brings this same edgy-authentic vibe to his brand new spot One-Eared Stag,  a taxidermy-decorated resto located in the old Shaun’s space in Inman Park. www.oneearedstag.com. On the quirky-gourmet menu at opening time:  veal heart with chimichurri, fried chicken necks with kimchee, soft shell crab, with a field pea salad, a pork belly BLT, pole beans with apricots and cured ham, roasted baby carrots with house-cured guancile and chili, and  grilled ham and cheese with quince paste. We can’t wait to see how this distinctive space, menu and chef evolve.

We were going to buzz Robert Elliott as the top toque at Sprig but now comes word that this Watershed alum has departed the restaurant. We will try to track him down for a future update but we will miss his hearty bratwurst with caramelized red cabbage and apples; mussels steamed in a Sweetwater brew; mozzarella grit cakes; pan-seared chicken with ham pudding and other fresh takes on regional foods from the Sprig menu.

Banh Mi Moment

With pork belly and Asian food both trending now, the banh mi is having a moment. This classic French-Vietnamese street sandwich usually gets a bit of a makeover when translated down South (to wit: the tasty Benton’s country ham banh mi at The Family Dog). Several local restos have taken a shining to this sandwich, but by far the best is Star Provision’s  rather classic version featuring glazed pork belly and  the satisfying crunch of pickled chili on a toasted baguette. At $13.95 it’s still a total steal! www.starprovisions.com

Best “Take-Outs”

Whether it’s the hard-to-avoid sweets table laden with homemade Oreos and other  homespun treats, or the hawking of  “Monobrow Preservation Society” T-shirts that gently chide chef/owner Hugh Acheson unruly brow, Empire State South wins the best “take-out” category. Add to that ESS’s innovative lunch pails for the office worker and their take-away count rises to three.  A sample lunch pail menu:  salad of baby gems lettuce, pickled radish, roasted turnips and Dijon vinaigrette; Paris ham gougeres with pickled onions, arugula, green hill cheese and mustard; and rhubarb short bread. www.empirestatesouth.com

Best Vegetables

Empire State South also handily wins the best vegetables awards. Not to say that their proteins aren’t divine but rare is it for a restaurant to put as much love, labor and flavor into the veggie accompaniments. Acheson and chef Ryan Smith had us at collard greens with ham hocks and charred fennel with preserved citrus. www.empirestatesouth.com. Honorable Runner-Up: We love Parish’s creative and scrumptious takes on veggies, whether Joe’s Bacon and Beets salad; the chilled asparagus with pickled local mushrooms, poached egg, black pepper vinaigrette, fried cornbread and parmesan; the savory organic mushroom cheesecake or the veggie frites with pot liquor aioli. www.parishatl.com

Smoked Ice and Other Man-Drinks

After all the girly iterations of cosmos, it’s no wonder that men have taken back the cocktail of late with more macho swills.  It hardly gets more manly than a Manhattan but factor in house tobacco and orange bitters, as they do for The Smoking Jacket at 4th and Swift (www.fourthandswift.com) and it ups the drink to alpha-male status. Ditto the New York Robusto--a tobacco-infused bourbon concoction with vermouth, wild lavender honey and flamed orange peel that was served this past winter at Iberian Pig, Decatur, (www.theiberianpigatl.com) and the barrel-aged Negronis at Zero Napoletana www.doublezeroatl.com. Factor in smoked ice (yes, that’s right), a special technique offered at Cibo e Bevi, and you have a beverage tailor made for the Y-chromosome set.

Miles McQuarrie of Leon's Full Service. Miles McQuarrie of Leon's Full Service.

Future Eats

We hear that talented mixologist Miles McQuarrie of Leon’s Full Service has a new  project up his sleeve with several partners..stay tuned for more details to come.  >>> Ditto Bruce Logue of La Pietra, who has a long term plan hatching, but we've been sworn to secrecy on the details.>>>Patrick LaBouff, a member of the Sound Table team, is building out the former Lupe space on Juniper for an as-yet-to-be revealed restaurant concept that will surely bear the cool-eats imprimatur of their other projects such as Dinner Party and Top Flr.>>> There have long been rumors that Kevin Rathbun was shopping Westside for a new concept, but what and where remains to be seen. We had heard inklings of a market concept, fried chicken or an oyster bar. >>> Richard Blais will be doing haute dogs in Virginia-Highland by end of summer and an American concept in Midtown with Concentrics at the end of the year >>> La Fourchette , helmed by former Joël toque Jeff Wall, is readying the space next door to his Buckhead resto for an Italian/Mediterranean pizza spot rumored to be called Tartufi (as in truffles). >>> STK has out posts in Miami and Vegas, and now it’s finally put up signage for a sleek, night-clubby meat market at Loews Hotel. Midtown. Build-out is currently underway. >>>And in the musical chefs category Cryrille Holota (late of Joël and FAB) now takes over top toque spot at BLT Steak, while pastry wunderkind Cynthia Wong, she of the famous phatty cakes, has departed Cakes & Ale for Empire State South. Master mixologist Paul Calvert, formerly of The Sound Table, has taken up residence behind the bar at Pura Vida.

Mixologists 2.0

Gilbert Marques of Escorpion Gilbert Marques of Escorpion

We have our sights set on two new watering holes that promise creative craft cocktails that go way beyond the classics. At Riccardo Ullio’s latest Mexican saloon Escorpion, inspired by edgy Robert Rodriguez films, the quaff list consists of seasonal agave cocktails, sours, tiki-inspired punch drinks, stirred drinks and brillantes (ie. cocktails using bubbly champagne or beer as mixers). Rock star mixologist Adam Craft (of Flat Iron Lounge, NYC, fame) will be on hand to assure the libations are no less than liquid fire, while Gilbert Marques, a Native American from the Yaqui tribe who specialize in Mexican cocktails, will ensure that every sip is legit. With a cocktail list that is 100% tequila-and mescal-based and made with Mexican ingredients, these sips are certified for South of the Border flavor. Knock back a plate of of the green pork tamales or fried shrimp tacos with an El Matador (reposado, 151, raspberry tea, mescal, tamarind ) and you may be tempted to tangle with the large metal Scorpion sculpture outside. Read more about this drink duo in an upcoming profile for luxecrush.  800 Peachtree Street at 5th Street.

We are also intrigued by the cocktail list at the coming-soon Italian eatery Cibo e Bevi in Buckhead, crafted by mixologist Justin Hadaway (formerly of Iberian Pig). Hand-chipped ice, homemade syrups, sodas and handcrafted elixirs will ensure truly bespoke drinks. The Georgia-inflected Chatham County Line will not only include pecan-infused whisky with Savannah sour wood honey syrup and grade B maple syrup, and a slice of Georgia peach for garnish, but also a smoke-infused ice cue. As the ice melts, the cube gradually release its smoky aroma and flavor, imparting it to the drink. This bar tending sleight of hand was recently dissected in the April 2011 issue of Bon Appetit magazine. Suffice it to say it’s a complicated process involving a large block of ice, wood chips, high heat and an exhaust fan turned on high, but the result is a distinct cocktail with a smoky sexiness that is unrivaled. www.ciboatlanta.com

Most Under-the-Radar Rock Star Chef:  Bruce Logue

We don’t know why chef Bruce Logue of La Pietra Cucina keeps such a low profile: no fancy chef TV appearances, little self-hype, no buzzy blog, and his restaurant location is equally obscure. You almost have to be an insider to discover it (hint: it’s in the One Peachtree Pointe tower on Peachtree Street, right before you hit Midtown proper, and home to Invesco and Ansley Park Playhouse as well). But we think Logue’s down-low M.O. is simply because his food is so tremendous it does not need any advertising or hype. Word-of-mouth alone seems to keep his business bustling.  Indeed, we spotted The New York Times’ Atlanta-based food critic Kim Severson dining there this spring. A protégé of Mario Batali, who once cooked in Batali’s famous NYC eatery Babbo, Logue knows his noodles. He’s also a proponent of the Slow Food movement, has worked at a Michelin starred seafood restaurant Uliassi in Senigallia,  Italy, and traveled the country--eventually gravitating towards central and southern Italian cooking. His robust Black Spaghetti with rock shrimp, scallions and housemade hot calabrese sausage is an instant classic dish that always remains on his otherwise seasonal menu—ditto the Calamari in Sicilian Tomato Zupetto from the lunch menu. We devour his silky tagliatelle with wild mushrooms and hand cut pappardelle with Bolognese ragu, but our favorite way to dine is order several plates of pasta for sharing. Logue is equally adept at entrees and fish dishes  (try his crispy fish with warm caponata) and many of his ingredients such as his ricotta and guanciale are made in-house. We dig Logue’s rock star demeanor and long hair (minus the rock star attitude) and have it on good authority that this family man, with a new baby on the way, has a future surprise up his sleeve. (Rumors swirled in the press that he was about to open his own chef-driven spot at Atlantic Station but so far he is denying any  moves.) In the meantime, we can be appeased with Logue’s spicy black spaghetti ( a tribute to Batali) and a nice glass of Barbera from the all-Italian wine list. www.lapietracucina.com

Trends We Are So Over

Farm-to-table (we get it), it’s an extremely laudable concept and a handy phrase (we’ve used it in this feature in fact) but can we retire this over-used phrase soon? As many chefs have pointed out, they’ve been practicing farm-to-table long before it became a catch food phrase.  Ditto the attendant trends of bacon (bacon drinks, desserts, vodka, etc) and the cute but now over-played food–in-jars. What we would like to see instead: A derring-do chef who goes defiantly anti-trend (and perhaps anti-economy) with nouveau nouveau-cuisine.  Bring back the squeeze bottle plate decorations, edible gold leaf and architectural food or a new twist on said tradition.  Or we would love to see someone adopt old school supper club swank with steak flambés, Ceasar salads,  classic cocktails and cherry jubilees made table side as a torch singer hits the high notes!

Bye Bye Birdy

We are beyond stoked about young toque Julia LeRoy's (Shaun's, Bookhouse Pub) new Westside fried chicken shack LeRoy's Chicken at 11th and Howell Mill Road--next to the La Fonda and near Atlanta Humane Society. Just hope that your house isn't too far away or your carry-out-only crispy birds, buttermilk biscuits, collard greens and  fried chicken livers might do a disappearing act before you can say finger lickin' good.

Naughty Nips 

Best way to beat the heat this summer? Try the potent, alcohol-laden Snow Cones at the Ritz Carlton Atlanta, downtown. We recommend ordering the trio (watermelon/tequila, passion fruit/bourbon and blackberry/moonshine ) and sipping these colorful cones while catching a breeze on the veranda of the Atlanta Grill. $12 each. 181 Peachtree St.  Other heat-blasters: the Coke and Jack Daniels slushies served up in Mason jars, natch, at the newish Victory Sandwich Bar in Inman Park at 280 Elizabeth Street,   www.vicsandwich.com, or the boozy milkshakes on order the new Grindhouse Killer Burgers locale in Buckhead on Piedmont Road. Try the El Duderino (a tribute shake to The Big Lebowski) featuring Pinnacle vanilla vodka, Kahlua and vanilla ice cream of the Booty Shake: maker’s mark, crème de menthe, vanilla ice cream. Warning: they tend to be heavy-handed on the alcohol so be careful about sipping and driving! www.grindhouseburgers.com  Hob Nob in Ansley Park also offers spiked milkshakes like chocolate stout or a refreshing sparkling lemonade with vodka, champagne and lemon sorbet. www.hobnobatlanta.com

The New Food Nabe: Decatur

Sleepy, charming, crunchy-granola Decatur has suddenly blossomed into a major dining hub. It has always had its treasures like priceless Watershed, which alone made Decatur a dining destination and Taqueria del Sol. But now more and more culinary creative are putting down stakes in this mini Berkeley with a laidback, organic/natural Chez Panisse vibe. The Chocolate Bar was one of the first of the arrivistes with its edgy mix of cocktails and creative bon bons by the now-departed pastry wunderkind Aaron Russell. Then came the critically acclaimed Cakes & Ale by Billy Allin, which firmly put Decatur on the map with its curated vegetable plates from their own garden paired with wholesome proteins, cute starters like the arancini served in paper cones and homey desserts such as the legendary phatty cakes and peach almond tarts. Leon’s Full Service put the fun back in dining with one of the best cocktail lists in town, a bocce court out back, and a menu that does not take itself too seriously with offerings like pub frites with over a dozen dipping sauces, chicken liver croquettes, unexpected dishes like  warm chickpeas with cherries, and interesting daily specials such as the recent Moroccan spiced lamb burger with mint, chevre, spinach and black cherry jam. Iberian Pig, Farm Burger, and Burnt Fork BBQ (mixing classic pork and ribs fare with international flavors like Korean barbecue, Peking duck tacos and Cuban sammies) are also very respectable new arrivals to D-town. Last year, Sprig made a play for the more suburban portion of Decatur in Oak Grove and was a sleeper hit form the start with its “from scratch” menu of homey goodness (think fried chicken livers, mozzarella grit cakes and lamb stroganoff).  However the young and talented toque, Robert Elliott, recently departed Sprig. Stay tuned to find out where he turns up next. Lastly, even Watershed has taken on new life since chef Joe Truex (formerly of Repast) took the helm. He’s kept the famed fried chicken, pimento cheese, and "very good chocolate cake," but added his own distinctly New Orleans touches such as his savory crawfish pies and North Georgia trout with creole butter.  He even hosted a guest chef dinner with James Beard winning chef Andrea Reusing of Lantern (Chapel Hill, NC) this spring.

Foodie Heartthrob:  King of Pops

He’s a maverick, a self-employed entrepreneur and a pioneer of the local street food movement. We’ve been hooked on 26-year-old Steven Carse since he pushed his first paletas (gourmet pops inspired by his trip with his brothers to Central America) in 2008. And he manages to always look hot while hawking his cool treats, which is no mean feat. Ladies, you can track him down via his twitter feed: @theKingofPops and though he now has stands in Asheville, NC, Athens, GA, and Charleston, SC, he can often still be found manning his own umbrella pushcart at local Atlanta festivals and street food gatherings. Most of his pops are inspired by seasonal, local market ingredients, but faves like chocolate sea salt, Arnold Palmer, grapefruit mint, and coconut lemongrass are concocted year round.  Summer brings additional flavors like blueberry lemonade, cantelope cream ginger and watermelon mojito.  Kingofpops.net

 Watch an archive  interview of King of Pop’s Steven Carse shot by our own photographer Tim Redman:

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11n4E4VuzFo&feature=player_embedded

Punch Drunk

The communal bowl of punch, to be shared with a handful of friends, has been trending for some time now. Dispel any notions of fraternity-party-trash-can-punch or the treacly gingerale/sherbet concoction your mom made. The new punch hearkens back to the old punch—ie. strongly fortified drinks employing rum, bourbon, whiskey, rye, cognac etc. This historic punch was rumored to have been discovered by 16th century British soldiers in the East Indies.  Today you can find it most famously at H. Harper Station in Reynoldstown, where top mixologist Jerry Slater serves up several variations in antique cut-crystal bowls for sharing. His Buford Highway Artillery Punch, a decidedly modern update of old recipes, consists of white whiskey, sochu, green tea, lychees, ginger syrup, mint and sparkling wine. At $40 the bowl serves 4-6. www.hharperstation.com. You can also find individual servings of fruit punch (often served in Mason jars) at Sweet Georgia’s Juke Joint, The Family Dog and, seasonally, at The Sound Table. However, we think it most fun to down a flowing bowl with our compadres out of cut crystal cups at H. Harper Station. Either way, this drink packs a, well, punch. Read more about the history of this potable in David Wondrich’s  book: Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl, available at www.amazon.com

Trailer-Park-Trash Treats

Is it just us, or is there a preponderance of trailer-trash junk food items popping up on notable Atlanta restaurant menus lately? The Family Dog takes the crown with its playful Billy Bob’s Fried Bologna sandwich with pickles, cheese and crushed Fritos on top that actually sounds oddly delicious though we haven’t tried it, not to mention their house-made Cheetohs (more like glorified pork rinds minus any cheese), disco fries with marrow gravy and Kitchen Sink Nachos. This menu doesn’t take itself too seriously and we love it. Meanwhile, at Grindhouse Burgers they proffer a Hillbilly burger with pimento cheese, beef chilli, sliced onions and jalapeno’s. You can add to this heart-attack-on-a-plate with a side of their cheesy poofs (ie. fried pimento cheese nuggests) and wash it back with a Booty Shake. Or head to Flip for the Cap’n Crunch milkshake and revive your sugary, childhood guilty pleasures. Parish actually offers TV Dinners (meat-and-three with a surprise dessert served on actual trays), while Buckhead Bottle Bar serves up mac’n’cheese egg rolls  (www.buckheadbottlebar.com) and Hob Nob reworks the spring rolls with pork and collard greens.  Ormby’s serves up corn dogs but with the epicurean touch of Sriacha mayo (www.ormsbysatlanta.com). Working the childhood nostalgia more than trailer park themes, The Shed at Glenwood bakes up grown-up versions of Ding Dongs and  Kit Kat bars (www.theshedatglenwood.com), while Empire State South does house-made Oreos.  Newly opened:  Kitsch'n 155 in Decatur, which proudly flaunts it's ticky-tacky turquoise and red, retro-fab decor and greasy spoon menu of burgers, chili dogs, Texas toast grilled chesse and blue-plate specials. www.kitschn155.com

 

Best Use of Bourbon 

For a second year in a row, renowned bourbon maker Woodford Reserve has crafted a premium bourbon exclusively for the St. Regis Atlanta. This year’s blend is described as “complex yet refined with a medium body and notes of plum on the palate.” Needless to say, St. Regis is breaking out the bourbon in a big way at their restaurant, bar and wine room with specialty drinks such as The Bee Sting Manhattan, which features a dash of Limoncello and a honey comb skewer, and the luxe Manhattan Astor embellished with gold flakes. Bourbon also gets play on the dinner menu with entries like bourbon marinated barbecue ribs and chocolate and bourbon caramel bars. Our fave: hand-crafted chocolate and hazelnut bourbon macarons, sold exclusively at Paces 88. A box of a dozen is $18. However, the only way you can take home a whole bottle of the St Regis bourbon ($215 value) is to book a superior room starting at $499 per night, rate code: bourbon. www.stregisatlanta.com

Most Elusive Chef: Peter Chang

Mysterious, nomadic chef Peter Chang has a standard M.O.—he moves into town, sets ups a first-rate Szechuan joint in a third-rate non-descript locale or stip mall that earns a cult like following and rave reviews, and then suddenly he’s gone. Overnight. To the next city: D.C., Knoxville, Alexandria, Virginia, etc.  Chang blessed Georgia with his presence several years ago at Tasty China in Marietta and then skipped town, only to return again last year at a rather upscale lodge by the Chattahoochee River in Sandy Springs called Peter Chang’s. We are not sure how long he’s staying but we suggest rushing in to taste his addictive, blistering hot dishes like the deep-fried duck or bamboo fish delivered from the toque who once ran the kitchen in the Chinese Embassy in D.C. www.petertasty2.com

The burger at Kaleidoscope. The burger at Kaleidoscope.

The New Burger Contenders

Move over Holeman & Finch’s after-10PM special, Flip’s Butcher’s Cut and Bocado’s divine double stack. The new contenders include Tap’s pub burger. Ok this one has been on the menu since Tap's inception but the brisket/chuck blend served on an English muffin with a melting square of American cheese, house-made bread & butter pickles, and a mini malted milkshake shooter on the side is rave-worthy. www.tapat1180.com;  A brand new entry in the burger wars is Kaleidoscope’s southern-accented patty topped with pimento cheese, slaw, green tomato chow-chow and bread & butter pickles, which has earned raves since the resto launched this spring. www.k-pub.com

Coolest Cook-with-the-Chef Program

Chefs have to wear a lot of hats these days, including conducting cooking classes in their pristine kitchens. By far the coolest cook-with-the-chef program is the one offered by chef Steven Hartman at Montaluce Winery January to November. With “Catch, Cook & Clean,” guests take a guided Etowah River fly fishing tour and then head to the kitchen where chef Hartman helps them clean and cook their haul. Guests conclude the day by consuming a four-course feast, including their prize fish, with Monteluce wine pairings. For reservations and more information: www.montaluce.com

Best Brunches

The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead takes the brunch contest hands-down with their staggering ice sculptures and thematic holiday menus and decor, stately setting, and  impressive spreads devoted to hand-rolled sushi, dim sum and local farm jams in addition to the more traditional carving, omelet, pasta, crepes, salad, and dessert stations—each dish more delicious and beautifully plated than the last. This is your holiday, special occasion and parents-in-town brunch no-brainer. www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Buckhead/Dining/Default.htm&