I’ve always thought that if you paired the best elements of San Francisco cuisine (respect for great produce, and bars that take serious pride in what they offer) with the best of Chicago cuisine (pride, tradition, and comfort), you would have the greatest foodie scene that ever was. I’ve also always thought that a city with this kind of food scene just didn’t exist. As I was surprised to find over these past holidays, the city indeed does exist, and it is Atlanta, Georgia. Here are my picks for finding tradition, the ultimate bar, and a locavore foodie mecca.
Tradition: You’d be hard pressed to find more of an Atlanta ‘institution’ than The Varsity. Varsity was founded in 1928 as the largest drive-in restaurant in the world, but also seats hundreds of people and has a 150-foot-long counter if you like to stand while downing your onion rings. Grease is king here: they serve up burgers, chili, fries, onion rings, and more than two miles’ worth of hot dogs every day, all washed down with Atlanta’s own Coca-Cola. My favorite order: chili cheeseburger, onion rings, and an ‘FO’ (frosty orange drink).
Miles of Beer: When I’m in the South, I try hard to put my wine love on the backburner for a little while so that I can enjoy some seriously delicious American microbrews (with the occasional import thrown in!). Taco Mac may not have the largest beer selection I’ve ever seen, but they certainly have the most beer-centric bar. The first time I saw what seemed like two rows of 100+ beer taps, I thought I heard angels sing! Don’t worry about making a wrong order, as they’re happy to bring you samples. The original location is in the Virginia Highlands, but for those of you visiting the suburbs there’s one in Marietta and one in Newnan (if you’re at the Newnan location, maybe you’ll get a chance to say hi to my dad). If you’re going to be in town for a while, check out their passport program: they’ll keep track of how many different brews you try, and there are prizes along the way!
Local Produce Foodie Mecca: Local produce. Wine Spectator award-winning-wine list. Artisan cocktails. Lots of pork. Are you excited yet? One more thing: Top Chef cheftestant Kevin Gillespie. Yep, you’re excited now! I had the privilege of scoring a table at Woodfire Grill, which has understandably become the hot spot in Atlanta. The focus here is on beautifully showcasing seasonal, local, organic produce (they even list the supplying farms on the back of the ever-changing menu). I opted for the chef’s tasting and had courses such as sage-battered wild mushrooms with candied garlic glaze, celery soup with truffled cream, orange-carrot sorbet, and the star of the evening: quail and pork belly over onion polenta and collard greens. All dishes were executed flawlessly, and even the seemingly traditional courses kept me surprised. The wine list is truly a feat of genius, as there are interesting bottles available at every price point. Important note: get your table early as they are booked several weeks out.
These are just a few of my favorites in Atlanta. What are yours?