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Saltwood’s weekday salad bar is Midtown’s best-kept lunch secret

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One big salad.

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman.

The Midtown lunch crowd has been pretty good at keeping this lunch secret to themselves. But I’m not very good at keeping food secrets—especially when they include big salads in commercial stainless steel kitchen bowls. That’s right. I said big salads. This is not a drill.

During its weekday lunch service from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saltwood Charcuterie and Bar at the Loews Atlanta Hotel has an amazing salad bar that is $13.50 and all-you-can-eat. Head to back the of the salad bar room, where you’ll grab a metal mixing bowl that looks like it can hold enough for a family of four.

Start here.

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman.

Choose your toppings.

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman.

Pick your protein and get your salad tossed.

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman.

Choose your base from a mix of greens (spinach, romaine, mixed greens, kale, etc.) and then pile on a variety of whatever you’d like from about a 100 different mix-in items—veggies, cheeses, grains, salts, peppers, eggs, tuna, sprouts, dried fruits, nuts, and a bunch of different olive oils, vinegars, and dressings. The final step is choosing your protein from chicken, shrimp, steak, or a combination of those, and after which a team member will toss the salad together. You can get your meal to go or enjoy it at the restaurant. If you are staying in, your salad will be plated on what looks like a big white platter.

Iced tea comes with a flight of simple syrup.

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman.

To drink, I suggest getting the ice tea only because you get a flight of simple syrups in flavors such as lavender to drizzle in your tea. There is also a dinner roll station and a rotating dessert (sticky toffee pudding, flan, cake, etc.) if you need a carb fix in addition to the unlimited of thick and crunchy housemade potato chips that come with your salad. But from the looks of the crowds, the secret is getting out about this killer lunch deal, so hurry in if you want to be the first among your friends to try it.

Chef Zeb Stevenson to open Redbird in the former Bacchanalia space

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Chef Zeb Stevenson is planning to open his first restaurant, Redbird, with partner Ross Jones in the summer of 2019. The two met when Jones, who cofounded Watershed in 1998 with Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls, hired Stevenson as its chef in 2014. In April, Jones sold the James Beard Award-winning, Southern-inspired restaurant to chef Matt Marcus.

Stevenson and Jones will open Redbird in the former Bacchanalia space at Westside Provisions District, but the vibe will be different than that of the fine-dining behemoth, which relocated about a mile away (into more casual digs).

“It’s very important to me to have a restaurant that has a come-as-you-are feel,” Stevenson said in a phone interview. “I don’t want anybody getting hung up on what they have to wear to come to my restaurant. I want people to feel welcome. I want them to feel like they belong. It’s a post-industrial space, so we’ll warm it up with texture. I don’t want it to feel fancy. To me, that would be a fail if the restaurant felt fancy.”

While he’s been known as a Southern chef who uses local vegetables and has close relationships with local farmers, Stevenson said his menu will be more free-from (organized from lightest to largest plates, rather than by starters and entrees) and his food more free-spirited. “Free-spirited cuisine means that I don’t have to cook under the specter of the constraints of really anything,” he said. “Watershed was a great time in my life, and I valued every minute there. But Watershed was a Southern restaurant so, we had to source from the South, and we had to keep our food aligned more or less to Southern preparations. I never really liked that.”

The restaurant will have a wood-burning hearth, and Stevenson is eager to utilize the old-school cooking method. He plans to serve large-format dishes including a whole roasted chicken and a big steak, as well as plates for sharing, such as a sizzling garlic shrimp cazuela served with a “bread pull,” and a socca (a chickpea flour fritter) smeared with garlic jam.

Stevenson said Redbird will have more global influences and fewer restraints on sourcing, allowing him to incorporate ingredients such as porcini mushrooms and tamarind that aren’t native to Georgia. “White asparagus is the first one that leaps to mind,” he said. “I always love to serve white asparagus when it comes in the early spring. I think it’s one of the world’s true delicacies when it’s cooked properly, but it doesn’t grow here. In the Southern farm-to-table way of being, there’s no way I could serve something like that and still look myself in the mirror.”

You need chef Zeb Stevenson’s papaya squash pie on your Thanksgiving table

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Squash and cornmeal pie
Squash and cornmeal pie

Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

Phil and Patricia Bennett of Green Ola Acres in McDonough work hard to preserve heirloom varieties of vegetables, some of which are endangered. The Bennetts grow all sorts of squash, from butterpie to autumn crown, La Estrella to Tahitian melon, Queensland blue to moranga, chirimen to Canada crookneck. Chef Zeb Stevenson, formerly of Watershed, says a chef’s relationship with Green Ola Acres is more than merely transactional. “Patricia will come to chefs multiple times a year and say, ‘What do you want me to plant for you?’ Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But we have that partnership.” He recalls bringing her chili seeds from Mexico, which she nurtured and grew for him. He dried the chilis and used them to make mole negro.

Stevenson relies on Green Ola Acres’s papaya squash as the foundation of a savory pie that’s perfect for Thanksgiving. Although you can use different varieties for this recipe, papaya squash has the right amount of sweetness, complexity, and water content, and its distinct nuttiness makes it perfect for a pie. You can find Green Ola’s papaya squash at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market. If you can’t source papaya squash, Stevenson says delicata and butternut are solid substitutions.

SquashSquash and Cornmeal Pie
by Chef Zeb Stevenson

(Makes two crusts and filling for one pie. Double the filling recipe if you’d like.)

For the pastry crust:

  • 2 ½ cups of all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons chilled pork lard (or vegetable shortening, if you must), cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 6 tablespoons chilled butter (preferably unsalted cultured butter), grated on the coarse side of a box grater and kept in the freezer
  • ¼ cup very cold water (plus another tablespoon if needed)
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

Place the flour, salt, and lard in a food processor and pulse until it has the texture of coarse grits (about 20 seconds). Then add the cold, grated butter and process again for about 10 seconds.

Transfer to a bowl and add the cold water. Mix with a fork until the dough holds together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and, using your hands, fold the dough over itself four times.

Cut the dough in half and roll into two balls. Wrap the dough balls with plastic wrap or parchment paper and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Lay one of the dough balls out onto a lightly floured surface and roll to about ⅛-inch thickness. Work quickly so the dough doesn’t warm up too much and become difficult to work with. The other half of the dough can be frozen indefinitely if wrapped tightly.

Carefully lay the dough in a pie pan, pressing it into the corners. Crimp the edges to form a raised lip and trim the excess. Lay a sheet or parchment paper or aluminum foil in the shell. Pour dried beans or rice into the parchment/foil to weigh down the dough and bake  for 16 to 20 minutes. The edges should be very lightly browned, and the dough in the center should look firm and just barely cooked.

Set your shell aside to cool.

To roast the squash:

  • One large or two small papaya squash (about 1 pound)
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Turn down oven to 325 degrees.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise, leaving the seeds in the squash. Brush the cut side with butter and sprinkle with salt. Wrap in aluminum foil, place them cut-side down onto a sheet pan, and roast for 30 minutes. Cool the squash, then scoop out the seeds (which can be saved for roasting) and peel off the skin so that you’re left with just the flesh.

For the filling:

  • ½ cup extra-fine cornmeal
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon quatre épices
  • 3 cups roasted squash, mashed to a thick paste
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup butter (softened)
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or one scraped vanilla bean if you’re really fancy)

Combine the cornmeal, sugar, and quatre épices in a large mixing bowl and whisk together. Separately whisk together the remaining ingredients and then pour into the dry mix. Whisk until no lumps are left. (In the restaurant world, we would pass this mixture through a very fine sieve. You don’t have to go to all that trouble, but it will make for a smoother, silkier filling.) Rest the batter for 20 minutes to allow the cornmeal to hydrate before pouring into your cooled pie shell.

Cover the edges of your pie shell with foil and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the center is set. You’ll know it’s ready when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean or when a gentle shake causes the center of the pie to just barely wiggle. Do not bake it to the point where the center is cracked or develops dark brown spots.

Let the pie cool fully before cutting. A minimum of two hours is necessary, but six is best.

Serve with a spoonful of soft, unsweetened whipped cream.

This article appears in our November 2018 issue.

Review: Hattie B’s Hot Chicken delivers a fiery kick to Atlanta

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Hattie B’s Hot Chicken

Every few weeks, we offer our “B Review”—a short take on restaurants that are casual and (typically) not too pricey.

As its name suggests, Hattie B’s Hot Chicken serves hot chicken, a style of bird born and perfected in Nashville (and, so far, unrivaled elsewhere) that’s coated in an earthy and fiery slick of spiced fryer oil after it’s been cooked to a golden crisp. Hattie B’s is Atlanta’s first Nashville hot chicken import, and it requires that you choose one of a half dozen heat levels: Southern (zero heat, for the spice intolerant), mild, medium, hot, damn hot, and the incendiary “Shut the Cluck Up.” That last one is as insane as the hour-long wait in line following Hattie B’s July opening on Moreland Avenue.

Father-son team Nick Bishop Sr. and Nick Bishop Jr. founded Hattie B’s in Nashville in 2012, capitalizing on the dish made famous in 1945 by Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack (it originally went by a different name). Hattie B’s now has locations in Memphis, Birmingham, Atlanta, and Las Vegas. The elder Bishop has an Atlanta connection; he lived here for a few years as a teenager, during which time his father was CEO of the Morrison’s Cafeteria chain. Senior also went on to work for Morrison’s. That experience, along with running Bishop’s Meat and Three in Franklin, Tennessee, helped prepare him to run the efficient and scalable Hattie B’s concept. The Atlanta outpost is housed just south of Little Five Points in a slick renovation of a 1950s-era Phillips 66 gas station.

Hattie B'sIs the chicken as good as those lines out the door suggest? I’ve found the bone-in pieces lack flavor once you get past the crunchy crust, which will burn the lips (and, depending on your fortitude, the stomach) for hours. But interestingly, the hotter you go, the tastier, if more painful, it gets. The best option on the menu is the hot chicken sandwich, anchored by a fried breast you can get at any spice level (at least damn hot, come on) that’s topped with coleslaw, Nashville comeback sauce, and a kosher pickle, served on a fluffy bun. The meat in the sandwich was the most flavorful of the flesh I sampled. Pair it with a side of crinkle-cut fries (crunchy, salty, amazing) for an extra buffer between your stomach lining and the bird’s dangerous kick.

Rating
★ ★ ★ ★
(Very Good)

Vital stats
299 Moreland Avenue,
678-888-4884
hattieb.com

This article appears in our December 2018 issue.

Meet 3 of Atlanta’s best pitmasters

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Bryan FurmanB’s Cracklin’ BBQ‘s Bryan Furman
The reluctant king

In two short years, Bryan Furman has risen to the top of Atlanta’s barbecue game. The former welder, who started out with a modest ’cue stand in Savannah, now has a rabid following at his Atlanta restaurant, his own herd of heritage pigs (he’s also eyeing a new farm), a third restaurant on the way, and the designation from Bon Appetit as “Georgia’s New King of Barbecue”—not that he’s eager to wear that particular crown.

“I never wanted to be the so-called King of Barbecue of Georgia. I grew up with my dad cooking barbecue, seeing it done on the weekend. My mom, she had me prepping sides. When she would be making potato salad, I would be cutting.

“So, when I would go to a barbecue joint and it was crappy food, it was offensive. My whole dream had been that, once I quit welding, I’m going to open up my own barbecue joint, and I’m going to give a damn about it. It’s just something I do, and I care about it, and it comes from the heart.

“My Brunswick stew comes from my wife, and the coleslaw comes from my grandmother, but I put peaches in it. We raise our own pigs in Statesboro, about 150, 200 pigs. And right now, up in Greensboro, we’re looking at a 300-acre farm. I use all-natural pork ribs for my rib selection, and I use my pigs for my pulled pork.

“Everybody’s barbecue’s supposed to be cooked this way and supposed to be done that way, and I guess I just do it my way—the way I feel that it’s gonna work.” —as told to Jennifer Zyman

Jiyeon Lee & Cody TaylorHeirloom Market BBQ‘s Jiyeon Lee & Cody Taylor
The dream team

Why is Heirloom Market BBQ so insanely good? It’s not merely that it blends Southern and Korean techniques and ingredients. Rather, it’s that it channels the essence of what makes Korean food extraordinary—through the eyes of chef Jiyeon Lee—and what makes Southern food extraordinary—through the eyes of her co-chef (and significant other) Cody Taylor.

Cody: “When Jiyeon and I started dating, I didn’t know much about Korean food. She opened up a whole new world outside of Korean barbecue and bulgogi and some of the, I’d say, ‘starter’ Korean food. Then, at the same time, I would take Jiyeon to barbecue restaurants. I took her through Texas and to some good places in the Southeast, and we really just connected through food.”

Jiyeon: “In the beginning, actually, Heirloom wasn’t really Korean-influenced. Cody asked me to make collard greens, but I had never cooked collards before. When my grandmother cooked greens in Korea, Napa cabbage or radish tops, she cooked them for a very long time, like collards. I just made them like my grandmother did. I poured in rice wine vinegar and added miso. More and more, [Cody and I] started rebuilding recipes together, family recipes that have a connection with Korea and with the South.”

Cody: “When we set up Heirloom, I was doing most of the smoking, and I realized that gochujang [a Korean red chili paste] was such a great ingredient to capture the smoke. It’s similar to the dry ingredients to make a pork rub or a rib rub.”

Jiyeon: “The green tomato kimchi is Cody’s recipe. I was like, ‘Wow, I never would have thought of making kimchi with green tomatoes.’”

Cody: “I asked Jiyeon, ‘What do you think about making a barbecue sauce?’ And she came up with our KB [Korean Barbecue] sauce—basically sesame oil, soy sauce, and gochujang. There’s a region northwest of Seoul that’s famous for its spicy chicken bulgogi, and the sauce they serve with it is similar.”

Jiyeon: “Some chefs hate the word ‘fusion.’ But I don’t really mind, because it is what it is. Two different things, put together, create something unique. Heirloom is Korean-influenced American barbecue. That’s our identity. But it is very difficult to create good fusion because you gotta understand both sides very well. If somebody said, ‘Oh, is that Korean barbecue or American barbecue? I’m completely confused,’ I’d be pretty sad.” —as told to Jennifer Zyman

Stephanie GarnerOld Brick Pit Barbeque‘s Stephanie Garner
The protege

When Stephanie Garner started working at Old Brick Pit Barbeque, the Chamblee restaurant that had been around since 1976 and that her father bought in 2001, she didn’t know the first thing about barbecue. But she learned fast. Not long after her aunt assumed ownership of the restaurant in 2011, Garner became its pitmaster, nailing the consistency and style that Old Brick Pit’s loyal clientele demands.

“It is kind of tricky, to keep the smoker at the right temperature. But once you get it down, you start to know exactly how many pieces of wood to have in there, exactly how long to cook the meat.

“We smoke the ribs, then take them out and soak them in apple juice, then cook them for another couple of hours after that. The next day, we put them on the pit that we have inside—it’s an actual brick pit—and do the basting sauce. They stay on that for about another two hours and get more of the smoky flavor. And we only use hickory wood.

“I know most places have guys [cooking the meat], but to be honest, I think females in the kitchen are more precise. Guys kind of do as they do, but the girls, we take our time.” —as told to Jennifer Zyman

4805 Peachtree Road, Chamblee, 770-986-7727

Check out the full list of Atlanta’s 10 Best Barbecue Restaurants.

This article appears in our September 2018 issue.

Review: Momonoki brings the beauty and craft of Tokyo and Taipei to Midtown

Momonoki

You can learn a lot about the origins of Momonoki, a new fast-casual joint in Midtown, from the Instagrams of Taiwanese-American chef Jason Liang and Taiwanese pastry chef ChingYao Wang (who’s also his wife). The couple best known for Decatur’s Brush Sushi Izakaya recently ate their way through Taipei and Tokyo as inspiration for Momonoki and its attached bakery, Momo Cafe. The deliciously atmospheric images from the trip—homey beef noodle soup in New Taipei City’s Banqiao District, lemon coffee with crushed ice in neighboring Zhonghe District, extra-strong matcha soft serve in Tokyo’s Ginza Six complex—are like a moodboard for their clever new project.

Liang and Wang understand chic aesthetics, and every detail at Momonoki (Japanese for “peach tree,” wink-wink) feels built for snaps. It’s difficult to find a more beautiful looking bowl of ramen in Atlanta, but these bowls are not perfect: The broths in the classic ramen preparations can lack refinement, and the Sun Noodles can be overcooked. Those noodles fare much better in the tsukemen (a style of ramen in which you dip the noodles into hot, salty broth). Just as good as the tsukemen is the Nagoya Taiwanese Mazemen, in which thicker noodles are topped with stir-fried pork, a poached egg, Asian chives, and garlic.

Cute katsu sandos (cutlet sandwiches) are fun to share; go for the fried shrimp with tartar sauce studded with shibazuke (Japanese pickles). Sidestep the poké for other beguiling bowls, such as sliced yellowtail—plucky with cured cucumber and a bright jalapeño-cilantro salsa—served over chili ponzu rice or over mixed greens. A hearty bowl of dry-curried ground beef over rice with a runny poached egg and sliced avocado is pure comfort food that you can eat with a spoon in one hand while you scroll with the other.

Over at the cafe, Wang’s pastry offerings include her popular matcha brownie, black-sesame or matcha soft-serve ice cream, and croissants slicked with black-sesame or matcha icing. The cafe’s drinks also are compelling: black-sugar, matcha, or strawberry lattes, roasted teas from Japan, and oolong teas from Taiwan. They’re lovely to sip as you watch traffic crawl by on the Connector. Momonoki embraces the adjacent gridlock. Its logo is a peach with the kanji character for “wood” written inside, which resembles a crude map of our highway system. Despite Momonoki’s global influences, you can’t get more Atlanta than that.

Rating
★ ★  ★
(Very good)

Vital stats
95 Eighth Street
404-390-3025

momonokiatl.com

This article appears in our October 2018 issue.

The 10 Best Brunch Spots in Atlanta

Superica best brunch Atlanta
Huevos rancheros at Superica

Photograph by Mary Caroline Russell

It’s not easy judging brunch. We had many more contenders than the 10 that ended up on the list below—and even after we narrowed the crowded field to 10, ranking them was no easy feat. We were quick to agree on our top pick, which we especially love, but it was almost as if we had a nine-way tie for runner-up. These places are all so good.

And lest you be disappointed about the exclusion of a couple of mainstays, such as Ria’s Bluebird and Homegrown (and those are just the ones on Memorial Drive!), you should know that we excluded restaurants that serve breakfast throughout the week if they don’t have a separate weekend or Sunday brunch menu. After all, brunch is not breakfast.

10. Buttermilk Kitchen
Chef Suzanne Vizethann’s breakfast-focused Buckhead restaurant Buttermilk Kitchen has a large following for good reason. Everything is made from scratch on both the weekday breakfast/lunch menu and the weekend brunch menu. For the latter, Vizethann offers several options not available during the week, including fried chicken and waffles with sriracha butter and whiskey syrup, short rib hash with yum yum sauce and pickled peppers, buttermilk biscuits with sawmill gravy, and a decadent lobster omelet. Or go for classic fluffy buttermilk pancakes with melting Banner butter alongside an ivory mug of hot Rev Coffee. 4225 Roswell Road, 678-732-3274

One Eared Stag Chef's Breakfast best brunch Atlanta
The Chef’s Breakfast at One Eared Stag

Photograph courtesy of Green Olive Media

9. One-Eared Stag
Chef Robert Phalen’s stylish storefront restaurant predates the massive wave of eateries that hit Inman Park in recent years. And it is no less exciting now than it was in 2011. The brunch menu regularly changes, but you can currently expect the chicken salad sandwich to have lardons and truffle, the fried eggs to be served over veal and rapini, and the bloody mary to get its kick from kimchi. Among the constants is the Chef’s Breakfast, six glorious items (little composed dishes involving peppery biscuits and soft eggs and cured meat and a luxury ingredient or two), served on a silver tray with a can of Schlitz. Are you in brunch heaven yet? 1029 Edgewood Avenue, 404-525-4479

Seed Kitchen & Bar
Blue cod at Seed Kitchen & Bar

Photograph courtesy of Seed Kitchen & Bar

8. Seed Kitchen & Bar
This is by far our favorite OTP brunch. Seed’s airy and modern space transcends its location at the far end of an East Cobb strip mall, and the beautifully plated meals that come out of its kitchen day and night can hold their own against their intown brethren. You might have had smoked salmon with potato pancakes and poached eggs elsewhere, but it didn’t taste as good as it does here. If you’re not feeling eggs or something sweet, go for the not-too-brunchy but oh-so-delicious chicken schnitzel with miso mustard, arugula, and roasted tomatoes, or the blue cod with caramelized Brussels sprouts, roasted cauliflower, and Thai herb vinaigrette. 1311 Johnson Ferry Road, Marietta, 678-214-6888

Brunch. Served until 2pm on the weekends.

A post shared by Greens And Gravy (@greensandgravyinc) on

7. Greens and Gravy
Brunch is by far the best meal at Chef Darius Williams’s artsy, intimate soul food restaurant in Westview. There is much to admire about the namesake greens and gravy, served with watermelon chowchow, fried chicken, and biscuits. A fragrant dish of shrimp and sweet potato grits is just as good. Friends and neighbors sit elbow-to-elbow at tables crammed with big mason jars of Kool-Aid, and they just might persuade you to order the toasted pound cake with housemade preserves or the banana pudding waffles for dessert. 1540 Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard, 404-565-2074

Revival best brunch Atlanta
Almost Famous “Closed on Sunday” Chicken Sandwich at Revival

Photograph by David Crawford

6. Revival
Brunch doesn’t get any more gracious or more Southern than at Revival, the Decatur spot from Atlanta native and bold red-bearded chef Kevin Gillespie. The classic bungalow on the edge of downtown Decatur has a front porch facing a quiet residential street and walls and shelves packed with family heirlooms. On Sundays, it also has giant housemade cinnamon buns, fried chicken sandwiches, cathead biscuits with sawmill gravy, and ham hock hash with crispy potatoes and eggs. 129 Church Street, Decatur, 470-228-6770

Chilaquiles at Superica

Photograph by Mary Caroline Russell

5. Superica
Ford Fry’s Superica is the Tex-Mex restaurant Atlanta didn’t know it needed. You can’t go wrong at lunch or dinner, but weekend brunch is the power move here. Both the Krog Street and Buckhead locations open a bit before most other brunch spots, at 10 a.m., which means you can beat the crowds while indulging in laid-back, Texas-style Mexican grub. Expect pancakes as large as a vinyl record with syrup that tastes like dulce de leche, huevos rancheros made heartier with bacon, and the most Mexican of all brunch items, chilaquiles: day-old tortilla chips brought back to life after a soak in red chili sauce and topped with fried eggs, pickled jalapenos, sliced avocado, shaved radishes, chopped cilantro, and queso fresco. 3850 Roswell Road, 678-705-1235, and 99 Krog Street, 678-791-1310

Canoe best brunch Atlanta
Smoked salmon eggs Benedict at Canoe

Photograph courtesy of Green Olive Media

4. Canoe
There is not a more beautiful setting in town for benedicts and bloodies. Canoe has been around since 1995, making it the grande dame of Atlanta brunch, and it has aged well. This is special-occasion, out-of-town-visitors, show-off-to-your-inlaws brunch, and you shouldn’t complain if you have to wait—strolling the stunning grounds is part of the experience. This town is woefully short on riverside dining, so do your best to land a table on the long, porch-like patio that looks out over the lazy Chattahoochee. Splurge on grilled strip steak over grits with house kimchi and duck egg, and go ahead and indulge in a half order of the brioche French toast for dessert. 4199 Paces Ferry Road, 770-432-2663

Bread & Butterfly
Pancakes at Bread & Butterfly

Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

3. Bread & Butterfly
Cakes & Ale may be no more, but we still have Billy Allin’s ode to Paris in Inman Park. Bread & Butterfly is an incredibly useful restaurant, one that stays on top of its game during breakfast, lunch, and dinner six days a week—but Sunday is all about brunch. Waits are fairly tolerable, especially considering that this is where you’ll find Atlanta’s best pancakes. They arrive ready-made, drenched in melted butter and hot syrup. If for some reason you’re not here for those, you’ll be no less delighted by a baguette with room-temperature butter and strawberry jam (pair it with a perfect cappuccino), a simple omelet with a side of vinegary salad greens, or the more American avocado toast. 290 Elizabeth Street, 678-515-4536

2. The General Muir
Until 2013, Atlanta’s deli scene was practically nonexistent. The General Muir changed all that when it opened at Emory Point across from the CDC. Partners Todd Ginsberg, Shelley Sweet, and Jennifer and Ben Johnson (of West Egg Cafe) conceived a juiced-up Jewish deli where everything from rugelach to double-baked rye bread to pastrami to pickles is made in-house. The Muir even has its own bakery (TGM Bakery) next door, which provides the restaurant and its sister concepts—the Canteen, Fred’s Meat & Bread, and Yalla—with baked goodness. Weekend brunch offers several options not on the weekday breakfast or lunch menus, such as pastrami poutine, trout over red flannel hash, and the housemade English muffin with ricotta, peaches, and fennel. Fans will be happy to know you can also order the Muir’s staples: its peerless Reuben and the burger stack with fries (arguably the best burger in Atlanta). Show up early because it gets packed. 1540 Avenue Place, 678-927-9131

Ticonderoga Club best brunch Atlanta
The grain bowl at Ticonderoga Club

Photograph by Bart Sasso

1. Ticonderoga Club
Equally beloved by hardcore brunchers and those who claim to hate ritualistic and overpriced weekend meals, Ticonderoga Club is as delightfully weird and deliciously creative on Sunday as it is every other day. What we’re saying is: this is brunch with integrity. Whether you order the best Cobb salad in the city, the best grits bowl in the city (with poached eggs, sausage, and mushrooms), or the best (and not too brunchy) crispy fish sandwich, your meal will be all the more perfect paired with one of Ticonderoga’s special “cups”—sensible punches and boozy classics crafted by one of the most renowned bar staffs in town. Another perk: The dim-yet-friendly bar atmosphere in the back corner of Krog Street Market is a respite for those who aren’t ready to start their day with too much sunlight. 99 Krog Street, 404-458-4534

Chamblee’s Tip Top Kosher Market has a hidden Israeli restaurant in the back

Hummus with boiled egg and pickles

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman.

Since 1981, Atlantans in the know have made the trek to a barren access road off of 285 for cheesesteaks at the Mad Italian. It’s not a place you expect to be a food destination, those who know, know. And that same area has yet another interesting culinary destination if you don’t mind eating in the back of an Israeli market.

Israelis David Malka and Yehonatan Hazot opened Tip Top Kosher Market last August. Tip Top sells hard-to-find treats such as crunchy Bamba, a peanut-flavored bagged snack, and fun items like kosher Doritos. The real treasure is in the back of the store, where there’s a kosher restaurant you might mistake for a stockroom if you didn’t know was there.

One of the many salads on the menu, with complimentary babaganoush and cabbage slaw

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman.

If you keep kosher in Atlanta, your options for dining out can feel limited, so any new options are good options. While Atlanta has spectacular Persian options like Rumi’s Kitchen (one of my personal all-time favorites) and plenty of falafel and shawarma joints, Israeli and Lebanese food isn’t as well-represented in our otherwise diverse international culinary landscape.

Falafel appetizer

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman.

Inside the sparse restaurant at Tip Top is a slightly grumpy chef and a young, super friendly server with a thick Israeli accent. Sitting in the back of this kosher market somehow feels transformative, as if I’m suddenly in a market in Tel Aviv and not minutes from bumper-to-bumper traffic on 285. Perhaps it is the chef and waitress speaking in Hebrew, or the TV broadcasting a mix of music videos and soccer, or the small dish of babaganoush given to us as a complimentary nosh alongside red cabbage cole slaw.

Chicken schnitzel with a huge hunk of lemon

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman.

Merguez sausage and fries

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman.

There’s plenty of comfort food options—falafel, fried chicken schnitzel with thick cut steak fries, and juicy merguez sausages (spicy lamb). The falafel is golden brown and crunchy, a nice start to the meal alongside a salad. But the hummus, which comes topped with all sorts of topping such as boiled eggs or ribeye, was a bit thin and underseasoned. While there is a lack of salt in some dishes, it’s easily remedied with the dash of a salt shaker or a smear of zhug, a Yemeni-Jewish spicy chili paste (think a thick, homemade salsa) we ended up slathering on everything. However imperfect, Tip Top has its merits. I would go back for the crunchy and juicy schnitzel if on this side of town—assuming I can resist that Mad Italian cheesesteak. 2211 Savoy Drive B, 470-365-2994

Why Israeli grillmaster Shay Lavi is an Atlanta chef to watch

For chef Shay Lavi, grilled vegetables are the star

Photo courtesy of Shay Lavi.

Chef Shay Lavi’s food, which includes Turkish, Libyan, Moroccan, Persian, and Israeli accents, is as diverse as his heritage. Half-Libyan and half-Turkish, Lavi grew up in Israel in Or Yehuda, a city in the Tel Aviv district. His paternal grandmother, one of his most significant cooking mentors, often prepared meals for large groups, and that inclination for hospitality got under Lavi’s skin at a young age. “I grew up in a house where food was everything. There was always food, for better or worse, making people happier,” Lavi says.

Multiple Shaksukas cooking on the stove.

Photo courtesy of Shay Lavi.

When Lavi finished his service in the Israeli Navy, he decided to break from the family construction business and opened a kids’ toy store. But Lavi dreamed of becoming a chef. Everyone in his family advised against it, except his wife, Karen, who told him: “If all you want to do is cook, why don’t you just get rid of everything else that occupies you and just cook and be happy?”

Lavi sold everything and jumped into cooking professionally. “It was tough because everything I knew about cooking was wrong because whatever my grandma, my mom, and my aunts used to do is just wrong. I [wanted] to learn how to make it right. So I started concentrating on fine dining, buying books, learning, homeschooling myself, and then executing whatever I [wasn’t] learning at home in restaurants.”

Lavi plating a dish at an event.

Photo courtesy of Shay Lavi.

While he was working in Tel Aviv restaurant kitchens, Karen got pregnant with their first child. “I decided [then] that I was not going to stay in Israel,” he says. “There’s too much for too little. I wanted a better life for us and better future for my kids to come.” Karen’s father convinced the couple to move to Atlanta, and after arriving, Lavi and his wife began eating at every restaurant they could to get the lay of the land. He landed a job at Ecco in Midtown, but adjusting to American kitchens proved difficult due to different service systems and a language barrier.

“Every time I got a ticket it took me a few seconds to just read it. It frustrated me so bad,” he explains. “And the way the [kitchen] line looks here is way different. Cooks don’t have the freedom to create, the freedom to speak up. It’s here’s your dish, here’s your square, build it the way you choose. Where’s the fun?”

Despite his frustrations, Lavi continued to land cooking jobs at restaurants such as Noble Fin and Wrecking Bar, where he met chef Terry Koval, whom he now calls one of his best friends. “The cooks [at Wrecking Bar] are amazing,” Lavi says. “They know how to handle food. If a cook has a problem with a dish, they’re going to tweak it. They’re going to work on it.”

While Lavi felt understood and free to improvise at Wrecking Bar, he still felt a calling to start his own enterprise. He says he’s just not a chef that’s meant to cook someone else’s food. Again, Karen provided a source of clarity and encouragement. “People will get it,” Lavi recalls her telling him, “Sometimes when you talk, you sound ridiculous, but it’s okay. Your plate talks. Talk through the plate.”

Starting his own catering company, Let’s Eat, allowed Lavi to connect back to what made him want to start cooking in the first place. “You don’t cook because you want to earn a lot of money,” he says. “You cook because you love it.”

Lavi’s grill setup

Lavi’s grill setup, featured above at a pool party, is not the kind you see at most backyard Atlanta barbecues. He commissioned a welder to build the custom rectangle grated grill to fit his height. It’s capable of getting intensely hot, which was one of Lavi’s specifications. Lavi transports this grill wherever he cooks, and estimates he can serve 500 guests an entire meal of salads, main courses, and dessert.

Lavi grills a variety of meats on thick metal skewers, but he’s a vegetable fanboy, and most of his meals are only 30 percent protein. His events often have tables overflowing with platters of colorful salads, vegetable plates, hummus, hefty cubes of feta drizzled with olive oil, pickles, and mountains of grilled pita. “That’s the kind of food I want to cook today,” Lavi says. “It’s the kind of food that makes you feel cozy. It’s not really heavy. I want you to experience a lot of stuff, so instead of composing one dish, I’m composing a table.”

An assortment of pickles, olives, and spreads at an event

Photo courtesy of Shay Lavi.

Fruit and sweet bites to end the meal

Photo courtesy of Shay Lavi.

Lavi seems well on his way to securing a place in Atlanta’s culinary community. In addition to his catering business, he was hired by chef Ryan Smith and the Giving Kitchen to cook a surprise dinner for the entire Staplehouse crew, which he says was a fantastic experience. “Ryan loves the food I do. I just made a bunch of stuff for them that I would cook for my family,” he says. “Getting reactions from the best restaurant in Georgia? They’re pretty awesome.” Lavi also appeared at the tasting tents at this year’s Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, where he served slow-cooked lamb tucked into wedges of cloud-like pita bread.

One of Lavi’s dinners

Photo courtesy of Shay Lavi.

What comes next is his biggest move yet: Lavi recently acquired a restaurant space in downtown Atlanta on Hurt Plaza near Georgia State University. At the upcoming Rozina Bakehouse & Coffee, which he named after his grandmother, he plans to serve Arabic, Turkish, Greek, and Italian pastries. A variety of tiny sandwiches such as confit shrimp with avocado aioli, baguette sandwiches, egg dishes, and seasonal salads will round out the menu, alongside juices and coffee. The cafe is set to open in about three months. Lavi says he will still cater offices around the cafe and plans to host special themed events and private in-home dinner parties where fire, meat, and vegetables will be solidly the spotlight.

Update 8/9/18: This story initially reported the name of Lavi’s new restaurant as Cafe Roza, which was his original name for the cafe. Since publication, the name has officially been changed to Rozina Bakehouse & Coffee.

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Chef to Watch: Maricela Vega, a.k.a. Chicomecóatl, crafts beautiful, plant-based Mexican dishes

Maricela Vega Chicomecoatl
Maricela Vega her lighted “Tamales” sign at Creature Comforts brewery this past September.

Photograph by Rosalia Parra

When I first met Maricela Vega of Chicomecóatl, she was selling late-night tamales outside of MJQ during a Cholateca night (the best Latin dancing in Atlanta, by the way). Since then, trying to keep up with her on Instagram has been dizzying. “I’ve been in a sea of ideas. I feel like I’m navigating them now,” she told me. Vega’s food has since been cropping up all over—she’s hosted a tamale pop-up at the Creature Comforts brewery in Athens and she regularly serves creative, complex dishes at the Spindle in Old Fourth Ward that produce swoon-worthy Instagram photos. (One recent example: A bright purple sope that incorporated hibiscus, coriander sour cream, onion, and squash blossom.) With her pop-ups, Vega brings a unique perspective to cooking in Atlanta.

“I want to create food spaces where there is a deliciously beautiful, living interpretation of modern Mexican cuisine,” she says. Her recipes are inspired by the cuisine of her Mexican ancestors—traditions she hopes to keep alive—but most of her dishes are entirely plant-based. “I modernize my food by creating relationships with Atlanta-based growers,” she explains. “This allows room for constant creativity, and it intersects with my own roots: Southern agriculture with Mexican heritage.”

Huarache de whipped queso fresco, kale, watercress, pasilla beans, and butterkase cheese

Photograph by Sharif Hassan.

Although Vega was born in Orange County, California, she grew up in Dalton, Georgia. Her family originally came from a small village in Guanajuato, Mexico, where they were farmers. They moved to California in the 1980s—”when everything was bad in Mexico, a terrible time,” Vega says—and later bought a home in North Georgia. Vega went to college for two years at Georgia Southern University, studying international law, but after a criminal justice internship in Atlanta, she took a break from law and never bounced back.

Mole ice cream with hibiscus sauce and mole crumble from the 1st El Palador for Living Walls + Buford Highway project

Photograph by Rosalia Parra.

That break, however, propelled Vega to seek work as a chef, even though she had never worked professionally in a kitchen, only learning techniques from her mother. First, she cooked at now-closed Tierra restaurant, then at Midway Pub and Empire State South. Still interested in farming and justice, she made trips to Cuba and Mexico City to study their foodways and related politics.

During one trip to Mexico, she visited her uncle on the farm he’d recently taken over from her grandfather. “The house there was centered to look out at the mesa, and I went up to the rooftop and just sat,” Vega explains. “I just remember staring at [the mesa] and thinking, ‘What am I’m going to do [with my life]? What am I going to do?’ I’d already decided that I when I went home to Atlanta, I was going to quit my job. I was like, “F— it. I’m going to just [make tamales] and see where it takes me.”

Why tamales? “They’re nostalgic, and I cook based off diaspora,” Vega says, noting that when she was a child, her mother would make pork tamales with salsa verde and pozole every year for Vega’s birthday. “As a kid growing up assimilating to both American and Mexican culture in the South, I struggled to identify with who I was. But in the past five years, I’ve rediscovered a lost identity: my Mexican roots.” And she felt there was a real market in Atlanta for true Mexican cuisine.

She started selling tamales under the name, “Chicomecóatl.” (Besides the obvious “ATL” pun, the name is a tribute to the Aztec goddess of agriculture and maíz.) She became best known for her El Palador pop-up dinners, which were hosted in her home and featured a sit-down tasting menu of unique plant-based dishes. Think Mexican classics, such as mole, but formulated with entirely different ingredients, many sourced locally from farmer friends such as Grow Where You Are, Mayflor Farms, Mena’s Farm, and Community Farmers Markets. She’s also been known to incorporate foraged ingredients, such as the goldenrod she turned into a drink at one El Palador dinner. Over the past few months, she’s carved out more consistent places for fans to try her food, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Her first “regular” gig was at the Spindle, a biking apparel shop in Old Fourth Ward’s Studioplex that is fast becoming a testing ground for many new chefs. Vega currently serves an a la carte menu featuring three to four dishes there every other week.

A rice bowl with a 6 min egg, chickweed, pipian sauce, sweet potatoes, and dill

Photograph by Sharif Hassan.

Much like the Aztec goddess whose name she sports, Vega ultimately wants to provide for her community. “[My] intention is to provide people with access to nutritious food, and working with a like-minded community has allowed me to work toward that goal,” she says. Further down the road, Vega has big dreams for her self-described “social enterprise.” Rather than open her own restaurant, she hopes to open a neighborhood bodega that “houses an assortment of diverse goods created by people of color,” along with fresh produce from local farmers and, perhaps, freshly milled corn, a cornerstone of much of Latin American cooking.

“I want to keep producing food that is made the right way,” she says. “And then I want to create programs where we teach people how to cook and [grow food in a] garden. Ultimately, food accessibility is only going to come from within the community.”

Beyond catching her biweekly Spindle pop-ups, you can also try Vega’s food at LottaFrutta, where she’ll host a dinner dubbed “La Casita” one Sunday per month until the end of this fall. The $65 by-reservation-only dinner (you can sign-up by emailing Vega) features five courses and two non-alcoholic drinks such as horchata or agua frescas. (It’s also BYOB.) And her dizzying schedule never stops: Vega is also collaborating with MaituFoods this fall to produce vegan school meals for underprivileged pre-school students. At the end of the year, she plans to travel to Oaxaca, Baja California, and Mexico City to further her education on maíz, moles, and mezcal. And she plans to host a couple of mezcal and maíz dinners in the fall lay the groundwork for projects she’s planning in 2019.

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