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Wendell Brock


It’s more important than ever to support Black-owned restaurants. Here are 17 we love.

Atlanta's best barbecue
Bryan Furman cuts ribs at B’s Cracklin’ BBQ

Photograph by Andrew Thomas Lee

In light of the pandemic, be sure to check a restaurant’s Instagram or website for its most up-to-date info on dine-in, patio, takeout, and delivery options.

Anna’s BBQ
You can feel the love the moment you step into Anna’s BBQ, an old school–style barbecue spot in the middle of fast-gentrifying Kirkwood. The sprawling menu can be overwhelming, but the pulled pork, served as a platter, a sandwich, or in “Anna’s Favorite” (a sandwich topped with slaw), is a good start. The pork is juicy and well-seasoned and scattered with a just-right, sweet-and-hot sauce. The collards are appealingly briny, the mac and cheese adequately decadent (if a little salty). Pro tip: The portions of meat served with the lunch meals might feel a little scrawny for more carnivorous diners; spring for the dinner platter. 1976 Hosea L. Williams Drive, Kirkwood, 404-963-6976

B’s Cracklin’ BBQ
Every cloud has a silver lining, even the cloud of smoke that began billowing from the roof of B’s Cracklin’ last year, when a fire consumed Atlanta’s best barbecue restaurant. For better or worse, smoke and fire are integral to pitmaster/proprietor Bryan Furman’s success. In 2015, his first location in Savannah also burned down, and the amount of support he received back then allowed him to reopen in four months. Of course, both smoke and fire are critical to preparing his masterful, pecan wood–smoked ribs (cut from heritage-breed hogs raised in Georgia and South Carolina) and brisket. While Furman and his wife and co-owner, Nikki, still have a new location in the works, they opened a B’s Cracklin’ outpost in October in the new, BeltLine-adjacent Kroger on Ponce. Now, you can get your B’s fix at the same time you try to score toilet paper. 725 Ponce de Leon Avenue, Old Fourth Ward, no phone

Busy Bee Cafe
Atlanta would be a lesser town without Busy Bee, which provided sustenance to Civil Rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr. Since 1947, the woman-owned institution has reliably served heaping helpings of soul food: smothered pork chops, oxtails, fried chicken, collards, and cornbread dressing. Old-school politicos and R&B stars alike continue to file into the tight quarters on the outskirts of Atlanta’s HBCU complex, seeking lunch or early dinner. You can’t find a more delicious serving of history. 810 Martin Luther King Drive, AUC, 404-525-9212

Chicken + Beer
There is no better restaurant co-owned by a rapper and named for a seminal album—especially if, like the intro track from Ludacris’s Chicken-n-Beer, you prefer your comfort food “Southern Fried.” That the restaurant is located in the airport is just one more reason to show up to Hartsfield-Jackson early. Ludacris and his partner, restaurant group Jackmont Hospitality, don’t peddle “airport wings” (the flavorless variety created solely to sustain a captive, security-cleared audience); these whole wings rival those you’ll find at any restaurant in Atlanta, the world’s wing capital. If or when Luda and company decide to expand the franchise beyond Hartsfield-Jackson, and members of the general public have an easier time getting hold of the short-rib mac and cheese, it will be even clearer that this food holds its own against restaurants far beyond Concourse D. Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Concourse D, Gate 5, 404-209-3905

Daddy D’z the BBQ Joynt
Daddy D’z the BBQ Joynt

Photograph by Martha Williams

Daddy D’z the BBQ Joynt
Christianah Coker-Jackson bought Daddy D’z in 2018 from the restaurant’s founder, Ron Newman. The iconic barbecue spot on fast-gentrifying Memorial Drive received not just a fresh coat of paint but a continued commitment to the neighborhood’s longtime residents. “As a business owner, you can see that maybe there’s a possibility of increased business with all this development,” Coker-Jackson told Atlanta earlier this year. “But as a Black woman, I see gentrification as a way to displace African Americans, because these were our neighborhoods, and we’ve been pushed out of them.” Yes, there are tons of restaurants on Memorial Drive now, where there used to be few. But don’t overlook Daddy D’z. The tender, smoked ribs are as perfect as ever. 264 Memorial Drive, Grant Park, 404-222-0206

75 Best Restaurants in Atlanta: Desta Ethiopian KitchenDesta Ethiopian Kitchen
Desta is one of three Ethiopian restaurants at the corner of Briarcliff and Clairmont roads—including the stylish and formidable newcomer Feedel Bistro. Despite the competition, it’s still among the best places in town to scoop up kitfo (raw, minced beef seasoned with chili powder and spiced butter) and miser (red lentils stewed with cayenne, onion, garlic, and ginger) using soft, spongy, fermented injera bread. The menu, which allows you to make decisions based on how daring you are, demystifies Ethiopian cuisine, and the tree that rises up from the middle of the covered patio and through its roof makes you forget you’re in the middle of an asphalt sea. A second location recently opened in Emory Point. 3086 Briarcliff Road, North Druid Hills, 404-929-0011, and 1520 Avenue Place, Emory, 404-835-2748

Feedel Bistro
As the newest of three (yes, three) Ethiopian restaurants at the intersection of Briarcliff and Clairmont roads, Feedel Bistro signifies the size and strength of Atlanta’s Ethiopian community—but it also faces a challenge. How does it differentiate itself from its next-door neighbor, the no-frills and long-reliable Bahel, and its across-the-street one, the acclaimed Desta? For starters, Feedel Bistro is technically Ethiopian and Eritrean (the cuisines of the bordering countries are similar). A bigger difference is Feedel Bistro’s stylish dining room, all decked out with distressed shiplap walls and black rattan pendants. The space is tasteful and curated, and so is the concise menu, which has fewer options than Desta’s or Bahel’s and is a little easier to navigate. The supremely comforting “mom’s special,” gomen be’siga, combines cubes of tender lamb and velvety collards in a mildly spiced butter sauce. The kitfo—a beef dish traditionally served raw but also available here lightly sauteed or fully cooked—is evidence of the kitchen’s delicate balance with spice (the meat is neither overwhelmed nor underseasoned) and its deft knifework (the raw beef version is perfectly minced). Whatever you do, order the vegetarian sampler platter of spiced red lentils, brown lentils, yellow split peas, collards, cabbage, and house salad. It’s one of the best vegan meals around and a worthy addition to the spread, even at a table of carnivores. 3125 Briarcliff Road, North Druid Hills, 404-963-2905

Lake & Oak
Chef Todd Richards, who launched Richards Southern Fried at Krog Street Market and serves as culinary director at Jackmont Hospitality (One Flew South, Chicken + Beer), finally brings his mastery of barbecue to the masses. Lake & Oak, on a quiet East Lake corner formerly inhabited by Greater Good BBQ, arrived without much forewarning—but that didn’t stop the crowds from lining up (if only to pick up their takeout orders). Lake & Oak’s ribs have just the right amount of smoke and tug, the brisket is downright buttery, but I was no less impressed with the briny collard greens (no sign of mush in these leafy beauties) and the collard fried rice, punched up with slivers of ginger. 2358 Hosea L. Williams Drive, East Lake, 404-205-5913

Merkerson’s Fish Market
Few things feel more Southern than a fish fry. You can locate some of the best by following a sign advertising one at a local church—but if that doesn’t pan out, you’ll find a similarly iconic Atlanta experience at the somewhat decrepit-looking, old-fashioned Merkerson’s Fish Market, a longtime fixture on Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard. Merkerson’s offers fresh porgys, sheepheads, snappers, mullets, and catfish whole at the counter, which you can cook yourself. Better yet, have them fried on the spot while you sit on one of the benches, waiting for your order to be called. A scant $7 will buy you three pieces of deftly fried flounder, two thin slices of wheat bread, some fries, and a few jalapeño hushpuppies. The hot sauce waits for you at the counter. The whiting fish sandwich, priced as low as $3.49, trumps anything you could ever purchase at a fast-food restaurant. Eat your fish burning-hot at a long folding table overlooking a broken Pac-Man machine or in your car with the windows open. 740 Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard, West End, 404-758-9079

The Real Milk & Honey
The Real Milk & Honey

Photograph by Eley Photo

The Real Milk & Honey
At this all-day brunch spot from Chopped: Redemption–winning chef Sammy Davis and Monique Rose, you can chow down on Crown Royal peach cobbler French toast and Southern fried catfish with creamy grits—even for dinner. A valentine to Atlanta’s iconic Black music scene, the interior features photos of music-industry icons, gold accents, a bar embedded with vintage vinyl, and a menu that also includes crab hash, Southern fried fish and grits, and lobster, egg, and cheese biscuits. 3719 Main Street, College Park, 404-458-5500

Slim & Husky’s
This Westside pizza joint is the first of two Atlanta outposts from the hip-hop–minded Nashville minichain, which gained initial attention by opening in historically Black and underserved North Nashville. Atlanta is a logical next stop (Memphis and Chattanooga are next). But underserved the Westside is not; the chain’s mission will resonate more strongly in Adair Park, its second Atlanta location. The pies have cracker-thin crusts and names evoking vintage hip-hop (Rony, Roni, Rone! or Got 5 On It), and they’re made in front of you, assembly-line style, before being placed in a conveyor oven. What emerges on the other side is high on stoner-y fun. Go for the Cee No Green, loaded with ground beef, pepperoni, sausage, and two styles of bacon. 1016 Howell Mill Road, Westside, 404-458-3327, and 581 Metropolitan Parkway, Adair Park

Slutty Vegan
Bring a friend. Bring a book. Just be prepared to stand in line. This southwest Atlanta take-out–only burger stand serves plant-based patties to thousands of people every week, all of them willing to wait an hour (or more) for the experience. The Westview brick-and-mortar location of Pinky Cole’s viral-sensation food truck serves cheekily named burgers—hello, One Night Stand and Menage a Trois—that have drawn orgasmic reviews from celebrities like Tyler Perry and Snoop Dogg. The 10 burger and sandwich options on the menu come with toppings including vegan bacon, vegan cheese, vegan shrimp, and caramelized onions (the $19 Menage a Trois has all of those atop an Impossible patty; perhaps it should’ve been called the Menage a Cinq), and all but one of them is doused with Slutty Sauce. Gloriously sloppy and convincingly meaty, these burgers are nearly indistinguishable from the classic ones you’ll find at the best walk-up joints. A second location opened in Jonesboro in July. 1542 Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard, Westview, 678-732-3525; 164 North McDonough Street, Jonesboro

Tassili’s Raw Reality
There are 40 ounces of kale packed into the Mandingo wrap at Tassili’s Raw Reality, which since 2011 has occupied the colorful ground floor of a two-story duplex in West End. (Grab a table on the front porch.) Lest you scoff at its $25 price tag, note that this wrap could easily feed you for three days—and that it’s so magical you’ll actually want to spend three days eating it. What makes it so good? Superspicy, soy-marinated kale, sweet coconut corn, couscous flecked with raisins and goji berries, and the sticky-crunchy combo of hemp hearts, almonds, and agave. Fewer mouths to feed? Various normal-sized wraps run from $9 to $14. 1059 Ralph D. Abernathy Boulevard, West End, 404-343-6126

Thompson Brothers Barbeque
Though you won’t see them all in the flesh, the five Thompson brothers can be found at this modest strip-mall joint just north of SunTrust Park—grinning at you from the large photo over the counter or beaming down from the snapshots lining the wall that collects their various honors (from culinary to military to athletic). Once you bite into a rib, you’ll want to grin back. There’s just the right amount of tug and chew comparative to soft flesh and fat, all of it bursting with straight-from-the-smoker fragrance. Those ribs might overshadow the chopped pork, but if you’re going for a combo platter, that’s your next best choice. Skip the underseasoned collards and lackluster mac and cheese for the piping-hot, perfectly tangy Brunswick stew. 2445 Cobb Parkway, Smyrna, 770-818-9098

Trederick’s Seafood & Grill
The owners of the Blue Ivory NightClub on the fringe of Castleberry Hill opened the charming Trederick’s next door in 2019. Southern-fried seafood is the specialty, and the catfish and whiting fillets in a light coating of cornmeal batter are especially splendid, though you might also be rightfully tempted by baskets of huge, sweet shrimp. In addition to its inexpensive fried offerings, Trederick’s offers more decadent options such as crab clusters and lobster tails. Don’t forget the crinkly fries, the thick homestyle chips, and the sweet coleslaw. 609 Whitehall Street, Castleberry Hill, 470-343-2175

Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours
Chef Deborah VanTrece is quick to share her unfiltered opinion on the state of soul food, Black restaurateurship, and any other social issue you care to discuss. She also artfully builds on culinary traditions of Black Southerners. And after reopening on Juneteenth, her restaurant’s patio has become an ideal place to unwind. For brunch, order the “Sweetest Hangover” Chick, a fried chicken Benedict with crunchy Vidalia onion rings, arugula, and peach Hollandaise. 1133 Huff Road, Blandtown, 404-350-5500

Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen and Bar
Gee and Juan Smalls, who debuted Virgil’s last summer in College Park, are married business partners and first-time restaurant owners; they started out as event producers based in Midtown and rapidly became leaders in the Black LGBTQ community. It was Juan who suggested that Virgil’s pay tribute to his late father-in-law, Virgil F. Smalls, and the Gullah-Geechee cuisine Gee grew up with on James Island, just outside Charleston. As chef, Gee looks to the traditional Gullah-Geechee kitchen as inspiration for dishes such as red rice, crab rice, okra soup, and shrimp and crab gravy. 3721 Main St, College Park, 404-228-4897

A version of this article appears in our August 2020 issue.

As a farm boy in a glitzy Peachtree condo, bulbs were my saving grace


Paper whites amaryllis condo AtlantaIn the early 2000s, I visited a friend in Thailand who lived in a high-rise condo with a sleek, minimalist vibe and a collection of beautiful contemporary furniture. It got me to thinking: Why was I stuck in a bungalow off Cheshire Bridge Road with a faded gold sofa, my mom’s old wing chairs, and a bunch of velvet pillows and tassels? I wanted my Bangkok friend’s life.

Back in Atlanta, it didn’t take long for me to sell my house on Country Lane and buy an 18th-floor condo in the glitzy new Metropolis development at the corner of 10th and Peachtree. Friends dropped by for martinis. They raved about the twinkly view. We went to the theater. Life was grand.

Or was it?

The thing about living in the sky is that you can lose your grounding. Instead of freeing me, the high-rise life had unmoored me.

I’d been digging in the dirt all my life. I grew up on a South Georgia farm, had a greenhouse as a teenager, and enrolled at the University of Georgia to study horticulture. I ended up in the journalism school, but I never stopped loving plants. But at the Metropolis, we weren’t even allowed to have pots on our balconies, lest a pedestrian get wiped out by a crashing Japanese maple.

My saving grace was bulbs—they loved it up there! My condo was basically a terrarium, after all, with floor-to-ceiling windows and sunlight from dawn to dusk. I started spending lots of time at gardening centers, especially the late, great Smith & Hawken on Peachtree. I potted amaryllis bulbs, forced paper whites, and felt the sap of life slowly start to run through my veins again. I even figured out how to get my amaryllis to bloom again year after year: I’d stop watering, allow the plants to go dormant in a cool closet all summer, and repot them in the fall.

A farm boy at heart, I only lasted a few years at the Metropolis. But in that time, oddly enough, I reconnected with the outdoors and learned what it meant to be reborn. I quit drinking. I started running. And I began a search for a new home, one with a patch of dirt at my disposal.

When I put my sunlit perch on the market, no one seemed to find it odd that the bedroom I used as an office was filled with potted amaryllis. The unit sold quickly, and I found the perfect home: a 1913 Grant Park cottage, with a private garden for shade plants and a south-facing side yard for sun-lovers.

You see where this is going: bulbs, baby, bulbs. I put my amaryllis collection in beds and planted daffodils, jonquils, and hyacinths among the day lilies, irises, and evergreens. Sweet friends and neighbors picked up on my love of bulbs and shared their heirloom spider lilies and dainty grape hyacinths.

I still haven’t figured out tulips. But every fall, I stick a few more daffodils in the ground. And every winter, I revert to my old ways: I rush the season; I cheat a little. I raid the amaryllis bed for the fattest bulb I can find, pot it up, and watch it come to life in my sunny kitchen. My garden may be bleak and barren, but here in a single pot is the promise of spring and a chance to start over. Just like the old days. Only better. Not so forced.

Wendell Brock is an Atlanta-based writer and winner of a 2016 James Beard Award for profile writing.

This article appears in our Winter 2019 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.

College Park is the newest hotspot for thriving, black-owned restaurants

Juan and Gee Smalls at Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen and Bar
Juan and Gee Smalls at Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen and Bar

Photograph by Eley

It’s a Wednesday night in College Park, and, based on the energy level at a couple of recently opened restaurants, hump day is the new Friday. At the Real Milk & Honey, an all-day brunch spot from Chopped: Redemption–winning chef Sammy Davis, a standing room–only crowd is chowing down on Crown Royal peach cobbler French toast and Southern fried catfish with creamy grits. They snap selfies and shimmy to the sounds of a DJ. Next door, at Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen & Bar, a karaoke-night crooner holds his microphone out so customers can back him up on the chorus of Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone.” The whole room seems to sway.

If you’re looking for a relatively quiet dinner, you’ll need to pivot one door south, to Soul Crab ATL, the second restaurant from Greens & Gravy chef and social-media star Darius Williams. At Soul Crab, the real party starts on the weekend. That’s when diners can sing along to R&B tunes played by a DJ while sipping Kool-Aid cocktails and plunging into Williams’s seafood-with-soul dishes.

A Soul Crab bartender smiles while making a cocktail and people are laughing around the bar
The weekend vibe at Soul Crab

Photograph by Eley

A woman dancing to music at the Soul Crab bar
At Soul Crab, patrons can order Kool-Aid cocktails and sing along to the DJ’s R&B-heavy rotation.

Photograph by Eley

Welcome to College Park’s reborn restaurant row, where a trio of black-owned businesses has converted a once-quiet strip of Main Street into an Instagram-ready destination. The transformation has taken less than a year: Soul Crab opened in December 2018, followed by Virgil’s and the Real Milk & Honey over the summer.

The proprietors attribute their success to a perfect storm of real-estate availability, community enthusiasm, savvy social-media marketing, and a more-is-more attitude among patrons looking for multiple dining options in close proximity.

“There’s something to be said for the food-court model of business,” says Williams, who launched a second Soul Crab in his hometown of Chicago in August. “There’s something attractive about a cluster of restaurants being all in the same space.”

“All the people I saw cooking on TV did not represent who I was. That’s the core reason why I do a lot of what I do.”

After cultivating a robust social-media following around his soul-food cooking demos (with 317,000 Instagram followers and counting), Williams opened his first restaurant, Greens & Gravy, in 2017 in Westview—a neighborhood now home to another impressive cluster of black-owned restaurants. When Williams realized the Atlanta market was short on restaurants combining seafood and soul food—or crabs and collards, as he likes to say—he came up with the plan for Soul Crab. “My business model is to sort of be the underdog,” Williams says, “to serve a space where something wasn’t in existence.”

Today, Williams has 120 employees on the payroll, nearly all of them black. “When I was coming up, there was nothing for me to gravitate to or hold on to that looked like me,” says the 37-year-old, openly gay chef. “All the people I saw cooking on TV did not represent who I was. That’s the core reason why I do a lot of what I do.”

Soul Crab's fried chicken, mac and cheese, and other dishes spread out on a table
A Soul Crab spread

Photograph by Eley

Gee and Juan Smalls, who debuted Virgil’s in June, say College Park has been supportive of their vision and lifestyle. The married business partners and first-time restaurant owners started out as event producers based in Midtown and rapidly became leaders in the black LGBTQ community. But when they decided to follow their dream of opening a restaurant-bar, they had no luck finding a property on their home turf.

“A lot of places that we did find said ‘no,’ ” Gee recalls. “I don’t know if it’s who we are or our lack of restaurant experience.”

Now, he believes the College Park address was meant to be.

“It just felt right,” Gee says, remembering his first look at the Main Street space formerly occupied by Duck Club Speakeasy. “We came in, loved how it felt, and really saw the vision for Virgil’s and fell in love with the neighborhood. I loved that it was thriving for black businesses.”

“My business model is to sort of be the underdog, to serve a space where something wasn’t in existence.”

It was Juan who suggested that Virgil’s pay tribute to his late father-in-law, Virgil F. Smalls, and the Gullah-Geechee cuisine Gee grew up with on James Island, just outside Charleston. As chef, Gee looks to the traditional Gullah-Geechee kitchen as inspiration for dishes such as red rice, crab rice, okra soup, and shrimp and crab gravy.

True to their background in the event-planning industry, the couple works hard to sustain a social atmosphere at Virgil’s. The restaurant has DJs on Fridays and Sundays and live music on Saturdays, when the bar stays open until 1 a.m.

Chef Sammy Davis greeting a customer
Chef Sammy Davis, greeting a customer

Photograph by Eley

While the Smallses are new to the restaurant business, the Real Milk & Honey’s Davis and his partner, Monique Rose, are old hands, with four Milk & Honeys in Maryland, Washington D.C., and Georgia.

Rose, a Milwaukee native and self-described “serial entrepreneur,” met Davis, the Chopped: Redemption star, at Scales 925, the now-shuttered restaurant of rapper T.I., in 2015. She was general manager; he was executive chef. During that time, they hosted a series of brunch pop-ups at Atlanta restaurants that were sitting empty on Sundays.

In 2016, they opened their first brick-and-mortar in Beltsville, Maryland, where they had found work as restaurant consultants. (The original Milk & Honey has since relocated to College Park, Maryland, and the couple has opened a second Maryland and a D.C. location). In 2017, they partnered with the old Epic Lounge on Cascade Road, where they had once held Sunday pop-ups, to open Atlanta’s first Milk & Honey; they have since parted ways with the owners.

Urged by fans to reestablish a presence in Atlanta, the partners found the perfect spot in College Park, where they rebranded as the Real Milk & Honey.

Pouring syrup on top of French toast at Real Milk and Honey
All-day brunch at the Real Milk and Honey

Photograph by Eley

“It just felt good,” Rose says of the Main Street space. She dug the phenomenon of a restaurant row in the making, with Soul Crab already established and, at the time, Virgil’s about to open next door.

“And it was such an overwhelming response from people in the neighborhood,” Rose says. “Like, ‘We need something like this here.’ I think Milk & Honey was just the perfect addition to what they have going on.”

A valentine to Atlanta’s iconic black music scene, the interior features photos of music industry icons, gold accents, a bar embedded with vintage vinyl, and a menu not unlike that of its neighbors: crab hash; Southern fried fish and grits; lobster, egg, and cheese biscuits.

Davis and Rose already have their sights on a second Atlanta location—“on Cascade, if all goes well,” according to Rose. On the personal side, Davis proposed to Rose on January 1, but they haven’t had time to tie the knot. “If we can ever stop opening restaurants,” Rose says, “we can plan a wedding!”

This article appears in our December 2019 issue.

Recipe: James Beard Award winner Dolester Miles’s famous coconut cake

Coconut pecan cake from Highlands Bar & Grill

Photograph by Iain Bagwell

Serves 12–14

Dolester Miles grew up in Bessemer, Alabama, making Southern layer cakes with her mother and aunt using only a hand mixer. In 1982, she began her career working with Birmingham wünderchef Frank Stitt, helping him open his elegant Parisian-style restaurant, Highlands Bar & Grill. Today, Miles is one of America’s best bakers: In 2018, she won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef. Read more about her coconut cake here, and make it yourself with Miles’s own recipe:


For the cake:
1 cup firmly packed sweetened shredded coconut
¾ cup pecan halves, toasted
2 cups granulated sugar
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup unsalted butter (about 1.5 sticks), softened, plus more for the pans
¼ cup cream of coconut
4 large eggs
¼ teaspoon coconut extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk

For the filling and simple syrup:
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
¾ cup sweetened condensed milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cream of coconut
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
½ cup granulated sugar

For the icing:
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon coconut extract
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut, toasted


  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper, then dust with flour, tapping out excess.
  2. Finely grind the coconut in a food processor, then transfer to a bowl. Add pecans to the food processor, along with 2 tablespoons sugar, and finely grind them.
  3. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in coconut and pecans.
  4. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, cream of coconut, and the remaining sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as necessary, then beat in coconut extract.
  5. Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the coconut milk, starting and ending with flour mixture. Divide batter between the pans and smooth the top of each with a spatula. Bake until cakes are golden and a tester comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cakes cool in the pans on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of each cake, invert onto rack, and remove the parchment. Let cool completely.
  6. Meanwhile, make the filling: Place egg yolks in a small heatproof bowl and set aside. In a saucepan, combine condensed milk, butter, and cream of coconut, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until hot, about 4 minutes. Whisk 1/3 of the hot milk into the egg yolks. Transfer egg mixture to the saucepan of milk and whisk constantly over medium-low heat until mixture has the consistency of pudding, about 4 minutes. Do not let the custard get too thick. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the shredded coconut. Let cool completely.
  7. Make the simple syrup: In a saucepan, heat sugar and 1/2 cup water, stirring occasionally until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat.
  8. Assemble the layer cake in a pan: Cut each cake in half horizontally. Place one layer in the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan, moisten the top with 2 to 3 tablespoons simple syrup, and spread 1/2 cup of the coconut filling in a thin, even layer with an offset spatula. Repeat to make 2 more layers of cake and filling, then place the last layer on top. Refrigerate cake for about 1 hour. To unmold, run a spatula around the edges, invert a cake plate over the top, and flip the cake over onto the plate.
  9. Make the icing: Whip the cream with the confectioners’ sugar and coconut extract until stiff peaks form. Spread on the top and sides of the cake, and sprinkle with toasted coconut. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

This cake appears on the cover of the Fall/Winter 2019 issue of Southbound.

Want Food, Will Travel: 8 Southern plates worth the drive—or flight


Would you jet to Miami for a Cuban hamburger? Take a trip to Savannah for foie gras and grits? How about head to Asheville for a whole-hog pulled-pork plate? Some dishes are so remarkable, they’re worth traveling that extra mile—or even hundreds of miles. To create this list of crave-worthy plates, we polled more than a dozen Southern food experts (and one well-traveled Yankee), then took to the road on a pilgrimage to the region’s culinary capitals in search of dishes we’d happily plan a vacation around. Forget traveling light. We prefer traveling full.

Meat and three from Arnold’s

Photograph courtesy of Arnold's Country Kitchen

Meat and three
Arnold’s Country Kitchen

Opened by Jack and Rose Arnold in 1982, this cafeteria-style, weekdays-only lunch spot in a bright-red cinderblock building is hallowed ground for lovers of classic country cooking. Locals know which days to go for fried chicken and battered grouper (Mondays and Tuesdays, respectively); travelers may plan ahead by checking out the online menu. Turnip greens, mac and cheese, pinto beans, fried apples, candied yams, boiled cabbage, stewed okra, fried green tomatoes: How in the world can you pick just three sides? Chris Chamberlain, food and drink writer for Nashville Scene, is a devotee of the “absolutely exemplary” fried chicken. As for sides, he’s big on the turnips and likes to layer the creamed corn over the green beans, as suggested to him by Jack and Rose’s son, Kahlil, who now runs Arnold’s. Erin Byers Murray, editor-at-large for Nashville Lifestyles and author of Grits: A Cultural & Culinary Journey Through the South, raves about the roast beef. “It’s sliced super thin and piled onto the plate in a tangle of juicy slivers,” she says. “I’m not sure what goes into their seasoning, but it’s damn near addictive.” In 2009, the mom-and-pop was named an America’s Classic by the James Beard Foundation. No wonder country-music industry types, construction workers, and politicos all congregate here.

Where to Stay
404 Hotel | Sleek, sexy, and super private, this hotel has exactly four rooms and zero registration counters (check-in takes place via room code). Enjoy posh amenities (Sferra linens, Malin + Goetz toiletries, Turkish towels and robes) and, at the hotel’s 404 Kitchen, one of the smartest and largest whiskey collections in the state.

One More Bite
Hot chicken at Prince’s |
Though it has many imitators, Prince’s lays claim to the original mouth-torching Nashville bird. Try the hot or “XHot” breast-wing quarter and a cooling side of potato salad or coleslaw. Anything hotter, have the fire department on speed dial.

Burn It Off
Natchez Trace Parkway | The famed 444-mile trail begins in Nashville, near the Loveless Cafe. Grab a biscuit and a bike, available at Trace Bikes, and ride to your heart’s content.

Another Meat-and-Three to Try
Veggie plate at Bully’s Restaurant, Jackson | At this beloved soul-food cafe run by Tyrone Bully and his family since 1982, skip the meat and build a plate of four incredible sides. This restaurant, another James Beard Foundation American Classic, cooks three different kinds of Southern greens every day. Don’t miss the collards or the mac and cheese, and save room for blackberry cobbler. 601-362-0484

Gulf fish amandine from Brennan’s

Photograph courtesy of Brennan's

Gulf fish amandine

When the freshly refurbished French Quarter grande dame flung open its doors four years ago, its updated amandine was an instant hit. Forget the old-school pan-fried fish saturated in brown butter and strewn with grocery store–quality sliced almonds—that was the preferred dish of pearl-clutching grands-mères of yesteryear. In this opulent dining room of tufted green leather, shiny pink upholstery, and flaming bananas Foster, Brennan’s new amandine exudes modern flair. A stellar slab of Gulf fish (depending on availability, it might be pompano, sheepshead, redfish, or speckled trout) lies in a foamy bath of rich cream, with a cassoulet of blanched haricots verts, tender Kennebec potatoes, and Marcona almonds on the side. If the fish is the diva, the sauce is the choir: a haunting amalgamation of cream and brown butter, with hints of preserved and fresh lemon and a touch of thyme. No wonder longtime New Orleans restaurant critic Brett Anderson and Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Bill Addison have singled out the amandine as an essential Big Easy plate. In a city awash with fabulous destination restaurants, Brennan’s remains an unsinkable showboat.   

Where to Stay
International House | With its wrought-iron chandeliers, stunning contemporary art, and terrific cocktail bar, this boutique hotel is a delight. It’s only two blocks from the raucous French Quarter, but so quiet you might never know.

One More Bite
Goat curry at Compere Lapin | Chef Nina Compton (who was named the South’s best chef in 2017 by the James Beard Foundation) pays tribute to her Caribbean roots at this Warehouse District stunner. Try the goat curry with sweet potato gnocchi, paired with jerk butternut squash. When celebrity chef and double James Beard winner Alon Shaya is not at his Magazine Street restaurant, Saba, you might spot him here.

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The Warehouse District | Explore this snappy neighborhood on foot or via the Blue Bikes share program. It’s home to small galleries (Arthur Roger, Jonathan Ferrara), big museums (The Ogden, The National World War II Museum), and some of the city’s most dependable restaurants (Peche, Herbsaint, Meril).

Another Seafood Dish to Try
Fried shrimp at Doc’s Seafood, Orange Beach, Alabama | You might roll your eyes when you see the braggadocious sign in front of this seafood shack: “Best Fried Shrimp in the Entire Civilized World.” All cynicism will vanish when you dig into a pile of impossibly fresh, delicately breaded shrimp. The local crustaceans might be petite, but they are big in sweet-briny flavor. The plate comes with hush puppies and a baked potato or fries.

Cuban hamburger from El Mago de las Fritas

Photograph by Libby Vision

Cuban hamburger
El Mago de las Fritas

Imagine a hamburger patty seasoned like chorizo and fried on a grill, topped with crispy potato wisps, a runny egg, and a slice of American cheese. Now picture this caliente mess on a soft white Cuban bun. This, my friends, is a frita, also known as a Cuban hamburger. And according to Carlos Frias, the Miami Herald’s food and dining editor, the best frita in Little Havana is that of septuagenarian Ortelio Cardenas. A magician of the griddle, Cardenas fries his own papitas all day long—no canned potato sticks here! But he’s no food snob: He has the audacity to slap a slice of processed cheese on the time-honored classic. “It’s not traditional, but it gives it its own creamy addition,” Frias says, adding that the burger tastes best when dressed with a squirt of ketchup and a splash of Crystal hot sauce. Book a plane, drive nine or ten hours, whatever it takes to get to this no-frills hole-in-the wall on Calle Ocho. As Frias once wrote in the Herald: “A beer and a frita go a long way toward finding enlightenment.”

Where to Stay
The Vagabond Hotel Miami
| From the outside, this revamped 1950s property looks like the set of a Rat Pack flick, while the interior seems ready-made for the Jetsons. Think cocktails and dance parties by the pool and quirky Space Age decor in the rooms.

One More Bite
Pho hai san at Phuc Yea | Like Miami itself, this Viet-Cajun noodle soup is hot, spicy, and splashy. Florida shrimp, crawfish tails, andouille sausage, and Vietnamese sausage (cha lua) are plunged into a broth of pineapple, tamarind, and crab and topped with herbs and bean sprouts. Add shots of hoisin and sriracha and slurp away. You’ll instantly know why chef Cesar Zapata and his partner, Ani Meinhold, have cooked up one of the steamiest joints on Biscayne Boulevard.

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Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden | Spend a few hours roaming this lush destination south of town. With a focus on tropical plants, the garden is home to the world’s largest collection of living palms and cycads.

Another Burger to Try
Royale with cheese at Poole’s Diner, Raleigh
| To prepare her show-stopping open-face burger, chef Ashley Christensen takes ten ounces of chuck muscle crusted in Tellicherry pepper, sears it in duck fat, places it on a slice of buttery toasted brioche, and tops it with “cheese plate–worthy cheese.” Diners are encouraged to poke a hole in the giant burger, pour in the beef-shallot jus that arrives in a tiny pitcher, and eat it with a spork.

Foie gras and grits from The Grey

Photograph by Chia Chong

Foie gras and grits
The Grey

In 2014, Mashama Bailey left New York’s celebrated Prune and moved to Savannah, the city where she attended grammar school. She has since made the area’s local food and history a springboard for fearless experimentation with recipes old and new. This dish, which you’ll sup in the art deco splendor of Savannah’s once-segregated Greyhound bus terminal, transforms a staple of Southern country cooking into a bowl of pure luxury. It begins with bright-yellow Geechee Boy Mill grits from nearby Edisto Island, then takes a decidedly uptown turn with the addition of a glistening hunk of seared foie gras and a generous ladling of elegant duck broth, red wine, and shallot reduction. Bailey adds a vivid and intriguing drizzle of fruit mostarda that changes with the seasons (watermelon and peach in the summer, muscadine and apple in the fall). As soon as the dish hit her menu in 2016, it caused a stir, eventually earning a cameo on a segment of Netflix’s Chef’s Table. Now that Bailey has taken home the 2019 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast, this plate of sophisticated comfort is legend.

Where to Stay
Alida | Alida Harper Fowlkes was a twentieth-century entrepreneur who worked tirelessly to preserve Savannah’s architecture. Her namesake hotel in the up-and-coming Riverfront neighborhood seeks to mimic her forward-thinking, locally minded spirit with industrial-cool decor and Savannah-made items throughout the property.

One More Bite
Fish tacos in a banana leaf at the Wyld Dock Bar
| Perched in the marshes just outside town, this bustling seafood shack with plentiful outdoor seating is an ideal place to anchor for an afternoon. Make your own tacos from fish steamed in a banana leaf, spicy tomato jam, and basil-dill chimichurri. (The catch is so fresh, you might see a chef cleaning it when you arrive.)

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Genteel & Bard Ghost Encounter | Scare those calories away with a chilling tour led by husband-and-wife team T.C. and Brenna Michaels. Wander historic graveyards, explore haunted hotels, and pause in forgotten alleyways to hear Savannah’s ghost stories.

Another Grits Dish to Try
Barbecue shrimp and grits at Hog & Hominy, Memphis | Your eyes might roll back in your head when you try this Lowcountry standard with a Memphis kick. Gulf shrimp are doused with a brawny barbecue sauce and served atop luscious Geechee Boy Mill grits. It’s a multi-layered joy ride of contrasting textures: firm shrimp, creamy grits, and crunchy bacon, all topped with zingy scallions.

Whole-hog pulled-pork plate from Buxton Hall

Photograph by Andrew Thomas Lee

Whole-hog pulled-pork plate
Buxton Hall

When you fork into Buxton Hall’s peppery, vinegar-dressed pork, you are tasting the product of a chef’s lifelong fascination with smoke and char. Elliott Moss, the pitmaster at this industrial-cool restaurant, learned the art of whole-hog barbecue as a child growing up in Florence, South Carolina. His father and grandfather, both welders, built their own pig cookers and spent long days smoking meat in the style of their Eastern North Carolina neighbors. Any regional barbecue biases you bring to the table will fall away with a single bite of Moss’s slow-smoked heavenly hog. He massages his fresh-off-the-fire pulled pork with leftover pig fat and a sauce of vinegar, red and black pepper, and lemon juice—kind of like he’s tossing a salad. The plate comes with a seven-ounce pile of pork, bread-and-butter pickles, hush puppies, and two sides. Go with the green beans (cooked under the hog to catch the juices) and the chicken bog, a South Carolina rice pilaf made with rich stock and kielbasa sausage from the same farmer that supplies Buxton its pigs. A slice of pastry chef Ashley Capps’s sinful banana-pudding pie should just about finish you off.

Where to Stay
Windsor Boutique Hotel
| Since you’re here for the food, consider staying at this centrally located property. Its luxury suites will put you close to the city’s best restaurants and the South Slope Brewing District (home of Green Man, Twin Leaf, and eight other distilleries).

One More Bite
Tapas assortment at Cúrate | James Beard nominee Katie Button and her Spanish husband, Félix Meana, want you to eat tapas like you’re in the mother country. Build your own spread from Button’s simple, rustic menu. Options include Galician-style octopus with Yukon-gold puree, fish and clams in salsa verde, and grilled Iberico pork with herbs. Caroline Campion, a former Saveur editor and cookbook author who lives in New Jersey, admits that when she traveled to Asheville and ate at Cúrate, she devoured said pork with her fingers “like a cave woman.”

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Joyryder | Sign up for a rhythm-based cycling class at this spin studio in historic Biltmore Village, next to the storied estate. While you pedal, you’ll get an upper-body workout with small weights.

Another Barbecue Dish to Try
Pork sandwich at Helen’s Bar-B-Q, Brownsville, Tennessee | In the male-dominated world of Southern barbecue, Helen Turner is a bona fide treasure. Her generous pork sandwich is constructed with tender and crispy bits of chopped smoked shoulder and juiced up with creamy coleslaw and sweet-tangy barbecue sauce. It’s a heavenly mess waiting to happen. 731-779-3255

Filet mignon from Bones

Photograph courtesy of Bones

Filet mignon

In the rush to recognize food that opens culinary frontiers, we often ignore the classics. Every detail of Bones—the clubby atmosphere, the choreography of servers in crisp tan jackets, the icy martinis poured tableside—reminds you that it is an institution. Ask your waiter how long he’s worked for Bones, and there’s a good chance he will tell you upwards of thirty years (the restaurant opened in 1979). Ask him the best steak in the house, and he’ll likely suggest the twenty-ounce dry-aged bone-in ribeye, for flavor, or a filet mignon, for tenderness. (At $46, the eight-ounce filet is easier on the wallet than the $60 ribeye.) A perfect meal at Bones starts with fat sweet-onion rings, which arrive with a bottle of house steak sauce for dipping. Next comes the filet, served in a buttery puddle of jus, with a properly seared crust and hot-pink interior. And of course, the requisite sides: spears of grilled asparagus and a sea salt–encrusted baked potato the size of a small casserole, bubbling over with melting cheddar and sour cream, scattered with cubes of smoky bacon and scallions. You have permission to skip dessert. Barely breathing, waddle past the celebrity caricatures, through the elegant double front doors, to the valet stand with its canine mascot. Stuffed as you’ll be, it’s not too early to begin plotting your next trip to Bones.

Where to Stay
Hotel Clermont
| Newly restored, this boutique property is quirky and comfortable, with (bonus!) a seriously good French restaurant, Tiny Lou’s, downstairs. Ideally situated for a day of exploring, the hotel is close to attractions like the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park, the Carter Center, and Ponce City and Krog Street markets. Added perk: Guests are greeted with a gratis cold PBR upon check-in, a tribute to the can-crushing dexterity of the notorious exotic dancer Blondie, who works the legendary lounge downstairs.

One More Bite
Oysters and cocktails at Kimball House | The bar program at this train depot-turned-restaurant is a two-time James Beard finalist. Thanks to partner and oyster steward Bryan Rackley, the accompanying bivalves are also celebrated. Order a platter of Murder Points from Alabama, paired with the restaurant’s namesake cocktail: a gin-based quencher with French vermouth, Cocchi Americano, and orange bitters. There’s no happier happy hour.

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The BeltLine’s Westside Trail | Explore this three-mile trail, where you’ll find the so-called Malt Disney of Atlanta—a handful of breweries, distilleries, and pubs, including Monday Night Brewing Garage, Wild Heaven, and ASW Distillery. Not as populated as the BeltLine’s eastern stretch, it’s still a bit of a secret—but won’t be for long.

Another Steak to Try
Porterhouse at Doe’s Eat Place, Greenville, Mississippi | Get yourself a platter-sized hunk of beef with hand-cut fries and the restaurant’s famous olive oil, garlic, and lemon tossed salad. “It’s worth gassing up the Pacer for,” says Southern Foodways Alliance Director John T. Edge. Served in a puddle of pan juices, the porterhouse is a charry beast of a steak. Wrestle one down, and you’ll see why the James Beard Foundation declared this quirky Delta joint an American Classic.

Lowcountry hash browns from Marina Variety Store

Photograph by Mac Kilduff

Lowcountry hash browns
Marina Variety Store

Sidling up to the bar of this local gathering spot on a Sunday morning, a woman orders a Bloody Mary. “Keep the tab open,” she calls to the bartender. “My husband is parking the boat.” Whether arriving by land or by sea, you can’t help but be charmed by this out-of-the-way, 1960s-era diner by the Ashley River, with watercolor-worthy views of the tip of the historic peninsula. Breakfast here could mean fried flounder with eggs, crab Benedict, or shrimp and grits. It could even mean a plate of alligator ’n’ grits. But Charleston Post & Courier dining critic Hanna Raskin says forget the grits altogether—go for the spuds. A pile of shredded and griddled potatoes with crispy bits is decked out with sauteed peppers and onions, tender shrimp, eggs your way, plus hollandaise. “Hash browns aren’t necessarily the breakfast starch associated with a region reared on eggs-and-rice in the morning, but Marina Variety Store puts a Lowcountry stamp on the dish by blitzing it with tender shrimp,” she says. “Although—or perhaps because—tourists never seem to find their way to Marina, it’s beloved by locals.”

Where to Stay
The Dewberry | A drab federal building from the sixties has been transformed into a modern downtown hotel with a destination spa, noteworthy restaurant (Henrietta’s), and the Living Room—a cocktail lounge that was a 2018 James Beard semifinalist.

One More Bite
Holy Diver Pizza at the Obstinate Daughter | Hop on a blue leather barstool in this stylish restaurant above a Sullivan’s Island gelateria, and let James Beard semifinalist Jacques Larson wow you with his Lowcountry-Italian fare. The Holy Diver pie is a knockout: spicy tomato sauce, Clammer Dave’s cultured clams from Caper’s Island, chorizo, roasted fennel, and aromatic basil and parsley. It’s almost worth a swim across Charleston Harbor.

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Sullivan’s Island
| While you’re on Sullivan’s Island, save time for a beachside stroll, taking in gorgeous homes on one side and crashing surf on the other. Prefer to work up more of a sweat? Biking and running are nice options, too; bicycle rentals are available at Carolina Bike & Beach’s Isle of Palms location.

Another Breakfast to Try
Duck-confit biscuit at Kenny’s Southside Sandwiches, Chattanooga | Georgia-born chef Kenny Burnap merges his Southern roots with his fine-dining background (he cut his culinary teeth at Chattanooga’s high-end St. John’s) to create this totally original breakfast sammie: rich, unctuous duck confit stacked on a biscuit and topped with house-made strawberry jam.

Coconut cake from Highlands Bar & Grill

Photograph by Iain Bagwell

Coconut cake
Highlands Bar & Grill

Dolester Miles grew up in Bessemer, Alabama, making Southern layer cakes with her mother and aunt using only a hand mixer. In 1982, she began her career working with Birmingham wünderchef Frank Stitt, helping him open his elegant Parisian-style restaurant, Highlands Bar & Grill. Today, Miles is one of America’s best bakers: In 2018, she won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef. Her famous coconut cake is actually a descendant of her mother’s German chocolate cake, minus the chocolate. For the two-layer showstopper (also available at Bottega and Chez Fonfon, both owned by Stitt), she sprinkles finely chopped pecans and everything coconut she can find into the batter—coconut extract, coconut milk, cream of coconut. She spreads a swath of cooked coconut and condensed-milk frosting between the layers, covering it all with whipped-cream icing and a heavy dusting of toasted coconut flakes. Plated with rich crème anglaise, the dessert is absolutely worth building a vacation around, especially when paired with a glass of Plantation Original Dark rum from Trinidad and Tobago. Bonus: You can bring home a whole “souvenir” cake for $83.

Where to Stay
Elyton Hotel | This ornate hotel has preserved many of its original 1909 touches, such as marble stairs, a brass letter box, and the architects’ bas-relief visages on the uppermost corners of the terracotta exterior. Rooms are bright and modern, and the rooftop bar is not to be missed.

One More Bite
Special Dog at Gus’s downtown | During the seventies, you could spot a Greek-owned hot dog stand on nearly every corner of downtown Birmingham. Today, Gus’s is the only one that remains, and its Special Dog might be the reason why. Loaded with mustard, onions, sauerkraut, ground beef, and the proprietary sweet-tangy tomato-based “Birmingham sauce,” it’s the best $2.50 lunch in town.

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Sloss Furnaces
| Spend a few hours roaming what was once the world’s largest manufacturer of pig iron, now a National Historic Landmark with a thirty-two-acre park. This warren of buildings features an eye-popping Industrial Revolution–era assemblage of pipes and stoves, with a free museum and metalworking workshops.

Another Dessert to Try
Persimmon pudding at Crook’s Corner, Chapel Hill | A holdover from the days of Crook’s Corner’s late, great founding chef, Bill Neal, this autumnal pudding is fragrant with spice. Its center is fluffy like soufflé, while its edges are buttery, crispy, and brown. This heritage dessert, made with locally foraged fruit and served warm with a cooling mountain of whipped cream, is the genuine article—more than worth a trip to this thirty-seven-year-old Southern icon.

This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2019 issue of Southbound.

In time for the “Oscars of food,” a one-man play ponders the complex life of James Beard

James Beard

Up-and-coming stage director Clifton Guterman didn’t know much about James Beard until he read I Love to Eat, a one-man play about the iconic cookbook author, television pioneer, and father of the American food movement. “I didn’t know that he was gay, honestly,” says Guterman, the associate artistic director of downtown’s Theatrical Outfit.

The playwright, James Still, lives in Los Angeles but understood Atlanta to be a city of foodies, most of them aware of the prestigious James Beard Awards (the so-called Oscars of the food world) but not necessarily of the man himself. Still pitched his script to Guterman at just the right moment, when Guterman was shopping for a play to mark his professional directing debut.

Guterman assumed I Love to Eat would be a predictably “funny and charming” stage biography that would touch on the high points of Beard’s life without going terribly deep. Instead, he found it to be a resonant portrait of an 81-year-old contemplating his mortality and questioning his relevance. “It shows every layer of the man’s personality,” Guterman says. “His insecurities, his anger, his health issues, his self-criticism. He was so beloved and praised, but he sometimes wouldn’t even believe the praise. And he would turn around and be his own greatest promoter, extremely proud and confident. He vacillated his whole life.”

“He was so beloved and praised, but he sometimes wouldn’t even believe the praise.”

The play, which makes its Atlanta debut at Theatrical Outfit this month, arrives at a time when the food world is doing some soul-searching of its own. In the midst of the #MeToo movement, the restaurant industry is being scrutinized for failing to meaningfully include women, people of color, and the LGBT community. Against that backdrop, the influential James Beard Foundation now sees itself as an agent of change. “I think kitchen culture is a culture that is changing,” says Mitchell Davis, the foundation’s chief strategy officer. “Historically, it has been a macho, homophobic, misogynist culture. There’s no question.”

The foundation was established in 1986, a year after Beard’s death, by a group of friends who wanted to preserve both his legacy and his legendary West Village townhouse, where I Love to Eat is set. (As part of his research, Guterman visited the Beard House late last year, and he tapped Miller Union’s Steven Satterfield, Atlanta’s most recent James Beard Award–winning chef, to help coach the actor portraying Beard, William S. Murphey, on the ways of the kitchen.)

The Beard Awards were established in 1990 to honor excellence in the culinary field. Coincidentally, Theatrical Outfit’s I Love to Eat, which runs April 10 to May 5, overlaps with the 2019 Beard season: Media honors will be handed out April 26 in New York, restaurant and chef awards on May 6 in Chicago.

While the foundation has helped advance conversations about diversity and sustainability in the food world, Davis says the LGBT piece is “kind of our next frontier.” “We’ve always been sensitive to LGBT issues,” Davis says. “Beard was our muse.”

Last October, the Beard Awards took steps “to increase gender, race, and ethnic representation” among committee members, judges, and entrants. Now, works like I Love to Eat and a forthcoming Beard biography by California writer John Birdsall are poised to help foster discussions on gender equity and Beard’s queerness.

In I Love to Eat, Beard declares: “To my friends, I’ve never made it a secret that I’m gay. And I don’t mean jolly—I mean gay. I’ve known I was gay since I was very young. Very young. I never really questioned it.”

Born in Portland, Oregon, in 1903, James Andrew Beard weighed 14 pounds at birth. He briefly attended Portland’s Reed College but was kicked out for having an affair with a professor. His dream of working in theater never took off. However, he excelled at going to parties and making canapés, a skill that led him to open Hors d’Oeuvre, Inc., a small New York food shop, in 1937. From there, his culinary career blossomed. In 1946, he hosted television’s first cooking show, and he went on to author more than 20 cookbooks.

The play depicts Beard as a chatty, opera-loving bon vivant who wears Chinese pajamas and slippers and sips Glenlivet on the rocks. Alternately singing the praises of American cooking and fresh seasonal ingredients and fretting that his numerous product endorsements could make him look shallow, the grand poo-bah fields calls from a “Mrs. Martin in Kansas” (who is having trouble with her soufflé) and his dear friend Julia Child (whom he adored and whose success he envied).

Guterman believes the crux of the play is Beard’s inner conflict and the toll it exacted. “We all wear these different masks. I have done that my whole life,” says Guterman, who grew up in rural Seminole County in South Georgia and is gay. “I had to assume several masks just to survive.”

This article appears in our April 2019 issue.

Chef Ron Hsu’s ambitious journey from Manhattan’s Le Bernardin to Candler Park’s Lazy Betty


Chef Ron Hsu / Photograph by Andrew Thomas Lee

When Ron Hsu was a kid, the school bus would drop him off at Hunan Village, his parents’ Stockbridge restaurant. His job was to peel onions. “The bag of onions was bigger than me,” he recalls. At home, he loved to help his Chinese grandmother make a chicken stir-fry with garlic, ginger, fermented black beans, and soy. They didn’t start sourcing ingredients in the grocery aisle but in the family chicken pen. “I would chase chickens into her arms,” he says, “and she would kill them and hang them from our roof to bleed.” When his friends asked him what the dead chickens were, he told them: “Dinner.”

“It never occurred to me that it was strange until I got older.”

Like innumerable children of immigrants, the 37-year-old chef has spent most of his life straddling cultures. Now, he’s putting his diverse experiences to work at his first restaurant, Lazy Betty—an ambitious concept in the old Radial Cafe space on DeKalb Avenue that’s been carefully conceived and test-piloted for the Atlanta market with an exhaustive, year-long pop-up series of the same name. A restaurant centered on a seven- to nine-course tasting menu at $115 to $125 a head can be a challenge, but no one can quibble with Hsu’s credentials, his competitive nature, or his will to succeed. Before coming home to launch Lazy Betty, he studied French cuisine in Australia, held a top creative position at New York’s super-high-end Le Bernardin, and gained global exposure when he recently competed on Netflix’s The Final Table.

His vision for Lazy Betty couldn’t be more unlike the seven Chinese restaurants his parents ran from 1980 until 2008. Yet those restaurants, and the family hustle that made them successful, are Lazy Betty’s foundation.

As one of the few Asian kids at Stockbridge Middle School, Ron remembers being bullied: “One very vivid memory is, when I went to a public swimming pool, another kid that was like my age came up to me and spat on me and made racial slurs.” He had a better experience at Woodward Academy, where he was voted class president in 2000. He attributes his victory to his aunt’s homemade fortune cookies; she inserted a fortune that said: “Vote for Ronald.”

Having a mother who ran a Chinese restaurant probably didn’t hurt his popularity, either. Betty Hsu—a tough-love mom with a sparkplug personality and a soft heart—knew how to curry favor with her kids’ friends. She remembers how they’d arrive at Hunan Village and squeal: “Mama Hsu, I’m hungry!” She’d feed them Mongolian beef and Mandarin ribs. But she never charged them. “I treat them just like my sons, you know?”

Underground Dining Scene: Lazy Betty

Today, her former customers still make a point of greeting the matriarch when she holds court at Sweet Auburn Barbecue, the Poncey-Highland restaurant (there’s also a stall at Sweet Auburn Curb Market) founded by her two other children, Howard and Anita, in 2014. Ron intends to continue the Hsu tradition of treating customers like family at Lazy Betty, where Howard and Anita are managing partners. The name is a winking reference to Betty Hsu’s tireless work ethic. “She’s not really lazy at all!” Ron says.

Nor is Ron, who understands his new restaurant’s high stakes. “A tasting menu–only restaurant in Atlanta is risky,” he says. “We’ll probably be one of the more expensive restaurants right off the bat. When I was in Atlanta, restaurants like Joël and Seeger’s weren’t very successful. Those were considered the heavyweights back then, and they didn’t make it long.” (Seeger’s was open nine years; Joël, nearly eight.)

But the city is a more sophisticated place than it was when Ron left in 2006, as evidenced by the success of restaurants like the tasting menu–only Staplehouse (which also began as a pop-up). His pop-up experience only reinforced that. “I love that Atlanta has come so far in such a short amount of time,” he says, “and that I can really cook the food that I enjoy cooking and kind of push the boundaries.”

It’s a dreary autumn day at the tidy Virginia-Highland bungalow Ron shares with his wife, Jackie, and their newborn daughter, Calliope. Jackie, who has a PhD in finance from Yale, is an economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and telecommutes. She met Ron in New York on her first Tinder foray. Jackie remembers the first time her new boyfriend cooked for her. “Ron made spaghetti carbonara,” she says. “He made me bring over, like, three containers of creme fraiche just for the two of us for his very fancy carbonara.”

“It’s a nontraditional version,” he interjects. “My French version of carbonara.”

As Betty Hsu coos over her new grandbaby (“She’s so smart!”), Ron steams some of her trademark, pork-filled dumplings. “These are one of the first things I learned to make in my mom’s restaurant,” he says. “Every Saturday, we would have two gigantic tubs of meat already mixed with my mom’s seasoning, and we all had our specific role in the dumpling-making process.”

Ron has recently wrapped up the pop-ups to focus on his newborn baby and restaurant build-out. Back in New York, he’d dabbled in supper club–style meals at a friend’s house and at a bar. His Atlanta endeavor was more purposeful: a dress rehearsal for a brick-and-mortar in a market where he hadn’t worked for 11 years. It allowed him time to “test the waters,” create buzz, experiment with recipes, and establish relationships with farmers. In the end, he says, it also helped him find his core staff, develop a mailing list of devotees, and get a read on what Atlanta diners want.

“I’m not a purist. I’m Chinese. I grew up in the South and went to a French cooking school, so my cooking is reflective of who I am and how I grew up. I think cuisines are just going to naturally mix just like people naturally mix.”

The pop-ups essentially were the final round of practice for a dream nearly 20 years in the making. Back in high school, Ron had told his mother he wanted to go to culinary school. Betty, who refers to herself with pride as a “Tiger mom,” insisted he go to “regular college.”

Later, as a miserable University of Georgia business major, Ron continued to nag his mother. He wanted to be a chef. If he was serious, she told him, he needed to find a job in a restaurant kitchen. And so, he worked as a line cook at an Athens pizzeria and, later, a tapas joint.

Eventually, Betty acquiesced, agreeing to help send her son to culinary school in the spring of 2003. Ron already had planned to study abroad in Australia through UGA’s business college. Instead, he enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney, eager to soak up the city’s Asian food culture.

A year and a half later, he got kicked out of Australia for an expired visa and returned to Atlanta, where he found work in the kitchen of the late Dish on North Highland Avenue. Dish’s executive chef was Sheri Davis, who’d previously cooked at the now-shuttered Brasserie Le Coze at Lenox Square. The popular French dining room was owned by Gilbert and Maguy Le Coze, founders of Le Bernardin, the three-Michelin-star restaurant in Manhattan that’s generally regarded as one of America’s finest.

After a few months as a line cook at Dish, where he remembers making many batches of rosemary–pine nut popcorn, Ron was promoted to sous chef. When he told Davis he was ready for change, she sent him to Le Bernardin chef Eric Ripert, who hired the 24-year-old as a line cook.

“Right away, we were impressed with his seriousness, his focus,” Ripert says. “He has very good skills in the kitchen because of his background, which is from the restaurant of his family, and we were very happy to have him.”

After seven years—during which Ron worked his way up the Le Bernardin hierarchy to executive sous chef and served a stint on the recipe-development side in the creative department—he left to be executive chef at Le Colonial, a French-Vietnamese restaurant in midtown Manhattan. In a flattering September 2014 review that also mentioned a Bruce Springsteen sighting at Le Colonial, the New York Post said of the rising star: “Unlike certain stock-stirrers who boast of prior four-star affiliations, Hsu is no mere cook but a master of crowd-pleasing styles.”

Two years later, Ripert hired him back, this time as creative director of Le Bernardin. Ripert remembers his protege conjuring an “amazing octopus dish with fermented black beans.” Ripert says he’d never heard of the Chinese ingredient. (Thanks, grandma.)

Ron doesn’t see himself as an Asian chef but as one with multiple influences (Chinese, Southern, French, and Japanese). “I’m not a purist. I’m Chinese. I grew up in the South and went to a French cooking school, so my cooking is reflective of who I am and how I grew up. I think cuisines are just going to naturally mix just like people naturally mix.”

Underground Dining Scene: Lazy Betty
Tasting menu (clockwise from top left): Cucumber cannelloni, horseradish panna cotta, borscht. Steak ’n eggs, wasabi, natural jus. Squid ink and lobster agnolotti, sauce Americain. Truffle Hunting in the Georgia Terroir. Liberty Farms duck, daikon–sweet potato terrine, hoisin-spiced jus. “Figs ’n Foie,” petite salad, maple vinaigrette.

Photograph by Andrew Thomas Lee

At Lazy Betty, Ron wants to tell his life’s story as a tasting menu. He likens the chef-curated dining experience to listening to Pink Floyd. You might like one song—but take in an entire album, and your mind is blown.

As a meal progresses at Lazy Betty, Ron might nod to his early experience in Italian mom-and-pops (cucumber cannelloni filled with horseradish panna cotta); his affinity for Japanese cuisine (snapper tartare with puffed sushi rice); and his family’s fondness for Waffle House, where they often repaired after late nights in their restaurants (a rarefied take with wagyu steak alongside a sous vide egg yolk wrapped in a wasabi leaf).

At a Lazy Betty pop-up over the summer, Howard Hsu greeted patrons and showed them to a table with personalized name cards. After the meal, Ron came out to say hello and ask customers what they thought. (There was also a questionnaire circulated after the meal.)

One thing he learned is that diners crave personal connections; they loved being called by their first names. With his tasting menu, he aims to build deeper bonds. “We want people to have some kind of emotional or intellectual attachment to our product.”

One of the pop-up’s regulars, Marjorie Speers, has known Ron since he was a teenager (he was friends with her son) and has followed his career closely, eating his food at Dish, Le Bernardin, and Le Colonial. “When there is a tasting menu available, I always order it,” Speers says. “I particularly like Ron’s, because they include the right number of courses, and I like the progression, not to mention the surprise of what’s to come.”

His food may be elevated, but the dining room at Lazy Betty won’t be stuffy. Jeans and T-shirts will do. “I never thought that a restaurant with white linen and people wearing very fancy suits promoted getting to know its clientele one on one,” Ron says. “I felt like those kinds of elements in a restaurant created a barrier between the guest and the chef, and we want to knock down those barriers, because it’s a reflection of how we grew up.”

Back at the Hsus’ home on Ponce de Leon Place, the dumplings are ready. Ron brings them to the dining table, which is surrounded by chair samples the family is considering for Lazy Betty. Betty sits in a regal wooden armchair with a leather seat. It’s the one they’ll later choose. She won’t be working at her namesake restaurant, though. As she points out, “I’m too bossy.”

Ron has put out little dishes of his mom’s hot sauce and some fancy smoked soy sauce from Japan:

“Why you not use Kikkoman?” Betty jabs.

“This is very good quality,” Ron replies.

“Better than Kikkoman?” she says.

Ron says the only dish of his that Betty likes is fettuccine Alfredo (she claims to also like his braised oxtails). Grandma loved it, too. When he used to come home from New York, he’d make big batches for his mom to freeze. “My mom, she could eat it for three days,” Betty says.

Ron was very close to his grandmother. As a little boy, he slept on the floor of her room to keep her company, communicating with her in his broken Chinese. He pulls up his sleeve to show off his one tattoo, a band of elaborate Chinese lettering. Betty gushes: “My mother’s name!”

How will Ron ever top the grandma tattoo on his arm? That’s easy: “My mom’s name will be on my butt cheek.”

Back to Underground Dining Guide

This article appears in our February 2019 issue.

The Absinthe Maker: Jaz Jarzewiak is barely of drinking age, but he’s the only person in Georgia to legally bottle and sell the storied spirit

Jetty Absinthe Atlanta
Jaz Jarzewiak holds a glass of Jetty Absinthe.

Photograph by John E. McDonald

Jaz Jarzewiak pours a chartreuse-colored spirit into a small glass measuring cup and slowly adds cold water. The mixture forms a milky white cloud, and the startling scent of anise—bright, green, botanical—wafts from the drink.

Jarzewiak is preparing a taste of Jetty Absinthe, a small-batch spirit he crafted at Hope Springs Distillery in downtown Lilburn. A master distiller by day and a server by night, Jarzewiak is a round-the-clock student of the green fairy. After months of experimenting with 60 different recipes, he began bottling Jetty Absinthe for sale to the public in November.

So, how did a 23-year-old from Columbus come to make the louche, legendary sip of the Parisian demimonde—which, up until a decade ago, had been banned in the United States for nearly a century? Born in Missouri and raised in Georgia, Jarzewiak came to Atlanta five years ago to study industrial design and architecture at Georgia Tech and ended up getting a server job at Holeman & Finch Public House, considered the birthplace of Atlanta’s craft-cocktail movement. He was only 19 (legally, he could serve alcohol but not consume it), and his experience at Linton and Gina Hopkins’ influential Buckhead gastropub was formative. “I was thrust into this culinary adventure of a job,” he recalls. “I absolutely loved it.”

He wanted to know everything about spirits and how they were made, or as he puts it: “Why is tequila ‘tequila,’ and why is whisky ‘whisky’?” When Jarzewiak chooses to pursue something, he doesn’t hold back; after deciding he wanted to be a writer, he penned four novels, two of which are available as Kindle editions on Amazon. He started his booze odyssey by homebrewing—“making everything from wine to all-grain beer”—and eventually became enthralled with digestifs like amari and absinthe.

Jetty Absinthe Atlanta
Jetty Absinthe

Photograph by John E. McDonald

A heady, botanical-based intoxicant that originated in Switzerland in the early 1800s, le fée verte (the green fairy) became associated with the wild visions of van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Rimbaud, and Edgar Allan Poe. To educate himself on absinthe, Jarzewiak watched the French-language film Chartreuse Liqueur, which describes the technical side of chartreuse production, so that he could soak up details about the manufacture of the green herbal spirit that’s a cousin of absinthe.

“Spirits are the perfect blend of art and science,” says Jarzewiak. “If you don’t understand the science of something, then you won’t understand exactly why it is happening and what you can change to make it happen in a different way. And if you don’t appreciate the art of something, you aren’t going to be expressive enough to make it worth enjoying.”

When his plans to open his own distillery fell through, he struck up a relationship with the husband-and-wife team of Betsey Dahlberg and Paul R. Allen, founders of Hope Springs. Gwinnett County’s first legal distillery since Prohibition, Hope Springs launched its inaugural product, Top Hat Vodka, in June 2017 and now is also the only commercial producer of absinthe in Georgia.

To make Jetty, Jarzewiak macerates green anise, sweet fennel, wormwood, and thyme with three gallons of neutral wheat alcohol at 85 percent strength. He uses a small, eight-gallon “milk-can still,” which he immerses in a water-bath to temper the heat. Once he creates the distillate, he colors it with fresh peppermint, lemon balm, hyssop, and black peppercorns, and seals it in a classic, dark green, Bordeaux-style bottle.

Next up for Jarzewiak: a lavender-citrus gin, an IPA-inspired gin, and a bitter-orange aperitif. He hopes to release the small-batch spirits as part of an exclusive “distiller’s select” series. True to his philosophy of making everything by hand, he recently acquired a vintage cast-iron Arab Platen printing press to emboss labels for the boutique line.

As for the Jetty label, it’s actually a reproduction of a painting Jarzewiak made of a friend on the rocks of Sweetwater Creek State Park. When the bottle is uncapped, you get a rush of the crisp, green fragrance of the outdoors. As Jarzewiak explains: “That’s me trying to put a walk through the forest in the bottle.”

This article appears in our July 2018 issue.

A new Atlanta theater sets the stage for more LGBTQ shows

The Most Fabulous Story Ever
Out Front Theatre Company arrived last fall with an ambitious production of the Broadway musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Photograph by Brian Wallenberg

When Paul Conroy’s job as a public school performing arts teacher disappeared during the economic downturn, he decided—almost on a whim—to move from his hometown of Quincy, Massachusetts, to Atlanta. He found work in Atlanta-area theater—as artistic director of Newnan Theatre Company, a marketing assistant at the Alliance, and general manager of Serenbe Playhouse.

But when his theatergoing gay friends asked him to recommend new shows, his suggestions often fell flat. “They’d say, ‘That doesn’t sound like it speaks to us,’” Conroy says. It occurred to him that the city had an unmet demand for material that explored LGBTQ experiences.

The Most Fabulous Story Ever
Scenes from Out Front’s inaugural production, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Photograph by Brian Wallenberg

The Most Fabulous Story Ever

Soon after, Conroy began to lay the groundwork for Out Front Theatre Company, which arrived last fall with an ambitious production of the Broadway musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. This month the company closes its three-show season with Paul Rudnick’s Old Testament re-do: The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told (April 27-May 14), in which Adam partners with Steve, not Eve. Although Rudnick’s comedy debuted in 1998, long before the 2015 Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage, Conroy, who is gay, argues that the play remains vital. “I think it’s very relevant in a state like Georgia,” he says, which has some of the country’s weakest legal protections against LGBTQ discrimination.

In the coming years, Conroy plans to produce a mix of comedies, dramas, and musicals at Out Front’s Westside space, but he stresses that it is not a vanity playhouse. “I don’t like being the center of attention,” says the founder and producing artistic director. “I keep telling people, ‘If I get hit by a truck tomorrow, then the mission of the theater needs to be strong enough that it carries on because it’s not about me.’” He’s just the guy who had the nerve to follow his instincts.

The Most Fabulous Story Ever

This article originally appeared in our April 2017 issue.

ASW Distillery is making the Atlanta’s first (legal) rye since prohibition

ASW Distillery
Resurgens rye tastes like chocolate—black peppered chocolate.

Photograph by Gregory Miller

Justin Manglitz drinks only one cocktail. “It’s called The Steer’s Nuts,” says the 35-year-old Haralson County native. “It’s one part whiskey and two parts whiskey.”


Manglitz may be goofy, but he’s also a smart, driven guy. Raised on stories of his pawpaw’s moonshine, Manglitz started making booze in a friend’s barn as soon as he turned 18.

Now he makes whiskey in a more official capacity for ASW Distillery, where he’s just masterminded the first legal rye produced in Atlanta since before Prohibition. Resurgens, which launched in December, is an amber-hued single-malt rye whiskey made from 98 percent North American grain and aged in charred white oak barrels. The label’s red phoenix is a nod to both the City of Atlanta seal and to the fact that this great American spirit has indeed risen from the ashes.

ASW Distillery
ASW’s head distiller, Justin Manglitz, uses a traditional Scottish double-pot method.

Photograph by Gregory Miller

Our Victorian forbears could stride into Vinings distiller R.M. Rose’s namesake store at 79-81 Peachtree Street and choose from any number of ryes, but Prohibition ended all that. Temperance came to Georgia early (in 1908) and stayed late (through 1935), and until the craft distillery movement arrived here a couple of years ago, few spirits worth drinking were manufactured in this state. In the meantime, rye—the dry, nutty whiskey distilled by George Washington and preferred by most 19th-century tipplers—fell tragically out of vogue.

Enter ASW Distillery. University of Georgia alums Jim Chasteen and Charlie Thompson launched the operation in 2011 with a lightly aged whiskey they called American Spirit Whiskey. The partners outsourced distillation to Charleston, South Carolina, while they searched for a way to bring the business to Atlanta—and for someone who understood the finer points of rye making.

It was Chasteen’s youngest sibling, Joy, who introduced them to her high school classmate, Manglitz, another UGA alum who had, by this point, spent more than a decade fiddling with barley single malts, sorghum rums, and grape brandies. “We thought we knew a little bit until we decided to go bigger,” Chasteen admits. “Justin changed the world for us.”

The team finally secured a facility on Armour Drive in 2014, and Manglitz began designing the production space to suit his purist methods.

The two swan-necked copper stills allow him to control every step of the process by hand. He’s got valves for water, steam, and moving the spirit from vessel to vessel. And that’s it. “There’s no computer program buzzing and whizzing and telling us when to flip switches,” Chasteen says. “It’s just Justin on his little milk crate, smelling, tasting, timing, and watching proof.”

“I’m not taking the shortcuts that human beings have developed in the last hundred years to make it more efficient, to make it scalable, to make more money from it,” Manglitz says as he peeks in on a foaming batch of Resurgens. “I’m doing it the old way.”

So how does Resurgens taste? It’s redolent of chocolate, with hints of buttery graham crackers and hazelnuts. Above all else, it’s peppery, a quality that Manglitz prizes. “You can add some peppercorns to your Manhattan, or you can just use this rye.”


House spirits
ASW Distillery makes more than rye. Here’s what else you can sip during a tour.

White Dog

Unaged single-malt rye—Resurgens, basically, before aging. ASW’s first spirit distilled in-house, White Dog is not sold commercially. All available at ASW’s tasting room at 199 Armour Drive, 404-590-2279, aswdistillery.com

Armour & Oak

Brandy craf­ted from Georgia’s Mer­cier Orchards apples. It makes for a lovely digestif or after-dinner cordial.

American Spirit Whiskey

A smooth, corn-based white spirit. American Spirit Whiskey will appeal to moonshine lovers.

Fiddler Bourbon

“Foraged bourbon.” ASW hunts for bourbon—both new and aged—from other makers, then blends or finishes  them in its own barrels.

Bottle photos by Caroline C. Kilgore

This article originally appeared in our March 2017 issue.

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