Atlanta Food & Wine Festival Wrap-up Thoughts

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ATL Food Chatter: May 17, 2011
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The past weekend’s gastronomical gala, the first Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, was a unique and important happening in the city’s culinary history—and unlike one-off events, this one will return and get better and better. Beyond a roster of local star chefs, the festival corralled stellar chefs from other regions of the South (and slightly beyond), including John Currence of the City Grocery Restaurant Group in Oxford, Mississippi; Dallas’s Kent Rathbun (who missed his son’s birthday to help out his brother, Kevin); Southwestern cuisine pioneer Stephan Pyles; Bryan Caswell of Houston’s genre-defying seafood restaurant, Reef; Karen and Ben Barker of Durham’s soulful Magnolia Grill; and Birmingham’s Frank Stitt, one of the original Southern farm-to-table advocates. Pyles framed it best when he said that he participates in only a limited number of food and wine festivals, but that he wanted to be at AF&WF because of the talent and timing, which further elevated the status of Southern cuisine. [Disclosure, I was one of the curators of the event and participated in several panel discussions.]

Bill Addison shares some of his thoughts on the festival below:

First, my immersion in the event was marred by a cruelly timed bout of the stomach flu. I nibbled gingerly on Friday afternoon; killed myself (though it was worth it) on an incredible five-courser with brilliant Old World wines at Empire State South, at which Karen and Ben Barker and Frank Stitt also cooked; skipped Saturday altogether; and, mostly recuperated, rejoined the fun on Sunday. I heard more than once that the quality of the food was the notably better than any other festival of this type. I dug how the tents were organized by food category—it made power-tasting seem so much less arbitrary. Bulk barbecue can be hard to pull off for hours, but Jim ‘N Nick’s ribs and the pulled pork offered in the whole hog section (forgive me for forgetting the vendor) were righteous on repeat visits. I love that Empire State South changed the (delicious) dish it served every day, and Shaun Doty’s burgers made from White Oak pastures lamb were amazing. Tim Gaddis selected sublime cheese makers to showcase. I was proud for my friend Asha Gomez, whose “American South meets the Indian South” Kerala fried chicken over Low Country rice waffles generated major buzz.

There was a consensus among my crowd that, in the future, we’d love to see more wines and a few less spirits—it’s challenging even for the hardest of the hard cores to drink that much bourbon on a sweltering day (granted, who could predict the weather). The sheer variety of programming impressed, though I think in years to come the organizers could experiment with a few less seminar choices per time slot; four or five finely tuned lectures and demonstrations would be plenty. Overall, to me, it felt like a successful launch for a promising signature event for the city—I’d love to hear in the comments section below what others thought.

 
(Pictures of terrine and doughnut popover at Empire State South’s May 20 dinner by Bill Addison.)
 
 
NEWS AND NOTES:

According to the Saporta Report, Southern cuisine will soon fly high at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The multi-billion dollar food and beverage concessions contract being bid out by Atlanta’s airport includes a requirement that the food and beverage industry propose concepts that will remind passengers they are in the South. “What we’ve challenged the industry to do is create a sense of place, a sense of being in Atlanta, in the state of Georgia, in the Southeast region,” Paul Brown, concessions director at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport, is quoted as saying.

Travel & Leisure magazine rated Atlanta as one of America’s Best Burger Cities (number 19) in its May issue. [Editor’s rant: I respect T&L, and I guess this reader-survey-generated roundup is serving its purpose by stoking conversation, but the results seem to say more about civic pride than any real burger authority. Atlanta is all-burgers-all-the-time these days, and yet Savannah (bless its many fine attributes; I don’t know a wealth of memorable burgers to be among them) ranks number 10 and Atlanta number 19? Silly.—B.A.]

Local gastro-entrepreneur Thomas Sergio was the subject of a recent Wall Street Journal story on restaurant entrepreneurship. Sergio is the owner of a small baking company, Olde World Artisan Bread Co.

Alpharetta. Cafe Efendi at 97 Old Roswell Street has closed.

Buckhead. The Atlanta Business Chronicle is reporting that Farm Burger is slated to open its second location in the former Atlanta Bread Company spot in Tower Walk at 3365 Piedmont, according to a construction permit filed with the city of Atlanta.

Cabbagetown. Thrillist notes that Little’s Food Store—a cozy nook for dine-in food and take-home beer, wine and groceries, decked with antique Coke vending machines—has opened at 198 Carroll Street.

Decatur. According to its Facebook page, The Big Tex Cantina, a Tex Mex restaurant from the siblings behind Fox Bros. BBQ, will open at 4 p.m. on Friday, May 27 at 308 W. Ponce de Leon Avenue (in the former space of Nathalie’s Fish House).

Doraville. Gene Lee on the AJC’s Food and More blog reports that the recently shuttered Cafe 101, featuring Sichuanese/Taiwanese cuisine, has reopened at 5412 Buford Highway.

Grant Park. Creative Loafing reports that the Grant Park Farmers Market has opened. It runs every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., May 15 through Thanksgiving, located at the historic Milledge Fountain, at the corner of Cherokee Ave. and Milledge Ave. (approximately 600 Cherokee Ave).

Westside. In early June, Julia LeRoy will open LeRoy’s Fried Chicken on Howell Mill Road. Previously chef at the Bookhouse Pub (she’s been consulting for the last year or so), LeRoy is partnering with Clay Harper and Mike Nelson of Fellini’s Pizza. This is a take-out operation only. She’ll be using chicken from Springer Mountain Farms and will served fried hearts and livers as well.

Question of the Week: Name the sister of a visiting Atlanta Food & Wine Festival guest chef who once owned a metro-area restaurant. (Hint: It was in Vinings.)

PS. The answer to last week’s QOTW—What ATL intown spot was recently named one of the world’s hottest rooftop restos by a major travel publication?—is FAB, by Travel & Leisure. (Jim Brams called that one in the comments section last week.)

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