The Christiane Chronicles: Atlanta’s best cakes, and what’s so Southern about fried food?

Raves and rants from veteran dining authority Christiane Lauterbach
Illustration by Zohar Lazar
Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Rave: Let me eat cake
I have nothing against pies, but when it comes to the ancient debate pitching pie lovers against cake fanatics, I align myself firmly with the second group. To be clear, I’m not talking about cheesecakes (not a cake) or cupcakes (little stumps smeared with too much icing). Proper cakes are prettier. They don’t fall apart when cut. They keep their moisture better, and they’re far more festive—who wants pie on their birthday or at their wedding?

The best cake used to be the Very Good Chocolate Cake by Scott Peacock, Watershed’s original chef at the original Decatur location. But following Peacock’s departure, the cake became some nonsense crammed into a glass jar. Kristen Hard of Cacao Atlanta Chocolate Co. is my idol now. She offers at the most four cakes, including a marvelously fresh dark chocolate beauty with mascarpone icing. If you’re in a pinch, a slice of Boston cream pie (never mind the name; it’s a cake) from Southern Sweets Bakery or a lemon pound cake from Piece of Cake will do the trick.

I should mention that I have a history with cake. I once lived in Munich and used to cross the Austrian border regularly just to have cake and coffee in Salzburg in the middle of the afternoon. The Teutonic experience known as kaffeeklatsch—basically a daytime get-together over cups of coffee and baked goods—is something I miss. Cafe Intermezzo in Midtown comes close to creating that Viennese or Parisian environment, but so many of its cakes suffer from prolonged refrigeration. Stymied by all the variety? Go for the three-layer orange torte or a fluffy Italian cream torte.

Photograph by iStockphoto
Photograph by iStockphoto

Rant: Deep-fried disdain
Why do Southerners get pigeonholed as lovers of all things fried? There’s nothing particularly Southern about it. The Romans did it. The English used to boil enemies in oil as a form of execution—then they invented fish and chips. The French are known for their fries, even though the Belgians make better ones. Everyone loves crunchy food, but because early cookbooks depicted fried chicken and hushpuppies as staples of plantation life, Southerners get the shtick.

While I do eat my share of fried food, mostly in the form of chicken wings, I prefer fried catfish to chicken. Find a fish fry in a church parking lot; you’ll get it. What I don’t get are fried green tomatoes and fried pickles. Or why some of our better chefs feel they have to transform delicate sweetbreads into appalling nuggets or drop okra sourced from a farmer into a fry basket. Now, doughnuts—those are good. Fritters are bad. And people who deep-fry turkeys in their backyards? They deserve a trip to the emergency room.

Field notes:

  • Liu Ri, a chef from the Heilongjiang province in northeast China, is serving some mind-blowing (and underrepresented) Chinese food from his small restaurant, Masterpiece, in Duluth.
  • BYOB by choice and tiny by design, Jeff Myers’s new restaurant, Dish Dive, may well be the least expensive and best date place for a couple with different priorities (e.g., one is a vegetarian, the other likes hot dogs).
  • Venezuelan arepas are making a big splash in Decatur, where Lis Hernandez has opened a brick-and-mortar version of her popular Arepa Mia food counter in the Sweet Auburn Curb Market.
This article originally appeared in our February 2015 issue.