The Christiane Chronicles: For the love of casseroles

Plus: Why restaurant patios are almost always a bust

Christiane Chronicles

Illustration by Zohar Lazar

The Joy of Casseroles
Some of my favorite dishes, from lasagna to moussaka, shepherd’s pie to cassoulet, involve layered ingredients baked in a large, uncovered dish. Little did I know when I moved to this country from my native France that there was a generic term for them—“casserole” in the South, “hotdish” in the Midwest—and that the genre included such horrors as my mother-in-law’s post-Thanksgiving turkey tetrazzini and its more common relatives, the tuna noodle casserole and the even more odious Buffalo tater tot casserole.

The best thing about casseroles is that you just pop them into the oven and forget about them until it’s time to shovel them mindlessly onto your plate. They are things you bring to the bereaved and to postpartum mothers to bestow comfort and relief. You can take them to the lakehouse and have food for the whole weekend. The worst thing about them is that they take forever to prepare, and they dirty every dish in the house.

Luckily, you live in Atlanta, where Betsy McKay has kept the art of the casserole alive for almost eight years at a refined little spot in Morningside called . . . Casseroles. I can’t drive past the small easel she sets out on Lanier Boulevard without craving her tamale pie, chicken and biscuits, and eggplant Parmesan.

McKay, who used to work with Michael Tuohy at Chef’s Cafe, also offers healthy vegetarian selections, some made with quinoa or cauliflower “rice.” Everything comes in oven-ready tinfoil dishes in several sizes. You can call ahead to pick up your casserole already hot or raid the freezer stocked with a large and rotating selection that could include beef stroganoff, bobotie, and the occasional cassoulet.

McKay’s collection of vintage casserole dishes from Dansk to Corningware is strictly for show, but you can pick up a handy casserole carrier, a sympathy card, an artichoke dip, a batch of cookies, or a frozen baguette for whomever is lucky enough to be on the receiving end of a McKay casserole.

Weather-Permitting Dining Blows
Too hot in the summer, too dreary in the winter, and impossibly crowded on the rare days when weather is just right, restaurant terraces and patios are almost always a bust. I loathe having to consult the Weather Channel to decide whether I can go to the glam new Estrella, a tiny indoor bar with a large terrace on the rooftop of the new Bazati complex, or to 8Arm’s delightful side bar (which is half of the tiny restaurant). Have you ever watched folks beating a hasty retreat indoors from a restaurant patio at the first drop of rain or miserably sticking it out under measly umbrellas? Tempers flare, servers scramble, and everybody is unhappy.

Adding tables and chairs outside is a legit source of revenue for restaurant owners, but if it makes them dependent on good weather for most of their business, it’s a dismal idea. In the winter, I don’t want to be seated on a weatherized patio that smells like propane or be anywhere near some infrared contraption that looks like an oversized bug zapper.

There is a delightful gastropub in Seattle called Damn the Weather with a strong commitment to indoor-only comforts. I’ll take a cozy, dowdy Irish or British pub any day over the hot new place that makes me worry about the forecast.

This article appears in our January 2019 issue.