back to the city of dirty birds, and the landing pad was set for top flr. just months before, i was parked at sister restaurant the sound table, sipping on pimm’s flip with rosetta art that would put any barista to shame. however, it’s not fair to compare siblings, so i walked into the door of top flr with an open mind and a thirsty gullet. low and behold, it was nate, the same bartender responsible for my stylish sips at the sound table. whoever said “the only person you should ever compete with is yourself” set the stage for the evening and first up was an italian stallion. while a couple of drinks and a less than sharp memory contributed to my inability to recall said ingredients, i remember something a bit sweet, a little more sour, and dashed with fernet. refreshing. after one (or more?) of those, i was warmed up and ready for something new. my eyes darted around the liquor shelves and tucked behind other spirits was a majestic bottle of cardamaro. contrary to popular belief, this wine-based amaro isn’t rooted in cardamom, but rather cardoon, a cousin of the artichoke. a sweeter alternative to cynar, the cardamaro blended artfully with fernet, absinthe, and lillet rouge. throw in a plate of house-made charcuterie for good measure and i was down for the count. losing never felt so good.
an ode to shakespeare and “the good things in life”, cakes and ale serves as the epicenter of decatur’s culinary microcosm. sight unseen, i made plans to meet up with cohorts for drinks après arrival in the dirty, but as luck would have it, a few friends had to cancel. this served us well though, since the space seemed snugger than a holocaust hideout. as we walked in, a glass cake pedestal piled high with phatty cakes caught my eye, and like a child seeing a new toy, i fixated on the gingery cookie delights. i took the liberty that comes with being an adult to order dessert first, and our casual evening of drinks soon morphed into a full-on chow-down with the rest of the meal following– spiced olives, gougères, and a savoury tagliatelle bolognese. things were going well until that awkward moment when the check comes and everyone tries to figure out the math (there should be a college course dedicated solely to the art of splitting a bill), but despite all the calculations, the prices came up steep.
and here’s where we landed on the final equation:
(big things= taste + $) / (small packages= portion size + venue)
the next stop on my atlan-tinery was the birthplace of the shaken baby jesus. with a cold snap in the air and rumours of impending snowpocolypse, we headed up to the old fourth ward‘s sound table for a meet and greet with disparate groups of friends. it’s always unnerving when melding different factions, but the return can sometime supersede the risk, as it did that night. with a diverse selection of tasty cocktails, including a delectable gemini handshake that packed tropical notes with a habanero kick, we chatted away like old chums over a brigade of small plates, the most notable being the hamachi crudo and the sunchoke puree (the plate was licked clean, i will leave it at that). a few days after, all of the southeast went to hell, or some siberian version of it, and atlanta was frozen solid for a good week. as youtubers ice skated down peachtree and bmw’s set ablaze, i stayed off the streets and nestled all snug in my bed while visions of cocktails-past danced in my head.
on new year’s eve, i embarked on a two week migratory adventure back to my home away from home. prior to my departure, i turned to atlanta’s definitive source on local culture, creative loafing, for a survey of worthwhile craft cocktail purveyors. having already traversed holeman & finch on a previous itinerary, leon’s was next on the list. a meandering drive down ponce and we arrived in downtown decatur, a suburb within the perimeter. my displaced seattle shipmate and i settled in for an evening of mediocre gastropub fare and lost cocktail thursdays debriefs. being that we were seated in the dining area, our waitress relayed our drink order to the bar and some fumbled instruction later, what arrived was lost in translation. not quite the premium fantasy i had hoped for, i received exactly what i asked the waitress to avoid, fernet with rye. now don’t get me wrong, rye has it’s place of grandeur in the world, but that place is not yet located on my palette. my drink ended up like a disillusioned child, dragging its heels back to the bar for a replacement. had i been at the bar, things might have been different, for i honestly believe the quality of a craft cocktail is directly proportionate to the distance of the barkeep. consider it the ‘proximity quality quotient’.
from nyc to the atl, i jetted down the east coast for a long anticipated reunion with the dirty south. three sheets to the wind the previous night, we started the evening by gorging at antico, the hottest pizza napoletana in the city, after which point we headed for buckhead’s highly-acclaimed holeman & finch public house. recorded in the annals of culinary acclaim by the likes of esquire, food & wine, and epicurous, h&f has received such honours as #33 best new restaurant, #10 best cocktail bar, and #1 best late night burger. but let’s cut to the chase, i came to settle a score. i’d been hearing about this legendary burger for months…with a bullhorn sounding at 10pm, at which point only two dozen of these tasty treats are served per night. now anyone that knows me knows that i’m all about fancy 3-star michelin joints, but my patty piety has always been with the speed, simplicity, and scrumptiousness that is in-n-out‘s two layers of 100% pure beef, american cheese, grilled onions, and ‘animal sauce’ (the angel’s brew of thousand island). however, while in nyc, i had the shake shack shackburger and within minutes, ten years of in-n-out devotion was blown right out of the water. it was at the shake shack that my atl-ien friend threw down a comestible challenge: go to h&f and compare their burger to this one. so there i was, at the bar of holeman & finch, having a fernet and coke (note to self: lime ice cubes are fabulous EXCEPT in fernet and coke) and chowing down on a plate of charcuterie and their oh-so-dreamy bone marrow gratin, sitting pretty with an insider-track in the burger-ordering department. as the clock approached the stroke of ten, i started realizing the errors i’d made up to this moment: the hangover, the pizza, the pre-burger nosh….it was too late to refactor and shortly before BURGER TIME!, we canceled the order. some may scoff and say that i should have just gotten the burger anyway, but to them i rebut the following arguments: a) i am not an asshole; if i’m not hungry enough to enjoy this burger, then someone else deserves it and b) i owe it to burger history to conduct a controlled study. the conclusion? i’ll be back…in the name of science.
10 years after hanging up my bomber jacket, my friend informed me that my 48-hour trip to hotlanta just happened to coincide with the ska is dead tour. i could barely contain myself; the prospect of seeing the toasters again, headlining with the likes of voodoo glow skulls, mustard plug, and more than a handful of other bands — it was like the buttercream icing to top my red velvet cake of a trip. less than 24 hours after scaling the famed sign of the clermont lounge (fernet gives you wiiings!), i strapped on my steel toe 10 eyes and we b-lined it to the bookhouse pub for a pre-show bite. living up to its name, this literary-themed gastropub is but a brief jaunt from the afore mentioned clermont, and across the street from murder kroger. as if that wasn’t enough, bookhouse’s chef julia leroy has received numerous top honours for her efforts in promoting local, sustainable comfort cuisine. after my zealous ordering spree, it was just a short skip away from the show being held at the masquerade – a venue i haven’t graced since the 1998 ska against racism tour. we arrived right before the voodoo glow skulls went on stage, and i even got some complimentary words from frank casillas later that evening. i almost jumped out of my skin when when mustard plug covered “waiting room”, and skanked my heart out on stage when the toasters played “weekend in la”. it was a night 10 years in the making, and one thing’s for certain – i’m 2 tone for eternity.
since i’ve been out of the punkrock scene for over a decade (hello corporate world), DIY punk is something i haven’t witnessed for quite some time…the denim jackets strewn together with hoodies, sewn-on patches and faux leopard print, dreads, studs, spikes, and piercings. after getting off a rather lengthy flight from the left coast to the ATL, my friend obliged me with a drink at a local hipster hangout in poncey highland, appropriately named ‘the local’. as we walked past a car parked in the lot with a NOFX sticker prominently displayed on the trunk, i could tell this place was special. from the street, this joint looked more like a country ranch than a trendy hangout, but the minute we walked in, i could sense the tight pants and low-lit dive bar hipster essence that was contained within. never in a hundred years would i have guessed this place would have fernet, but when the crust punk bartender poured my drink, and ‘dont call me white‘ started blaring on the jukebox, i knew that this was going to be a trip to the dirty that i wouldnt soon forget…