Street Eats and Summer Festivals

This year was the 5th annual Atlanta Street Food Festival, but expectant patrons may have noticed a pretty large difference between the festival this year as compared to the past few years. The event was moved from its popular central location in Piedmont Park to Stone Mountain Park. If you dread what impact festivals have on your car mileage or your pocket, here are my recommendations on how to make the most of your festival experience…

Plan to Spend the Entire Day 

If you are just going for a few hours, a $15 parking fee, a $25 cover charge and the price of food from vendors on top of everything, seems like a lot to ask. Not to mention, Stone Mountain Park is out of the way for many folks inside the perimeter, and this past weekend sported Heat Indexes of over 104 degrees Fahrenheit. However, I discovered that the people able to make the best of this situation, planned to get their money’s worth by bringing their own lawn chairs and setting them up in the shade for the whole day. This way, you could avoid the heat, have guaranteed seating, and have the time to digest between rounds of eating.

Many people had the right idea in bringing their hammocks! There's lots of trees and natural shade in Stone Mountain Park!
Many people had the right idea in bringing their hammocks! There is lots of trees and natural shade in Stone Mountain Park.

Find the Unique Street Eats

From what I saw this weekend, there are trends in what food trucks sell. I felt that every other truck sold the same tried (but true) foods: burgers, lobster rolls, fried green tomatoes, and some variation of low country boil. But the most popular trucks were the ones that specialized on one food type, or sold food that nobody else was selling. Here were some of the highlights:

Chazito's Cuban Food truck from Savannah, GA served up some delicious empanadas con pollo, tostones, and maduros
Chazito’s Cuban Food truck from Savannah, GA served up some delicious empanadas con pollo, tostones, and maduros.
Mac The Cheese Food Truck was never without a small line . They served me up a Fontina Mac and Cheese although they were serving mac every which way, including with lobster.
Mac The Cheese Food Truck was never without a line. They served Fontina Mac and Cheese although they were serving mac every which way, including with lobster.
Bollywood Zing! based out of Smyrna served up some flavorful samosa chaat (samosa with warm chick pea salad on top), however we did miss their biryani!
The Bollywood Zing! truck, based out of Smyrna, served flavorful samosa chaat (samosa with warm chick pea salad on top), however we did miss their biryani.
Roti Rolls, ranked the best food truck in Charleston features eccelctic sandwiches inspired by many global cuisines and sources their food "farm to truck." This sandwich is their "Foghorn Leghorn;" organic chicken, coconut curried vegetables and house-made kimchi all on Indian Roti. Needless to say, it exploded with flavor.
Roti Rolls, ranked the best food truck in Charleston, features eccelctic sandwiches inspired by many global cuisines, and they source their food “farm to truck.” This sandwich is their “Foghorn Leghorn”: organic chicken, coconut curried vegetables and house-made kimchi all on Indian Roti. Needless to say, it exploded with flavor.
cookie truck
The “Not As Famous Cookie Company” made an appearance with their cookie truck. As a dessert truck serving only cookies, it stood out amongst all the Italian Ice stands. And these  cookies were delicious; they should be famous. My favorite was the peanut-butter chocolate pretzel.

Know That You’re Giving Back

The ticket price for entry may have seemed steep for some, but most attendees may not have known that part of the proceeds went to benefit an important Atlanta-based non-profit, The Giving Kitchen. The Giving Kitchen grants help to those in the Atlanta restaurant community dealing with crises (of any sort).

All in all, this festival was definitely worth going to. Although a bit far removed from it’s beloved Piedmont Park location, the new location certainly helped with the crowd problem. The way the trucks were spaced out in Stone Mountain Park made the event feel more like a relaxed family fun day at the park, than like the congested street festivals that can be irritatingly difficult to navigate. The organization and logistics of the festival could still use improvement, perhaps with a more detailed map and description of the food vendors, or use of an app-like guidebook. However, it already seems that the Atlanta Street Food Festival is getting better year after year.

IMG_2589~ By Virginia Spinks, intern at Go Eat Give. Virginia is a senior at Emory University majoring in religion and anthropology. As an Atlanta native, she has grown up around many different cultures and cuisines, and has always had a passion for food. She views food as an experience: a point of connection to bring people together and create lasting memories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eat Well and Give Back in Atlanta

Atlanta foodies, we’ve got something for you! Your chance at an inexpensive culinary tour around metro Atlanta has finally arrived with the release of the Atlanta DiningOut Passbook. This tiny book of two-for-one entrée deals features over 50 of Atlanta’s favorite eateries and over $1500 in value. Participating restaurants include Agave, STK, Apres Diem, Anis, Murphy’s, No Mas Cantina, McCray’s, Sun In My Belly, Meehan’s, Einstein’s, and dozens more!

ATPassbook-600x600

In addition to eating good, purchasing the passbook also benefits the non-profit Open Hands Atlanta. Look at you, you philanthropist foodie!

Enjoy the Atlanta DiningOut Passbook for only $39.99, regularly $99 with special discount code GOEATGIVEPASS2015. What’s more? DiningOut will donate another $10 to your favorite charity, Go Eat Give. That’s a win-win for everyone.

So start saving, eat well, and give back along the way!

New Brazilian Steakhouse in Atlanta

Last night, I got a sneak preview of the new Brazilian steakhouse Chama Gaucha which opens today in Atlanta.

Located in the upscale Bulkhead neighborhood, Chama Gaucha has a large sophisticated space. Drawing inspiration from the menu’s Brazilian flavor and style, the interior is simultaneously glamorous, intimate and bold. An organic palate of tans and browns, uniquely designed fabric panels and gold textured ceilings yield an upscale yet comfortable dining experience. Outside, a multilevel patio offers fire pits and casual seating invites guests to revel in the energy of Buckhead while amidst the relaxing white awnings and flowing draperies.

Reintroducing a bygone era of Brazilian cowboys, who ended days preparing dinner around a fire pit, Chama Gaucha embraces and elevates the fireside culture and rustic culinary traditions. With locations in Houston, San Antonio and Chicago, the Buckhead restaurant is the fourth to open and the first in the Southeast.

Cordeiro

I took my friend Amanda along for the test. Amanda is a Brazil native. She is also a good cook and fair critic. It was impressive to see that most of the servers spoke fluent Portuguese and were knowledgable about what they were serving. We started off with traditional Brazilian cocktails, caprinhinas made with lime, sugar and Cacacha. They were up to the mark. Chama Gaucha’s bar also boasts a list of signature cocktails and martinis including the “green tea martini,” a blend of citrus vodka, Cointreau and chilled green tea, red and white “Chama sangria” crafted with seasonal fruit and “garden in Rio,” a blend of pineapple rum, cucumber and fresh lime juice.

A bowl of happiness arrived when my favorite Brazilian cheese bread “pão de queijo” was served at the table. The airy balls were fresh, warm and melting in my mouth. The cheese was not as sour as the one you would find in the state of Minas, but still good enough to pop in more than one rolls.

Next, we headed to the salad buffet. There were different kinds of pre-made and make your own salads, cheeses, salamis and vegetables. Since Brazil has a lot of diversity, dishes like potato salad, tabbouleh and Cesar salad are pretty common.Salad Bar

Once we were ready for our entrees, we had to flip over the card from No to Yes, and traditionally dressed Gauchos brought a variety of slow roasted meats to the table. There was costela, a richly marbled beef rib, frango e linguica, marinated chicken drumsticks and pork sausage. Amanda’s favorite was the grilled picanha, thinly sliced prime cut of sirloin, while I enjoyed the fact that there was a shrimp dish too. Traditional side including Brazilian mashed potatoes, fried bananas and fried polenta were served table-side family style to accompany the meat. We missed key Brazilian staples – feijoada (Brazilian black beans), rice and farofa (ground cassava).

Filet Mignon e Frango

Amanda has tried every Brazilian restaurant in Atlanta, and some of the best ones in the world. Her verdict was that the meat at Chama Gaucha was of excellent quality and she would definitely go back.                                                                                              

Chama Gaucha
3365 Piedmont Road, NE, Suite 1350
Atlanta, GA 30305
404.842.0011
www.chamagaucha.com 

Spice Route Tasting in Atlanta

When I was in Spain, friends and coworkers would get together at cafes and casual restaurants for a drink and snacks in the evening. This is when we would have an aperitif of cocktails, campari or Rose, along with olives, nuts, cured meats, cheese and bread. It was only around nine or ten pm that we would head off to a restaurant for a proper dinner. Typically, we ordered a bottle of wine for the table, with tapas for dinner, thus continuing the Spanish tradition of communal dining.

Flavors of Morocco and Spain now intersect at Atlanta’s hip Buckhead neighborhood. Gypsy Kitchen opened in October 2014 offering sophisticated patrons old world wines, handcrafted cocktails, and sharable tapas, in a sensually artistic ambiance.

A walk around the restaurant is worth the visit for visual senses. A metal bull sculpture stands as centerpiece at the bar. Teal blue walls, oversized French chandeliers, and Moorish doors and glass framed mirrors – together create a delicate and romantic ambient lighting. The assorted lighting fixtures around the room is a good representation of what the food is about – inspirations from around the world.

GypsyKitchen_Atlanta

The menu is organized by cheese plates, tapas, soups/salads and entrees. Lightly dusted with olive oil and grilled toast served with slices of Spanish Manchego cheese and Quince paste, paired with a bold Rioja is a good starting point to this journey. Cured meat lovers would want to order Jamon Iberico to share alongside.

Tapas (or small plates) take center stage at Gypsy Kitchen. A must have at any Spanish restaurant is Croquetas (or croquettes). Served steaming hot, the center is gooey with chicken and cheese, while the outside is perfectly crusted with fried bread crumbs. This was my absolute favorite snack food in Spain, second only to Patatas Bravas, crisp roasted potato wedges dipped in spicy aioli. The Roasted Cauliflower Salad is a great way to indulge guilt free. Smokiness of the paprika and heartiness of chopped boiled eggs add a unique touch to this dish. For a Moroccan inspired appetizer, try the Lamb Kefta Tagine, soft lamb meatballs in a tomato sauce topped with a runny egg.
lamb meatballs

Combination of dates, blue cheese and ham rolled in to a Spanish Cigar is a fun savory cookie-like appetizer that compliments with the Spice Trader (Bourbon, Honey & Cayenne, Apricot Liqueur, Lime, Ginger Beer).

Garlic Shrimp is a traditional tapa found at many restaurants, but here it is grilled with shells intact with a touch of parsley, olive oil garlic and salt, which helps retain moisture while absorbing flavors.

grilled shrimpLarge Plates on the menu are not worth the trouble. The Marcona Almond Tikka Masala comes with chunky pieces of chicken breasts that lack the well established Indian spices, and the fish dishes are too bland for the surroundings. My aspirations at dessert are also broken down by a dry devil food cake. I crave for a typical apple tart from Barcelona and hot churros dipped in warm melted chocolate from Madrid, but can’t find them.

Gypsy Kitchen is a good attempt to take the diner on a walk along the spice route. It’s a good gathering spot offering lots of space. With subtle flavors and upscale ambiance, it has a gypsy-like quality that is on the move to “find itself.”

Tiger In The Dragon’s Den

On October 7th, 2014 two of decatur’s restaurants joined forces to create a “Tiger in the Dragon’s Den” themed dinner experience. The powerful action packed night as promised by the poster of Amitabh Bachan and Bruce Lee, featured chefs George Yu of Makan and  Daniel Peach of Chai Pani. Both restaurants are located in downtown Decatur, GA, within a mile from each other. Chai Pani is a James Beard acclaimed Indian street food restaurant that has already won the hearts of local diners. Makan is a newbie on the block, featuring street Asian.

Makan-Chai-Pani-Flyer-4x6

The dinner event was held at Makan’s 2 months old location. High industrial black painted ceilings, and contemporary furniture gave the open space a modern look. The funny Asian posters on the walls and Bollywood music in the background, added more to the funkiness of this place.

I sat at the chef’s table so I could closely watch Peach & Yu dual in the kitchen with their Ind-China fusion menu. I’m quite familiar with this regional fare (see my article on Creative Loafing Atlanta on Indo-Chinese), but Chef Peach came around and whispered to me in Hindi, “this will be different.”

Different it was! My expectations of Hakka noodles, chili chicken, and paneer manchurian were blasted with a new, but still daring, kind of fusion. Here is what the pre-set 5 course menu included:

1st Course – chicken chop suey, pancake wrappers, selection of sauces

chicken chopseuy

The presentation was beautiful and reminded me of Moo Shu Pork, a northern Cantonese dish that includes stir fried pork and veggies, wrapped inside a thin pancake and served over rice. This one was a spicier version that was made with chicken, veggies and an interesting trip of sauces ranging from pungent to sweet.

2nd Course – grilled baby corn skewers, peppers, celery, paneer

grilled baby corn skewers

The hors d’oeuvres style dish presented 2 skewers of perfectly grilled baby corns and other veggies. My favorite part was the fresh grilled paneer, but there was only 1 piece of it per skewer. This would be a great dish to serve at a cocktail party.

3rd Course – wok fried whole black bass, jujubes, chutney, crispy shallots

whole fried black bass

This was my favorite course of the meal. The fish was exceptionally cooked – crispy on the outside and delicate on the inside. It was well seasoned and the coconut chutney added one more dimension to the already flavorful dish. I would definitely order this off the menu!

4th Course – slow roasted leg of lamb, wheat noodles

leg of lamb noodles

The leg of lamb was very well cooked and tender, but the it lacked the action that was proposed on the advertisement. Wheat noodles were served in a bland soy based sauce. If this was fusion, it was lacking India’s spice kicks. This was my least favorite course.

5th Course – duo of desserts. warm black sesame soup with rice balls and gulab jamun.

gulab jamun and rice cake

You can never go wrong with a fresh gulab jamun straight out of hot oil. The small round Indian sweet was very satisfying, although I wanted to ask for a second piece. The second part of the dessert was a rice ball, typical Korean sweet. The rice ball itself was sticky and flavorless, as it should be, but the black sesame soup it sat in hit a distasteful punch that I probably don’t want to feel again.

As far as cocktail offerings, Apertif for Destruction was pleasant and smooth tending to the ups and downs of flavors felt through the courses. It was designed with aperol, tulsi, Prosecco, and orange bitters – a great combination for easy destruction. There were other gin and bourbon based cocktails that I did not try. One that caught my attention was Tuk Tuk You In – hot masala spiced chai, with cognac and honey.

The 5 course dinner was offered at $45 per person. Cocktails $8 each or full drink pairing for $20. This was a one time dinner event, but you can try Chai Pani and Makan Asian Restaurant any time of the week and observe their authentic flavors in their own dens.

Chai Pani Decatur
406 W Ponce De Leon Ave, Decatur, GA 30030
(404) 378-4030
Makan Atlanta
130 Clairemont Ave Suite 100, Decatur, GA 30030
(404) 996-6504

Shake Shack Goes South

I had my first Shake Shack experience at the first and original location on a trip to New York, where a distinguishable line of people wrapped around Madison Square Park, waiting to try delicious burgers, hot dogs, frozen custards, made from fresh and organic ingredients, all from a humble hot dog cart. However, Shake Shack brings its own twist to the South. Instead of a little stand, Shake Shack Atlanta is located in the mixed-use Buckhead Atlanta center; which will be filled with designer shopping, upscale restaurants, and high-rise apartments once it opens. Even though the line here does wrap around the property, there is plenty of room to eat, once you step inside the establishment, which includes a downstairs dining room, and a rooftop patio where patrons can enjoy their food and drinks while watching the view of the Atlanta skyline.

oh my pecan pie shake shack
Oh My Pecan Pie Frozen Custards

I savored the Shake Shack classics – the ShackBurger (cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, and ShackSauce), and the crinkle cut cheese fries. The fries were nice and crispy and had a perfect amount of salt. The ShackBurger was also superb, but meat lovers beware, the “single” is pretty light, so I recommend upping the protein to a “double.” I also had my fair share of the frozen custard blends, which were specific to the Atlanta menu, and included Pecan Pie Oh My (vanilla frozen custard blended with a slice of pecan pie from H&F Bread Co.), Campfire S’mores (chocolate frozen custard blended with marshmallow sauce, graham crackers, and dark chocolate chunks from Cacao Atlanta Chocolate Co.), and the Peachtree (a caramel-peach milkshake). The Campfire S’mores was my favorite and it was rich, thick, and creamy. I was surprised I wasn’t a big fan of the Peachtree, but the caramel peach combination sounded as odd as it tasted.

Shake Shack Cheese Fries
Shake Shack Cheese Fries

For anyone who has never been to Shake Shack, I do recommend giving it a try when in the Buckhead area, but beware of the hype. Although the food is great and customer service is excellent, waiting in a long line for burgers and fries can be irksome when there are plenty of other organic burger joints to choose from in Atlanta.

shack burger
Shack Burger

Shake Shack Buckhead Atlanta
3035 Peachtree Road NE, Suite A146
Atlanta, GA 30305
buckhead@shakeshack.com
(470) 809-9201