Atlanta Food and Wine favorites

The second annual Atlanta Food and Wine Festival took place this weekend in Midtown Atlanta. With three days of over 80 demonstrations, private dinners and tastings, the festivals was one of the best experiences foodies could have. Chefs, authors and restaurant  owners from all over the south were showcased, while patrons from around the country came to eat, drink and learn.

One of the biggest attractions of the festival were the Tasting Tents. A $100 ticket would get you into an all-you can-eat-and-drink exhibition created by some of the best culinarians, for three whole hours. The Festival Tasting Tents were designed to lead guests through a culinary exploration of the South, featuring themed tasting “trails” like Bourbon, Craft Beer, Wine and Spirits, Farm Fresh, Seafood, Whole Pig, Fried Chicken, Southern Snacks, Global Inspirations and more. We are talking over 100 tasting tents in one area!

While I did my best to investigate each and every vendor at the festival, it wouldn’t have been humanly possible to eat and drink everything. However, from whatever I managed to taste, here were some of my personal favorites.

One Hot Mama’s – Hilton Head based BBQ restaurant served Asian BBQ chicken skewers with your choice of a spicy or sweet sauce, served on a bed of Israeli couscous salad. The flavor was a good fusion of American, Asian and Middle Eastern, something you wouldn’t find anywhere else. It was also appropriate to eat here being Mother’s Day!

White Oak Kitchen and Cocktails – The best fried chicken I ever had! The server told me that chef Vaughn makes his own caramel sauce and lets the chicken soak in it over night. Then he drizzles it with salt and flour and deep fry’s it to perfection. The restaurant is scheduled to open soon in Atlanta.

French Board Chocolates – Artfully created, dense dark chocolate truffles made with caramel, salt and flavors that will satisfy your sweet cravings. They even have an Indian kulfi truffle that is milk chocolate ganache infused with rose, cardamom and toasted pistachios. The chocolates are not too sweet and come closest to what you will find in Europe. Yes, you can purchase them online.

Little Savannah – I give them credit for the most creativity. Being under the Farm Fresh banner, they were able to present something unique and delicious. Almond bread pudding with poached Georgia grown peaches, a hint of blueberry sauce, cream sabayon and drizzle of candied pecans – now that’s a burst of flavors in your mouth. Little Savannah is actually located in Birmingham, Alabama and serves community farm tables every Wednesday.

Cookie Underground – Who would have thought dessert can be good for you? Chef Kim has made it happen with her hand crafted organic veggie cookies. Rutabaga, carrots, sweet potatoes and parsnip are key ingredients for the cookies. The best part is they taste so good you won’t be able to tell the difference.

Dining in Knox-Vegas

Southern Tennessee is known for down right authentic southern food – biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits, BBQ and fried chicken. That is very true to an extent. You will see no shortage of Pancake Houses while driving around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. In fact, even the lodges and stores are named after pancakes!

But Knoxville, TN is a college town and the restaurants cater to artistic and athletic students and young professionals. While you can still find the traditional favorites in the city, there is also a good offering of sushi, Thai, Italian and other ethnic cuisines.

I start the day with breakfast at Pete’s Coffee Shop, a family-owned and operated downtown Knoxville landmark for 25 years.  Situated in a diner style setting, Pete’s seemed to have entertained many local celebrities, whose photos you will find on their wall of fame. Pete’s serves hearty breakfasts at reasonable prices, six days a week, beginning at 6:30 a.m. For under $5, you can get scrambled eggs, homemade biscuit and coffee.

For lunch, you have two options – sit by the river or listen to live music. Located on Neyland Drive on Knoxville’s historic waterfront, Calhoun’s On The River has been serving some of the best BBQ in town since 1988. Get a beer and sit at the outside deck where you can get a panoramic view of the Tennessee River. After lunch, stroll along the river to Volunteer Landing. This is also a good spot to go to after a game, hike or fun day of enjoying outdoors.

Only at the Knoxville Visitor Center on S. Gay Street, you can enjoy free live musical performance, broadcast live on historic WDVX radio 6 days a week. The Blue Plate Special features local, regional and national music acts from 12-1pm. You can grab a sandwich at the Coop Cafe (located inside the visitor center) known for the chicken salad sandwiches and watch the show while eating lunch.

For dinner, head over to Market Square, the hub of shopping, dining and entertainment in downtown Knoxville. Make reservations at Cafe 4, a casual restaurant featuring traditional southern comfort food with a twist. They serve hearty portions of flat-breads, crab cake sliders, fried fish, shrimp n grits, etc.

For an after dinner treat, walk around the corner to Coffee & Chocolate where you can enjoy scrumptious desserts, tea, coffee and yes of course, handmade chocolates! Chocolate covered Oreo, pretzels,  cashews, peanut butter cups, pecan turtles – the chocolates are bought from The Chocolate Factory located nearby.  You will want to take a box home.

Knoxville City Guide

Crista Cuccaro, a law student at the University of Tennessee put together this very handy and comprehensive guide for visitors to Knoxville, TN. She shared it with me after learning about my visit to the area. I hope it helps you in planning your trip as well. If you enjoy it, please Tweet to Crista @cmc_bumblebee and show your appreciation!

DINING

The Tomato Head. 12 Market Square

This is one of my favorite restaurants in town. They have creative sandwiches, pizzas, and burritos, all made with fresh and often locally sourced ingredients. This place gets very busy during weekday lunch and weekend evenings, but the food is worth the wait!

just ripe. 513 Union Ave.

This worker-owned co-op just recently opened and is close to Market Square. This shop offers delicious food to order and groceries. just ripe is flanked by Union Ave. Books, one of the few independently owned bookstores in Knoxville, and by Reruns, a swanky clothing consignment shop.

Old City Java. 109 S. Central Ave.

Also located in the Old City, this coffee shop serves Counter Culture coffee, which I absolutely LOVE, but I can’t justify buying whole bags of it on a student’s budget. They have free wi-fi and there’s always interesting art on the walls.

Bars

Knox Public House. 212 W. Magnolia Ave.

This is a new, hip bar located on the outskirts of downtown. I really love this bar because it’s non-smoking, it does not have a television, and it does not have live music. Although that might sound boring, it makes for a cozy atmosphere where you can have a conversation instead of shouting over music. They also have excellent housemade infused vodkas, such as ginger-cardamom and lavender.

The Bistro. 807 South Gay St.

Also a smoke-free bar, I love the low ceilings and dim light of this restaurant. They frequently have live jazz music in the evening. This old establishment is right next to the Bijou, one of Knoxville’s downtown historic theaters. We have seen lots of great acts at The Bijou, including The Avett Brothers, Abigail Washburn, and Sufjan Stevens.

Sassy Ann’s. 820 N. Fourth Ave.

This bar is in an old Victorian house in the Fourth and Gill neighborhood, about a mile north of downtown. To summarize the atmosphere, it feels like being in a ship. The bar is funky and the location of many dance parties.

Preservation Pub Rooftop. 28 Market Square

I don’t care much for the Preservation Pub bar downstairs—it’s smoky and loud, but the two upper floors are more enjoyable. They recently opened their rooftop bar, which is one of Knoxville’s only rooftop bars.

Groceries

Three Rivers Market. Currently at 937 N. Broadway, soon to open at 1100 N Central Street.

This is Tennessee’s only food cooperative. We buy most of groceries here. You don’t have to be a member to shop at it. They focus on supplying natural and organic foods from local farms. It’s like a Whole Foods or Earthfare, but independent and community-owned. They have one of the best herbs and spices sections I have ever seen.

Market Square Farmers’ Market.

Every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon, from May to November, a growing and vibrant farmers’ market opens on Market Square. There are lots of vendors, selling produce, prepared foods, crafts, and plants. I really enjoy Cruze Farm, a vendor who owns a dairy farm in Knoxville—they sell fluffy buttermilk biscuits and homemade ice cream.

Downtown Wine and Spirits. 407 South Gay Street

 

If you’re looking for unusual and well-curated spirits, this is the place. This shop sells standard fare, such as vodka and wine, but they also sell harder to find whiskeys and liquors. Another note about liquor in TN—you cannot buy wine in the grocery store, which surprised me when I moved here from NC. In fact, you can’t buy anything at the liquor store besides liquor. They are not even allowed to sell corkscrews!

Museums and Art

First Friday Art Walk.

The name speaks for itself. On the first Friday of every month, the art galleries downtown and in the surrounding area open up to the public. You can usually catch some live music and free snacks along the way. Most of my favorite art galleries are on the 100 Block of Gay Street, which is the side furthest from the Tennessee River.

Knoxville Museum of Art. 1050 World’s Fair Park

The museum is modest in size, but they have acquired grants so that admission is usually free. Recently, the Museum has acquired some phenomenal art exhibits, including Ai Weiwei, an activist who had been imprisoned by the Chinese government until recently.  Check their website for current exhibits.

Yee-Haw Industries. 413 S. Gay Street

 

The UT Art Department has a well-known printmaking program and Yee-Haw is a group of our local printmakers. They sell some great art at their store. If you catch the owner Kevin Bradley on a good day, you might even get a personal tour.  When you go, look up at the ceiling, or else you will miss some neat prints.

East Tennessee History Museum. 601 South Gay Street

This Museum opened a few years ago and chronicles the history of East Tennessee. It’s a large space and particularly interesting if you like Southern history. Plus, it’s free on Sundays!

Sunsphere. It’s that big shiny globe.

Have you gone up into this thing? There is an observation deck, from which you can see the entire city and get a great view of the mountains. There used to be bar up in the ‘Sphere, but it closed. Rumor has it that there is another bar opening soon.

Entertainment

WDVX Blue Plate Special. 301 South Gay Street

This is a free, live music concert that is hosted EVERY weekday at the Knoxville Visitors’ Center on the corner of Gay St. and Summit Hill Ave. The bands are usually bluegrass, so you can get a good dose of Appalachia.

Central St. Books. 842 N. Central Street

Another one of Knoxville’s independently owned bookstores, this shop has more used books than Union Ave. Books. The owner has a great collection of books and the store is in an up and coming area of Knoxville, next to a bakery and a yoga studio.

Magpies. 846 N. Central Street

Do you like cupcakes? Everyone loves cupcakes and I especially love these cupcakes. Magpies is located right next to Central St. Books. Their motto is “all butter, all the time.” Mmm.

Smokies Baseball. 3540 Line Drive in Kodak

 

This is the AA farm team of the Chicago Cubs. The trek to Kodak is about 25 minutes from downtown Knoxville. The stadium is small, but they serve ice cream in miniature baseball helmets. What’s better than that!? If you go, I speak from personal experience when I say that the iPhone’s GPS maps the route incorrectly.

Knoxville Ice Bears. 500 Howard Baker Jr Ave.

 

The first game of the season is in October. The Bears’ ice hockey games are at the Civic Coliseum, which is just on the other side of downtown.

Downtown West Regal 8 Cinema. 1640 Down Town West Blvd.

 

This theatre is located in West Knoxville and shows the art and independent films that come through Knoxville. They also serve beer!

Morelock Music. 411 S. Gay Street

Matt Morelock used to work for WDVX and left to open up this music store in downtown Knoxville. At his shop, Morelock sells instruments such as banjos and  guitars—I even saw a cajón for sale recently. The shop offers instructional lessons and often has live music on weekend nights.

Nostalgia. 5214 Homberg Drive

 

Although my fiancée may disagree that antique shopping is a form of entertainment, this store has been continuously voted as Knoxville’s best antique store and I agree! It’s a big space with lots of booths. I usually find something I can’t live without. Also nearby: Loopville (Knoxville’s best yarn/knitting shop), Jerry’s Art-a-Rama (art supplies), Goodwill (my favorite thrift shop in town), and Nama (pricey, but tasty sushi)

Outdoor Fun

UT Gardens. This is a small garden on Neyland Drive, but they have a lot packed into it. You might want to visit on a cloudy day, since there’s not a lot of shade. If you enjoy trees and the like, you may also want to check out the Knoxville Botanical Gardens, located in East Knoxville.

Ijams Nature Center. 2915 Island Home Avenue

Ijams Nature Center is a 275-acre wildlife sanctuary and environmental learning center in South Knoxville. The Center is split into two parts—one side runs along the river and the other follows trails along an old quarry. We usually go running along the greenways here. Ijams has recently started renting canoes and kayaks for use in the quarry.

Greenways.

 

There are over 40 miles of greenways in Knoxville, throughout the city. The trails are well maintained and well trafficked. You can check online for the greenway closest to you.

River Sports Outfitters. 2918 Sutherland Avenue

There are several outdoors stores in Knoxville, but I like this one the best. They have a huge amount of gear and staff that really seem to use the gear. Plus, they have a climbing wall as part of their Sutherland Ave. location.

Festivals

International Biscuit Festival (late May)

Bacon Fest (September 16-17, 2011)

Rossini Festival (Early April)

Boomsday (Labor Day—one of the biggest fireworks shows in the South)

Kuumba Fest (June—celebrating Knoxville’s African American artists)

Hola Festival (Sept. 24, 2011—the festival is part of Hispanic Heritage Month)

Big Ears Festival (2012 date TBA—a diverse music festival in downtown Knoxville, organized by AC Entertainment, which also helped form Bonnaroo)

Photo credits Sucheta Rawal

 

Oak Street Cafe

Located off Main Street in downtown Highlands, is a restaurant you will make sure not to miss. A tiny doorway leads you to a staircase to the first floor of Oak Street Cafe where a casual dining room playing Gypsy King music awaits you. A cheerful server greets you and seats you to your table overlooking the most popular street in town.

The menu is deceptive at first. You see is Hummus, Fried Green Tomatoes and Escargot…what is theme here? The menu has traditional American, European and Southern influences but everything is well prepared and authentic to it’s flavors. You order a glass of wine from a carefully selected wine list and contemplate your next move.

In the kitchen is a 25 year old chef who apprenticed with former Executive Chef of Oak Street Cafe, Mark Hibbs. Hibbs was nominated for the Best Chef of South East by Prestigious James Beard Foundation in 2009 and has left his legacy behind at the restaurant.

The signature Mushroom Bisque is acclaimed among the locals so you have to give it a try. Simple, light and flavorful, the mushrooms tease your taste buds while preparing your appetite for greater things to come.

Next is another uncomplicated Apple and Walnut Salad Mixed Greens, with sliced green apples, spiced walnuts, crumbled blue cheese and dried cranberries tossed in a mild vinaigrette. It is the perfect blend of sweet, tangy, smooth and crisp. It feels like the radicchio dressed appropriately for the occasion.

For entree comes Carolina’s favorite Shrimp and Grits. No southern meal goes complete without it so why should you leave before tasting the succulent sauteed shrimp resting on melt-in your-mouth creamy Cheese Grits drizzled with scallions, mushrooms and bacon swimming in a delicate lobster broth.

And if you are still not satisfied with the perfectly cooked dishes so far, the Chicken Kiev will transport you back to a home in Eastern Europe. Stuffed With cheese, Garlic Butter and Herbs Served With Julienne Vegetables and Roasted Potatoes. A chicken breast is stuffed with cheddar cheese, garlic butter and herbs, and fried leaving the meat juicy and tender, with  a gooey cheesy interior that makes it wonderful comfort food.

A sweet ending is a must to round out this meal, so you get oh nothing fancy, just a good old Creme Brulee. It’s made home style and has just the right amount of burned sugar to crack with your spoon and is  just plain delicious.

Oak Street Cafe

332 Main Street, Highlands, NC

828.787.2200

Souper Jenny

Located in the heart of Buckhead is a cozy neighborhood cafe that I happened to discover this week while filming for HGTV’s House Hunters International with my friend Gina. (Now that’s a long story on how I got on the show). It is one of Gina’s favorite lunch places in Atlanta so we decided it was the appropriate location for one of our afternoon girl-lunch -and-chats.

In the beginning I thought this will be some all-you-can-eat soup and salad places that attracts dieters and health freaks, but I was so wrong! The first thing you notice at Souper Jenny is character. From the red truck (aka flying soup mobile) parked outside, bright green and yellow painted walls, to the servers (who also have job as theater performers), everything is cheerful and exciting at Super Jenny. After you have spent a few minutes here, you will also find a common theme “girl power” with inspirational and funny quotes all over the restaurant and bathroom.

The menu changes daily offering soups, salads and sandwiches. Everything available is displayed right in front of you. It is simple, delicious and health – an unusual combination to find at most restaurant. You can chose a light option of a large ceramic soup bowl or get a combo – soup, side, bread and a homemade cookie.

While I was there, the menu included arugula, strawberries and brie sandwiches served in a pita.

I had the chipotle chicken soup with avocado and a wheat roll. The chicken was tenderly cooked and the spices in the soup had just the right kick to it. The bowl was over, before I knew it!

Souper Jenny is open from 9-5, six days a week. Dine in or take out. There are prepacked soups and desserts available to go. Chef Jessica also teaches cooking classes.  To find out more, visit their web site. Jenny Levison of Souper Jenny will be  competing at the Southeastern Finals of New England Country Soup challenge being held at The Atlanta Art Institute on Saturday, March 24th from 11am-2pm. Watch the contest and sample the finalists’ recipes.

Souper Jenny 
56 East Andrews NW
Atlanta, GA 30305
www.souperjennyatl.com

Chicken and Waffles y’all!

Finally gave in and tried this odd combination that has been raved about in magazine and on food shows!  (Opening episode of the Food Network‘s show Dweezil & LisaTravel Channel‘s show Man v. Food.) An establishment started by Shangha Hankerson, son of famous R&B singers from the south, Glady’s Knights and Ron Winans Chicken and Waffles has been long standing in downtown Atlanta. Now they have three locations in Georgia.

The concept of Chicken and Waffles was born in Harlem, New York in the 1930’s. As celebrities hung out in the late night hours, they could not decide if they wanted breakfast or dinner – so Wells Chicken & Waffles gave them both!

The downtown Atlanta restaurant didn’t look much from the outside. There was a long line of people standing out, waiting for a table when I got there on a Friday evening. The wait for only 45 minutes but I was eager to know what the fuss was all about. The inside was informal and cozy. Not much has been done to update the place since it opened in 1997.

First item on the menu to catch my attention was Collard Green Spring Rolls. I do like collards but have never tried them in an Asian twist. I have an open mind about food and that’s what this evening was about. Warm sauteed collards and cabbage cooked with onions, garlic and spices (how they are typically cooked) but stuffed in egg-rolls and served with a sweet chili sauce. Hmmm…not my favorite. Something about the combo just didn’t work.

Next, had to try chicken and waffles, so I ordered Buckwheat Waffles with Fried Chicken, while my friend got the Midnight Train, southern fried jumbo chicken wings with an original waffle. I have the say this was perhaps the best fried chicken I ever had. The meat was tender and juicy inside (not overcooked), and the skin was crispy and flavorful. The waffle, though was disappointing. It was soft and soggy, served with packets of butter and maple syrup. I tried my best to eat the chicken and waffles together in one bite of the fork, but it was too dry. As a combination, it did not work for me. My friend ate her chicken first and then the waffle as dessert. That seemed like a better plan.

For dessert, I was eyeing the Sweet Potato Cheesecake, their most popular dessert item. A light fresh cheesecake baked with a graham cracker crust and drizzled with warm caramel, chopped pecans and whipped cream melted in your mouth. A southern favorite done very well!

My verdict – try it at least once for the experience if you have’t been to a Chicken & Waffles place before. They also have a scrumptious southern food menu so definitely go if you like a good piece of fried chicken and sweet potato cheesecake.

Glady’s Knights and Ron Winans Chicken & Waffles

Atlanta, Downtown
529 Peachtree Street NE
Atlanta, GA 30308
Phone: 404-874-9393