Southern traditions continue in coastal Georgia

Most people don’t see Georgia as a vibrant tourist destination. Yet Georgia has beautiful scenic mountains, beaches, lakes and small towns; the crowds are not overwhelming and southern hospitality is abundant. The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort at Saint Simons Island is one such place in Georgia where generations of families have been vacationing, keeping it sort of a family secret. Continue reading “Southern traditions continue in coastal Georgia”

Fried Green Tomatoes with Lump Crab Meat and Citrus Remoulade

I had never even heard of fried green tomatoes till I came to Atlanta, Georgia! I soon found out, they are a popular appetizer in southern cuisine. The green tomatoes are tart in flavor and harder in texture, than normal red tomatoes, but the prepared dish is delicious! The tomatoes are battered and deep fried till the flour and bread crumbs get crispy. Every chef has a different recipe for the topping. Some serve it as is, others like Chef Kaplan dress it up with crab and remoulade. Continue reading “Fried Green Tomatoes with Lump Crab Meat and Citrus Remoulade”

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.

Pork Shoulder Confit, Wild Rice, Parsley Root Pure, Cheerwine Glaze

Recipe courtesy of Old Edwards Inn and Spa

2# pork shoulder
1 cup green salt (3/4 cup kosher1/4cup herbs processed in robocoupe)

Portion pork shoulder into 4 -8 oz portions. Liberally season with green salt. Leave to rest overnight. Rinse next day cover with pork fat and place in oven at 180F and cook until tender about 3 hours. Remove pork and let rest.

1-2 lt Cheerwine soda
¼ cup dried cherries

Meanwhile add Cheerwine and cherries to a pot and reduce to about 1.5 cups place in blender puree until smooth and strain through chinois

2 cups wild rice
3 cups chicken stock
3 cups water
1tb grapeseed oil
¼ cup brunoise carrots
¼ cup brunoise celeriac
¼ cup brunoise onions
¼ cup toasted walnuts

In a 8 qt pot sweat off brunoise of veg until tender add rice toast for 2 mins add stock and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer until rice is tender about 45 mins. let cool slightly add toasted pecans.

4 ea parsley roots peeled and rough diced
1 small onion peeled/rough diced
2 tb butter
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream

Sweat small diced onion add salt and pepper until translucent in butter add diced parsley roots sweat until soft add stock and cream bring to a boil cook until tender about 20 mins, Place in a blender puree until smooth strain through chinois.

4-ea parsley roots peeled/sliced thin on mandolin
12-ea baby round carrots peeled tops removed

Bring 2 pots of water to a boil salt liberally add carrot to one and parsley root to the other cook both vegetables until tender remove with a slotted spoon and place in icewater bath til completely cool.

¼ cup vegetable stock
2tb unsalted butter
1 tsp chopped thyme

Place sliced parsley roots and carrots in a pan with ¼ cup vegetable stock and 2 tablespoons butter add salt and pepper glaze vegetables finish with thyme.

½ cup pork jus

To finish place shoulder in pan with clarified butter sear all sides add ½ cup glaze evenly being careful not to burn glaze. Remove from pan let rest. Place parsley root puree on warmed plate push add wild rice to center of plate place glazed veg around rice slice meat put on top of rice sauce shoulder with pork jus and drizzle Cheerwine glaze around plate. ENJOY!

Sprig Atlanta

Oak Grover neighborhood restaurant, Sprig Atlanta gets my vote for delicious food with a sense of purpose. During all my travels, I look out for restaurant that have a unique concept or differentiate themselves in some way or the other. With a strong emphasis on nutrition and sustainability, many of them are using locally sourced and farm to table ingredients these days. Recently reviewed Bistro de Clocher Penche claims their meat is raised within walking distance.

Well stocked cocktail & wine bar at Sprig

Sprig restaurant in Atlanta offers upscale southern-fusion dining with most ingredients sourced from within Georgia. They also get a few items from other states but try to keep it as local as possible. Sprig is a proud supporter of local businesses and even displays some of their names on their bar. Some of these include Johnston Family Farms and Southern Cheese Please. Farm trucks visit the parking lot once a week where residents can also stock up on their produce supplies.

Menu changes seasonally & the drinks are paired accordingly

Everything served on the menu is made from scratch, in house (including pickles and relishes).

Pan seared trout w/lemon parsley speaetzle

Menu items include traditional Southern dishes such as boiled peanuts, fried pickles, pimento cheese, pork sandwiches, fried chicken, mac n cheese, collard greens, sweet potatoes as well as many contemporary items.  Owner Anthony Tiberia brings a hint of his Italian heritage with him which influences some of the dishes on the menu. Nowhere else in Atlanta will you find a beet risotto or lamb stroganoff.

Airplane fried chicken with mac n cheese & green beans

Chef Britt Cloud likes to deceive you. The cured salmonis cured on premises, diced with tomatoes and drizzled with chive infused olive oil. You wouldn’t know what you are lifting with your fork until your taste buds hit it.

Cured salmon with tomatoes, avocado & beets

Staying true to it’s roots, everything is prepared with lots of love and a flair of the south. The green beans have the smokiness of ham while a light coarse corn bread is served with bacon jelly. I have been told that the bacon jelly is going to make its way into a multi-layer pork sandwich which is a must try. Even the service here is southern-inspired. Everyone has smiles on their faces and happy to have a conversation.

Home style corn bread with bacon jelly

Even the desserts have character and stand out from other restaurants’. The chocolate tart has a cookie crust and is served with a black pepper ice cream. The cheesecakelooks like a tart with a thin layer of cream cheese, a nutty base and caramel praline topping. This is the true south but sassier!

Chocolate tart w/black pepper ice cream

Perhaps the most interesting fact about Sprig is how they serve the local community. Tiberia chose the location of the restaurant because he wanted to offer a great neighborhood dining option to the residents who didn’t want to drive out to Decatur or Buckhead. Families can get a quick bite to eat or have a date night out while the babysitter is at home. No wonder the restaurant is packed even on weeknights.

Cheesecake w/ caramel pecan topping

The other way Sprig serves the community is by partnering with Dekalb County schools Farm to School program. Farm to School connects schools (K-12) and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting local and regional farmers. Sprig hosts dinners at the restaurant where they let the students try delicious and healthy meals. Most kids refrain from vegetables, so Tiberia makes it a point to educate the students about what is locally grown, how it’s cooked and what it tastes like.

Next on Sprig’s agenda is to start an organic garden adjacent to the restaurant where school kids can watch the vegetables grow. They will be able to help out with planting and harvesting, as well as enjoy the delicacies Chef Cloud turns them into.

Sprig Atlanta
2860 LaVista Rd,
Decatur, GA 30033

Minny’s Caramel Cake

Last night I taught The Help (book and movie) themed cooking class at the Hal’s Kitchen cooking school in Atlanta. If you are familiar with the story, you would remember the character Minnie, who was known to be the best cook amongst the help available in the small town of Mississippi. She was also famous for her 7-layer caramel cake which was a popular item in the fundraiser auction.

Just as Minnie did for her employer in the story, we also cooked up a traditional southern dinner of fried chicken, turnip greens, mashed potatoes with gravy, and caramel cake for our class. The students learned to make southern favorites hands-on and were encouraged to go watch the movie after the class. Hal’s Kitchen has hosted a few The Help dinner and a movie classes and they have been a huge hit!

Author of The Help, Katherine Stockett shared this recipe for Minnie’s famous Caramel Cake which you can also enjoy!

Caramel Cake                            
(serves 12)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted before measuring
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
6 eggs
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Butter 2 9-inch layer cake pans; line the bottoms waxed paper. Butter the paper.
Sift the sifted flour and baking powder into a bowl. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter until light, then gradually add the sugar, beating until creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition. Stir in the flour mixture, a little at a time, alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir well after each addition, but do not beat. Stir in the vanilla extract. Turn the batter into prepared cake pans. Bake in a preheated 325° oven until the cakes spring back when lightly touched near the center with a finger, about 35 minutes. Cool layers 10 minutes in the pans, then turn out onto cake racks to cool completely.
Never Fail Creamy Caramel Icing

2 1/2 c. sugar
1 slightly beaten egg
1 stick of butter
3/4 c. milk
1 t. vanilla
Melt 1/2 cup of sugar in iron skillet slowly, until brown and runny. Mix egg, butter, remaining sugar, and milk in a saucepan and cook over a low flame until butter melts. Turn the heat up to medium and add the browned sugar. Cook until it reaches the soft ball stage or until mixture leaves sides of pan. This takes about 10 minutes. Remove from fire, let cool slightly, and add vanilla. Beat until right consistency to spread. If it gets too thick add a little cream. 

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  

Where to find the best grits in the south?

Grits are a favorite in the southern US. It’s mainly eaten for breakfast, similarly to porridge, although it has made its way on to the dinner plate as well. You will frequently find grits served as a side with seafood (shrimp, catfish or scallops). Cheese, bacon, fried onions or butter may be added to dress it for an upscale entrée. Another interesting dish I have come across in the south is grit balls, which is essential hush puppies made with grits. They are soft and creamy inside with a crispy fried crust on the outside. Delicious!

I first heard about Logan Turnpike Mill when my friend, chef Nancy Waldeck cooked a breakfast for Atlanta’s Food Bloggers at the Cook’s Warehouse. She made some shrimp and grits which were really yummy! I remember her mentioning that she bought the grits from Whole Foods, but they were a special kind, the ones that need to be refrigerated. They were made by Logan Turnpike Mill, a 27 year old mill located in Blairsville, GA (about 2 hours north of Atlanta).

What’s special about the stone ground grits, corn bread mix and pancake mix from Logan Turnpike is that they are kept in their natural form. Therefore, the flour has a coarser texture.  The oils and grains derived from the corn are kept intact when milling, so the need to be refrigerated or frozen. Other over the counter grits are essentially de-germinated commercial flour that does not perish quickly.  You will find that Logan’s grits have more richness, flavor and nutrition.  Even Paula Deen endorsed them when she used Logan Turnpike in her shrimp and creamy cheddar grits recipe published in the magazine, Cooking with Paula Deen.

George and Cecilia Holland have been running the Logan Turnpike Mill for 27 years now. They have a little mill and store in Blairsville, GA where they stone grind dry corn to make grits and flour. With only a couple of heavy duty equipments, George does everything himself, the old fashioned way.  He will be more than happy to show you his collection of mills of all sizes and ages. (I asked him to create a museum next door and he agreed.) The couple spends a lot of time on the road, hosting booths at festivals and shows. They have been working alongside for three decades now and still keep the spark alive!

The products are supplied to many restaurants in Atlanta and some grocers, including Whole Foods. You can also order directly from their website. If you can get your hands on a bag from Logan Turnpike Mill, try out this recipe that George shared with me…

George’s Favorite Grits Casserole 

Measure 1 cup grits and 4 cups water in a heavy saucepan. Add 1 small chopped onion and 2 gloves crushed garlic. Cook for 20 minutes on low heat. Remove from heat and add ¼ cup margarine or butter, 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon salt and 3 lightly beaten eggs. Mix well, and then pour into a 2 quart greased casserole dish. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon paprika and bake at 275F for 1 hour or until golden brown.

Logan Turnpike Mill is located on U.S. 19/129 5 miles south of Blairsville GA at mile marker #8. The store is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10am-5pm except for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.