Flip…Burgers on the Roof

April 21, 2014 at 10:24 am , by Serina Patrick

It’s been quite some time since I’ve dined at Flip, but now that Blais’ burger boutique has taken over the former HD1 haute dog location, I asked LG to join me there for an impromptu lunch. The weather was perfect, so we chose a table on the rooftop patio.

Much like its Westside and Buckhead cousins, the space has been “flipped”, with a spaceage mural on the far wall and red and white accents. The menu features the same burgers the other locations serve, with luxury toppings like foie gras and truffle aioli, plus an assortment of “burgers” made with decidedly unburger-like ingredients such as shrimp or tuna tartare.

What lunch would be complete without cocktails? LG was in the mood for red wine while I tried to decide between beer and a cocktail, then inexplicably landed on Air Mail, a drink made with anejo rum, prosecco, honey syrup, lime, and angostura, rather than the more obvious choice of Heaven or Las Vegas made with blanco tequila, cranberry-jalapeno puree, lime, and agave. Like the cocktail I ordered last week at Flip’s neighbor Sweet Auburn Barbecue, my drink was made in a 6 oz. cordial glass…a bit small considering its $8.50 pricetag.

A prix fixe lunch is offered on weekdays, so we ordered one of our meals as a combo with fries to share. I considered the Oaxaca or the Farmer burger, both made with beef, but ended up ordering the turkey burger with Monterey cheese, crushed avocado, tomato, and alfalfa sprouts, subbing the pomegranate ketchup with smoked mayo.

LG did order the Farmer topped with Tillamook aged cheddar, apple chutney, kale, and smoked mayo. Service was anything but brisk, easily attributable to the servers running up and down the stairs constantly. Forgivable. When our burgers finally arrived, the kitchen had made mine with the ketchup after all. Luckily, the crispy fries came with mayo for dipping (kudos!), so I spread some of it on the top half of the bun, and tossed the ketchup-coated half like a frisbee, splatting on a passing car’s windshield (just kidding, but it’s entirely possible!).

Once adjusted, I loved the freshness of the avocado, tomato, and sprouts. The burger itself was juicy if not a little greasy, but delicious nonetheless. Of course, our server didn’t show up again until we were nearly finished, so getting the burger redone was out of the question. I ordered an Abita Purple Haze after I informed her of the ketchup error.

Remember when Flip was the only gourmet burger restaurant opened by a chef? I recall the burger patties were more petite in those days. Now we’ve got Shaun Doty’s Yeah! Burger, Linton Hopkins’ 10 O’clock burger at Holeman & Finch, and numerous organic and specialty burger joints like Farm Burger, and Grindhouse. Seems the competition has forced Blais and company to make their burgers a bit more substantial.

The rooftop patio is super cool…there’s even a lounge area with sofas. Flip is anything but fast food…more of a burger destination. And on an idyllic spring day, it’s a cheeseburger in paradise.

664 N. Highland Avenue 404-815-1127

Pleasant Surprises at Parker’s on Ponce

April 17, 2014 at 7:57 pm , by Serina Patrick

After weeks of rescheduling, we finally met SB and RB for dinner at Parker’s on Ponce, a restaurant owned by their longtime friends, brothers Chris Scott and John-Thomas Scott, who’s daughter Parker is the restaurant’s namesake.

Located in historic Decatur, it’s just a stone’s throw from the square and numerous trendy restaurants that seem to get all the glory. So I was surprised the restaurant was pretty booked…on a Monday no less. The space is warm and inviting, decorated in soothing tones puncuated by dark wood accents, white tablecloths, and two stone fireplaces that add to the cozy neighborhood atmosphere.

LC and I were the first to arrive…an amazing feat! We waited at the bar where a young man played piano, and ordered a glass of prosecco for me, a vodka martini for LC. As soon as we received our cocktails, our friends arrived and we took our seats in the dining room.

RB was running late so we decided to order a few appetizers to coincide with his eminent arrival. Everyone agreed on the blue cheese stuffed bacon wrapped dates, a long name for tiny little packages of intense flavor. I rarely choose dips, but someone else decided to try the sundried tomato and artichoke dip. Served with toasted pita triangles, I was surprised how fantastic it was. LC chose the smoked salmon tostados, made with jalapeno cream cheese, which I didn’t try, but everyone else enjoyed. We all ordered another round of drinks.

By the time RB arrived, we had devoured nearly every morsel, so he ordered his favorite starter at Parker’s, the flash fried calamari. Tender rings of squid were fried and dotted with a sweet and spicy onion aioli.

LC ordered the flatiron steak special served with a decadent potato bacon casserole and hericot vert, while I tried the scallops served atop a jalapeno grits cake. Dollops of sweet caramelized onions were the perfect compliment to the plump seared scallops, however, the grits cake was somewhat dry and could have used more seasoning. LC’s steak was juicy and tender, the richness of the accompanying casserole offset by the bright freshness of the beans.

Neither of us could finish our entrees, so it was no surprise that we didn’t order dessert, despite LC’s voracious sweet tooth. However, our friends polished off several!

Service was excellent from start to finish. Owner and chef John-Thomas (JT to his buddies) spent some time at our table, chatting with his old friends and telling us all a little bit about his passion for cooking and community that ultimately led to the opening of Parker’s on Ponce over five years ago. It’s truly a labor of love and you can taste it in every bite.

116 E. Ponce de Leon Avenue 404-924-2230

Varuni Napoli Debuts on April 23!

April 15, 2014 at 8:15 pm , by Serina Patrick

News from Breck at The Reynolds Group:

Varuni Napoli Delivers A Slice Of Authentic Neapolitan Pizza To Atlanta

Maestro pizzaiolo Luca Varuni creates traditional masterpieces in midtown

Veteran maestro pizzaiolo Luca Varuni and architect and developer Arturo Giancarlo Pirrone proudly announce the opening of Varuni Napoli on Wednesday, April 23. The pizzeria is a labor of love for the Italian-born owners and will showcase traditional Neapolitan pizzas in a friendly and highly interactive environment.

“We are excited to bring a true taste of southern Italy to Atlanta,” says Luca Varuni. “The authentic nature of the food, drinks and atmosphere will transport guests to the city of Napoli without leaving the restaurant.”

Maestro pizzaiolo Luca Varuni’s passion for his native cuisine and impressive training is demonstrated in the dishes he prepares. In Naples, Italy, Varuni studied under the renowned Enzo Coccia, one of the world’s foremost maestro pizzaiolo at La Notizia, the only Michelin-rated pizzeria in the world. He then went on to work in some of the top kitchens in the U.S., and abroad. Armed with a diploma in the art of Neapolitan pizza, Varuni leads a native-Italian staff trained in the traditions of this 300-year-old art.

Drawing on the culture and artisanship of Napoli, high-quality ingredients are used in each dish to create a true southern Italian feast. To maintain authenticity, the main ingredients are all imported, including Doppio Zero flour, cold-press olive oil, Italian olives, cured meats, San Marzano tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. To ensure that dishes are made with the freshest produce, seasonal vegetables and herbs are locally sourced.

The pizza menu at Varuni Napoli offers signature authentic Neapolitan pies including the pizza Chiattona made with pancetta, pepperoni, mixed salami sopressata, fior di latte mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano, and SpaccaNapoli pizza made with taleggio cheese, oak roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, truffle oil and salt, and Pecorino Romano. In addition to pizzas, Varuni Napoli offers antipasto freddo, focaccia bread with an assortment of salami and cheeses and traditional cuoppo, a paper cone filled with fried items. For guests with a sweet tooth, the dessert counter features several traditional Italian desserts such as sfogliatelle, shell-shaped pastries filled with ricotta cheese, lemon and orange zest, homemade cannoli and Neapolitan baba, a small sponge cake bathed in sweet rum.

Varuni Napoli serves a variety of Italian wines, cordials and bottled beer as well as local favorite beers. A unique feature of the bar is a built-in tap for Prosecco, making Varuni Napoli one of the few Atlanta restaurants to have one.

“We want our diners to be a part of the convivial Neapolitan experience,” says Varuni. “We want them to see the artisanship behind their food before it hits the plate.”

Surrounded by exposed brick and concrete floors, guests will be treated to a fully interactive dining experience as soon as they step inside the restaurant. The open kitchen serves as a stage where Varuni’s pizza artisans create masterpieces right in front of you, even offering diners bites of their creations throughout the evening. The pizza bar can seat up to 24 guests who will be able to get a front-row seat to observe the action in the kitchen and occasionally catch Varuni singing along to his favorite Italian songs.

The walls of Varuni Napoli are lined with black and white photographs of iconic Italian artists, actors and musicians while a projector plays classic black and white Italian films. Al fresco dining is available on a tree-covered patio with soft and intimate lighting.

1540 Monroe Drive

Sweet Auburn…Barbecue With a Twist

April 14, 2014 at 10:25 am , by Serina Patrick

Lord knows I’m not a barbecue aficionado, but a recent invitation found me in the mood for smoky meat and some fattening Southern sides. LC and I joined friends SP and AA at Sweet Auburn BBQ’s newest location in the former Pura Vida spot on North Highland.

The colorful Puerto Rican decor had been replaced by gray walls, unfinished wood, vintage signs, bare Edison bulbs and other Southern acroutrements. Owner Howard Hsu did a great job in transforming the space, although I was sad to see the festive mural painted over.

We started with cocktails, of course. Tequila seemed an appropriate choice to pair with barbecue, so I requested a skinny margarita, while LC ordered their Marta Rita, a specialty cocktail made with tequila and a lengthy list of liqueurs and bitters. We decided to share the wildly popular pimento cheese wontons served with bacon marmalade and sweet Thai chili sauce, which lasted about two minutes once they hit the table.

AA raves about the barbecue at this place, so I was excited to try the pulled pork, my go-to meat whenever I eat barbecue. I ordered it as a combo plate with two sides, bacon roasted Brussels sprouts and mac ‘n’ cheese. LC ordered a half rack of Memphis baby back ribs a’ la carte, then added jerk spiced collards and mac ‘n’ cheese on the side.

These days, it seems cocktails everywhere are served in tiny cordial glasses. They can’t be more than 6 oz. but the pricetag rarely matches the drink’s tiny size. Nevertheless, I ended up ordering a Marta Rita for my second round and discovered it’s a deceptively strong little f*cker.

Our food was delivered on paper-lined metal trays with the sides in individual bowls. Although we all ordered two sides, three of us only received one…the mac ‘n’ cheese was on backorder. So I started in on the pile of meat, artfully drizzled with a tomato-based barbecue sauce. The best part of barbecued meat is the charred, chewy bits mixed in with the tender pieces, but unfortunately, I didn’t find much of that. LC requested a bottle of Carolina style vinegar-based sauce that was much spicier, and therefore better, than the red sauce. Housemade pickles and thick, chewy Texas toast were both winners.

I make some pretty good roasted Brussels sprouts so I was perplexed by the ones served at Sweet Auburn. The sprouts were whole, bathed in a sweet bacony sauce, but were not charred as they are when roasted in the oven…perhaps they are pan-roasted. Nevertheless, they were very tasty. When our server notified us that the mac ‘n’ cheese was ready, AA canceled his order, but LC and I were sufficiently curious to eat ours even though we had finished the rest of our meal. It was almost worth the wait.

Due to the problem with the mac ‘n’ cheese, they brought us a complimentary dessert, the praline basket. It was a huge bowl made out of a thin, crispy yet chewy cookie, filled with ice cream and whipped cream. Crazy good!

I really loved the marriage of traditional barbecue with Asian flavors and look forward to trying one of the more creative dishes like the maple glazed smoked Peking duck or the Sweet Auburn taco plate.

656 N. Highland Avenue 678-515-3550

True Food Kitchen Coming to Lenox Square in June!

April 12, 2014 at 10:03 am , by Serina Patrick

Finally, a restaurant that features Andrew Weil’s healthy recipes! Here’s the exciting news from Lacey at The Reynolds Group:

True Food Kitchen to Open at Lenox Square Mall

First Location In The East Offers Healthy Food That Tastes Amazing

Fox Restaurant Concepts will open its first southeastern outpost of True Food Kitchen in Atlanta this June at Lenox Square Mall. With a menu dedicated to simple, seasonal fare and based on an anti-inflammatory diet, True Food Kitchen brings a healthy, holistic dining experience to Buckhead diners.

Named a 2013 Nation’s Restaurant News “Break-out Brand,” True Food Kitchen has seven additional locations in the Western United States. The restaurant offers globally inspired cuisine including starters, salads, sandwiches, entrees and fresh-squeezed juices, based on Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet for optimum health. Tailoring the menu to specific dietary restrictions and allergies, True Food Kitchen offers a wide selection of vegan, vegetarian, organic and gluten-free options, along with dishes for those following a paleo or Mediterranean diet.

“We’re excited to bring True Food Kitchen into the dynamic and growing Atlanta dining scene,” said Sam Fox, Founder of Fox Restaurant Concepts. “We strive to promote a healthy lifestyle by combining seasonal, fresh ingredients with global flavors enabling our guests to feel good while enjoying honest food that tastes really good.”

The menu draws inspiration from Mediterranean, Asian and traditional American flavors and features ingredients like grass-fed beef, sustainably raised fish and organic dairy and produce. Taking advantage of each season’s best ingredients, the menu rotates to give guests fresh and naturally great-tasting dishes that don’t require added butter, salts or fats for flavor. Unique and nutritionally dense ingredients like sea buckthorn, kale and Anasazi beans are used throughout the menu for their vitamin- and antioxidant-rich properties. Year-round menu favorites include the “inside out” quinoa burger, Panang curry and turkey lasagna.

A full bar serves sustainable, organic or bio-dynamic wines and cocktails made with fresh fruit, honey and other natural flavorings. True Food Kitchen also offers non-alcoholic “natural refreshments” including juice, herb and vegetable blends like “kale-aid” with kale, apple, cucumber, celery, lemon and ginger and “hangover RX” with coconut water, pineapple, vanilla and orange juice. On the wine menu, guests can enjoy a unique bottle of Fox Block, a private wine label series developed by True Food Kitchen sommelier Regan Jasper in partnership with small vineyards. Each year, Jasper picks a different vineyard and produces a unique bottle. This year’s Fox Block Nine is from Melville Winery.

In addition to its healthy dining efforts, True Food Kitchen also strives to be an eco-friendly restaurant. Each location is Green Restaurant Certified and uses compostable take-out packaging and menus printed on paper from renewable resources. The dining room also features chairs made from recycled plastic soda bottles and reclaimed wood floors.

Best Tacos in Town…the Original El Taco!

April 10, 2014 at 11:13 am , by Serina Patrick

Recent years have seen a proliferation of authentic taco joints in Atlanta, making the trek to a rickety taco stand on Buford Highway no longer necessary. And chances are, you won’t have to take Spanish lessons to place your order either.

In fact, we can drive just about a mile to El Taco and order tacos with chorizo or pork carnitas as good as any I’ve had in Mexico. Like our other neighborhood haunts, I rarely blog about El Taco these days, otherwise, there would be a weekly El Taco segment. However, after our last two visits, I was compelled to proclaim their tacos the best in Atlanta!

To be more specific, it’s one particular taco that has earned my devotion…the smoked chicken taco. Wonderfully smoky chicken, spicy fried jalapenos, house-made guacamole, and cilantro are drizzled with crema and wrapped in soft tortillas…LC and I always order corn instead of flour. On our last visit one of the chalkboard specials was a duck confit taco with mango chutney that I couldn’t resist.

Our visits to El Taco wouldn’t be complete without their awesome grapefruit margaritas and an occasional extra shot of tequila on the side. Lately, we have ordered the small sides of queso and guacamole with a few chips instead of devouring a whole basket before our tacos arrive. Grilled jalapenos compliment the cheese and find their way into our tacos as well.

We’ve also become addicted to their Mexico City grilled corn. The first time we ordered it on the side, I was expecting corn on the cob, but instead, it was served in a dish mixed with cotija cheese melting among the charred kernels…just terrific!

If we don’t win a free dessert when they spin the big wheel (which we never have, by the way), we may order the coconut flan pictured here. It’s creamy with just a hint of coconut and served with a chewy macaroon.

Feeling adventurous? You can still find plenty of authentic tacos on Buford Highway, from El Taco Veloz to El Senor Taco, but if you don’t speak Spanish and you don’t mind spending a little extra, traditional Mexican style tacos are abundant and closer to home than ever.

1186 N. Highland Ave. NE 404-873-4656

The Courtside Grille…Shrimp Wrap Challenge

April 6, 2014 at 5:52 pm , by Serina Patrick

Located inside Atlanta’s most prestigous athletic club, Concourse Athletic Club, The Courtside Grille is open to the public, serving everything from burgers and fries to grilled mahi mahi. They even have a full bar! What could be better than an ice cold beer after a spinning class or tennis match?

I often order their chunky, spicy turkey chili, chicken salad, or BLT, but on occasion I stray from my regulars and try something more creative like the shrimp wrap with guacamole that my colleague MC invented. With that said, this item is not on the menu, but they are happy to make a wrap any way you like.

My sandwich is made on a spinach wrap with grilled shrimp, Monterey Jack cheese, guacamole, lettuce, and tomato, with sweet potato fries on the side…ironically, the exact same thing I ordered at Taco Mac last week. Needless to say, I felt compelled to compare the two, so here goes:

It was difficult to find the shrimp inside the wrap at Taco Mac since they were chopped. The Courtside Grille uses whole large shrimp so you get a big piece in each bite. On the somewhat negative side, the grille uses guacamole from a supplier rather than making it in-house like Taco Mac. Normally this would offend me, especially since I love guacamole and claim to make the best (here’s my recipe…you’re gonna need it!), however, when used as a condiment inside a sandwich, you really can’t tell the difference. I chose the spinach wrap specifically because the plain white ones get a little soggy, which is how I would describe the wrap at Taco Mac. The Courtside Grille included diced tomatoes in my wrap, which I prefer to the pico de gallo that Taco Mac used in place of tomatoes.

The fries at both establishments were very crispy and delicious but I have to give the slight edge to The Courtside Grille. Even though they are cut a little thicker, they serve them with apple butter for dipping!

Ultimately, The Courtside Grille scores a couple of extra points with the whole shrimp and apple butter, winning the shrimp wrap challenge!

8 Concourse Parkway 770-698-1650

Savor Wine Boutique Now Open!

April 4, 2014 at 12:53 pm , by Serina Patrick

Grape news from Jennifer Dunaway PR:

Savor Wine Boutique “Uncorks” a New Wine Experience with Opening in Kirkwood Station

New Wine Specialty Shop Brings Artisanal Wine, Custom Tastings and Unique Events to Atlanta

Savor Wine Boutique has opened its doors in the mixed-use development of Kirkwood Station. Owners Kyla and Gregory Cox have curated a unique collection of artisan wine (small batches by independent producers) and allow guests to “try before they buy” at weekly educational tastings, classes and special events. Operating hours are from 11:00a.m. to 8:00p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 12:30p.m. to 6:00p.m. on Sundays and closed on Mondays.

Located in Atlanta’s historic Kirkwood neighborhood, Savor Wine Boutique is nestled amid an assortment of galleries, boutiques, restaurants and spas, only 5 miles from downtown. Kyla is bringing her expertise from creating and producing popular local food and wine events such as the Buckhead Wine Festival, Chefs in the City, Inside the Cellar and the Organic Wine & Food Fair, to a storefront to meet the demand of event attendees over the years who wanted a place to enjoy her great selection of event wines year round.

Cox plans to use the shop as a place to introduce new wines and products to both novices and wine aficionados, as well as a home for creative culinary events. “We’re thrilled to have found the perfect space to host regular tastings and more intimate gatherings. You can expect to see many of the local, national and international wine experts and Sommeliers that have led seminars and tastings at my festivals and productions now doing so in the store on a regular basis, just on a smaller scale. Savor Wine Boutique provides an excellent opportunity to have more fun with wine- all year long!” noted Kyla Cox.

The customer-centric retail store specializes in affordable artisan wines that are not mass-produced or readily available in grocery and package stores. Customers will discover a diverse selection of fair trade wines, organic, vegan and biodynamic wines, along with global wines from lesser known producers in renowned wine regions such as France, Italy, Spain, South Africa and South America.

1963 Hosea L. Williams Drive, Suite R-103

Game Night at Taco Mac

April 2, 2014 at 10:06 am , by Serina Patrick

With UK still in the NCAA tournament, LC and I met some of his college friends at a Taco Mac somewhere in the suburbs (frankly, once I’m OTP, I’m utterly lost) to watch the game.

Taco Mac has an extensive menu of bar food and an impressive, although somewhat daunting, beer list. Unable to choose something experimental on short notice, I started with a Guinness draught. Then everyone reviewed the food options, from their Tex-Mex specialties to burgers. I noticed a shrimp and guacamole wrap among the sandwiches and paired it with sweet potato fries, the same combo I request at the Courtside Grille at Concourse Athletic Club, so I decided to compare the two.

Despite my subtle suggestion of the Buffalo chicken flatbread, LC couldn’t resist the wings, but wisely chose the healthier baked version with habanero and lemon pepper sauces, and celery instead of fries. He started with a cup of chicken tortilla soup which I planned to share, much to his chagrin. Handcut tortillas added crunch and substance to the tasty soup. The fresh sliced avocado was a nice touch.

I substituted tomatoes for cucumber in my wrap, and added pepper jack cheese. It was stuffed full of the above, plus chopped shrimp, lettuce, and guacamole, which the menu confirmed to be housemade. Their sweet potato fries were thin and crispy. Someone at the table ordered a raspberry infused Abita Purple Haze and let us all have a taste. That was my next beverage.

My wrap was pretty good, although I would have preferred whole shrimp. The habanero glaze on LC’s wings wasn’t spicy at all…I believe it was mistakenly regular barbecue. All in all, it was a good dining experience, especially for a busy sports bar.

But how would Taco Mac’s shrimp and guacamole wrap rank compared to the one at the Courtside Grille? Check back in a couple of days for the winner!

Paddy’s Irish Pub at Chateau Elan

March 29, 2014 at 2:17 pm , by Serina Patrick

The UK game was scheduled to start immediately after my massage, so we decided to try another of the resort’s restaurants, Paddy’s Irish Pub. Not exactly a sports bar, there was only one TV. However, it was by the fireplace and we had it all to ourselves, so we ordered a couple of Guinness draughts and waited for the excitement to begin.

It was also time for lunch. Following our healthy spa breakfast at Fleur de Lis, we both wanted to stay on the lighter side, so we decided to split the salad with bacon, apples, and goat cheese, and the BBQ pork sliders with slaw and crispy onions. Bacon and pork is light, right?

The salad was made with fresh field greens and served with a great honey balsamic dressing. We loved the sliders as well, their cute little buns secured with toothpicks. The crispy onions and crunchy slaw were great contrasts to the tender pork. As the Wildcats played one of their best games of the season, we managed to polish off both plates. A second Guinness was in order.

UK won the game! To celebrate, we ordered the bread pudding with bourbon sauce…so much for keeping it light. The decadent dessert was presented with whipped cream and fresh sliced strawberries.

Chateau Elan never fails to impress. From its tranquil spa retreat to rustic French-influenced winery and restaurants, the resort feels like a world away from the city, but is less than an hour by car. I look forward to returning soon to experience more first class service, fine wines and gourmet cuisine.

100 Rue Charlemagne Drive, Braselton 800-233-9463

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