Atlanta Food Journal
When I told people I was taking a road trip to Atlanta, Georgia to cover a fishing tournament and also, hopefully, sample some local cuisine along the way, friends and family supposed I’d be blogging about samples of sumptuous southern cookin’. I don’t think I had a single biscuit the 12 days I was away from home. No gravy, no grits, Paula Deen personally dropped me a card to let me know how disappointed she was.
Okay, Paula couldn’t have cared less, but the rest of that is true. What I DID get a taste of was fantastic food prepared by and shared with friends – that’s the best cuisine ever!
I first stopped off at Jerry and Peggy’s house, fantastic friends that I’m incredibly privileged to know. I used to work for Jerry but he’s since had the sense to move out to Farmington, NM. Located in the northwestern corner of the state and very much in oil country, Farmington doesn’t come to mind that readily when I think of the Land of Enchantment, but it’s got some things going on. They have a great little Mexican Market that Jerry very well may consider his second home. The evening I spent with Jerry and Peggy (this time, folks – I’ll always go back for more!) and some friends from work, we enjoyed Adovada de Puerco (red chile pork). Unlike the traditional stew, you can buy the marinated pork in thinly sliced steaks from the market. Peggy tossed these on the grill and minutes later I was enjoying my own little Adovada tacos, complete with her spicy slaw. Bueno! I made sure I stopped at the market on my way home from traveling to pick some up.
In Texas I stopped in to visit my friends Connie and “Killer” Kilpatrick and their gaggle of dogs (they only have three but it seems like an even dozen when they get to racing around and chasing squirrels). Connie knows how much I LOVE chocolate cake and so she made one but would hardly let me touch the thing because, well, it may have caved in slightly on one side and had to be supported with lots of frosting. What could be better? Seriously, they tried to push some store-bought cinnamon cake thing on me but all I wanted (and needed!) was that chocolate cake!
I arrived in the Atlanta area a full day before activities for the tournament began (experience has taught me I’m so much more productive with a day of downtime before I get down to business). If any of you dear readers follow this blog with any regularity, you’ll recall I once blogged about one of my favorite Android Apps: Food Finder. As long as your GPS location setting is turned on, this little app will let you search for food at your current location and give you step-by-step, voice-activated instructions on how to get there.
I know I should’ve searched for southern cooking, but I was interested to see what kind of Asian cuisine I could locate. Amazing – pho shops were all OVER the place! I found Lee’s Pho noodle shop nestled in a fantastic little Asian/Mexican Market and stopped for some pho and a banh mi sandwich before I loitered in the aisles of the market. So much awesome food I wanted to take home with me, but with nowhere to store it, I had to leave everything but the dried goods behind.
Speaking of being bummed about good food I had to leave behind, I inadvertently found a Whole Foods grocery store completely by accident while looking for a beauty salon. Whole Foods is my Mecca and the closest ones to me are equally far away: Phoenix and Vegas. I love Whole Foods for a lot of reasons, but mostly because they provide people with a choice about how they get their food. In my local market, I do have the choice of buying organic over industry-farmed eggs, but I’m still not sure how well the chickens are treated that produce those organic eggs. This might not mean much to some people, but it means a lot to me. It matters to me how and where I get my food and Whole Foods is on the front line of providing consumers with many options.
In addition to having a wide variety of local and international selections, they offer cooking classes and a quaint little sit-down restaurant where you can grab a quick gourmet-quality meal. I wandered around that store for hours, but sadly, I walked out with only what wouldn’t spoil in my hotel room: Georgia peaches, dried berries, locally made granola cereal, and a bottle (or two?) of Reisling. I had a lot of explaining to do when I checked out.
The tournament started Thursday but my boat and driver were hung up somewhere in Texas. Derek Yamamoto was hard on my heels traveling out to Atlanta until his truck broke down in El Paso, TX. I had until 3:00 p.m. to make it to the weigh-in so I drove into the backwoods section of Atlanta to visit a tiny establishment that was making big headlines; Hankook Taqueria. A fellow foodie friend and writer for the Inside Line magazine, Pete Robbins, suggested I hit this place up when he found out I’d be in Atlanta. He’d recently read an article in the New York Times highlighting the restaurant’s Korean Taco Fusion cuisine and passed the info along to me.
If you haven’t heard of the little Taco Truck that started it all, Kogi BBQ (http://kogibbq.com/), well, you’re just living under a rock somewhere. It’s all the rage now, but probably about a year ago, the Korean/Mexican fusion thing was still new to most folks. Like Kogi, Hankook Taqueria fuses Korean BBQ with Mexican cuisine, mainly in the form of tacos and burritos. At Hankook I wolfed down two of their star menu items – Korean pulled pork tacos, and the specialty of the day, a Spicy Calamari taco. Halfway through my first pulled pork taco it was easy to see why this little hole-in-the-wall (it was hard to find!) joint is making bank, but the crispy calamari with jalapenos was nothing to sneeze at either. The place was totally packed out.
Okay, I admit I didn’t have much traditional southern cooking in Atlanta, but I did have Waffle House. This might as well be traditional southern food because they’re on pretty much every street corner from Mississippi to Georgia. Seriously. Derek finally limped into Atlanta with his dad’s truck and a shiny new Phoenix boat but before we could launch at Lake Lanier Friday morning (at 5:30 a.m. – yeesh!) we had to stop at Waffle House for breakfast. I was loathe to fill up on waffles before a day of bouncing around on the water, but I did and they do have good waffles. The trick, Derek informed me, is to butter and syrup them puppies up as soon as they hit the table.
After a productive day chasing bass boats around, I told Derek I wanted something healthy and “Japanesey” for lunch and he agreed to let me take him to a joint that sold Shabu Shabu – a Japanese variant of hot pot. Shabu-shabu directly translates to “swish-swish” which is how you cook the thinly sliced meats and vegetables in the dashi broth. Derek and his dad, Gary Yamamoto (also my boss) are big fans of the Chinese Buffet when they travel from tournament to tournament. No disrespect to my friend and employer, but these two absolutely love sashimi which is just about as fresh and healthy as you can get. It always makes me giggle a bit to think of the two of them (both pretty lean and healthy by the way) loaded down with plate after plate of heavily MSG-ed American Chinese food. When I asked our friendly servers how I’d done with my first ever shabu shabu attempt, they said I did well, but that I should’ve eaten more of the vegetables. Hmph. Well! I guess they had a point.
While Paula still won’t return my phone calls, I’m happy to report that I feel I did a pretty good job at avoiding McDonalds whenever I could (I did to Chic-fil-A on the road, though). I made it a point to try something “local” wherever it was and I made some new friends along the way.