Apologies to the faithful for the lack of Atlanta based content. I haven’t been dining out in the ATL much lately, opting to cook more often during this glorious barbecue, fruit, and vegetable rich season.
Well, I take that back. I haven’t been dining anywhere which I have not already discussed frequently in the past. I figure a recap of every meal I have at Muss & Turner’s isn’t necessary. Oh, but it’s the remodeled Muss & Turner’s, which includes a “hidden” speakeasy style bar called Eleanor’s. Well then, I bet a post on that will get a few retweets, which is what it’s all about in this blog-eat-blog world.
The fried chicken sandwich pictured above isn’t from my recent visit, but rather from an old M&T burger post which I gaze upon when I’m craving a good burger. I sample it often, and my only comment, other than it’s fantastic, is that it can be inconsistent. It’s my understanding that the burgers are grilled on a Big Green Egg (I’ve never seen it in the back, though it can be seen out front on some weekends), and the cook temperature is certainly more variable on a charcoal grill than on a gas powered griddle. So even though it often comes out closer to medium when I have ordered it medium-rare, as was this case this past weekend, I still like that it tastes like a burger. I split that and the smoked brisket torta with my friend Michael, along with the fries, which were as good as always, though they seemed slightly different than in the past, lighter in color with a cleaner flavor that I couldn’t decide if I liked better. Maybe they changed type of potato or frying oil. Either way, the sambal aioli they serve with it is worth ordering every time – the flavor is deep, like a fiery pimento cheese dip.
After we stopped in Eleanor’s for a drink, the “hidden” restaurant whose entrance is disguised as a walk-in fridge. It was empty that afternoon, which was most certainly not the case on the two evenings I popped in there. I like the space – it’s dark, a mostly windowless room with eerie views into the main restaurant via one-way glass. And it’s very cool in there, a welcome respite from the heat. Along with a good array of wine, beer, and an invigorated cocktail program, there are a variety of bar snacks and more substantial dishes which are not on the M&T menu. Cocktails are sometimes on the sweeter side, and lately I’m more interested in their beers, which also don’t take as long to prepare when the bar is jammed full of forty to fifty year old suburbanites who are very excited to be there, as if Holeman & Finch opened an East Cobb location. I can’t recall what the evening sound track has been, but on this afternoon the music was so terrible, we ended up laughing about it with the bartender, who pondered aloud, “I recently asked myself if no music is better than bad music, a question which came up from working here.”
Other recent visits include a trip up Buford Highway for some tacos at El Señor Taco (next door to Lee’s Bakery), which quickly became popular in Atlanta for their Baja style fish tacos. I didn’t love it the first time I went, and thought the tacos were even less impressive this time. The breading is thick, heavy, and cold, far from the airy crispness one aims to achieve in this style. The salsa bar is great though, there is a thin avocado salsa that is both creamy and tart.
Let’s see, I tried some more food trucks and am yet to be super impressed. It’s too hot to stand outside and wait for average food. I did enjoy the Champion Cheesesteak truck though, and they are a fair price at $6-7, depending on toppings. The truck at the Atlanta Food Truck Park is a franchisee of the company created by Roy Brostrand, the founder of The Philly Connection, and more recently Roy’s in Smyrna, which has since been sold, and quite frankly, is not what it used to be.
Had an enjoyable meal at Murphy’s, they have nice service in a pleasant space, great part of town, but I think those claims outweigh the food a bit. My roast chicken wasn’t drastically over cooked as is the case at many places, the light and frothy asparagus Béarnaise was quite pleasant, but to me it’s a destination because of the locale and atmosphere.
I also checked out Ecco for the first time since Craig Richards moved over there as head chef, after many good years at La Tavola. It was full as always, including a lively table next to us which included Owen Wilson. The stars definitely love this place. The menu hasn’t changed drastically, but there are a number of items which I was told are attributed to Craig, and I made a point to try those. An anchovy, mozzarella, and anchovy stuffed squash blossom was excellent. A vegetarian cavatelli pasta dish was cooked wonderfully and was hearty, but not heavy, though I can’t recall the exact elements at the time (they change). My sockeye salmon in a shrimp sambal-like sauce was very good, though the flavorful salmon was cooked just a touch past where I like it. The deeply aromatic, lung-filling seafood sauce was the real deal, very memorable. I don’t visit Ecco enough – I enjoy their varied menu, the expansive wine list has some good selections, and the cocktails are noteworthy too.
Finally, I had another exemplary meal at Empire State South on Thursday. For sharing the jars never get old, and the menu changes enough that there is always something new and interesting I want to try. This time it was a padron pepper dish with peanut gnocchi, turnips, pole beans, and crispy pig ears, served atop a tomato sauce. It was the first dish there in a while which I thought missed the mark. The sauce needed more salt and felt flat, the thin sliced pig ears atop the dish were chewy instead of crunchy, the peanut gnocchi were an interesting but blah experiment, and the padron peppers had zero heat, which only became more apparent with each bite into the bitter seeds hidden within.
But another intriguing dish – the octopus sausage with yogurt, lardo, pork rinds, cucumber, and fennel fronds – that was killer. A really special summer dish, with memorable and natural flavors – nothing too odd (even if it sounds like it). I would easily order that again if given the chance.
Otherwise – wine service, cocktails, coffee – it’s the best total package in Atlanta right now. Katie Couric even agrees.
Apologies to chef for sharing this terrible cell phone camera photo of the octopus.