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Showing posts from April, 2017

Thoughts on Peanut Allergies

For the second time in a week, I have been unable to buy peanut-free cookies from a bakery. This time, it was Cakes & Ale in Decatur. Given their high standards, I was disappointed. Based on what I have read, peanut allergies are much more common than they were a generation ago. And these allergies can easily be fatal. When some allergic people eats a peanut, they immediately start to turn red and swell all over their bodies, including their throats. They can suffocate within a few minutes without treatment. As a peanut lover and genetic Southerner, I hope that peanuts are not banished from menus everywhere. But that is precisely why I think that it is high time for bakeries and restaurants to be more careful with peanuts. If we have to eliminate peanuts from food service in order to protect people, I would be the first to support that move. But it seems to me that some simple steps and perhaps a little extra equipment should go a long way toward keeping patrons safe. Ma

White House Diner

One of the few benefits of the highway disaster is the excuse to drive through different parts of town and try different places. If all the roads are terrible, I may as well mix things up a bit. The White House Diner is on Peachtree in Buckhead, nestled in the middle of a tiny strip mall that dates from Buckhead's days as a sleepy enclave on the edge of town. The parking lot was packed as I came in with just one spot left. Inside, the place was bustling with activity: customers fueled up and discussed their businesses with each other; servers and cooks moved quickly to prepare the meals. The décor was classic modern Greek diner, complete with pictures of beautiful Greek beaches. Here is my breakfast: veggie omelet, grits, whole wheat bread. Everything was good. The vegetable selection in the omelet was one of the best I've had in awhile. The tomatoes were a special hit with their tartness. My server was friendly and smiling and kept the coffee coming. Buckhead is in

Hot Little Biscuit

Hot Little Biscuit occupies a strategic corner in Virginia Highlands. It has a few tables but is mostly a takeout place. I stopped by to pick up a sample of their marquee item. The biscuit seems to be of the beaten variety; it has a soft, sponge-style interior. My personal preference is a flaky biscuit---I think that a little heft holds the spreads better and generally fortifies one for the coming day. The biscuit had been brushed with butter before it went into the box, but flavored butter and jams were 50 cent add-ons. I found that policy to be very disappointing. I would think that a container of one spread would be the most welcoming way to serve these biscuits.

Eating Around Georgia Tech: Tiff's Treats

The end of the semester seemed like the perfect opportunity to try one of those newfangled cookie delivery outfits, using my students as taste testers. These cookies were delivered fresh and hot from Tiff's Treats. I ordered three varieties: classic chocolate chip, snickerdoodle, and M&M cookies. I was a little disappointed that they couldn't guarantee that these were peanut-free. When I asked, they said they use the same equipment to make peanut- and non-peanut cookies. Given the vastly increased incidence of peanut allergies, I would hope that cookie companies and bakeries in general could figure out effective ways to provide peanut-free options for those who need them while also providing peanut items to peanut nuts like me. One of my students summed up the overall class reaction: "This isn't a two dollar cookie." The cookies were warm, soft, and sweet. But they didn't grab me. Cookie mavens know that chocolate chip cookies in particular are b

Otto NC: Shearl Produce and Garden Center

I finally stopped at Shearl Produce and I'm very glad I did. It is located on US 23 just over the North Carolina border, on the way to the Smokies. As you can see, they have a well-stocked selection of all sorts of produce. In the back, they have some refrigerators with Amish butter and some meats. As with most farm stands, they carry a mixture of local produce and items from farther away. The owners were very helpful; they explained that the local strawberry crop wasn't yet ready. I took home some very nice South Carolina strawberries and some dried beans. I will definitely be back and soon----I look forward to some local strawberries.

Brunch at Harvest Habersham

Harvest Habersham is perhaps the best restaurant in the north Georgia mountains. A drive to see the progress of spring gave me an opportunity to try their brunch. This is my pasta, a freshly made pappardelle. The accompaniments included ricotta, greens, and some peanuts (and are those macadamia?). Of course, this being the South, it also included bacon cut into little tiny squares. The sauce was light, with just enough butter to give it some heft. All the flavors played together beautifully. For dessert, I ordered this wonderful panna cotta. The custard was complemented with fresh strawberries; a hint of basil gave the dish the perfect amount of zip.

Asheville NC: Abeja's House Cafe

I had a wonderful breakfast at Abeja's House Café. The parking lot was busy on a Sunday morning and the restaurant was full. This is a family operation, with parents and kids all helping out. Their pride of accomplishment shows in their service. They specialize in local, natural ingredients lovingly prepared. Here is my Greek omelet. All the flavors came through very clearly. The feta cheese was creamy. The olives gave a superb contrast with their saltiness and bitterness. The eggs were very fluffy. The biscuit was of the beaten variety and huge. The potatoes mixed white and sweet.

Asheville NC: Buxton Hall

Buxton Hall is in the uber-hip South Slope neighborhood of Asheville; I half expected to see an M line subway stop next door. As you can see, the space is very large, as befits a former roller skating rink. The service is extremely gracious and courteous. They also do a good job of clearing tables as people leave to make room for the long lines of patrons. The main dishes are pulled pork, chicken (BBQ or fried), and the ribs. I wanted to gnaw on some bones so I ordered the ribs. The meat has a nice smoky flavor. The texture is definitely toothy. Overall, I found it to be a bit of a dog whistle experience. I consider BBQ to be a visceral pleasure. These ribs, superbly prepared as they were, still registered as a cerebral pleasure. I loved both the vegetables. The greens were flavorful without being overpowering. The root vegetables were largely sweet potato, perhaps some other things, and covered with a great peppery gravy. The baked goods are superb. This is my strawberry

Pittsburgh: The Strip

The Strip is one of Pittsburgh's old neighborhoods, once at the edge of a steel mill. The mill is gone but the Strip remains and thrives as Pittsburgh's gourmet destination. It has earned this spot through a century of dedication to food that pays respect to the Old Country, wherever that may be. Some of the Strip's businesses have been there for a century. They represent the range of peoples who flocked to this country and to Pittsburgh to build a nation and better lives for their families. Here are a few random shots from this fascinating neighborhood.

Pittsburgh: Pamela's P&G Diner

I had a very enjoyable breakfast at Pamela's, just off the strip in Pittsburgh. It is exactly the kind of place you would hope for: hearty food and friendly service. The décor is cheerful and homey; the photos seem to be part of a family collection, not a TGI Friday's-style assembly. Here is my veggie omelet with cheese. It was hearty and tender, with nicely cooked vegetables. My driver told me that I had to try the home fries and he was right---they were the perfect combination of soft center and carmelized outsides. The bread was also of excellent quality. And the coffee just kept coming.

Pittsburgh: Smallman Galley

Our conference committee met over an outsanding dinner at Smallman Galley. It is located just off the Strip in Pittsburgh---more on that in another post. The restaurant itself is a platform for smallish, quasi-popup restaurants from local chefs. We were served a wide variety of foods and everything was great. The service was great, too. The staff was very warm and friendly. I was too busy talking to take any photos of the appetizers that floated around the room. But here are our main courses, which illustrate the mix of cuisines and styles. And here is my plate. The vegetarian quesadilla was probably my favorite. That is a little grilled cheese sandwich on the right, made with a very soft cheese. On the left is a juicy, Pittsburgh-sized meatball and pasta.

Chocolate Peanut Pie

This article in AV Club led me to one of those new corners of my Southern food experience---peanut pie. It follows the same basic recipe as pecan pie but with peanuts substituted. (Who thought about making nuts into pies, anyway? The result is very good but I never would have thought of it on my own.) It sounded like a great idea. And while I was at it, why not make it chocolate? This is the pie fresh out of the oven. And this is a slice as part of my breakfast. I am a peanut nut and I really enjoyed this pie. The texture makes it a very different experience from a peanut butter sandwich. The nuggets of peanut embedded in the sugary, chocolaty matrix give you little pops of peanut flavor. I think much of the success of this pie relies on using fresh nuts; I found mine at Buford Highway Farmers Market. Store-roasted nuts in a jar would be much harder and not as flavorful. Sorry, Yankees, you will have to come down South to experience this little gem.

Lunch at The Federal

I posted a few months ago about my wonderful breakfast at the Federal. I thought it was time to try their lunch fare. The place was lively but the bar stools were completely empty. My service there exhibited the sort of grace and courtesy that one would expect at a restaurant of this caliber. I ordered the steak frites from my waiter. After a few minutes, the chef delivered my plate. This was my very large plate, simply brimming with umami. The salad included bits of bleu cheese. It also hid some fingerling Yukon Gold potatoes, served cold. The steak was rich-tasting and buttery in texture. The butter was a grace note that I used sparingly. The fries were classic and made without any of the cheats. (You do realize that fast food outlets coat their fries to make them crunchier?) Not only was the texture wonderful---crunch on the outside, tender on the inside---but the big grains of salt gave wonderful little pings of flavor.

Chamblee: Lee's Tofu House

Lee's Tofu House has been on Buford Highway for quite some time. I finally paid a visit and was well-pleased with my experience. Tofu houses don't serve just vegetarian food and Lee's menu was no exception. Tofu is clearly a theme but it doesn't limit the palate of these retsaurants. Everything came at once. These are my appetizers in the traditional array of small dishes. All were delicious. None were, in my opinion, very hot. I particularly enjoyed the kimchi, pickled cucumber, and bean sprouts. My tofu hot pot was a big dish and a very hearty meal. The large serving of tofu was lightly oven-crisped to provide a nice texture. The surrounding vegetables were all very tasty. Everything was served on a bed of rice. I walked away satisfied and satiated.

Decatur: Shorty's Pizza

I haven't been to Shorty's in a very long time and I really enjoyed my visit. Shorty's has been a mainstay of the local scene for a long time now and this trip reminded me why. To add to the pleasure of the food, the weather provided a perfect day to sit outside. This is my pizza with fresh mozzarella, Portobello mushrooms, and roasted tomatoes. All the ingredients were very fresh and flavorful. I had vaguely remembered Shorty's crust as cracker-like, but this was much more the typical New York style. It wasn't quite up to the crispy outside/chewy inside standard but it was quite good. The woodfired oven provided just the right amount of char. Our dessert apple pizza was wonderful. The crust was thin and lightly dusted with cinnamon. The apples (Granny Smith?) were cut into small, thin slices. The overall effect had just the right amount of sweetness. And that's real whipped cream on the side.

Update: Bagel Palace

Bagel Palace is a breakfast mainstay. I keep finding new dishes to enjoy there. This is the veggie chili and cheese omelet. The chili gives the omelet a great umami taste; it also gives the omelet heft and rib-stickingness. The bagel is, as always, outstanding.

Snellville: M & J Country Buffet

Today was a beautiful day for an afternoon drive on US 78. All I needed was a simple meal to cap off the day. I decided to try M & J in Snellville. It is a classic Southern steam table buffet. The décor is simple, the service is very warm and welcoming. Here is my plate: fried chicken, sweet potatoes, corn, and fried okra. Everything was tasty and nourishing. The fried chicken tray was heavy on thighs that gave plenty of meaty flavor. The okra was fresh and crispy. Another good meal for which I am grateful.

Chamblee: Food Terminal

Food Terminal is one of the new restaurants in the City Food Market complex on Buford Highway. It is a very large restaurant that attracts a young crowd. The menu is large and Asian fusion---it combines Chinese, Taiwanese, Indonesian, and Singaporean. A visit from my friends Linda and Steve gave us a chance to try several items on the large menu. The space is modern and active with a great view of the cars zipping by. The service was very attentive and helpful. They have menus and pens at the table for you to fill out but the staff is also happy to fill the forms out for you. We started with two appetizers. The crispy fried tofu had a shrimp (I think) inside and a very crispy exterior. We also had some delicious spicy steamed dumplings. They were moderately spicy and very tender. This is garlic noodles. I ordered Grandma's noodles, which included roast pork and an egg---delicious and savory. Steve ordered tomato beef, which he said was a slightly different rendition

Lausanne, Switzerland: Grocery Shopping

For my last night in Switzerland, I decided to take a snack back to the hotel. So I visited the campus supermarket, located right next to the train stop and convention center. It is a little larger than a U. S. convenience store. It certainly carries a lot of prepared items, catering as it does to students, but it also has some more interesting selections. Stacks of cases of beer greet patrons at the entrance. The cheeses include both major brands and more local selections. I chose a very nice Emmenthaler. I also picked up a loaf of wonderful, crusty bread sprinkled with seeds. The bread in Switzerland is a treat. The wine section spans the back walls. Naturally, the store featured a large selection of chocolates. I picked up a five pack of Cailler dark chocolate bars. The prices were competitive with good U. S. prices for these brands. Given that Switzerland's prices are in general very high, that makes these bars a bargain. And here is something you don't se