Atlanta Never Ceases to Change

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It really never does. As someone who now hops back and forth between Atlanta and Tampa, I have a really hard time understanding the evolution of the city or more exactly capturing it. That’s something that never changes with Atlanta…it is always changing.

So forgive me when I try to grab hold of the past and find myself bypassing the latest and greatest for the stuff that has been here awhile.

That was the case tonight when I stopped at Woody’s on Monroe for a Cheesesteak. I don’t know how I had not been there before, and I am not really sure I’ll be going back, (see my other post on Cheeseteaks) but it is nice to know some places aren’t going anywhere…although I have always wondered how bad the city would probably like to use the right of way at Woody’s.

I looked around at the other clientele to try to figure out who the inhabitants of the neighborhood were these days. As is usual lately I was completely stymied when there was absolutely no correlation whatsoever. In the 90s it would’ve been everyone’s bet that this area would be simply full of young professional families (some people call them yuppies) who were renovating Ansley Park, Highlands, and Piedmont Park bungalows in the pursuit of being intown.

Tonight there were two hipsters, a hippy, a housewife, a guy and his three year old up way past his bedtime, and me up way past my bedtime. Combine that with the African-American and Hispanic employees and I can’t figure out one thing, except that Atlanta is a diverse place. It’s not unusual to see this hodgepodge in most old midtown Atlanta neighborhoods now. Makes it tough for a guy like me who would usually try to characterize it in someway.

But here, in Woody’s itself is a place with a menu that hasn’t changed since 1976 when they first made their name on Philly style cheesesteaks and milkshakes, no more, no less.

Here is to constant change, and the places, for my sake, that don’t.

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Great Atlanta Restaurants in 10 minutes

taste-of-Atlanta

Recently a young man who is currently a sophomore at Georgia Tech emailed me and asked me to name some of my favorite restaurants in Atlanta. I only had 10 minutes right then to reply back, and below is exactly what I came up with…unedited! $’s indicate how pricey it is.  Given more time, the list may look a bit different, but again this is what came to mind in 10 minutes:

Eats  $ has been a long time Yellow Jacket favorite for great home cooked soul food
Antico Pizza $$ We’ve talked about this one…great pizza, try to sit in kitchen
Bacchanalia $$$ some of the best food in Atlanta, pre-fixe menu in dining room, I suggest sitting at the bar where you can order a la carte $$ and save lots of money but still get a taste for it, don’t miss the chocolate soufflé
Six Feet Under $ One on the west side has a great view on the rooftop deck and yummy tacos
Douceur de France $ – best breakfast, little bit of a drive
Silver Skillet $ – I’m sure you’ve been, 2nd best breakfast in Atlanta, 1st best traditional breakfast, worth the wait if there is one
Heirloom Market $ – never tried it but hear their Spicy Korean Pork Sandwich is great
Watershed Restaurant $$ – this is a really good restaurant, their menu has changed since they got the new location
Grand China  $1/2 – absolute best Chinese in all of Atlanta, high quality wonderful flavors, suggest the family combos
Cafe Intermezzo $$ – lots of locations, European coffee house best for dessert and coffee, traditional place to take your date

Question: What would be on your short list of great Atlanta restaurants?

Beltway Bubble in Tampa – RNC Convention Days 2 & 3 – Lesson on Politics

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Welcome to all of the new readers and people following this blog after the GOP Convention. I met a lot of really nice folks from other states and other countries, and I’ve been pleased that some of them have found their way to this site. I want to take some time to tell you what my last two days around the convention were like and share some photos, but I am also trying to paint a picture for another purpose, and that is to describe my perspective of politics, which was broadened this week.

I’ve never been naive about politics and its effect on government, but up until now my visits inside the Beltway have been brief, and I have scurried out as fast as I can. This time, the Beltway came to us here in Tampa, and I decided to immerse myself in it. But since I wasn’t a delegate, I didn’t have planning meetings and other official events to go to. Instead, I was hopping from special interest party, to media event, to book signing, back to special interest event, and stopped at some of my favorite Tampa hot spots along the way to mix and mingle.

The experience was complete with lots of interaction with some of the GOP’s top candidates and past leaders, but it made me realize what a bubble these people live in. I’ll save more for another post, but I think when you see the pace and influences of the people in this realm, the dysfunction of our government becomes more clear. I am confident that they have best intentions in mind, it’s just that a whole lot of other junk gets in the way…primarily in the green paper variety with our founders’ faces on them!

The photo at the top of this post has little to do with my observations above, other than the fact that it is of a panel I attended by a grassroots special interest group with a great purpose — to uplift women and the issues that matter to them. Many of these special interests, especially in my opinion the ones at this convention, have a good purpose. This National Defense and Security panel featured KT McFarland, a defense department advisor to Ronald Reagan that I greatly respect. I was really pleased to talk with her after the panel and get this photo. Her message that a strong energy and economic policy first, is the foundation of a strong security policy made a lot of sense. I also met Jennifer Carroll our fantastic Lt. Governor of Florida.

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After wandering around the Channelside area and realizing that I was one of six people that weren’t part of the MSBC crew broadcasting there, I decided to make a break for a real lunch spot, the newly reopened Floridan Hotel! This national historic landmark that my grandfather owned during World War II was at one time the tallest building in Florida. It had been shuttered since the late 80’s, and after many false starts by other developers, a local family purchased and renovated the hotel and opened it two weeks before the RNC.

I’ll do another full post on the Floridan soon, but I wanted to share a few photos so that you can see how beautiful it is. As I was hoping, it was reminiscent of the Georgian Terrace in Atlanta!

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I had a wonderful lunch in the dining room and was so pleased to have as my waiter one of the nephews of the Floridan’s owner who spoke with me at length about the renovation efforts and all of their hard work in decorating and preservation. The place was beautiful and the food was incredible. It was so important for the city to show it off, that NBC was assigned the hotel for its crew and commentators.

Sitting next to me in the quiet dining room was none other than Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, opinion writer for the Washington Post, and MSNBC contributor Eugene Robinson. We had a really nice chat, and although I hardly ever agree with anything that comes out of his mouth on TV or paper, he was such a gentleman. I look forward to sharing some of his observations of Tampa with you in future posts, he seemed very impressed.

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That experience made me realize that despite all of the political disagreements, these folks living in the world of politics are generally nice people who are real and actually have to eat food and go to sleep. (when, I don’t know) The thing is politicians, lobbyists, and the press, they all know each other and they are all truly in one business, and that is promoting themselves and their agenda. They enable each other and feed off of each other. Because there is a camera in their face all the time, they begin to believe they are experts on everything, and everyone they come in contact with shows them a level of appreciation that may be real or it may just be a show as well, but reinforces that idea in their head. The culture is so immersive I don’t see how many can avoid it. They just do their best to grow gills and swim.

Look at this event I went to with Rick Santorum. You can hardly see him because of the mass of press surrounding him asking him and his family questions along with adoring fans trying to touch him. Even the most honorable man has to be affected a little by this…I would think.

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Even I had to get in on the action and stop Gretchen Carlson for a photo. After all, we have the same last name. I told her this and she dryly responded, well good you’ll be able to remember mine. She was so gracious. The fact is, who doesn’t remember her name? Everywhere she went she was barraged by people wanting to take photos with her. It is amazing how clearly these people can focus once they are in front of the camera. I wonder if they feel like they live in two worlds, one in front of the camera and one behind it. Or if the two have just merged into one.

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Question: Is my portrayal accurate, and is this endless cycle of promotion at all healthy for getting our country back on track?

Get Excited Again about Roadtripping

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There is nothing I like much more than embarking on a road trip…except maybe planning it! Maybe it was all the summer vacations across America that my fearless mother took us kids on, that endeared me to road travel. More likely, it is the many many trips back and forth between Tampa and Atlanta. I often prefer driving the 7 hours to Atlanta over the quick Delta flight. I’ve got my car, and I’ve got the freedom to stop wherever I want, whenever I want, and even go off the beaten track.

I often wonder why Google hasn’t let me be more creative with my maps for travel purposes. I am always hearing about or web-surfing places I would like to explore in Florida, Georgia, and across the country. But until now, I hadn’t found an intuitive tool for me to discover hidden gems and then save them to a route for the future. Enter Roadtrippers.com!

I Stumbled Upon the Roadtrippers website in June. It is actually how I found my dream lodging destination The 1842 Inn for my next stopover in Macon. Roadtrippers is a simple, intuitive road trip planner, powered by local experts and travel writers. I just plugged in my starting point and my destination, and I could customize my route and build my own travel plan around incredible historical sites, restaurants, hotels, and attractions many of which I had never heard of.

These are the top features of the website:

Explore the best independent places in America. Browse by distance from your trip or explore everything on the map.

• Create “Bucket Lists” of your favorite places.
• Create road trips using the most powerful route planning features online, including instant fuel cost estimation. • Save your trips for quick access and further editing later.
• Share your trips with friends and family on email, Twitter or Facebook. They can even edit and share them back. • Become a guide and display your bucket lists and favorite trips to the world!
• Follow your friends or favorite writers/brands and see their curated trips and bucket lists.
• Print your itinerary or driving directions and hit the road!

http://www.roadtrippers.com

I hear Roadtrippers is also coming out with an incredible app shortly that will revolutionize how you travel. Imagine being able to book hotels from your map!

For me, road trips are a great metaphor for life. We are all on a journey, I have a destination where I want to end up; I set milestones along the way, and sometimes I take some detours. My goal is to savor the ride, treasure the lives of the people riding with me, and make a positive lasting impact on the people in the places where I stop along the way.

Question: Where are you going on your next road trip?

Loosen Your Belt – Dine Tampa Bay Coming Up in August

Oystercatchers Key Lime Pie courtesy of: Dine Tampa Bay’s – Tampa Bay Taste Bud Blog

Do you ever get intimidated by the daunting task of trying new restaurants around your town, knowing where to start in finding them, and most importantly what to order when you get there so you get a true taste what the chef is most proud of?

The Basics: Dine Tampa Bay is a two week event from August 3rd-17th that allows you the opportunity to visit over 100 of the bay area’s top award winning restaurants and enjoy a prix fixe, 3-course meal that includes some of their signature dishes.

Price: $25, $35, $45…you choose

It’s So Easy: The Dine Tampa Bay Website makes this adventure so much fun, and the over-organizer in you will definitely appreciate the user-friendly search criteria available. You can simply pick a price, choose a restaurant, and reserve your table…all online. Or you can even narrow things down by cuisine and neighborhood.

It’s easy to view the menus and a map for each restaurant. That will come in handy if you decide to sleep in your car and spend the two weeks trying every restaurant, needing to chart the most efficient course. That would be an admirable goal indeed!

Whether you enjoy one or all, let me know here or on Twitter where you went and what your thoughts are!

Here are Sample Listings from 3 of My Favorites:

The Melting Pot of Tampa

The Melting Pot of Tampa

13164 N Dale Mabry Hwy., Tampa, FL, 33618

(813) 962-6936 | Website  $25

I used to live on Melting Pot fondue when up in Ocala, but Tampa is where it all started! Includes a salad course, 3 choices of meat fondue, and your choice of chocolate fondue including my favorite the Flaming Turtle.  Menu

Cassis American Brasserie

Cassis American Brasserie

170 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, Florida, 33701

727-827-2927 | Website  $35

Cassis American Brasserie serves up “Continental Comfort Cuisine” in a vibrant, friendly atmosphere. Chef, Jeremy Duclut, revisits American classics with an innovative twist, and flavors his cuisine with subtle elements from his traditional French training. Since I lived nearby the town in Provence that is the namesake for this restaurant, I had to include it. All of their food is simple yet unique…I’m looking forward to starting with the cantaloupe soup with crispy Prosciutto de Parma. Menu

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers

2900 Bayport Dr., Tampa, FL, 33761

(813) 207-6815 | Website  $45

Oystercatchers is located on the shores of the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay and has one of the best brunches in town and is where we had our engagement party! For this package though, I would suggest the fresh catch blackened with one of their signature sauces like a fruit chutney, and don’t forget to finish it off with one of the best Key Lime pies in Tampa. Menu

Question: Which Dine Tampa restaurants would you like to try?

Atlanta Chef Joe Rego on Chopped

Joe Rego of Opera, courtesy of Atlanta Eater

The Executive Chef of Opera, Joe Rego, formerly of South City Kitchen, Sotto SottoFritti, and Allegro, will be featured tomorrow in the Food Network show Chopped . According to EaterWire author Carly Cooper, Joe explained that “it was a very intense competition, and hopefully I will make Atlanta proud. However, after the competition airs, nothing will change the way I cook or work in Atlanta. It just inspires me to do better in my culinary profession. It’s a learning process every day.”

I really enjoyed Joe’s work at South City Kitchen and look forward to going dancing at Opera sometime soon…remember the days as 1150, but first let’s see the showdown on Chopped. I find it to be the most respectable cooking challenge on TV these days.

Question: What’s your favorite cooking show these days?

A Wing Challenge You Could Die For

Back in high school we used to run out to Hooters during lunch time and order 50 wings, take them back to school, and then race to see who could eat the most before the bell for class rang. Here might be a Tampa food eating challenge that rivals that one for indigestion!

I love wings! I like them with just about any sauce. Grilled and Fried naked are my favorite…the more well done the better. Well not far from where I grew up and located on Bell Lake, is Rapscallions, a neighborhood restaurant and bar that features the Davy Jones Wings Challenge. For only $12.99 you get wings doused in their original Black Beard’s Revenge hot sauce, featured on the Travel Channel‘s Man vs. Food show. You even have to sign a waiver beforehand and have to be 18 or older. You eat the wings in 30 minutes or less and you can’t water it down with any other food or drinks. You then get to sit for 5 minutes and savor the pain before being awarded with your picture on their Wall of Fame. I’ll be honest, you don’t go here for the atmosphere just to make history and meet nice folks.

No chance I’ll ever be trying this, but it is nice to dream big! I still remember enjoying the original Buffalo wings at Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY near where my grandfather was born.

Rapscallions
4422 Land O’ Lakes Blvd
Land O’ Lakes, FL 34639
(813) 235-6511

Question: What is your favorite wing place? How do you like them?

Here is a video of a guy taking his best shot at Rapscallions:


Mornings in France, in Atlanta

My recent post about a brand new bakery and cafe in Tampa called Mikey’s and their nicely made Pain au Chocolat reminded me of the most authentic French patisserie that I have been to in the United States. It happens to be in Atlanta! Douceur de France is tucked into the hills north of Atlanta and is famous in those parts for so many reasons.

The owner, Luc Beaudet was born in the Poitou region of France, learned how to cook from his mom, and she inspired him to pursue a formal training in the Art of Patisserie. After earning his degree, Luc enrolled in “Les Compagnons du Devoir du Tour de France”, an organization dedicated to touring France and Europe to learn the pastry techniques unique to each region. He helped open La Madeleine French Bakery in Atlanta and then in early 2000 he started Douceur de France.

I could go on and on about how they must use the same ingredients and water from France, because just the scent when you walk in transports you to a cafe in France. Not some ritzy, nose stuck up in the air, you stupid American get out of my restaurant kind of cafe. This is the kind of place you would find in the South of France. (I’m partial to the south because I am a southerner here and have a theory about the north and south of most countries) It’s the kind of place you want to spend all morning with friends, enjoying a scrumptious breakfast or brunch that isn’t limited to just your typical French breakfast of a croissant and coffee, and makes you feel warm all over. The fact that their first location was in a nice little house tucked up in Marietta confirms that they knew how to appeal to down-to-earth Atlantans!

The only care you will have when walking into this emporium of delicacies is choosing which pastry to start with. The fruit tarts, cookies, and petits fours all give the pain au chocolat a run for its money. Or you can just get them all.

Luc, if you ever feel like having a place to perform your magic closer to the beach, Tampa would be ready!

Check out their blog for updates about their menu and other fun Atlanta events.

Soda Fountain meets Patisserie, I meet the Southern Philly

Mikey’s Cafe and Bakery

When we were leaving Velo Champ yesterday, I noticed that a little bakery had popped up next door. Mikey’s had a window-full of wedding cakes that looked like contenders for yet another Food Network reality show. But down in the corner sat a bottle of Cheerwine…and that is what made me stop and go inside.

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We had our 18 month old with us so once we were in the door there was no turning back. Mikey’s is a charming bakery cafe with an elaborate display case and lots of antique accessories that were so appropriately well placed that I might have thought that we stepped back in time for a minute…back to a Seminole Heights soda fountain in the 30’s or 40’s. In actuality, I found out they just opened last Wednesday! Our son walked right up to the case and insisted that he must partake.

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Much to my pleasure, there was a semi-familiar sight. Many of the gourmet concoctions resembled French pastries. After living for a few months in the south of France, I grew an addiction to Pain au Chocolat. Sure enough there on the bottom rack my little son was pointing right at them. Well done my boy!

Of course these did not feign to be authentic…just amazingly good as the ribbons hanging from the case attest to. There was a label announcing that they were chocolate croissants. And that they truly were. Unlike their French twins, they didn’t leave anything to the imagination as they were oozing out the sides with chocolate. In fact, after ordering one (served warm) I determined that it was 50% chocolate at least. Yummy, and the flakiness/tender thickness of the rectangular croissant was almost right on.

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My wife and I determined it was time for lunch and promptly ordered their Southern Philly on Cuban Bread. And watch out Geno’s…this cheesesteak was gooood! What makes it Southern I suppose is the thin spread of delicious peppercorn ranch dressing that compliments the juicy roast beef, green peppers, onion, and provolone melting in your mouth on that fresh soft cuban bread.

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Did I mention that they also had two shelves of pies (including a gooey pecan) which means I am going to have to bypass the chocolate croissant next time? When I return, I’ll try one of their homemade soups too, like Tomato Basil or Chicken n’Dumplings. Their laid back and helpful staff were friendly and professional making me want to find another good excuse to return to the Seminole Heights neighborhood again soon.