FED, WHITE & BLUE: DOING THE A-TOWN STRUT
If luck is on my side and although I have had to delay my road trip to ten Northern states until September, I might well complete my quest of visiting every US state by the end of 2011.
For the record, I consider myself to have visited a state if I have spent at least one night there and not just transited between flights at an airport hub. On that basis, I am only ten or so shy of my goal, but there remain some glaring omissions.
Top of the list, until last week, was the Southern state of Georgia. I have flown through Atlanta’s vast airport more times than I ever care to recall, but neither business nor pleasure has ever given me chance to do anything but run at breakneck speed from gate to gate to catch a quick connecting flight. That all changed when Sybil decided to use up some of her extra holiday entitlement and book us a few days in Atlanta and Savannah.
After an early morning flight we took the chance to rest up before our first dinner of the trip at South City Kitchen. We were joined for supper by my chum and Next Iron Chef colleague, Alton Brown along with his lovely wife Deanna. Dining with someone so well known, particularly in his own city usually means that you are not going to experience a normal meal. This was certainly true in this case as the chefs kindly sent out just about every starter listed on the menu for us to sample, which when added to our main courses, and a terrific banana pudding to finish was enough to send us waddling the short distance back to our hotel.
The next morning, we woke up early to catch a train on Atlanta’s efficient MARTA system to arrive at what is now designated "The Historic MLK District. Originally the neighbourhood on Auburn Avenue or “Sweet Auburn” as it was known, was the wealthiest African American district in the US and housed businesses, shops and theatres as well as residences. It was in one of these residences that Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15th 1929.
Now, the whole area has been given over to a tribute to the great man. The smart house where he was born has been restored to the same condition as it was when he lived there and even more restoration work is being done at The Ebenezer Church where he preached with his father, also a minister. It was an interesting experience, particularly as in 2010, I also visited The Lorraine Motel where MLK was assassinated on April 4th 1968.
After visiting the centre dedicated to him and wandering around the neighbourhood, we headed back across town to experience an equally famous, if slightly less worthy Atlanta landmark, The World of Coca Cola.
Coca Cola was invented by a pharmacist named John Pemberton in the late 19th Century and, from that humble beginning has now grown into the multi national we all know and love (?) today, offering over 160 different beverages in every corner of the globe.
For what they dare to dub “The Happiness Factory” a trip around Coca Cola world is one of the more dispiriting experiences of my recent travels, particularly when placed, as we did, in sharp relief with the life well lived of Dr. King. There are some interesting items of memorabilia on show, but generally the whole tawdry experience is aimed at ensuring the “joy” of Coca Cola is inculcated into the mainly youthful audience as firmly and as crudely as possible.
At the end of the tour, you find yourself in the tasting room where you can sample all the varieties of soft drinks the Coca Cola Corporation make around the world. Most of them are very nasty indeed and after a few sips of some rather noxious brews from Latin America, I dragged Sybil out into the open air and as far away from The World of Coca Cola as possible. Oh yes, in case you are wondering, it costs $16 a pop to get in.
After a very necessary lunchtime hamburger at a nearby BLT Steakhouse, we headed back to the hotel for an afternoon nap and to prepare ourselves for supper at Miller Union.
I had recently been made aware of this restaurant by my chum, David Hoffman, creator of hit TV series “The Best Thing I ever Ate”. During a lunch a week or so ago in LA, he mentioned that one of his best meals of the year had been at this relatively new Atlanta hotspot. David definitely knows what he is talking about and, on his recommendation I booked a table for the Monday night. It’s certainly a popular place and was already heaving by the time we arrived for our 7.30pm reservation. We propped up the bar for a couple of well made drinks before being shown back to a small table at the rear of the room. What followed was easily my best meal of 2011 to date.
David had told me that one of their dishes, an egg baked in a celery infused cream was sensational and he was certainly right on that score. But, everything else we tried was almost as good. Sybil ordered five starters, which included the baked egg, perfectly fried balls of creamy Southern grits stuffed with a local Tomme Cheese, roast bone marrow and pork belly with radishes and carrots. The only weak point come with a slightly fridge fresh plate of pork & chicken liver terrine that lacked any noticeable seasoning and remained largely untouched by either of us.
My own main course of braised rabbit with a root vegetable broth was, if not the best thing I have eaten this year, definitely in the top five and will be hard to beat as I continue to travel and eat throughout this year. Add that to some decent desserts and very good service and we marked Atlanta down as a great place in which to eat out as we headed back to the hotel for our last night of sleep before heading to Savannah.
We picked up our car the next morning, ready for the 250 mile drive to what I had been told was one of the most beautiful cities in all of the US. I was very keen to get there and explore before the impending thunderstorms forecast on TV that morning. However, I was not so keen that I couldn’t persuade my tolerant wife to stop for some Georgia BBQ on the way.
Fincher’s in Macon, GA, might not look like much from the outside or indeed once you step through the door. It has a few battered bar stools at a weathered looking counter and a few booths along the side, one of which we squeezed into while we decided what to order. But, the smells from the kitchen promised it might be a good choice.
Sybil looked a little uncertain about the whole thing, However, one rib plate, one fried pork chop plate and one peach cobbler later (yours for $24 including service) she had to agree it was well worth the delay.
But, now we really had to get moving as the dark clouds gathered behind us.
Next stop Savannah.
P.S. I am instructed to inform you by my wife that the pictures are a mix of my own (taken on both my new camera and my phone) as well as some of hers. Hers are the better ones.