Last weekend marked the 6th annual Taste of Atlanta food festival – a 2-day culinary event hosted in the open-air intown shopping haven of Atlantic Station. The festival is dubbed as the food lover’s food event – so to live up to my self-imposed title of bon vivant I definitely had to be there. My $25 advance-purchase ticket ($35 day of event) covered admission for one day of the event plus 10 food tickets to use at any of the 70+ local restaurants that were slated to be on hand. I was amped at the opportunity to scope out some new dishes from local restaurant favorites as well as discover some new flavors and places that might be worth a full-blown followup visit.
I opted to go on Saturday and arrived around noon with my strategy already figured out. Armed with my map of the Taste’s restaurants, I decided to first take my time perusing all of the vendors and scope out their menus before determining which ones I deemed worth spending $25 worth of play money on. Most of the restaurants offered 2-3 options for tasting, with each option displaying a ‘price’ of either 1, 2, or 3 tickets. As I made the rounds, I was a little disappointed at the lack of imagination and originality in most of the offerings, particularly from many of the high-end eateries. I mean, if this is your chance to get a customer who might have never considered dining with you intrigued enough to come in and pay for a full meal, why would you offer the culinary equivalent of soup and salad? But I can also understand vendors wanting to keep the fare simple and approachable for the masses while keeping costs and prep time at a minimum. Whatever the reason, it made it a hell of a lot easier for me to narrow down who’d be getting my precious tickets. Here’s my review of the chosen few:
Jim N’ Nick’s Bar-B-Q
So for anyone who’s known me longer than 24 hours, it probably comes as no surprise that I simply could not resist the alluring aroma of hickory smoke and grilled meat permeating the air at one end of the festival, so my first 2 tickets went for a taste of the ribs prepared by Jim n Nick’s Bar-B-Q. In exchange, I received 2 huge bones from what was one of the largest slabs of ribs I’d ever seen (If this be genetic engineering, consider me an advocate! kidding, kidding.). One bite and I knew that I’d spent those tix well. The meat was fall off the bone tender, and though there was little if any sauce on them, it really wasn’t missed. The ribs were perfectly infused with the flavor of the wood, and well-complemented by a cole slaw that had a nice kick of horseradish to it. I’m really not a fan of restaurant chains, and even less-so when it comes to ‘cue, but those ribs convinced me that instead of turning my nose up at the Jim n Nick’s location in my neighborhood, I should treat my nose and my palate to a more thorough sampling of their smoky fare.
The Feed Store
My next taste came from The Feed Store – a College Park eatery that is named for the fact that the building it occupies was once – you guessed it – a feed store. The restaurant features nouveau Southern cuisine in a casual, historic atmosphere. I sampled a taste of their seared duck breast, which was wrapped around grilled scallions and tiny pieces of candied ginger and topped with a sorghum molasses glaze. At first, I was taken aback by the fact that the dish was served cold, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Since I’m not wild about game (pun intended), I actually find it more palatable when it’s at room temperature or colder. I would have liked to taste more of the ginger in the dish – for such a strong element its taste was almost non-existent, and I actually opened up the neatly wrapped morsel to confirm that there really was ginger inside. The molasses glaze, however, was absolutely outstanding and played well against the relative heaviness of the duck, and the charred tang of the scallions.
The Feed Store’s executive chef Peter Golaszewski was on hand at the booth to mix it up with the festival patrons, so I took the opportunity to query him on his geographic and culinary origins. Originally from Detroit, and former chef at both the Ritz Carlton Buckhead and The Epicurean in Druid Hills, he’s been the head-chef-in-charge at the Feed Store since The Epicurean closed in August. Impressive credentials aside, Chef Peter was a genuine pleasure to talk with – if his demeanor is a reflection of the restaurant’s atmosphere, I’d say the Feed Store should be a treat for visitors and locals alike.
My third sampling was undoubtedly the highlight of my Taste experience. Mitra – a midtown restaurant serving Latin-influenced fare – had me at hello. On its Taste menu were salmon basas, bacalao and cheese fritters, and chocolate truffles dusted with cocoa and ancho chile powders. I would have tried all three, but only had enough tickets left for one entree and the dessert. I quickly settled on the bacalao fritters – I fell in love with these fried cod treats on a trip to Brazil some years ago, and haven’t had them since, so it was an easy choice. Mitra’s take on this popular Latin dish incorporated herbed whipped cream cheese into the fritter and a piquant jalapeno key lime jelly as an accompaniment. The result was a success – a creamy, spicy, crispy, slightly salty bite of heaven. The truffle wasn’t all that pretty to look at (I won’t tell you what I initially compared it to, but I’m sure you can guess) and didn’t have the hard outer shell that I thought it would, but the exterior and interior were both sensuously smooth and rich, and surprisingly light. Almost as soon as I began to chew it, it melted away and disappeared on my tongue. The ancho-cocoa powder dusting was an excellent contrast to the truffle’s velvety sweetness. I thought I’d feel guilty for consuming such a big wad of chocolate, but it was so surprisingly light, I quickly got over it.
All in all, I’m glad that I experienced the Taste of Atlanta to see what all the excitement was about; but for the price and the surprisingly underwhelming options, I can’t say that I’d do it again. Ironically, the experience pretty much reflected my assessment of Atlanta’s restaurants – most of them are good enough to try once but often fail to live up to their own hype.