The Great British Food Series: Part Four, Northumberland and Liverpool

Fourth in a multi-part series. Also see Part One: London and Brighton, Part Two: York, and Part Three: Edinburgh.

We spent four nights in Edinburgh, but on day two in Scotland, we hopped back across the English border in a runaway shuttle bus, on a little castle and coast tour.


Bamburgh Castle, perched on the Northumbrian coast, overlooking the North Sea.  Quite the windswept, romantic spot, as you can see.

We also went to Alnwick, but, since we’re not Harry Potter fanatics, we skipped the £14.50 tour and spent two and a half hours in a pub.


The Black Swan, Alnwick, Northumberland.


Eric had roasted leek soup.  It was really good.


I had steak and ale pie; it was deconstructed, and one of the very best beef pies I have ever had.


Extreme closeup.


A pint of Worthington’s.

Our final stop on the tour, and the real reason we went on it, was Lindisfarne.

Have you been watching Vikings, the new series on the History Channel?  The Vikings’ arrival in England in 793, at Lindisfarne, was fresh in our mind, thanks to the show.  I’ve always wanted to go there, but because of its remote location, I never made it while I was living in England.  Eric is also a history buff, and was fascinated by the story of the Anglo-Saxons “first contact” with the Vikings, so this was a real highlight of our trip.


Guess what Eric found first.



We also bought some mead on the island!  A bit sweet for regular consumption, it made a nice birthday dessert drink back at our Edinburgh B&B.

Our next stop was Liverpool.


Upon arrival, it was too early to check into our room at the Heywood House Hotel, so we decided to try the attached restaurant, The Bank Bar and Brasserie, owing to its convenience and positive reviews.

It was passable, but overpriced.  The cheeseburger above was from frozen, and the bun was burned.


Eric’s tomato soup was just okay.  The upscale, urban atmosphere of the place was great, but the food disappointed.  I supposed our first clue should’ve been that we were the only patrons at lunch time on a weekday in the center of Liverpool.


But Mr Whippy never disappoints!  Albert Dock.


As you may recall, I am a bit of a Liverpool FC fan.  So, of course, we went to Anfield.


Eric was tired.  We had large coffees in the Anfield Boot Room Cafe.


Though I was very tempted to order this:


After spending the day exploring Liverpool on foot, we ended up at Thomas Rigby’s, near our hotel, for dinner.


I had the last of many steak and ale pies.  I suspect they’re not even making full pot pies anymore, because I didn’t see a single one the entire time we were in Britain.  This is another “descontructed” one.  It was very good, too!  This was a great little spot.



That’s it for the road trip portion of our UK adventure.

I’ll be back soon with a final post featuring a few more London noms, and then it’ll be back to your regularly-scheduled taco-related programming.

Fourth in a multi-part series. Also see Part One: London and Brighton, Part Two: York, and Part Three: Edinburgh.


The Great British Food Series: Part Three, Edinburgh

Third in a multi-part series. Read Part One: London and Brighton, and Part Two: York.

Edinburgh New Town and the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh Castle.

I’d been to Edinburgh several times, but always in the winter, but Eric had never been, and I knew he was going to love it! Imagine my surprise when we arrived on June 27, and it was about 55 degrees and pouring rain! (I wasn’t surprised.)

Luckily, our bed and breakfast was only a fifteen-minute walk from Waverley Station; on the way, we stopped in to the first decent-looking pub we passed to dry off, grab a bite to eat, and kill some time until check-in.


The Theatre Royal Bar.


Leek and onion soup!

The Royal Mile.

After checking in and dropping off our bags, we walked back across the park to the Royal Mile, and walked the entire thing. After peeking into Holyrood, we doubled-back and, still near the bottom of the hill, popped into another pub, the No. 1 High Street Bar, for dinner.


The starter: focaccia and delicious dippings.


Eric ordered… more fish and chips! Haddock, this time.


And I had… more bangers and mash! This was the best plate of bangers and mash of the whole trip: prime Scottish sausage from award-winning local butcher Crombies of Edinburgh, served with onion gravy, mashed potatoes, and market vegetables.



The malt of the moment!


Just because.


Our bed and breakfast, Adria House, was amazing. Not just the immaculately restored, quiet, neoclassical New Town digs, but the attentive and friendly service! Our hosts made us packed breakfasts for the two mornings on which our schedules necessitated an early departure: yogurt, cheese, clementines, apples, granola bars, and juice! I highly recommend this B&B!


Of course, a leisurely breakfast in the dining room was even better!


I turned 34 while we were in Edinburgh, so we went out for a nicer-than-usual dinner. Our Scottish friend Alan recommended Rose Street, and so off we went!


Look, it’s my tattoo! Made of pebbles! On a street! In Scotland. Wait, what?

We went to The Rosehip and had a lovely, lengthy, decadent meal.




First course: prosecco!


My main course: Local lambshank served with a leek and savoy cabbage mash and coated in a red onion, rosemary and onion jus. It was so, so good.


Eric’s dinner: Scottish venison steak with mashed sweet potatoes! YES.


Did I mention they also had an impressive whisky collection?


I toasted the Blair ancestors with a wee dram of 1997 Blair Atholl.


The dessert course: chocolate cake and cappuccinos.  Mmm.  It was actually a bit too cold outside—on June 30!


Window display, Royal Mile.


We also went on quite the pub crawl in Edinburgh.  We went to three folkie pubs recommended by KUT‘s Ed Miller (who hosts our favorite radio program, Across the Water).  We visited several pubs on the Royal Mile, in the heart of the touristy center of Edinburgh.  We got lost in Canonmills and wandered into a pub packed with spaniels, showing Wimbledon live, and serving real ale.  We went on the aforementioned Rose Street walk.  We drank the pint above at The Doctors, next to the University of Edinburgh, on graduation day; the place was packed with be-robed graduates in white tie, happy families, balloons, and crusty British professor types.










And we bought obscure local brews to take back to the sitting room at our B&B!  So relaxing.


Butchers’ window, Canonmills.

One of the pubs recommended by Ed Miller was the Canons Gait on the Royal Mile. We’d also hear they had good food, so we decided to go there for dinner.


Eric had the fresh salmon and scalloped potatoes with salad. It was really good. But what I had was even better.


I ordered haggis!

I’d never had haggis before; I had enjoyed an amazing, lentil-based vegetarian “haggis” at the George Hotel in Inverary, when I went there with my mom in 2004 (in fact, it was so good, I ordered it for every meal!). I calculated my chances at the Canons Gait: 1) recommended by Ed Miller; 2) reassuringly short, obviously seasonal menu; 3) the Scottish lady at the next table over ordered the haggis. I decided to go for it.

And I’m glad I did! This was one of the tastiest meals of the entire trip. The haggis was flavorful and decadent. The neeps and tatties were creamy and addictive (especially the tatties—I think they were half butter, to be honest). Washed down with a pint, it was a meal to remember. I’d even eat it again.

I think that’s a great note to end on, don’t you?

Check back next week for part four: Northumberland and Liverpool (I’ll explain!).

Third in a multi-part series. Also see Part One: London and Brighton, and Part Two: York.

The Great British Food Series: Part Two, York

Second in the Great British Food Series. Read Part One, London and Brighton or Part Three, Edinburgh.


York Minster, the heart of the medieval city, historic capital of Northern England, and final destination of this post.

But first…


Eric at King’s Cross.


On day four, we rode the train from London to Doncaster, where we stopped to see friends, then on to York (my favorite place in the UK, and where I was lucky enough to go to graduate school). The onslaught of English comfort food was amazing. And the cool weather didn’t hurt, either.



Our stop in Doncaster included a private tour of the Mansion House, which was fascinating. Since the Doncaster City Council built a new chamber in the aughties, the Mansion House has become a historical property and event venue. They keep the rooms set up for banquets, to give you an idea of what it would be like to host your wedding or party there.



Our next stop: York Brewery. (That’s Eric. And he’s not wearing a Yorkshire costume; he always wears that hat!)


Operational since 1996, this local brewery produces a fine line of real ales.  We went on an afternoon tour—and tried them all in their cozy tap room!


Yorkshire maltsters!


My hands smelled like hops for two days.




Our favorite was the Centurion’s Ghost Ale.  Mmm.  I loved this little half pint glass, too.


After the tour, we saved a few quid by popping into the nearby Wetherspoons pub (a chain) for a quick afternoon “dinner.”  I had the £7.00 bangers and mash; though this dish is no doubt from frozen, it still tasted prettttty good.  I have to admit here, I’m a sucker for potatoes-from-a-box.  Don’t get me wrong, I prefer freshly-mashed, homemade potatoes with real butter and cream; but I do love me some instant potatoes.



In York, we stayed at the Acer Guest House, just south of the city wall, a lovely, five-minute stroll from Mickelgate Bar. I highly recommend it.  Not only was our host, Karen, extremely helpful and gracious, but the place is immaculately clean and beautifully decorated, as well as quiet and relaxing.  Plus, the breakfast was excellent.  I could’ve stayed here for weeks.


Requisite half-timbering photo.  Stonegate.


Shop window in Stonegate.  Look at all those Yorkshire ales!  Pretty much heaven.


Next stop: the Guy Fawkes Inn.  And this isn’t just a gimmick, folks.  It’s where the notorious Catholic plotter was born!  A stone’s throw from York Minster, his house is now an inn and tavern.  It’s super atmospheric, and the beer selection is great.  The food is good, too, though we didn’t eat here on this trip.



This busker is leaning up against St. Michael le Belfrey Church, where Guy Fawkes was baptised!








One Yorkshire Blonde; one Dark Force Treason.


Our corner table at Guy Fawkes’ house.


Another view of the Minster, just down the street from Guy Fawkes’ house.

We had a trip-highlight of a lunch at the Black Swan, one of York’s must-see pubs.  Built in 1417 (you read that right), this historic spot has authentic half-timbering, fireplaces of medieval brick, wood-paneled walls, portraits of stern Tudors peering at you as you eat your meal, and very, very good food.




Oh, and did I mention that the best thing about the Black Swan is that they serve Theakston’s?  Meaning I could have a big, imperial pint of Old Peculier (one of my top five favorite beers; probably top two) with my giant Yorkshire pudding.


Seriously, this thing was nine by thirteen inches!  And so delicious.  I can’t even explain.  Well—I’ll try.

It’s a giant Yorkshire pudding, made in a casserole dish (often they are round, just a larger version of a regular pudding; but this one, as you can see, was rectangular!).  Then it’s filled with a Sunday lunch: roast beef, onions, carrots, peas, and beef gravy.  You eat it with a knife and fork, sopping up the leaking gravy with pieces of pudding.  It is so good.


Eric’s BLT and pint of Old Peculier.  Also freaking delicious.

Read the history of the Black Swan here.

Next on our pub crawl was the first of two stops at the King’s Arms, conveniently located on the east quayside of the River Ouse, nestled right next to the Ouse Bridge.  This is a Samuel Smith’s pub (makers of the other of my top-two favorite beers, Taddy Porter), so there’s really nothing not to like.  Situated as it is right on the Ouse, it floods every year—sometimes more than once—and there’s a handy flood chart on the wall right inside the door.


Unfortunately, due to said flooding, the conditions in the cellars are quite unpredictable, and, therefore, the King’s Arms is unable to serve real ale (from casks).  They do, however, have an impressive selection of the aforementioned Samuel Smith’s served up from kegs.  When we were there, we counted no less than 12 brews available.  As Samuel Smith’s fans, this was amazing.  And there are other pubs in York, several of which we visited, that do serve cask Samuel Smith’s.  Here’s a map of all the Samuel Smith’s pubs in the UK.  Wowza.


The King’s Arms has lovely outdoor seating right on the River Ouse, but we chose to stay inside and soak up the atmosphere while writing postcards.




The campus lake at the University of York.  If you’re not already following the Duck of the Day because of me, YOU ARE NOW!


Because HA HA HA.


Another pint, another pub.  I don’t even remember which one this was, though it was inside the historic medieval center.  We went to about ten pubs in York over two days.  And there are still several I want to take Eric back to visit!


Also highly recommended is the Lamb and Lion Inn (above right), a 17th century building tucked right next to Bootham Bar and in the shadow of the Minster.  They also have great food.


Late night Sainsbury’s run.  (We didn’t buy this.  We were there for the cheese and onion sandwiches.)


The Minster Inn is a neighborhood Marston’s pub in an Edwardian building on Marygate, just outside the city wall, where we enjoyed a couple of pints in a tiny, secluded back garden.  This is a great choice to get away from the throngs of tourists, and they serve real ale, to boot.  I had the Marston’s Oyster Stout.  Mmm.  Ale.

So, maybe we spent more time sampling local ales than eating food while in York…  Priorities.


Me and e. on the River Ouse at sunset. ❤

Those are just the food and beer pics.  To see how beautiful York really is, check out my Flickr set.


Sunset on the River Ouse.


This is the second post in the Great British Food Series.  Read Part One, London and Brighton.

The Great British Food Series: Part One, London and Brighton

I finally finished editing all the photographs from our recent trip to the United Kingdom (2,000 photos!), so here’s that belated UK food post I’ve been promising. I’m going to split it up into a few posts, because there are just too many pictures!

Our tour was June 22 through July 7, and included London, Brighton, Doncaster, York, Edinburgh, Bamburgh, Lindisfarne, Liverpool, and Chelmsford. I’ll explain why we went to each of these places as we explore their foods. I lived in England from September 2001 until June 2005, and only came back against my will. It’s a long story involving a terrible relationship, youthful stupidity, and lots of heartache; but my four years there were also filled with adventure, atmosphere, learning, and joy. I love the UK—especially England, and particularly York—and going back for the first time in eight years, after an abrupt departure, proved to be both a blast for me and Eric as tourists, and some much-needed (if expensive) closure for my 25-year-old self. Someday I’ll write more about that.

But right now, let’s talk about some mouth-watering British food!

People are wrong about British food. I already wrote a post about that a couple of years ago. British food is delicious, healthy, diverse, and filled with history. Did you know, for instance, that fish and chips originated with 17th-century Sephardic Jewish immigrants? Or, check out the history of kedgeree. Or, consider the many historic and delectable varieties of British cheese. I could go on.

Since it was Eric’s first trip to the UK, I made sure we hit all the high spots: fish and chips, giant Yorkshire pudding with roast beef, curry take-away, bangers and mash, real ale, hog roast, Mr Whippy… And, despite the fact that we walked six to eight miles per day, and drank mostly half pints, I actually gained six pounds. Oh, well!

A few quick thoughts before the photo essay: British food was as I remembered it, but more diverse and more consciously foodie. The farmers markets I remember from my time in London and York, for instance, now boast stalls selling kielbasa and injera, in addition to sausage rolls and cloudy cider (indeed, the Saturday market at Royal Festival Hall in Southwark was weirdly similar to the Mueller Farmer’s Market here in Austin, with its artisanal salumi and handmade soaps and stall holders with ironic tattoos of anthropomorphic foodstuffs). The Brits seem finally to have caught on to the quasi-religious experience that is Mexican food—there are now burrito chains everywhere, including Chipotle—but good luck finding a corn tortilla. Local breweries are experiencing a welcome resurgence, much like in the United States. We didn’t find the prices to be that ridiculous, which was a surprise. The bulk of the expense was airfare (especially because we could only go at the peak travel time of late June-early July). For me, the highlights of the trip were: Wimbledon (I’ve been watching for 30 years, and had never gone, despite living 20 miles away for three years); Lindisfarne (though we were only allotted one hour by our tour!); and taking Eric on a pub crawl in York. It was also wonderful to see so many old friends, including the fine folks with whom I used to work at Ottakar’s book store in Chelmsford, Essex.

Okay, grab a snack and get comfortable. Here goes.

Upon arrival: espresso and Pan di Stelle. It should be noted that our hosts, Tess and Alex, lived in Bologna, Italy, for a while in the late 1990s. Lucky us.

We wandered through the Saturday market at the Southbank Centre, stopping to grab some Polish sausage and sauerkraut sandwiches and beers. You can’t tell from this picture, but this sandwich was huge. Eric and I could barely finish it between the two of us.

Southbank market pierogi stand. Eric tried one of these and reported favorably on its flavor profile. Ha ha.

First stop: the Royal Festival Hall’s Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden, where we enjoyed some Curious Brew English lager and a view of the Thames, Westminster, and London Eye.

After that “snack,” we walked across Waterloo Bridge, down the Strand, and into Soho. Guess where we went first? It was kind of an accident. But maybe not really.


Eric and Tess having some beer at the Dog and Duck Pub, Soho.

Alex and me, being silly.

Tess waiting for her tai yaki.

Cream-filled fried dough in the shape of a fish. Yeah. Ha.

Tess made us this warm and hearty baked sausage dish, with pork, caramelized onions, tomatoes, and herbs, baked in a tomato sauce. I’ve gotta try this!

Served with green beans and a buttered jacket (baked) potato. Mmm.

A proper fish and chip shop on the seafront, Brighton.

Your friendly local fish and chip seller.

Eric gets his first (hot) taste of authentic fish and chips. “Dog and Duck is just as good.”


While in Brighton, we met up with my friend Andrea, whom I used to work with at Ottakar’s, in her native Essex. She moved to Brighton, but she’s still making movies! Bill’s is a small chain, and a pretty hip place. This is their own beer. We liked it.

I liked this lemon drizzle cake that Alex ordered even better. That’s sour cream on top. If you know me, you know how I love sour cream. Delish!

With some time to kill before our 5:00pm train back to London, we decided to pop into a pub. The corner where we stood provided a view of no less than three pubs, all traditional in appearance.

“Hey, let’s go to that pub!”

Since Eric and I are suckers for anything with a whiff of history, we decided to check out the Battle of Trafalgar.

Turned out, the Battle of Trafalgar was on the CAMRA 2013 Sussex Downs Ale Trail, and had a nice selection of real ales. Jackpot!

This one was especially good.

Back in London, I went full Essex and enjoyed a tall Stella, bag of cheese and onion crisps, and a Gavin and Stacey marathon. British television programming is still a thousand times better than ours, despite the infiltration of “reality” programming.

I stayed up late into the night to make a batch of midnight sandwiches for our trip to Wimbledon. We knew we’d have to “queue up” for hours (we didn’t anticipate five and a half hours), and we wanted tasty but cheap food. So Alex bought some fixins, and I made a variety of sandwiches, cut into halves for easy grabbing and sharing: salami and provolone; cheese, onion, and chutney; ham and cheese; turkey and mayo. I made ten sandwiches and we ended up eating every single one! Sadly, we weren’t aware that both The Queue and Wimbledon itself were BYOB. You can take a six-pack or bottle of wine/champagne per person! People around us were popping open bottles of bubbly, and we only had blackcurrant squash and water.

I made up for this oversight immediately upon entering the venue, by getting a Pimm’s! Believe it or not, I had never had Pimm’s before.

And, of course, we also had to have strawberries and cream on Henman Hill.



Well, that covers the foods of days one through three. Check out the second post: York. And then read the third post: Edinburgh.

This Week’s Eats: 10/19/12 – Atlanta

Well, I’m back from my first trip to Atlanta, and, boy, did I eat a lot of great food! This week’s roundup will just be photographs and tidbits from my visit, with a few travel pics as an added bonus!

Big, big thanks to my indefatigable and very talented host, Morgan.

This was breakfast at 10,000 feet; I flew Southwest leaving Austin at 6:00am (and my house at 4:30am!), and got to see a sunrise from the plane. It was amazing!

The crescent moon and Venus make it even better, right?

It was so peaceful; there were only 30 people on the flight, and it was dark and quiet. Yet I didn’t sleep—I couldn’t stop looking out the window, at the changing horizon!

I didn’t fly until I was 15, but I’ve flown a lot since then, including multiple trips across the Atlantic.  I spent three years flying back and forth to Baltimore every couple of months.  While I used to love to fly, all those miles in the air, coupled with the increasingly draconian security measures and post-9/11 atmosphere of fear have left me a little more skittish.  I hate take-offs.

But I still love being up in the air.  This was the first flight I’d taken since my last trip to Baltimore in February 2010. So I made the most of it and sat glued to the window throughout.  The whole experience is so amazing; it never ceases to seem miraculous.  And it’s always out of the ordinary to see the clouds and the earth from such a vantage.  Honestly, I don’t understand how everyone doesn’t look out the window the entire time.

My first meal was a late lunch.  I ventured down the street from my lodgings to Dancing Goats Coffee Bar at Ponce City Market, and got the last half a roast beef sandwich (made across the street at 4th and Swift – more on them later!).  Coupled with a large and expertly made iced mocha, and I was set.

Since I only got half a sandwich, and I was pretty ravenous after my long morning of travel, I also got a house-made pop tart, as recommended by the barista.  It was delicious!  If I lived in the neighborhood, I’d probably be addicted to Dancing Goats.

Once I was fueled up, I realized it was still relatively early; at 3:30 I hit the pavements to walk the 1.7 miles to the Margaret Mitchell House.  As I mentioned previously, this was the culmination of a 23-year pilgrimage.

I first read Gone with the Wind when I was 10, after I’d seen the film.  And I’d seen the film because my mom had the brilliant idea that I should play Rhett and Scarlett in the fifth grade talent show.  We watched the movie several times, adapted the the horse jail scene to my elementary-school audience (no prostitution, for starters), and created a truly inventive homemade costume that allowed me to be half Rhett and half Scarlett, turning back and forth 180° to talk to myself. Now that I think about it, this may explain a lot.

By the time the talent show came and went (I got third place! I was robbed!), I was board certified obsessed with Gone with the Wind. I read the book (which, incidentally, was published on my birthday in 1936), and was engrossed. Then I watched the film again. And again. And again. I read all the biographies of Vivien Leigh and Margaret Mitchell, and the books about the production of the movie, and, later, historical nonfiction about the Civil War.

The importance of Gone with the Wind to my early development cannot be overstated. It spawned a love of 1930s classic Hollywood that still urges me to stay up far too late watching TCM. This piece, by Karen Grigsby Bates, pretty well sums up my adult view of the GWTW cultural machine. Though flawed, Scarlett is a survivor. And, for the 1860s (and, indeed, the 1930s), the character displays a truly shocking sense of self, as well as the character trait that I perhaps admire most (probably because of Scarlett, and how she taught me to look for it): gumption.

But I’ve also become a lot more critical and empathetic, better read, and somewhat traveled, as well as cognizant of the role of privilege and entitlement in American society. Growing up in a small town in East Texas, in a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant family that hailed from Tennessee and Alabama and North Carolina and Virginia, it was easy for me to identify with the story’s white characters, and to romanticize the ridiculous picture of “the Old South” that Mitchell and Selznick painted. When I re-read the book in college, I was shocked by its endemic and insidious racism, which is much deeper than anything portrayed in the film—including the infamous “I ain’t birthin’ no babies” scene in which Scarlett slaps Prissy, her slave.

Yet, when I decided to go to Atlanta to visit my friend Morgan, there was no question that I’d go to the Margaret Mitchell House. It had to be done.

I’m not sure why I went there first. I think because of a combined sense of mission and dread. I kind of wanted to get it over with, not sure about what I’d find.

As it turned out, the place was actually pretty cool. Not a Confederate flag in sight.

There’s a small exhibit space with photographs and information about Margaret Mitchell’s life and the reception of Gone with the Wind.  You can also take a tour of the exhibit and Apartment No. 1, where Mitchell lived with her husband John Marsh while writing GWTW.  None of the furnishings are original, but it has been restored to look as close as possible to how it did during that time.  It was interesting to be in the space and see the alcove window where Margaret typed.  I’d pictured it so many times in my mind, and seeing the place, with its ordinariness, helped dispel the myth a bit.

After all that thinking, and walking almost all the way back to Morgan’s house, I needed a refresher and wanted a chance to write some postcards.  So I used the United States Postal Service Mobile app to find the nearest mailbox: turns out, it was in front of a TJ Maxx, only about a quarter mile from where I was.  So I headed that direction and, as luck would have it, ran right smack into a pub called The Highlander!  I had a Strongbow and enjoyed the breeze on their patio.

Morgan picked a great, nearby spot for our first dinner on Friday night: 4th and Swift in the Old Fourth Ward.  This place was excellent (as evidenced by its current four stars and solid reviews on Yelp); dark and inviting, with conventional seating as well as an intimate bar area, which is where we decided to sit.

There’s a great cocktail menu, which we couldn’t resist (mainly because of the jaunty names): Morgan had the “Scoundrel’s Waltz,” and I sprang for the “Meyer’s Tribly,” the first drink I laid my eyes on: Woodford Reserve bourbon, toasted almond honey, grapefruit, and smoked peach bitters, served on the rocksI’ve had a thing for Woodford Reserve since we toured the distillery in 2010,and the smoked peach bitters were reassuringly Georgian.  This was a delicious cocktail!  I should’ve had two, really.

Though the menu is large and tempting, featuring a great selection of special seasonal dishes, I wanted something light yet rich.  So I went for the Pan-Seared Bramlett Farms Trout ($26), served on a bed of polenta gnocchi, fava beans, and beech mushrooms with warm fines herbes vinaigrette.  It was just really, really excellent.  To be honest, they had me at “polenta gnocchi.”  But the trout was perfectly cooked, juicy and flavorful with a lightly seared and crunchy skin.  I kind of miss this dish right now.

Moving on… !

On Saturday morning, after grabbing more iced coffees at Dancing Goats, we went for a drive, and it was a real treat to get to see some of the surrounding countryside, which, in my mind, existed only as 1930s Hollywood backlots.  Actually, the tall pines and red dirt south of Atlanta looked pretty much exactly like what I expected, and it was beautiful.  Breathtaking, really.

On the way back into town, we happened upon Oakland Cemetery, which I remembered from the previous day’s Margaret Mitchell tour as the author’s burial place.

We spent about half an hour exploring the well maintained and peaceful place as the morning turned from cool to warm.  I highly recommend a visit to anyone visiting Atlanta, especially if you’re into cemeteries (I am; long story).  You just never know what you’re gonna find.

Next, we went to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site and adjacent Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which was one of my must-sees. And it didn’t disappoint. Well, there was one disappointment. I was shocked and saddened that we were two of only about five white people at the park. I was under the impression that MLK was a transformative leader and one of the most important people in U.S history (arguably even the most important). So I assumed a diverse group of Americans, including many of my fellow WASPs, would be as excited about visiting the site as I was. It was an informative, inspirational place; we clearly have work to do in continuing Dr. King’s vision, though.

The very best part of the visit to the MLK Center was getting to go inside Ebenezer Baptist Church, where MLK was ordained, preached, served as assistant pastor and later co-pastor, and delivered his famous sermon, “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam.” His funeral was held there on April 9, 1968.

Being in the space was indescribable.  It’s just a regular, old church, the kind I’ve been in many, many times, but knowing what happened there, and how critical the place was to the development of MLK’s politics, theology, and vision, was… hard to explain.  It was heavy, but a place of hope, too.

I can definitely say that Ebenezer Baptist Church was the most moving historical site I’ve been to in the United States.

After all this sightseeing, we were getting peckish, so we stopped for another late lunch at Manuel’s Tavern in Poncey-Highland, a somewhat time-warped little bar that’s just the right type of cozy, crammed as it is with big, dark booths and Atlanta sports memorabilia.  There’s even a smoking section.  I love retro interiors, so I loved the place.  Best of all: they, mercifully, were not showing the Texas-OU game.

Morgan had a burger and fries, and I had the Country Breakfast plate with two scrambled eggs, biscuits, and sausage gravy ($5.50!), along with a pint of SweetWater 420, an extra pale ale from the SweetWater Brewing Company in Atlanta! It was pretty darn tasty.

For dessert, we crossed the street to check out King of Pops, a cleverly-named (HEE-hee!) popsicle stand offering such delectable flavors as pumpkin pie and chocolate with sea salt.  I’d seen this place on GoogleMaps when looking up Morgan’s address as part of my extensive, neurotic forward planning; I’m so glad we actually got to go there!


Later that night, we drove up Peachtree Street until it became Peachtree Road, deep into Buckhead, looking for a place that struck our fancy for dinner.  We ended up doubling back and popping into Varasano’s Pizzeria, which is one of Rachael’s Ray’s “America’s Best Pizzerias,” so, that’s cool.

I continued my prosecco kick and also started with a small Caesar salad ($7, $4.95).  It was a bit wanting, seeing as how it didn’t taste of anchovy paste at all, a bit watery, and was predominantly sad, sad iceberg lettuce.

For my main course, I ordered the Farfalle with Shrimp in a Lemon Cream Sauce (a combination I absolutely cannot resist, $16.95).  It was serviceable, but not anything to write home about (yes, I realize I’m doing just that).  Don’t get me wrong; I ate every last bite.  But I love creamy pasta, especially with shrimp.

Morgan hit it big, however, smartly ordering the Caramlized Onion Pizza ($14.95).  It was pretty much exactly as described on their web site:

Our pizzas are slightly charred and crispy on the outside but light and airy on the inside. We use only all natural ingredients and are one of the few pizzerias in the U.S. that make our dough the old fashioned way, using only natural sourdough yeasts, fermented for several days. Because our pies are very thin, flash baked in just about 3 minutes, and use no dough conditioners, our pizzas are delicate and best enjoyed sparsely topped and without a knife & fork. Just pick it up and fold it like they do in NYC!

Mmm! We ate the rest of this as leftovers on Sunday night! And it was still delicious!

For Sunday brunch, we went back out Peachtree Road again to check out Southern Art, “Southern influenced cuisine” from Art Smith, Oprah Winfrey’s former personal chef.

Open a year this week, the restaurant is an inviting combination of hip, innovative, urban darling and comfortable, lip-smacking, down home comfort.  The decor could be described as fancy-hotel-meets-Dale-Chihuly-meets-Tim-Burton, insofar as it’s very comfortable and immaculate, while also featuring brightly colored paintings suspended from the ceiling amid a sea of blown-glass chandeliers, and half the chairs look like post-industrial birdcage-thrones.

I’m being overly dramatic; the place isn’t exactly far out, but it’s self consciously imaginative, right down to the artisan ham bar.  Seriously; there’s a ham bar.  It’s like a foodie fairyland.

There’s also a bourbon bar, but as we were there for brunch, we didn’t sample its treasures.

Our meal started with miniature cheesy biscuits, whipped butter, and a tiny jar of pickled vegetables, served on a cutting board.  The biscuits were really good: fluffy and cheesy, just like you’d want.  I could’ve just eaten 20 of those.

I’d had my heart set on shrimp and grits from the moment I booked my flight, and this seemed like the right time and place.  I excitedly ordered the Georgia White Shrimp and Grits ($15), which consisted of a bed of really, really creamy grits (real cream, y’all)
topped with perfectly cooked shrimp, crunchy shards of fried okra, black eyed peas, hominy, sausage, and green onions, all topped with a fried egg!  It was like every Southern staple had been thrown in there!  Not that I’m complaining!  Hardly!  It was delicious.

I do have to say, though, my grits are better.  As with Gone with the Wind, the shrimp and grits spell has been broken.  Thank you, Southern Art.

Morgan went for the Fried Chicken and Waffle ($12), which was also excellent: the chicken was skillfully fried, indeed.  It was juicy on the inside, crisp and flavorful on the outside.  And the waffle was gigantic.  I had to help, out of the goodness of my heart.

We finished up with a round of coffee, followed by a round of mimosas, and had a long, leisurely brunch.  Service was great (though we didn’t get side plates for the appetizer biscuits until we asked), attentive and friendly, and the whole experience was pleasant and comforting, just how a Southern brunch should be.  I’m so glad we made the effort.

However, we were so full after all of that, we didn’t have room for the 14 Layer Red Velvet Cake (my favorite), which I’d seen on their web site.  I did get a picture of the display slice, though!  Look at that!

Staying in Buckhead, we next visited the Atlanta History Center, where we saw all kinds of fascinating historical items, including Civil War artifacts, photographs of pre-war Atlanta, and a really great Southern Folkways exhibit, which included this adorable presentation on gumbo:

Atlanta really is ground zero for the conflict that defined—and still defines—our nation.

With 9,200 square feet of exhibit space, the Atlanta History Center is one of the nation’s largest and most complete Civil War museums. With over 1,500 Union and Confederate artifacts, including cannons, uniforms, and flags, visitors experience the Civil War through the eyes of soldiers and civilians. Highlights include the Confederate flag that flew over Atlanta at the time of its surrender, a Union supply wagon used by Sherman’s army, General Patrick Cleburne’s sword, a Medal of Honor won by the United States Colored Troops, the logbooks of the C.S.S. Shenandoah, medical equipment, firearms, and more.

We also toured the Swan House, a neoclassical mansion built in 1928 for the Edward H. Inman family, heirs to a cotton brokerage fortune, who later bequeathed the land (and house) to the Atlanta History Center.  I love touring old houses!

Next, we went on a short driving tour of the Grant Park neighborhood (which is adorable) before heading back to the Old Fourth Ward and settling in and the Wrecking Bar Brewpub for drinks and snacks.  But not before we were scared shitless by this absolutely terrifying Halloween decoration (they love Halloween decorations in Atlanta! They were everywhere!).

The Wrecking Bar is an adorable and sophisticated little spot located in the restored Victor H. Kriegshaber House.  It was right up my alley: they have an impressive array of house brews, as well as an extensive bourbon and scotch list, a wonderful farm-to-table menu, and live music!

Morgan started off with a pint of the Nathan’s 13 Minute Amber, and I had a half pint of the Punch Yo Momma Smoked Porter: complex maltiness from smoked English grains and a mild chocolatey note.  Just enough hops to balance out the malt and smoke, without being overpowering (I’m not a hophead, personally).  I love that you can order half pints, too!

We also really enjoyed the American Farmhouse Cheese Plate ($11), served with beer gelée, brandied cherries, and spiced nuts.  The cheeses served included Valdeon, La Caseria, a blue cheese from cow and goat made in Leon, Spain; Green Hill, Sweet Grass double cream cheese made from cow’s milk locally in Thomasville, GA; Sartori BellaVita Gold, a Cheddar-Parmesan hybrid, from Plymouth, WI; and aged Cablanca Firm Gouda, made in Holland.  Man, I love cheese.

We then progressed, with the help of our friendly and knowledgeable waiter, to whisky.  Morgan ordered bourbon, and I expanded my scotch horizons with the Lagavulin Cask Strength (115°, $11).  It was strong, but not a terrible mistake, as I had feared.  It was actually quite pleasant.  For my second scotch selection, I tried the Ardbeg Uigeadail, which I had previously never heard of nor pronounced.  It was of a darker hue, rich, and nice and peaty.  I’ll be having it again.  The Lagavulin is pictured below.

Monday morning, Morgan kindly let me borrow her car, and I went to the nearby Carter Center to visit the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum.  It was a beautiful autumn morning, and all the flowers and grass were wet from a light rain the night before.  Since it was Monday, it wasn’t very crowded, and the whole place had a very peaceful, contemplative atmosphere. So this was another amazing stop, and I’m so glad I made the effort to go.  I liked President Carter before, but I left the library with an even deeper appreciation for both the Carter administration and Jimmy Carter the man.  Sadly, there was no Billy Beer on offer.

I even got to see President Carter’s Medal of Freedom, Nobel Peace Price, and Grammy!

As a former tour guide at the Texas Capitol and Governor’s Mansion, I try to at least drive by (and, when possible, tour) other state capitols whenever I have the opportunity.  So next I drove downtown to the golden-domed Georgia State Capitol.

Begun in 1884 and opened to the public on July 4th, 1889, its construction is almost exactly concurrent to our own capitol.  Its architecture, however, is much more neo-classical, and less obviously influenced by the architectural trends of the late 19th century.  According to the materials I read, this was done purposely, in an effort at postwar reconciliation.  The ground floor rotunda features large portraits of the Founding Fathers.  There is also a museum on the fourth floor, with many display cases filled with historical, geological, and archaeological items from Georgia’s past, including this amazing ERA exhibit.  Though there are, of course, portraits of Confederate figures, overall, the effect is one of much more diversity and inclusion than what I’d expected, and moreso than the manner in which we present our own, equally fraught history here in Texas.  I was pleasantly surprised once again.

After leaving the Capitol, I headed back up Peachtree Street on a sunny, enjoyable drive to the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum.

I have no words for the Holocaust exhibit, but I’m glad I went to see it.

There is also a permanent collection of artifacts revealing the history of Jewish Atlanta, and it was fascinating.

The current special exhibit at the Breman is “Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges,” which runs until December 9, 2012.  From the museum:

A few dozen refugee scholars unexpectedly found positions in historically black colleges in the American South. There, as recent escapees from persecution in Nazi Germany, they came face to face with the absurdities of a rigidly segregated Jim Crow society. In their new positions, they met, taught, and interacted with students who had grown up in, and struggled with, this racist environment.

I highly recommend a visit to the Breman if you are in Atlanta, and particularly if you have the opportunity to see this special exhibit.  It’s one of those pieces of American history that make me ask, “Why haven’t I heard about this before?!”

Here’s an amazing 18th century megillah (“scroll” – usually referring to the Biblical story of Esther, which is unrolled and read on Purim) with ivory handles.  I can’t get enough of calligraphic arts, and the Hebrew calligraphy is especially beautiful, I think.  This was reminiscent of the “As It Is Written: Project 304,805” exhibit, featuring live Torah writing by scribe Julie Seltzer at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, which I visited in 2009.  Of course, we went on Saturday, so totally missed Ms. Seltzer!  But it was amazing, nonetheless.

After all that touristing, it was time for another late lunch, and I had more postcards to write, so, after driving around Piedmont Park looking for a cute spot (to no avail), I ended up back at The Highlander, where I ordered fish and chips and another pint of Strongbow.

Surely y’all knew I couldn’t stay away from the British comfort food forever!

This was a pretty good plate, and I really enjoyed sitting under their umbrellas again, writing, but the slaw was a tad too vinegary for my taste, and, all things considered, it was no Dog and Duck!  I would go there again if I visited Morgan in the future, though.  It was a good spot.  A little punk, with a big menu and good service.

Morgan generously brought me this surprise swirl (chocolate and vanilla soft serve) from Zesto as an afternoon snack!  It took me a whole 12 hours to finish it, but it was pretty awesome.  Her cheeseburger looked even better: a proper, hand-made beef patty, grilled bun, and just the right amount of grease seeping through the tissue paper.  Old fashioned style!

My last meal in Atlanta was this bowl of Spinach and Artichoke Dip ($7) at the Brewhouse Cafe in Little Five Points.  This place is really a soccer bar, and I’d love to go back early on a Saturday morning.  It was very quiet on a cool Monday night, but we enjoyed the dip, as well as some beers, and they were amazing hosts to Morgan’s adorable dog, Linus.

Oh, and did I mention that I ordered a Stella and got it in a Shiner glass?

Is this a sign?

It was truly a great trip: the perfect mix of relaxation, education, and wandering, with plenty of indulgent food and drink thrown in!  The best part, of course, was catching up with my friend Morgan, whom I’ve known for 25 years (man, we’re old).

My snap judgment of Atlanta?

It’s like a smaller, greener, hillier, prettier, more diverse, more integrated, gayer, more historic Houston.  I was honestly surprised by how diverse and integrated it was, throughout the city; much moreso than anywhere I’ve been in Texas.  It was also Pride weekend, so there was a great atmosphere, particularly in Midtown, where we saw protesters with signs reading “MY God loves everyone.”

Atlanta seems really cosmopolitan for its size, and a great place to visit.

I definitely want to go back; I need to see the Georgia Aquarium (literally everyone told me to, but I prioritized historical sights, since it was my first visit to Atlanta and I’ve been to the National Aquarium in Baltimore recently).  I’d like to visit Emory University and the Robert C. Williams Paper Museum!  I also want to see more of the surrounding countryside; someday, I’d like to go to Savannah and Charleston on a road trip, too.

And I know there’s more food I need to eat!

These are, believe it or not, only a smattering of the pictures I took during my four days in Atlanta.  To see more, mosey on over to my Flickr set.