Natives in Atlanta remember it as a “meat and three” town, but the city is having a culinary renaissance. During the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, which ran from May 29 to June 1, Peter Greenberg sat down with chefs to get a better understanding of the growing foodie scene in Atlanta. Read on to learn more about growing restaurants, chocolate shops, and breweries in the South. If you’re still hungry for more, check out the interviews on Peter’s latest Travel Today podcast.
New artisan restaurants in Atlanta are opening in droves this year, adding to an already strong list of options. One place is Restaurant Eugene, headed by chef Linton Hopkins, which attempts to define and focus Southern cuisine. He’s not one for being fancy in an effort to pretend his food is better; he says his restaurant “started with this idea that I’m going to call grits grits, and instead of saying juan calle con polenta to make it seem fancy, it’s hog gel and grits. I’m just going to put that on a china plate and call that cuisine. Call it what it is and be proud of it.” In defining regional cuisine he says “we have wonderful crawfish in season right now…We wrap it in an egg crepe from a small farmer in south Georgia, and we top it with trout roe from North Carolina,” covering it in a creamy crawfish sauce. “That’s the South: the quality of its ingredients.”
Another upcoming trend in Atlanta is chocolate. Kristen Hard is the owner of Cacao Atlanta Chocolate Company, the first true blue chocolate maker from the seed in Atlanta. On a Caribbean cruise she stopped off at a few islands with cacao trees and “fell in love” with the idea. She opened her chocolate company with the idea to do things right, which to chocolatiers means dark chocolate. Explaining how good chocolate is for you, Hard said “one of our chocolate bars is the equivalent of eating a two percent yogurt in the morning. In fact, it has more benefits than yogurt.” She says that to really taste the chocolate, you have to go dark. “[milk chocolate] is like someone pouring you a $500 dollar bottle of wine and filling the glass with seventy-five percent water, then handing it to you.”
Food isn’t the only thing getting big…so are breweries. Bob Townsend is a professional beer columnist. That’s right. He writes a column called Beer Town for Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s changed a lot,” he says. “The South is probably the fastest growing region of the country for craft beer. There was a lot of pent up demand.” SweetWater Brewing Company, now a nationwide craft brewery, started out there. Townsend said you’ll find a lot of bars and pubs with more than 20 beers on tap. “When I started writing the column about 14 years ago, I used to worry I wouldn’t have enough to write; maybe I wouldn’t have anything to write about. Now I’m overwhelmed. It’s impossible; people are always opening a new beer bar or brewery. It’s crazy.”
In 1990, the population of the region was about three million—now it’s six million. While many chefs have been working in the city for a long time, there are now more reasons than ever to check out the up-and-coming Atlanta foodie scene.
Want to read more about culinary travel? Check out:
- Where to Go Drinking For Mint Julep Day
- Four Can’t-Miss Southern Food Festivals
- A Food Critic’s Favorite New York Neighborhood Restaurants
By Cody Brooks for PeterGreenberg.com