Weekend Eats Atlanta: Restaurants to Put on Your Radar

2-where-to-eat-in-atlantatellthemheidisentyouAtlanta has a lot of great restaurants  – and, not to pick sides this close to the Superbowl, one pretty good football team.   And its just a three to four hour drive from the Queen City – in fact, many say its faster to drive to Atlanta than it is to fly down, once you consider negotiating the parking and TSA wait time. Can you say Three Day Weekend? 

fox-theatre-altantaLots of reasons to head south and visit this bustling city, football not withstanding of course. Plan to check out the High Art Museum, The Fox Theatre, Centennial Park, and the World of Coca-Cola. Tour CNN headquarters, stroll through the Atlanta Botanical gardens and visit the historic birthplace of Martin Luther King.

And then, there are  all the places to eat. Impossible to cover them all in a weekend or just one blog post. Tom and I made a quick 3 day jaunt down a week or so ago with friends  to check out what’s new at the Atlanta Merchandise Mart and Gift Show and made it a point to go in search of some good eats.  The result? This quick little restaurant round up of several great places to eat in Atlanta, places you simply should not miss.   

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Heidi Billotto and Chef Jamie Lynch of 5 Church in Charlotte,  Charleston and Atlanta

Of course there is 5 Church. Atlanta was the group’s third home away from home and executive chef Chef Jamie Lynch, now of Top Chef fame, oversees the operation in Atlanta as he does in Charleston and Charlotte. But honestly, if you are going to eat at 5 Church – and you should – go in Charlotte to the  first and original location in Uptown at the corner of Church and Tryon, where we have bragging rites and  can say, we knew  him first.  Enjoy the great bar – even better food and open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.

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Butternut Squash Agnolotti from 5 Church Charlotte

 

 

 

On the dinner menu, we love the Autumn salad, the charred octopus and the tuna poke to start – or combine several for a dinner of apps. Favorite entrees include the butternut squash agnolotti, the lamb burger and the herb and citrus encrusted whole fish.  In Charlotte  you’ll find all the detes and reservation info at  5 Church at 5churchcharlotte.com; and just in case, in Atlanta, look them up at 5churchatlanta.com.

Now back to Atlanta, First and foremost you must stop for drinks in the  bar in the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead. Its warm and charming and the service is spot on. With a recent buy-out, things may change but I am hoping not.  Word has it the hotel is undergoing a 5 million dollar upgrade to the bar area and putting in a cafe as well. Only time will tell, but for now its one of our go-to’s to unwind from the day and start the evening off, for sure.

img_8279Also in Buckhead, a stone’s throw from the Ritz, don’t miss St. Cecilia. Enter the lobby for the Pinnacle Building and you’ll be greeting by a beautiful glass Chihuly sculpture hanging in the lobby. The restaurant is the anchor tenant just off the lobby and its massive dining room is  gorgeous. Despite the size and the oh, so high ceilings, the restaurant has a warmth that makes you feel welcome. Look for wonderful Italian fare, an excellent wine list and if you are in town for the weekend, be sure to book reservations for Sunday Brunch.

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Cauliflower Soup at St Cecelia

Our favorites: Well, we couldn’t resist starting with an order of Crispy Punched Potatoes for the table to share – dressed with a cacio e pepe aioli and fresh grated parmigiano cheese it was the perfect pairing with the Italian red wine. We were so intrigued by the starters and pasta, that we didn’t get to the fish and beef entrees this time, but will most certainly come back for more of Chef Craig Richards fine food on the next trip. For now, the cobia tartar with salt & vinegar chips, lemon  puree and trout roe was a great way to start the evening as was the Cauliflower soup; ditto for the wood grilled octopus with brown butter, pickled onions and a hint of citrus. The cacio e pepe – homemade pasta with pepper and parmigiano was every bite as good as we remember from a trip to Italy several years ago and we loved the gnudi bathed in hazelnut brown butter as well. For more info, check it all out on their website at stceciliaatl.com

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Cheers to Centro Storico, Atlanta’s own Little Italia

Next , more Italian but this time a bit more – well, a lot more laid back, bring your own wine and enjoy Antico-Pizza Napoletana . This is the best pizza around and when the dough is gone, they are done for the night and there is no making a reservation,  so plan to go by early in the evening. All pizzas come well done and slightly charred and therein lies their beauty. The restaurant with its tiny counter and large dining room with family style tables is  smack dab in the middle of its own 4 building little Italia called Centro Storico on Hemphill Avenue –  for dessert check out the gelato and coffee across the street, at Cafe Antico Gelateria and Pasticceria;  in season the open air Bar Amalfi  and don’t miss  the Maccheroni Naoletani or the chicken dishes right next door at Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano as well!  

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Spicy Maccheroni Arrabbiata at Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano

Gio’s may win the award for the most for less – pasta and salad and bread for two – with enough to share or take home for lunch the next day was just $14 per person for the maccheroni or $17 per person for the chicken. Fantastico! The one website, highlight in this paragraph include info on all the restaurants and bars I mentioned.

 

For some of the best vegan/Asian food yu might ever have – don’t miss Herban Fix Vegan Kitchen located at 565 Peachtree St. NE in Midtown.  

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Steamed Buns at Herban Fix Vegan Kitchen

The restaurant is huge with several private rooms upstairs and an adjacent bar and lounge. The menu all looked so good when we went for lunch, that we relied on our server’s suggestions and ,as she promised when she said, “Just trust me”, she didn’t steer us wrong.  Tom and I ordered several dishes and shared and it was the way to eat here – after all its always much more fun when you get to taste a bit of everything, don’t you think?  

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Sticky Rice with Shiitakes at Herban Fix Vegan Kitchen

We’re talking  a creamy rich Organic White Bean, Root Vegetable and Pumpkin Bouillon;  Sweet Pea Ravioli inCurry Jus with Leeks & Assorted Mushrooms; Crispy Purple Yam Cakes; Steamed Buns with crispy Soy Duck, Cucumber & Cilantro; Sticky Rice fused with Shiitake Mushrooms and Taro; Sesame Ginger Soy Chicken & Shiitake Kebabs; and Aburaage (the same flat fried tofu used to wrap inari sushi) stuffed with radish, cucumber, tomato and seaweed noodles.  I cannot begin to desrcibe the deliciousness. For anyone who thinks vegan means uninteresting or lacking in flavor, add Atlanta’s Herban Vegan Fix Kitchen to your Must-Eat-Here list and allow the chefs here to prove you wrong.

 

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Warm chips and Salsa – a great way to start the evening

Mexican seems to be a hard find in Atlanta. We asked several locals, Uber drivers and the people at our hotel for suggestions and everyone seemed to come up “sin pan ni pedazo” (a Spanish expression which means empty-handed.) Finally we did as any good tourist would do and turned to the magazine in the hotel, it was an advertisement but it seemed worth a shot – winner of the “Best of Atlanta” Awards since 1992  and promising the “Salsa that ends your search” we decided to give Nuevo Laredo Cantina a try.  Located at 1495 Chattahoochee Avenue NW, it is definitely off the beaten path and as we had expectations of margarita’s and cerveza with our tacos and tamales, we opted to Uber.

img_8326Nuevo Laredo is a charming cantina pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The place is hustling and bustling and again no reservations, so you can sometimes expect to wait. We went early in the evening and were seated within a few minutes and immediately presented with warm chips ( yes!) and salsas that did not disappoint. My plan was to order the Chile Relleno, that was until I saw this: Holy Tacos or Tacos Sagrado, served 2 to a platter, these are white corn tortillas stuffed with mashed potatoes, white cheese, onion and cabbage and topped with a green sauce. The menu says these are “as sold on the corner of Igelsia del Santo Nino, Ocampo y Victoria, Nuevo Lareda, Tamps, Mexico”

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Holy Tacos at Nuevo Laredo Cantina

How could we not? What the steaming hot platter lacked in color – white potatoes, white cheese, white flour tortillas – you get it; the dish more than made up for in flavor. If a mashed potato taco isn’t your bag, there are  about 100 other offerings including chicken, beef  and seafood specials, and the expected assortment of enchiladas, faijtas, tacos and tortillas all of which we will try on our next road trip down – I’ve since read the lobster tacos are life changing… I’ll keep you posted, until then suffice to say, the menu offerings are authentic, simply prepared and worth the drive. For more information visit nuevolaredocantina.com


img_7806Feeling Hungry?
If this post as whet your palate for more why not subscribe to my  blog at HeidiBillottoFood.com and each post will come directly to your in box as soon as I hit the “Publish” button. I post about restaurants in Charlotte, across the Carolinas and as in the case of this post in food-centric travel blogs as well. As always, remember to #TellThemHeidiSentYou

Don’t Miss my great new series of Cooking Classes !! If you’d rather cook yourself than eat out – check out my all new list of 2017 February and March cooking classes – now on the home page of this blog and under the Cooking Class tab as well. Registration is easy – just email me with the class or classes you’d like to attend and I’ll email you right back to secure payment and confirm your reservations. 

The Sugar (& Cinnamon) To Sprinkle on Your Snow Day

make-it-a-cinnamon-rollDateline: January 6 2017 , Charlotte NC.

So they say its going to snow. That’s #SnOMG or #Snomageddon for those of you anxious to share the excitement on social media!

Although I’ve been Charlotte-based since 1975, I’m still enough of a Florida-raised girl that, for me, the words, “Snow Day” run synonymous with the term “Free Day”

Snow in Charlotte, and often the accompanying ice, cause a run on the bread and milk aisles in local groceries and a bit of a local panic. Truth is, in 2-3 days its usually all melted and gone. So, while the “free” time does provide an unexpected opportunity to take a deep breath and to catch up on cleaning and paperwork, I’d prefer to  look at it through adolescent rose-colored glasses and take is as a day off to play, make footprints in the snow,  drink hot chocolate and in the case of today’s post make cinnamon rolls.

Snow or not, you’ll find this recipe makes for a fun morning of winter’s baking, filling your home with the sweet strong scent of cinnamon. Traditionally I make cinnamon rolls for all of our neighbors and local family and deliver the warm pans of rolls tied up with a holiday bow to those on the cul-de-sac on Christmas Morning. But, you don’t have to wait for the holidays to circle back round, cinnamon rolls are a fun treat for yourself and your friends any time of the year.

img_7817What you will need:  Keeping the recipe as local as I can, I now love using Carolina Farmhouse Dairy plain or vanilla organic yogurt in place of the sour cream that I originally called for in this recipe. This yogurt, made in Bahama NC just north of Durham, gives a creamier lighter taste to the finished rolls; and as its local and organic I know where the milk that turns to yogurt come from and makes me feel better about what I am feeding my family and friends.  Same goes for the local eggs. In this case I used chicken eggs from Rowland’s Row Farms, but local duck eggs work equally as well and add a richer taste and texture.

Where to buy? Both Carolina Farmhouse Dairy Yogurt and Rowland’s Row eggs are available at the all new Queen City Pantry/ Vin Masters at Atherton Mill!  That’s right, Vin Master is not just a wine shop any more. Recently purchased by Queen City Pantry’s Rochelle Baxter, Vin Master now carries all the local product that Queen City Pantry has been know for as well as a terrific variety of wine and beer. (Note to self: in light of the upcoming snow, might want to  pick up a couple of bottles of wine while shopping for yogurt and eggs)

As far as the remaining ingredients go, if I can’t find a locally raised or produced option, I turn toward organic choices whenever I can. In this case, the sugar I use in the recipe is organic, as is the butter; and the flour is local Southern Biscuit Flour,  brought to you by Renwood Mills in Newton NC. This trio of ingredients is available at almost every local grocer.

imgres-2My personal preference in yeast is SAF Red Instant Yeast. The Healthy Home Market  with three locations in Charlotte usually carries this yeast in 1 lb. bags – which, in my experience, will last till you use it all, if you keep it in a sealed container in your freezer. if you can’t find it locally you can order it from the fine folks  at King Arthur’s Flour.  

Here’s the How-To when using yeast in a recipe. Proof the yeast ( to make sure it is good) when you first open the vacuum sealed bag , by stirring the prescribed amount into water that is tepid. That is no hotter than 110 degrees F. You can use an instant-read thermometer if you’d like, but if you want to go by feel, tepid water  is not as cold as what you would pour for a glass to drink; but not as hot as what you would use to wash your face. Think room temperature.  Stir the yeast in and wait for a bit of foaming of bubbling action to occur on the water’s surface, once that happens you are good to go. Store the remaining yeast in an airtight container in the freezer and use it as needed. Further directions in the recipe below…

 

img_7831Now about the cinnamon. My go-to spot for spice is the Savory Spice Shop in Southend Charlotte. Run by Amy and Scott McCabe and an incredibly knowledgeable staff, Charlotte’s South Charlotte Savory Spice Shop now enjoys new digs at the Atherton Mill & Market. Located right around the corner from their former location, between O-Ku Restaurant and Big Ben’s, they’ll set you up for success, making it easy for you to keep fresh fragrant and flavorful spices in your pantry of spice drawer all year long.

No more buying big jars and then having them grow old and stale between recipes. It’s always good to keep basics on hand, but for specialty items, buy as is needed and know that you may purchase as much or as little as you’d like. While the Savory Spice Shop in Southend carries several varieties of ground cinnamon and cinnamon chips ( ooh, wouldn’t those be a great addition to these rolls!) my favorite cinnamon for sweet and spicy culinary endeavors alike is the piquant, rich ground Saigon Cassia Cinnamon. Before you cook, go in and taste all the varieties on the shelves ( this is one of the pleasures of shopping at Savory Spice,  you may taste before you buy) and find the one that works best for you.

So there you have it – all that’s left is the fun that’s to be had in the baking. I fill my cinnamon rolls with a mix of the organic white sugar, cinnamon and my homemade brown sugar ( the how-to here is in the recipe) Be generous as you sprinkle for extra ooey-goo-iness. If you’re feeling adventurous, mix it up a bit with the addition of chocolate, cinnamon or butterscotch chips,  or cocoa nibs ( Black Mountain Chocolate cocoa nibs from Winston-Salem, NC are also available at the new Vin Masters, as well!)

Heidi’s Homemade (SnowDay) Cinnamon Rolls

1 cup organic sour cream or (preferably) organic yogurt – Carolina Farmhouse Dairy is my Go-to brand

½ cup organic sugar

1 tsp. salt

½ cup melted butter

½ cup tepid water

2 Tbsp. SAF Red Instant yeast

2 local chicken or duck eggs

4 cups organic or local unbleached flour

For the cinnamon roll filling:

generous amounts of melted butter
, cinnamon, sugar, brown sugar*

*Here’s the Brown Sugar How-To: Make your own brown sugar by using 2 1/2 cups of organic sugar and 1/4 cup of local NC Sorghum Syrup molasses ( Forget the commercial blackstrap molasses and go local here – it really makes a delicious difference! I love the sorghum syrup molasses from Harrell Hill Farms in Bakersville, NC and you will too; but any NC sorghum syrup works well) Blend the two ingredients together  by using quick on-off pulsing motions in a food processor until the sugar dissolves into the sorghum and viola! – Your own homemade brown sugar – yum!

 

img_7819For the dough: Dissolve yeast in warm water with one teaspoon of the sugar. Stir and when a foam forms on the surface it is ready. If no foam appears within five minutes, then either your water was too hat or your yeast was old. Start again with cooler water and another package of yeast. 
Once the yeast starts to foam or proof, combine it with the other dough ingredients to form a soft but sticky dough.
 Let rise 1 hour. Turn out onto a floured worksurface. Knead until smooth then roll dough out into a large rectangle about ¼ inch thick.

For cinnamon rolls: generously spread the dough with melted butter. Sprinkle with sugars and cinnamon. Roll up like a jelly roll. Cut the log of dough into 1 ½ inch thick slices. Place the slices in a buttered pan, cut side up. Drizzle with additional melted butter. 
Cover with a dish towel and let rise an additional 20 minutes. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 23-30 minutes.

img_7806Heidi Cooks | Heidi Writes | Heidi Teaches

I can’t wait to see and hear how your cinnamon rolls bake up!  Post photos and then tag me on your social media posts – @HeidiBillotto and @HeidiBillottoCooks on Facebook; @HeidiCooks on Twitter and @HeidiBillotto on Instagram

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Stay tuned…my list of Jan, Feb and March 2017 hands-on cooking classes posts this weekend – can’t  wait!

Winter Farmers’ Market Cooking Class

Fresh From the Winter MarketCooking ClassAlready lots to celebrate this month and its just the second week of February!

Between the Superbowl Bowl, the Chinese New Year and Valentines Day  we’ve had a lot of occasions to cook and gather with friends in the kitchen.

Now, here’s is one more  – a fun hands on  At Home With Heidi cooking class this Thursday evening Feb 11, 2016.

The evening starts at 6:30 pm.

Our local farms grow and produce product all year long and this past weekend I had a the pleasure of shopping at three local markets – its my very favorite Saturday morning activity!  I found delicious local product, produce and proteins at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market, The Charlotte Regional Market on Yorkmont Road and the Atherton Mill and Market and will pick up a few more freshly harvested items and locally produced product this week as I prepare for this fun hands on cooking class on Thursday night. Look for my recipes to feature local lamb, chicken, pork, cheese, milk, honey, eggs, smoked trout, lettuce and microgreens, sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips and more – wow

I love teaching and with this casual, comfortable hands-on format, I can demonstrate technique and talk about the product and then you can get in on all the slicing and dicing, too!

In the end, we’ll put it all together for four courses of Farm to Fork fare for all of us to enjoy.

Count on enjoying tasting pours of wine pairings with each course ad going home with a complete packet of recipes and wine notes plus coupons to several of my favorite food-centric spots in town. Its always a blast and the only thing missing in this week’s class right now is You!

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOOD

Cost is $75 per person.  Call your friends and plan a fun night out. Make your reservations my emailing me at Heidi@HeidiCooks.com and I’ll send you all the details.  Your advance payment confirms your spot in class. Looking forward to having you join us! Cheers!

 

Time To Get Cooking – Heidi’s January Schedule of Hands-On Cooking Classes

Jan 2016 cooking classesIt’s time to get cooking with Heidi Billotto’s all new At Home With Heidi and On The Farm January Cooking Classes

While life has been busy over the past few months catering for many of you and teaching private cooking classes for many others, I’m ready to get back to my regular schedule of classes.

Its important to me to use the best and freshest product in these classes, so I cook with all local produce, proteins and products in each and every class and on the rare occasion that I can’t find what I need from farmers or producers locally, I buy organic from local supermarkets.
I invite you to join in on the fun and register for any one of these hands-on classes listed below simply by emailing me at HLNC@Carolina.rr.com to make your advance reservation. Unless otherwise noted all of these classes at At Home WIth Heidi and take place in my home kitchen. Once you have confirmed your reservation, I will send you directions and any other details you may need to know.
Remember, there are never any hard and fast rules at my classes – if you would rather just watch, sit back, eat and drink and enjoy instead of trying your hand, that’s fine too – just come and have fun!   Looking forward to cooking up a storm with you real soon!
beer class

If my regularly scheduled class times don’t suit; but a topic is of interest or you have a special occasion coming up or a group of friends you’d like to entertain,  then perhaps you’d like to plan a private cooking class or team building event all your own!

 I have several groups doing just that I am happy to accommodate you all – just give me a shout and we’ll get a date and topic for YOUR class on the calendar.
wine glassesA private class at your home kitchen or in mine is a fabulous way to entertain friends, family, celebrate birthdays or get to know your co-workers better – plus we have a blast – so you’ll be the host or hostess with the mostess for putting it all together!
Check out this  list of  upcoming classes  and make your reservation today… I can’t wait to get cooking!

Sat. Jan 16 – 12:30-3pm – Gluten Free Gourmet – Cost $75 per person

With so many really great gluten-free ingredients in the marketplace now (many of the ones I feature are locally produced), there is no reason you can’t put together a really tasty glutenfree meal with all the things you love. Say yes to pizza, baked goods, stuffing for braised meats and more. In this class, a complete gourmet gluten-free meal for all – cheers! To register, email Heidi at HLNC@carolina.rr.com
spices

Wed. Jan 20 – 6:30-9 pm – Cooking With Winter Herbs and Spices – Cost $75 per person

Let the herb garden rest and winter over, for this class I’ll shop the spice tins at Savory Spice Shop in Southend and bring back all my favorite blends of herbs, spices and seasoned powders. Together well prepare an entire meal from appetizer to dessert. To register email Heidi at HLNC@carolina.rr.com

Sat. Jan 23 – 1-4 pm – Fresh from the Winter Market – Cost $75 per person

Who says you can’t shop local in the Winter months, local farms produce all year round and this day I’ll shop 3 or 4 favorite markets in the morning – Matthews, Waxhaw, Atherton and Yorkmont and come back to cook with you that afternoon. we’ll put together a great seasonal meal with all of our farmers’ market finds. To register email Heidi at HLNC@carolina.rr.com
Heidi cooking with Pour olive oil

Tues. Jan 26 – 6:30-9 pm – The Art of Cooking with Oil – Cost $75 per person

I simply loves all the flavors you find in all of the current harvest selections from Pour Olive, an artisan olive oil boutique on East Blvd. and excited that we in Charlotte can now get the same lovely olive oil we enjoyed so much on our Italian vacation with Nada Vergili from Nada’s Italy ( offices on East Blvd as well). For this class, I’l pick up a selection of nut, seed, and olive oils as well as some fabulous artisan Balsamic vinegars and we’ll cook 4-5 dishes (apps, entrees and sides) using them all.  To register email Heidi at HLNC@carolina.rr.com

Heidi's football shot

Sun, Jan 31 – 1-4 pm – On the Farm at Windcrest Certified Organic Farms for a Superbowl Feast – Cost  $85 per person

Who doesn’t love all the great game date eats Superbowl Sunday brings? In this class we’ll start with a farm tour of the Windcrest Certified Organic Greenhouses to see how its done; and then cook with lots of fresh from the farm to make a championship spread of all local fare your superbowl viewing guests are going to love. What Mary Roberts doesn’t grow on the farm, I’ll supplement with Saturday morning farmers’ market buys the day before. Score! To register, email Heidi at HLNC@carolina.rr.com