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February/March 2008

Let’s Eat!
Discovering Atlanta's Amazing Eateries
by Whitney Brennan


With so many remarkable eateries in Atlanta, dining out is indeed an experience. And it’s apparently one that many Atlantans enjoy—the 2008 Zagat Survey for America’s Top Restaurants ranks Atlanta among the top eight cities in the nation for eating out. While Americans eat out an average of 3.3 times per week, Atlanta (tied with Miami and San Antonio) is at 3.7. And it’s no wonder Atlantans enjoy dining out—the city is home to exceptional chefs, innovative cuisine and much-loved local favorites that have become tradition.

Those who have been in Atlanta for years certainly know that their city boasts almost any and every dining experience available, and it doesn’t take new residents very long to discover the options that abound. From fine dining to casual, and from social hot spots to places for kids, Atlanta’s dining scene choices are sure to please every palate. Here’s a sampling of Atlanta’s countless culinary experiences.

More than Fine

In Atlanta, where chic, inspired interiors meet world-class cuisine, fine dining is an understatement. The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton in posh Buckhead is no exception. Chef Arnaud Berthelier, a native of France, delivers exquisite cuisine with French, Spanish and North African influences. And people are taking notice. The Dining Room is one of only 16 restaurants in the country to receive the 2007 Mobil Five-Star Award, and it was also a recipient of the 2008 AAA Five-Diamond Award.

Also in Buckhead is Aria, where nationally acclaimed executive chef Gerry Klaskala has mastered his art of “slow food.” Entrees such as Zinfandel-braised beef short rib and Niman Ranch slow-roasted pork are patiently cooked to perfection. Innovative pastry chef Kathryn King creates decadent desserts such as upside-down caramel nut cake and Valrhona chocolate cream pie. The sophisticated interior provides the perfect space in which to relish the gourmet fare.

Another notable fine dining restaurant housed in a luxury hotel is Park 75, located in The Four Seasons Atlanta in Midtown. A large commissioned watercolor complements the warm, inviting interior featuring custom light fixtures and iron candelabras. Executive chef Robert Gerstenecker creates culinary masterpieces such as roasted George’s Bank halibut with corn whipped Kennebec potatoes, parsley and shellfish nage. Up to 10 may be seated in the heart of the kitchen at the Chef’s Table, where guests can enjoy Gerstenecker’s cuisine as well as wine to complement every course.

Quinones / Photo:Joe Hans
Midtown is also home to fine dining sensation Quinones at Bacchanalia. Sister restaurant to the crowd-pleasing Bacchanalia, Quinones opened in 2005 to critical acclaim—and continues to be consistently recognized by local and national media as a great dining destination. The interior, with antique mirrors and hand-blown Venetian glass chandeliers and sconces, is just as fascinating as the menu that changes nightly and features modern Southern cuisine such as Virginia hirami flounder with Vidalia onions, local apples, butternut squash and Georgia pecans.

Bring the Kids

Although many may not think of Atlanta’s oldest continuously licensed tavern as the ideal dining experience for kids, Atkins Park certainly makes younger guests feel welcome. The Virginia-Highland location features Kiddy’s Corner, a children’s play area filled with age-appropriate toys. At the Cumming location, children’s storytelling is offered on every second Saturday of the month from 10-10:45 a.m.—a professional storyteller spins captivating tales, while the audience enjoys complimentary refreshments. Both younger and older guests will get a kick out of the kids’ menu that features items such as Chicken Toes and Mashed Nuts & Berries (aka PB & J).

The sports fanatics’ paradise at ESPN Zone in Buckhead is not likely to disappoint the kids either. The menu features traditional American fare that typically appeals to the younger crowd—burgers, chicken sandwiches, pizzas and chicken tenders. Children will be fascinated by the more than 140 televisions— the restaurant’s 16-foot, high-definition TV is the largest HD big screen in the Southeast. But perhaps the highlight of the experience would be the upstairs game room featuring more than 10,000 square feet of interactive games and attractions.

Another restaurant that is sure to engage the children is housed in an 87,000-square-foot castle featuring a stone façade, dungeon and gift shop— there are also 22 Andalusian stallions in residence. Medieval Times in Lawrenceville certainly gives new meaning to “dinner and a show.” Guests enjoy an elaborate feast delivered by costumed “serving wenches and serfs” while watching knights complete skills tests and battle for honor. Birthday party packages offer children a courtly celebration.

Social Scenes

Vibrant social scenes are very much a part of Atlanta’s restaurant scene. ONE. midtown kitchen has an atmosphere that matches its high-energy American menu. With its great food (including small plates such as mussels with preserved lemon butter), great skyline views and ultra-cool interior, many Atlantans find that ONE. is indeed one of the best places to mix and mingle.

With its own space created especially for entertaining, Trilogy in Marietta is an ultimate dining and entertainment destination. The restaurant’s entertainment room features a bar, dance floor, three 104-inch projection flat
The Dining Room's Petits Fours Cart
screens and a state-of-the-art sound system. Every Friday and Saturday, some of the most popular bands in the Southeast liven up the space—a DJ keeps the action going during breaks and after the band’s performance. The diverse menu features delectable fare such as pan-seared crab cakes, blackened shrimp and grits, grilled herb chicken breast and New York strip.

A place that prides itself on serving up savory strip steaks and a good time is restaurant mogul Tom Catherall’s Strip Steaks and Sushi at Atlantic Station. The multi-level steakhouse features happening patios and bars on every level. An in-house DJ provides guests with music nightly—the dance floor is always open. The open-air rooftop deck on the third level is a popular after-work hangout for many Atlantans.

Shout, also of Catherall’s doing, offers international flavors in a lively, hip atmosphere. Guests enjoy Mediterranean-inspired tapas, pizzas cooked in wood-burning ovens, as well as noodle bowls and a full sushi bar in the Bamboo Room. But perhaps the highlight of the experience is the rooftop bar, one of the hottest hangouts in Atlanta. A DJ plays Wednesday through Saturday, and the crowd makes good use of the dance floor.

More Bang for Your Buck

As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. But as that other saying goes, there are exceptions to every rule. Indeed, at some of Atlanta’s restaurants, you get more than you pay for. Thumbs Up Diner—with Edgewood Avenue, East Point and Avondale Estates locations—offers the classic diner experience, complete with a curved counter and delicious, hearty fare that’s priced right, including burgers, melts and sandwiches. Breakfast favorites such as pancakes, eggs, French toast, biscuits and waffles are served all day. A menu highlight is the Build Your Own Breakfast plate.

Figo Pasta
If pasta is more to your taste, then visit Figo Pasta—with Westside, Little Five Points and Virginia-Highland locations—to sample the fair-priced nearly unlimited homemade sauce and pasta combinations (there are more than 120). The founders are Italian natives who wanted to bring an authentic Italian dining experience to Atlanta—many of the recipes are from their grandmothers.

You can also satisfy your craving for pasta at Eats, a cafeteria-style restaurant in Midtown serving meat and sides or pasta to Atlantans for 15 years. It’s economy dining at its finest—at the pasta station, you can choose from a variety of sauces and noodles. Eats also offers vegetarian options. Transporting you back to your school days, your food is prepared while you wait and is then handed over to you on a plastic tray.

For nicely priced home-style Indian cuisine, try Bhojanic in Decatur, which promises Indian food cooked like it would be at homes in India. All foods are prepared using olive oil and yogurts for a healthier option. The owners have more than 13 years of experience in catering and food service—high-quality, flavorful food is their specialty. The varied menu features items such as Bhojanic pakora (onion fritters battered with spiced graham flour and served with mint and tamarind chutney) and chicken kathi rolls (whole wheat flatbread rolled with fried egg, chicken tikka, mint chutney, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and onions).

Come As You Are

It’s always fun to dress up for a meal, but sometimes it’s nice to just show up in what you’re wearing. At Muss & Turner’s in Smyrna, experience exceptional deli-pub fare in a comfortable, casual atmosphere. Offering sandwiches and salads as well as small plates and seasonal entrees, Muss & Turner’s invites guests to have “foie gras in their flip-flops.” A healthy selection of beer and wine is also available. The restaurant doubles as a specialty food store, selling cured meats, cheeses, chocolates and fresh roasted coffee.

Billed as an “unassuming restaurant,” Portofino in Buckhead offers delectable American-Italian cuisine. The restaurant’s stone and brick patio is a popular dining choice for many Atlantans. Inside, hardwood floors, vaulted ceilings and vibrant artwork conspire to create an inviting atmosphere. The eclectic menu features items such as herb-stuffed trout, Australian lamb chops, and sausage and spinach cannelloni.

If you’re looking for fluffy biscuits and a diverse menu featuring irresistible concoctions in a come-as-you-are casual atmosphere, then the Flying Biscuit Café is the place to be. Pleasing patrons at five locations in Metro Atlanta, the restaurant offers delicious breakfast choices such as The Flying Biscuit Breakfast (two large farm fresh eggs, chicken breakfast sausage, a namesake biscuit, and choice of oven-roasted potatoes, grits or a side salad) and the Piedmont Omelet (dressed up with chicken sausage, turkey bacon, sautéed onions and cheddar cheese). The oven-fried chicken, flat-iron steak and the vegan barbecue burrito round out the something- for-everyone menu.


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