Somehow Atlanta wasn’t on my bucket list. A big American city for a long weekend getaway — “no thanks” was on the tip of my tongue before I remembered the genteel hospitality of other Southern sweet spots like Charleston and New Orleans. Then thoughts of shrimp, po’ boy sandwiches and peach cocktails surfaced. Suddenly, the idea of spending some time back in the American south became more appealing.
This jaunt to Atlanta was the dream child of my book club crew, who love to travel. Every three years or so, after we have salted away enough cash from our monthly dues, we pack up and head off for an extended weekend. Reading takes place only on the plane. We call ourselves the Yia Yias, modeling ourselves after characters in books we have loved, who also enjoy their fair share of good eating, drinking, gabbing, touring and shopping.
It’s relatively easy to get to Atlanta from London for a weekend. Flights from London International Airport via Chicago have you there by noon. Atlanta has excellent municipal ground transportation, called Marta, that whisked us from the airport to the upscale neighbour of Buckhead for only $2.50.
We love staying at Embassy Suites hotels as they include full breakfasts and, most importantly, the infamous manager’s reception: free happy hour drinks from 5 to 7 p.m. At the Buckhead Embassy Suites, be sure to ask for the “special” cocktail, as in, “I’m gonna make y’all something nice and special” with peach juice, peach schnapps and well, whatever else makes it special. Oh, did I mention it was free? Front of house staff were exceptionally helpful and even provided a complimentary upgrade with a wink and smile.
We share an interest in cooking, so past trips have included cooking classes and culinary tours. This time we opted for the Atl-Cruzers electric car food tour of Atlanta. With Steve at the wheel of a doorless Smart-car-type machine, we glided noiselessly along, with stops to sample interesting new cuisines. We went to the Sweet Auburn Curb Market and had arepas — hearty Venezuelan sandwiches with plantain — from Arepa Mia, along with delicious Mexican cold chocolate beverages. We had the cremolatta fruit cup from Lotta Frutta, a Cuban grocer. We stopped at Ponce City Market for pecan oil tasting at Strippagio, and a chicken sandwich from Hop’s Chicken. Also at the Market was a shop called 1821 Bitters that makes handcrafted premium cocktail bitters, tinctures, shrubs, syrups, old fashioned tonic, ginger beer, and craft cocktail mix using fresh ingredients. I bought spicy ginger beer syrup which was a hit back home. Our last stop was Lure,where we enjoyed classic scallops and grits (recipe on the next page).
Not only was this tour delicious, we also saw some important historical sites including places made famous by Martin Luther King Jr., Inman Park, and the location of the 1996 Olympics. This tour is rated number one on Trip Advisor in Atlanta, and for good reason. It was a highlight experience for all seven of us. Plan to have this tour be your main meal of the day, as you will not leave hungry.
When in Atlanta, pretty much everyone has to have a Coca-Cola. A visit to the World of Coca-Cola in downtown Atlanta is well worth it, even if you are not into drinking your coke without rum. (We asked — they declined.) But we did try a multitude of colas from around the world, including various fruit-based sodas. Visitors enjoy a self-guided tour through the museum, including a stop inside the vault that contains the Coca-Cola recipe — or so it’s claimed. We particularly enjoyed seeing all the artifacts related to Coca Cola’s sponsorship of Olympic events over the years. The museum is located next to the Atlanta aquarium, which is also a popular tourism destination.
The perfect antidote to all that coke was a visit to Buckhead Diner on Piedmont Road. Some fried green tomatoes, house-made blue cheese potato chips, and pulled BBQ beef brisket spring rolls topped off our classic American day. This is one of the fanciest diners I have visited. Picture valet parking and limos. Very high end, while still retro classic American. Well worth a visit. Also on Piedmont is Bones, a restaurant consistently rated #1 on Zagats. This traditional steak house is reminiscent of Chicago — professional yet friendly service by long-time waiters, and a kitchen that certainly knows how to serve a perfect piece of meat.
We found bliss in the form of bourbon and pecan pie at the tantalizing Southern Art & Bourbon Bar on Peachtree Road N.E. It’s situated in the beautiful Intercontinental Hotel, with live jazz playing in the atrium. Southern posh at its finest.
It was truly surprising how culinarily focused Atlanta can be for visitors. From sampling praline candies and Chicago mix popcorn at one of the three markets we visited, to tap houses with more than 100 beers on offer, it seemed that the city had developed a definite eclectic culinary pulse.
Our birthday girl was more than pleased with her choice of location. “I found the friendliness of the residents to be an added surprise,” says Janet Carr. “Everyone we met was helpful, enthusiastic and genuinely enjoyed helping, and were passionate about their city. True southern hospitality.”
Lure Scallops ‘n’ Grits with Maple Hot Sauce Butter
MAPLE-HOT SAUCE BUTTER
1 pound butter, cold, cut into 1oz pieces
1 tbsp water
1½ tbsp crystal hot sauce
1½ tbsp maple syrup
juice of half a lemon
Bring water to boil in a small saucepan over medium low heat. Whisk
in cold butter one piece at time. Keep sauce moving constantly.
Add maple syrup and hot sauce. Stir to combine. Add lemon juice and taste. Adjust as necessary.
Sauté large scallops. Drizzle with sauce.
Serve on bed of grits cooked with butter, milk and parmesan cheese.
Top with a poached egg.