John Curtas is …

Georgia On My Mind

It is the interplay of black and white that makes Southern food distinctive, the interplay of Western European and West African and Native American traditions. - John T. Edge

Having just completed a week’s stay in northern Georgia (the Atlanta/Athens area) ELV thought he’d share a few tasty snaps of his three most worthwhile meals there. While the Deep South ain’t exactly at the top of the charts when it comes to adventuresome dining, the whole cotton-pickin’ kit-n-kaboodle is much closer to the agriculture that sustains it than we are in our humble burg, and from the down home (Weaver D’s) to cutting edge porcine perfection (Holeman & Finch Public House), the cooks know what they’re doing with the raw ingredients that surround them.

The little town of Athens GA, (pop. 113,389) is home to the University of Georgia, and if you’re a Florida or Alabama fan, you’d best keep it to yourself. (ELV is a Vanderbilt alum/fan, which doesn’t provoke hostility among the Bulldog faithful as much as it does laughter.)

Athens is also home to a quite modern and (for a college town anyway) quite cutting edge restaurant called Five & Ten, helmed by former James Beard Award nominee Hugh Acheson.

Acheson’s food is resolutely southern, but updated with enough flair to catch your attention. His gumbo, was a smoky delight, as were the textbook perfect oysters Bienville, and we couldn’t find fault with the house cured salmon either.

You don’t see beef deckle (rib eye cap, not the fatty part of a brisket) on many menus, but this one was prepared bloody rare, just the way we ordered it, and the full house of customers (on a Tuesday night!) were enthralled with everything from cornmeal crusted sweetbreads with grits custard, to an Elberton chicken bog (stew) over grit middlins (broken pieces of dried hominy).

The South is full of ambitious young chefs who fuse the corn pone with the au courant, and Acheson always gives us a reason to peek in on what this movement is doing.

But if you’re not in the mood for the nouveau South, and you find yourself hankerin’ for soul food the way your mammy and your pappy used to enjoy it, there’s only one place to go in this neck of the woods, Weaver D’s Delicious Fine Foods:

Dexter Weaver is known for many things besides his fabulous cooking, but his world wide fame came from having R.E.M. name their 1994 Grammy nominated album “Automatic For The People” after the slogan that appears on the sign above his front door. Like all college kids at UGA, back in the late ’80′s, band members Michael Stipe and Peter Buck frequented Weaver D’s for its insanely good fried chicken, collards and corn bread, at ridiculously low prices. They also got used to hearing Dexter welcoming everyone who walks through the door, or places an order, with a hale and hearty “automatic!”

In 2007, all this excellence was recognized by the James Beard Foundation in 2007 when it honored Weaver D’s as an American Classic:

So whenever we git within a possum’s tail of the place, we stop in and chow down.

Automatic.

Our last stop was in many ways the most interesting. Called Holeman & Finch Public House, this 32 seat bar and restaurant is so tiny and tough to find, you’ll drive right past it three times (as we did) before you’ll notice the front door (which is really a side door, and practically unmarked at that):

What is remarkable about H&FPH is not just its teensy weensy size, but the fact that within such a small space you have a mixology mecca, pallets of porcine pulchritude, and seats filled with folks eager to experience hand made food of the highest level.

Fun Vegas-related facts: the bar is the province of Andy Minchow and Greg Best – formerly bar managers at Delmonico Steakhouse in the Venetian. That explains the quality behind such luscious libations as the Oracle (rye whiskey, lime, Regan’s orange bitters, with a splash of Theia jasmine liqueur), and why Garron Gore (a noted Vegas foodie) turned us on to this place. It also explains why former Vegas uber-wine guy Jay James knew all about it and met us there for a drink. (Fun fertility fact: Jay and Monica are pregnant.)

The popularity of H&FPH is a testament to why Atlanta is a food town, and why Las Vegas has a long way to go before it becomes one. Can you imagine a neighborhood joint anywhere in Clark County that would fill up nightly (until the wee hours), with lovers of super-premium booze (mixed to a fare thee well), who also love to chow down on house-cured sausages, veal brains, pig’s tail, rabbit livers and lamb sweetbreads?

Neither can we.

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