Monday, July 21, 2014

Atlanta's Best Double-Stack Burgers (Part 3): Gunshow

Kevin Gillespie's Gunshow is probably my favorite restaurant it the city right now. The small plate dim sum style service jives perfectly with my desire to try a little bit of everything on his menu. Gillespie and his staff basically make whatever they feel that particular week, which means you can and will transition from elegantly plated foie gras to equally delicious casual dishes like the "West Coast" burger.

This burger is Gillespie's take on the "secret" menu item from In-N-Out Burger, the Double-Double Animal Style. This burger came in the midst of a fast-paced meal, so I didn't get a lot of the specifics about sourcing, etc.

The Meat: The patties are 3-4 oz. each and expertly seared.  I'm not sure what cut is used, but it's probably 80/20 chuck. The beef is tender and extremely juicy.

The Bun: Perfectly soft and crisp on the cut side, which helps it stand up to the toppings.

The Cheese:  Standard American, as it should be. 

The Toppings: Grilled onions, pickles, and house made thousand-island smear. The extra sauce and nearly caramelized onions make for a very messy burger.

The Verdict: 95/100.  This burger is downright slutty in all the best ways and is a must order (if it's being offered, which it isn't always), no matter how many courses of foie gras or seared scallops you've already had. Order it, clean yourself up, and take the walk of shame to your car knowing you've had one of the best burgers in the city.

Previous Ratings:
"The Meatstick" - One Eared Stag (97/100)
"Apache Style" - Grindhouse Killer Burgers (87/100)
"Beltline Burger" - H. Harper Station (85/100)
"The Caboose" - Stationside (80/100)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Cocktail: Champs-Élysées

And we're back!  I've been pretty delinquent in posting Friday cocktails here, and even more delinquent in food-related posts, but forget all that and make this drink.  Today's cocktail, the Champs-Élysées, is very similar to the Sidecar but uses Green Chartreuse for some added complexity (and kick), rather than Cointreau. This one manages to be both complex and refreshing at the same time, a perfect drink for the unusually cool July weather we've had this week.  Santé!

Harry Craddock, The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930)

- 2 oz. Cognac (Pierre Ferrand Ambre)
- .5 oz. Green Chartreuse
- .75 oz. Lemon Juice
- .25 oz. Simple Syrup
- 1 dash Angostura Bitters

Combine ingredients in cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously.  Double strain into chilled coupe glass and garnish with lemon twist.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bourbon Review: Abraham Bowman Double Barrel Bourbon

The Sazerac-owned A. Smith Bowman Distillery has released a number of finished whiskies, which have ranged from mediocre to very good. I really enjoyed the port finished bourbon they did a while back, though I did not much care for the gingerbread stout beer cask finish they did last fall. The latest "limited edition" release (and doesn't it feel like everything is a limited edition these days?) is a "Double Barrel" bourbon. For this one, they took six year old bourbon and re-barrelled in in more new charred oak barrels for an additional 11 months. Although the total barrel time is just over seven years, you would expect the re-barreling to impart a lot more wood. Let's see.

Price: $79 (which is a bit over MSRP)
Proof: 50% ABV (100 proof)
Age: 7 years, 2 months
Mashbill: Reportedly Buffalo Trace Mashbill No. 2 (high rye)
Color:  Sweet Tea

Nose: Pronounced wood but balanced by toasted marshmallow, maple syrup, and 'Nilla wafers. There is a lot of alcohol on the nose, even after considerable air time.
Palate:  Dry and oak forward, but there is some sweetness to help keep the wood in check. The toasted marshmallow is in the background along with clove and white pepper. 
Finish: Medium length, dry finish that leaves the clove and pepper on the tongue.

Overall:  B

This is a nice enough bourbon, though a bit dry for my taste. It is not an oak bomb, to be sure, but there are several bourbons for half the price that I would prefer. I suppose that in today's market, all you have to do is call something a "limited edition" or "special release" and you can charge $70+ for it. Oh well, I guess I can't blame them when people like me buy these whiskies before they even hit the shelves.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday Cocktail: The Solstice

In honor of tomorrow's Summer solstice, I bring you the Solstice cocktail. Creator John Deragon serves this drink in December for the Winter solstice, which makes sense for a booze forward whiskey cocktail. For those like me that drink brown liquor cocktails year round, however, this drink works just as well once the sun goes down on a 100 degree day in Atlanta. For a spirit forward drink, it is complex but also surprisingly balanced and drinkable. 

The recipe calls for Dubonnet Rouge, but any rose colored apéritif wine, such as Lillet Rouge or Cocchi Americano Rosa, will work well. In my opinion, there is no suitable substitute for the Amaro Nonino. As with any cocktail using grenadine, use a good quality grenadine or make your own to bring out the best in the rye and apple brandy.

Adapted from recipe by John Deragon in PDT Cocktail Book

- 1.5 oz. Rittenhouse Bonded Rye
- .5 oz. Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy
- .5 oz. Amaro Nonino
- .5 oz. Dubonnet Rouge (or Cocchi Americano Rosa)
- .25 oz. Grenadine

Combine ingredients in mixing glass with ice.  Stir and strain into chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday Cocktail: Two New Orleans Classics

In preparation for my wedding anniversary trip to New Orleans this weekend, I thought it was appropriate to hit a couple of classic Crescent City cocktails.  Outside of New York, New Orleans may be one of the best cocktail destinations in the country. It is host to the awesome Tales of the Cocktail festival hosted every summer and is also responsible for classics such as the Sazerac and Vieux Carré.

Adapted form Wiliam Boothby, World Drinks and How to Mix Them, 1908

The Sazerac is the cocktail most synonymous with New Orleans. In fact, the Louisiana legislature made it the official cocktail of New Orleans in 2008.  As with many cocktails, it was originally made with cognac at the Sazerac Coffee House. When Thomas H. Handy became the owner of the establishment in the late 1800s, he replaced the cognac with rye.  It was this recipe that was published in Boothby's classic, World Drinks and How to Mix Them in 1908. It is an Old Fashioned variant that is served without ice and takes on a lot of anise flavor from both the New Orleans staple Peychaud's bitters and the absinthe or Herbsaint rinse. There are very few cocktails that are its equal.

- 2 oz. Rittenhouse or Sazerac Rye 
- 3 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
- 1 Demerara Sugar Cube or .25 oz. Demerara Simple Syrup
- St. George Absinthe Verte*

Muddle the sugar and bitters with a few drops of water (or add the simple syrup). Add whiskey and ice, and strain and stir into an ice cold absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Twist lemon peel over surface and discard.

*For an interesting variation, rinse the glass with a peaty scotch like Laphroaig instead of the absinthe.

Vieux Carré
Adapted from Stanley Clisby Arthur, Famous New Orleans Drinks, 1937

The Vieux Carré was invented at the Hotel Monteleone by Walter Bergeron, and the Monteleone's rotating Carousel Bar is still my favorite place to order one. The story is that the ingredients in the Vieux Carré were meant pay tribute to the different ethnic groups of the city. The cognac and Benedictine were an homage to the city's French influence, the vermouth a nod to the Italian heritage, the rye referenced the American influence, and the bitters represent the Caribbean. It picks up plenty of sweetness from the Benedictine without becoming cloying.

- 1 oz. Rittenhouse or Sazerac Rye
- 1 oz. Cognac (I use Leopold or Pierre Ferrand Ambre)
- 1 oz. Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
- .25 oz. Bénédictine
- 1 dash Angostura Bitters
- 1 dash Peychaud's Bitters

Stir with ice and strain over large ice cube into a chilled rocks glass. Twist and discard lemon.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Friday Cocktail: The Diamondback

For the longest time, I resisted buying a bottle of Green Chartreuse. Although it appears in a ton of classic and contemporary cocktails, I just couldn't justify spending $60 on a bottle of liqueur. I finally picked up a bottle this week, and I have been really impressed. 

Chartruese is an incredibly complex herbal liqueur that has been made by the Carthusian Monks near Grenoble, France since the early 18th century. The recipe is closely guarded, though it purportedly is aged with 130+ different herbs, flowers, and plants. It comes in two versions, Green and Yellow. Green Chartreuse is bolder and stronger at an eye popping 110 proof, while the Yellow Chartreuse is sweeter and milder at only 80 proof. 

This week, I've used my bottle of Green Chartreuse in a bunch of different cocktails, including the gin-based Bijou and the Irish whisky-based Tipperary.  My favorite so far has been the Diamondback. This drink dates back Ted Saucier's 1951 book Bottoms Up and packs a wallop. It uses bonded rye whiskey, bonded apple brandy, and Chartreuse.  Although the original recipe calls for the Yellow version, most resources I've consulted recommend the classic Green Chartreuse. If you are keeping score at home, that means that none of the ingredients in the Diamondback are under 100 proof, making this one to be sipped slowly and contemplated.

The Diamondback
Adapted from Ted Saucier, Bottom's Up, 1951

- 1.5 oz. Rittenhouse bonded rye
- .75 oz. Laird's bonded apple brandy
- .75 oz. Green Chartreuse

Combine over ice in a mixing glass and stire. Strain into a chilled coupe.  No garnish.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday Cocktail: The Jack Rose

Flipping through the excellent PDT Cocktail Book, I noticed that a lot of the recipes call for Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy. This product caught my eye because the label reads like a bourbon label in that it bears the "Bottled in Bond" designation.  This means that by law -- the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897 to be precise -- it must be aged in a bonded warehouse for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof. Although there are several bonded whiskies (Rittenhouse, Old Granddad, Col. E.H. Taylor), this is the only brandy I'm aware of bearing the designation. Unlike the French Calvados I've had, the Laird's is drier than expected with only a hint of apples. It could almost pass for whiskey. In any event, the stuff works great in cocktails and is a steal at $25. 

My new bottle of Laird's Bonded called for the most classic apple brandy cocktail, the Jack Rose. This recipe dates back to Boothby's 1908 book, The World's Drinks and How to Mix Them. The 100 proof Laird's is essential here, as the drink is diluted considerably with the grenadine and lemon juice. About the grenadine, if you can't make your own, try to spring for the good stuff. Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. makes a great one (the bottle even has a recipe for the Jack Rose on the side), and I'm sure there are others. The stuff you'll find at the grocery store won't do. For the citrus juice, I go with lemon juice, though some recipes call for lime.

Jack Rose
William Boothby, The World's Drinks and How to Mix Them
Adapted from the PDT Cocktail Book

- 2 oz. Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy
- .75 oz. Lemon Juice
- .75 oz. Jack Rudy Small Batch Grenadine

Combine in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled coupe. No garnish.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday Cocktail: The Sidecar

For me, the quintessential brandy cocktail is the Sidecar. Dating back to the 1920s, there are two schools of thought about the correct proportions for the cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice. The original drink was made with equal parts of each ingredient (1:1:1), in what is known as the "French School" style. I prefer the "English School" variation, which appears in the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930). This version uses a 2:1:1 ratio -- two parts cognac and 1 part each of the Cointreau and lemon juice. Some recipes call for sugar along the rim of the glass. Please don't do that.

The Sidecar
As modified in the Savoy Cocktail Book, 1930

- 1.5 oz. Cognac (Pierre Ferrand or Léopold Gourmel work well)
- .75 oz. Cointreau* 
- .75 oz. lemon juice

Pour all three ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled coupe. No garnish.

*For a drier cocktail, use Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Like Al Capone, Templeton Rye's Label May Violate Federal Law

A lot of non-distiller producers (NDPs) source their whiskey, especially rye whiskey, from the old Seagrams distillery located in Lawrenceberg, Indiana called MGPI (it was called LDI until 2011). If you've ever had Bulleit, High West, Redemption, Willett (the younger 3-4 year old stuff), Smooth Ambler, Riverboat, or Templeton ryes, you were drinking MGPI-distilled whiskey. There are plenty of others. MGPI rye is distilled from a very high rye (95%) mashbill and can be quite good. High West, who was early to the MGPI rye party, has released several great whiskies using this rye.

A lot of the NDPs peddling MGPI whiskey have created fanciful stories that they use to market their products. These stories generally bear no relationship to reality. Case in point: Templeton Rye. Templeton's marketing tries to convince people that its rye is a recreation of the prohibition era recipe made in Templeton, Iowa and which Al Capone called "The Good Stuff." Templeton's website spins a tale of Templeton founder Scott Bush convincing a prohibition era bootleg distiller from Templeton, Iowa to give him the 80 year old recipe (only after his Uncle Gus vouched for him), which is what is now sold as Templeton Rye. 

This story is, of course, not true. Templeton Rye is not made with some long lost Iowa prohibition era recipe. It is made with the same recipe that all MGPI rye is made with: 95% rye, 5% barley. Templeton just buys it, ages it, and bottles it.

This type of marketing is troubling. Fortunately, there is supposed to be a sure fire way to determine whether a whiskey is MGPI make. Federal law requires that whiskey list the State of distillation on the label. A regulation of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), a division of the U.S. Department of Treasury, requires that "the State of distillation shall be shown on the label of any whisky produced in the United States if the whisky is not distilled in the State given in the address on the brand label." 17 C.F.R.§ 5.36(d). This requirement is particularly effective in identifying MGPI whiskey, since there aren't a ton of distilleries in Indiana like there are in Kentucky. The problem is that Templeton Rye does not disclose Indiana as the State of distillation on its bottle.

Although this is a pretty clear violation of the TTB regulations, whiskey enthusiasts have become accustomed the the TTB refusing to enforce its own laws. That might be changing, however. Whiskey-guru Chuck Cowdery penned this post on Tuesday that the TTB may be looking to enforce the State of distillation requirements. Based upon that post, I questioned on Twitter whether Templeton would finally have to disclose on its label where #TheGoodStuff comes from.

Rather than ignoring me, Templeton defended their practice with the following curious tweets.

So, basically, Templeton's position is that it need not list the State of distillation because (1) it has a distillery in Iowa that distills and ferments alcohol that is not Templeton Rye; and (2) Templeton Rye is aged and bottled in Iowa. These explanations, of course, are specious and not supported by the TTB regs. If the TTB is indeed starting to enforce Section 5.36(d), I would expect Templeton Rye labels to start disclosing that the whiskey comes from Indiana.

Some may find this all to be a little too technical to get worked up about. "If the whiskey is good, who cares where it is distilled," you might say. That may be true, and indeed Templeton is decent, if overpriced, low proof whiskey (though that is a bit of an oxymoron to most whiskey geeks). The larger issue here is that whiskey companies apparently feel that they can intentionally violate TTB regulations with no fear of reprisal. If that type of thing can go on, what is to stop distillers from ignoring other more significant legal requirements like the legal requirements to call whiskey bourbon or rye?

Also, in today's ultra-competitive whiskey market, consumers have a right to know whether they are buying just another MGPI rye instead of unique Iowa-distilled whiskey. And although the Templeton website now acknowledges that the company partnered with an unnamed Indiana distillery to make Templeton Rye, the label does not disclose this fact for one simple reason. A large number of consumers are making purchasing decisions while standing at the store looking at whiskey labels, and Templeton would prefer that people think they are buying Al Capone's favorite whiskey, not sourced whiskey from a bulk producer. And that, after all, is the reason that the TTB labeling regulations exist.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Friday Cocktail: Bufala Negra

Today's cocktail comes to us from Atlanta's own Jerry Slater of H. Harper Station. The Bufala Negra is light and refreshing drink thanks to the addition of ginger beer but picks up a lot of depth from the muddled basil and balsamic syrup. I used real-deal 12 year old balsamic I brought back from Italy, which is totally unnecessary for this drink but worked spectacularly. 

Bufala Negra
Jerry Slater, H. Harper Station, Atlanta

- 1.5 oz. bourbon (I used Old Grand Dad 114)
- 4 fresh basil leaves
- 1 brown sugar cube
- 0.5 oz. balsamic syrup*
- 2 oz. ginger beer

Muddle the balsamic syrup, basil, and sugar cube in a mixing tin. Add bourbon and ice and shake vigorously. Strain over fresh ice cubes into an Old Fashioned glass. Top with ginger beer and garnish with basil leaf.

*For the balsamic syrup, combine equal parts balsamic vinegar and 1:1 simple syrup and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let cool completely.

Bourbon Review: Barterhouse and Old Blowhard

Capitalizing on the global frenzy for extra-aged bourbon, whiskey juggernaut Diageo recently began releasing products under a fictitious moniker called the Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Co. The idea with these releases is that Diageo will put out whiskies from its many operating and shuttered distilleries under different labels within the Orphan Barrel series. Among others, the company owns the famous Stitzel-Weller distillery, which is now shuttered but houses a ton of aging product, as well as the George Dickel distillery in Tennessee. 

The first two releases in the Orphan Barrel series are the 20 year old Barterhouse and the 26 year old Old Blowhard, both of which are Kentucky straight bourbons. They both have the same mashbill - 86% corn, 6% rye, 8% barley - which means they were probably destined originally for the Berheim brands Old Charter or I.W. Harper.

The presentation on these bourbons is really nice. The Barterhouse bottle features a sly fox that has apparently just made a deal. Old Blowhard has a nautical themed label with a whale spouting water. I will say that in today's environment of ever-climbing prices, both of these whiskies are very reasonably priced for their ages.

Now, to the important stuff.

Price: $75
Proof: 45.1% (90.2 proof)
Age:  20 years
Mashbill: 86% corn, 6% rye, 8% barley
Color: Deep Amber

Nose: Pleasantly toasted grain with milk chocolate and nuts (like Derby pie). 
Palate: The burnt edges of a brownie pan.  The chocolate sweetness is balanced out by just the right amount of oak.  I would not have guessed this was 20 years old.
Finish: Sweet and pleasant fading into soft, dry oak.

Overall: B+

Old Blowhard

Price: $150
Proof: 45.35% (90.7 proof)
Age: 26 years
Mashbill: 86% corn, 6% rye, 8% barley
Color: Copper

Nose: The age is apparent right off the bat. Loads of polished wood with faint hints of vanilla and cinnamon spice.
Palate: Very creamy. Heath bar and vanilla custard quickly gives way to dry pencil shavings.
Finish: Long and warming but dominated by bitter wood.

Overall: C

The Barterhouse wins in a landslide. Old Blowhard has the better mouthfeel of the two but is much too woody. Barterhouse, while light, is a nicely balanced whiskey.  It isn't overly complex by any means, but for half the price, I'd buy two of these before springing for the Old Blowhard. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Well-Made Mint Julep

The mint julep still lives, but it is by no means fashionable. Somehow the idea has gotten abroad that the mint ought to be crushed and shaken up with water and whiskey in equal proportions. No man can fall in love with such a mixture. Poor juleps have ruined the reputation of the South’s most famous drink.
- Georgia newspaper, 1860s
As I prepare to leave for my annual Kentucky Derby trip, it seems fitting to do a post on juleps. A properly made mint julep is a thing to behold: ice cold, boozy and fragrant. A poorly made julep, however, is disgustingly sweet. Ironically, Churchill Downs serves one of the worst offenders at the Derby, a pre-bottled Early Times julep. It's not their fault, I suppose. You can't make that many mint juleps to order. But at home, you can experience the full potential of this great drink.

Most don't realize that a julep can be made with anything but bourbon, yet prior to the Civil War, genteel Southerners drank their juleps with brandy. Both versions are incredibly refreshing on a hot day. Whatever the base spirit used, there are a few rules to making a well-made julep.
  • Use good bourbon (or brandy). The base spirit is the star of this drink, so use the good stuff.
  • Do not over-muddle the mint. Doing so releases bitter chlorophyll in addition to the fragrant oils.
  • Use a proper vessel. A silver julep cup is preferable, but any metal cup will work.
  • Use the highest proof spirit you can find.  The drink has a lot of ice and will dilute quickly. For bourbon, I recommend high rye and high proof.  Four Roses Single Barrel and Old Grand Dad 114 are my personal favorites.
  • Go easy on the simple syrup. You can always add more.
  • Smash the ever-loving sh*t out of your ice. Either get a Lewis bag or use a kitchen towel and pulverize the ice with a mallet or rolling pin.  You are looking for ice that resembles gravel.
  • Slap a bunch of fresh mint to use for garnish.  The aroma this creates adds tremendously to the drink.
Now, some recipes.

The Classic Bourbon Mint Julep

- 10 mint leaves
- .25 to .5 oz. strong simple syrup (2:1 ratio)
- 3 oz. high rye, high proof bourbon*
- Mint sprig to garnish
Put the mint and simple syrup into the julep cup and lightly muddle the mint with the back of a bar spoon. 5 seconds should be sufficient. Add bourbon and fill with crushed ice. Stir the drink to combine and add more ice. Slap mint sprig and stick into drink for garnish and aroma.
*For a brandy julep, simply substitute good cognac for the bourbon.

The Georgia Mint Julep
Adapted from Professor Jerry Thomas (1862)*

- 10 mint leaves
- 2 oz. Cognac (I prefer Léopold Gourmel VSOP)
- 1 oz. Combier Pêche de Vigne 
- Mint sprig to garnish
Put the Combier peach liqueur into the julep cup with the mint leaves and lightly muddle the mint with the back of a bar spoon. Add the cognac and fill the cup with ice. Stir to combine and top with more ice and a mint sprig.

*Professor Jerry Thomas's recipe from the classic Bar-tenders Guide, Or How To Mix Drinks (1862) calls for peach brandy.  Unfortunately, there are no quality peach brandies in existence, as far as I'm aware. As a result, I prefer to substitute high quality peach liqueur (which contains a lot of sugar) and omit the sugar completely, which yields a superior drink.

And finally, the greatest tutorial (and history lesson) in the known world for making juleps by bartender extraordinaire Chris McMillan, along with a recitation of poetry by Kentucky writer Joshua Soule Smith.

Happy Derby!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Friday Cocktail: the Doctor Cocktail

The classic Doctor Cocktail is all about showcasing the hard to describe yet impossible to mistake "hogo" flavor present in some rums. The word "hogo" is derived from the French term "haut gaut" (translated "high taste") which was an 18th century term used to describe the funky flavor of wild game that had been hung to age. In the rum world, hogo is used to describe the funky and slightly sulphury quality that can be present in alcohol distilled from sugar. Pirates were assuredly drinking rum chock full of hogo, but most modern rum producers have figured out ways to minimize or eliminate hogo from their products. Rum and cocktail enthusiasts, however, have embraced hogo in the same way that scotch lovers covet medicinal flavors and cognac drinkers seek out "rancio."  And, when a rum with hogo is paired lime and sugar, the drink becomes pleasantly unique rather than overpowering.

The Doctor Cocktail employs two sources of hogo.  First, it uses super funky Jamaican rum.  On top of the rum, it uses uses Swedish Punsch, which is made with Batavia-Arack (an Asian liquor distilled from sugar cane and fermented rice) and flavored with rum, sugar and spices. The sugar from the punsch and lime juice make the good Doctor a very sippable drink, like a classic daiquiri turned up to 11. 

The Doctor Cocktail
Victor Bergeron (aka Trader Vic)*
As printed in Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails (2009)

- 2 oz. Jamaican Rum (I used Smith & Cross)
- 1 oz. Swedish Punsch (I used Kronan)
- 1 oz. Fresh Lime Juice

Add ingredients to cocktail shaker full of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into chilled coupe glass. Garnish with lime twist.

*Although I like the above recipe the best, there are several other variations. Here are a couple of them:
- Frank Meier (Artistry of Mixing Drinks, 1936) - equal parts rum and punsch with a teaspoon each of orange and lemon juices. 
- Harry McElhone (Bar Flies & Cocktails, 1927) - equal parts punsch, limejuice and lemon juice.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Cocktail: Paper Airplane

I love the Paper Airplane for a lot of reasons. It is a tart and refreshing bourbon cocktail that uses one of my favorite amari called Amaro Nonino.  The Nonino has a silky grappa base (not typical) that is flavored with orange peel and saffron among a host of other flavorings, and aged in French oak for five years (not typical). The recipe is also easy to remember on the fly because it contains equal parts of its four ingredients.

The Paper Airplane is actually an adaptation of the Paper Plane, which uses the more subtle Aperol over the Campari. I like both versions but tend to have Campari on hand more often.

Paper Airplane
(Adapted by Toby Maloney, Violet Hour, Chicago, Illinois)

- 3/4 oz. Bourbon (I used Beam Signature)
- 3/4 oz. Amaro Nonino
- 3/4 oz. Campari
- 3/4 oz. Lemon Juice

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shake and add ice. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds and strain into chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sunday Takeout at Gio's Chicken

The best take out in the city might be on Hemphill Avenue at Giovanni di Palma's rapidly expanding Italian food district he calls Piazza San Gennaro. And no, I'm not talking about Antico Pizza Napoletana but it's sister restaurant Gio's Chicken Amalfitano. It is no secrety that Gio's makes "shockingly good" chicken. John Kessler described Gio's cooking method thusly:
The chickens cook in a roasting oven set at a “slow, low temperature” for a little more than an hour. After it roasts, the cooks chop the chicken through the bone into chunky pieces, then charbroil it in sauté pans with flavor-infused olive oil and seasonings until the skin crisps. Gio’s serves several flavors of roasted chicken, including one with sliced blood oranges and rosemary, and Amalfi style chicken with roasted olives and onion. After the chicken crisps, the cooks add some chicken stock and Romano cheese to the pan juices and serve it up.
The great thing about Gio's is that it works perfectly for take-out. I love Antico Pizza, but despite the air vent in the take-out box, the dough tends to get soggy by the time you get it home. There are no such issues with Gio's, where the pool of sauce is the prize.

This past Sunday, the Spring weather was ideal and I brought two of my favorites from Gio's for a post-Masters treat.

Arrancia Rosa

This is essentially the same dish as the Capri style orange chicken but made with Moro blood oranges, which have unique, almost berry-like flavors. This is available only while blood oranges are in season (winter and early Spring).  The blood oranges mix amazingly well with the rosemary and garlic.

Gio's serves the classic "hunter's style" chicken on Sundays only. It is pretty classic with bell pepper, San Marzano tomatoes and mushrooms, but the sauce is over the top good. I think it is the red wine in the sauce that sets it off.

1099 Hemphill Ave.
Atlanta, GA 30318

Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday Cocktail: The McQueen

My Mezcal cocktail kick continues. Not content with one smoky spirit in this drink, John McCarthy of the now defunct New York cocktail spot Mary Queen of Scots also uses the incredibly smoky Ardbeg 10 year to rinse the glass. Yet, the sweeter Speyside single malt and agave syrup keep the smoke in check and make this a very drinkable cocktail. Though the McQueen isn't for everyone, anyone that isn't scared of smoky spirits will love it. 

The McQueen 
(aka the "Smoky Smoke Smoke")
John McCarthy, Mary Queen of Scots (New York, NY)

- 1 oz. Mezcal (Del Maguey Vida)
- 1 oz. Speyside Scotch (Balvenie 14 year Carribean Cask)
- .5 oz. Dark Agave Syrup*
- 1 dash Orange Bitters
- 1 dash Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters
- Ardbeg 10 year Scotch to rinse
- Grapefruit twist to garnish 

Stir mezcal, Scotch, agave syrup, and bitters in a mixing glass with ice. Mist or rinse coupe glass with Ardbeg 10yr. Strain into misted coupe. Squeeze and flame grapefruit twist.

*To make the agave syrup, mix equal parts dark agave nectar and warm water in a squeeze bottle. Shake to combine.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Sandwich Files: Star Provisions "Banh Mi"

Okay, so pretty much every sandwich at Star Provisions is worth its own post. Their "Banh Mi" is certainly no exception.  I'm guessing that they put the name of the sandwich in quotes on the menu because it is not traditional in some way. Who cares. It is one of the best sandwiches in the city.

The sandwich starts with a perfect crusty baguette smeared with house made mayo. The roll is stuffed with glazed pork belly and, on this particular occasion, roasted pork shoulder. The toppings -- carrot, cucumber, red pepper, pickled jalapeño, cilantro, and basil -- provide a vinegary and spicy counterbalance to cut all of the pork fat. 

This sandwich is unctuous and fatty in all of the best ways. Extra napkins are advisable.

1198 Howell Mill Road, NW
Atlanta, GA 30318

Monday, April 7, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Here's a roundup of what ended up being a pretty good food weekend.

I had not been to Abattoir in a couple years, and I was interested in revisiting it now that Hector Santiago (formerly of Pura Vida, Super Pan, and El Burro Loco) has taken over the kitchen. I get the sense that the restaurant is struggling. I was able to make a Friday night reservation on very short notice, and the restaurant wasn't full at 8:00. Until we walked in, I had forgotten how beautiful the Abattoir space is: a cross between a French bistro, a butcher shop and a Restoration Hardware catalog. We sat at the bar, which is always more fun with two people. 

The bar program is a weak spot. The menu had only four cocktails, all of which were uninteresting. Two were variations on the Buck family of cocktails (base spirit + ginger beer + lime): the Dark & Stormy with dark rum and the Acapulco Sun with tequila. There was also an obligatory Maple Manhattan and a vodka cocktail. The bartenders are willing to make other drinks, though they didn't seem to know, or have the ingredients to make, much beyond the basics. I wanted a scotch cocktail and got a Blood and Sand, which is a classic but would have been better served straight up. The whiskey selection is also quite limited, though I was able to have a High West Rendezvous after dinner, a personal favorite. I can't speak to the quality of the wine list, but it did feature a number of affordable bottles.

The food menu is much less offal oriented than it was last time I ate here. The wife and I shared several small plates, so I wasn't able to try any of the entrees. Among the highlights were the ox heart paté from an otherwise ordinary charcuterie plate, the chicharrones with two great house made hot sauces, and a braised beef rib special. While the small plates were good, the desserts were legitimately great. We ordered the fried strawberry pies, which were light and fresh, and an insane coconut tres leches cake.

Our meal was good but unmemorable. All in all, there are several better places within a square mile of Abattoir that are better for the same or less money. This is lone weak spot in the Anne Quatrano/Clifford Harrison family of restaurants.


Saturday was opening day at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market. To maintain my foodie cred, I picked up a couple bunches of baby ramps (wild leeks with a flavor that is a cross between onions and garlic). I think the hype around ramps is a tad overblown based on their limited availability during the first few weeks of Spring. They are essentially the Pappy Van Winkle of onions. Limited availability aside, ramps are quite good, and I was able to preserve mine by making a ramp compound butter, which keeps well and goes great on top of a steak. Recipe here.

Bell's Black Note Porter
I don't really keep up with all of the special release beers, but I happened to luck into two bottles of this year's Bell's Black Note Porter on Friday while shopping at Green's for something else. What an accidental score. This stuff is very, very good. Creamy with really nice notes of dark chocolate, espresso, vanilla, and oak. A lot of bourbon barrel aged beers end up picking up way too much bourbon, but the bourbon notes compliment this beer rather than overwhelm it. Although it has been a while, I think like the Black Note better than the Founders KBS.
The first two times I went to Bone Lick BBQ, I was fairly unimpressed. Saturday, though, was the first time I ordered their ribs, which just might be the best in the city. The dry rub is spicier than most places, which creates a perfect bark, and the ribs are pleasantly (and not overly) smoky. The meat is extremely tender but retains appropriate bite integrity (i.e., each bite pulls of the bone cleanly but does not completely fall off the bone). The sides are just fair and the service still sucks, but I will be back to Bone Lick whenever I am craving ribs.