Sway with Me

I hit the jackpot again when I was in Atlanta. Not just with dining, but with where I was dining. The Hyatt Regency’s restaurant, Sway, was not just a good hotel restaurant, it was a great restaurant worth seeking out!

Don’t come here expecting great atmosphere – after all, it is a hotel restaurant. It is nice enough, but rather institutional and boring.

However, the food more than makes up for the uninspired decor.

How about some…

Hot deviled Carolina crab dip with house-made crackers

One of the best iterations of crab that I have ever enjoyed. The crab arrives bubbling hot in its own tiny pot, complete with a crusty, bubbly crust. Break though to the creamy, spicy dip, laden with huge hunks of buttery, sweet crab. Spread on the crackers, this is a decadent and delicious starter. The crab is so rich, and the crackers are so sparsely flavored in comparison that it is a really well balanced dish.

Pimento cheese with crackers and crudites

Though not as delicious as the pimento cheese at West Egg, still a damn sight better than any of the stuff offered north of the Mason Dixon line. Creamy, smooth, and flecked with bits of soft pimento, this is the kind of food that I want to stuff into a baked potato and eat while I watch The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

In a Snuggie.

Buttermilk fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy

Oh so THIS is why my friend Amanda goes home faithfully every year for Christmas  This is why Scarlett loved the South. And this is why I can’t seem to lose that last 5 lbs.

This chicken is… mindbogglingly good. Does it really come out of a hotel kitchen or does someone’s sweet old granny fry it at home then deliver it via paper bag,  complete with a crock of the smoothest mashed potatoes on the side? Is the skin really that thick and crispy? Is the chicken really that moist and savory,  tasting so familiar and comforting?

Are the mashed potatoes really that buttery and is the gravy really that flavorful, redolent of thyme and sage, echoing the chicken’s natural woodsy flavor? Yes to all of these questions…except of course, to Granny cooking it. Bravo, Sway.

Bravo for so many reasons. For having an impeccable staff  For serving food into the very late hours. For not rushing us when we were the only ones dining late that night after a convention. And for making hotel dining, however overpriced, still a tasty and enjoyable experience.

Flip Burger Boutique – Where’s the Drama?

During my trip to Atlanta, I ate a lot.

Well, I guess I should substitute “trip to Atlanta” to “life,” but you get the picture.

One place I was dying to check out was Richard Blais’ molecular gastronomy influenced restaurant Flip Burger Boutique. This Top Chef contestant had always made really cool and unusual food on the show, and when I heard about tableside frozen nitrogen shakes and burgers with blue cheese foam, I knew I had to check it out.

The feel of the restaurant is very cool and sleek, like something you might see in Santa Monica. You could get a cozy booth or be sat at one of the long communal tables. The server we had was extremely efficient and friendly – we had, in fact, only exemplary service during our whole time in Atlanta. The food came out quickly.

Butcher’s Cut with Crumbled Bleu Cheese, Caramelized Onions, Soy Truffle Vinaigrette, Frisee, Pickled Shallots, and Red Wine Jam

This burger was only good where it could have and SHOULD have been great. It was brought down because it was overcooked, so the meat was bouncy and a little tough. It was brought down by a very sweet jam that overpowered the umami, salty vinaigrette. It was elevated by the tangy shallots, tender frisee, and delightfully soft, absorbent bun. The cheese was very good – creamy and funky without being overwhelming. It just…could have been so much better. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be.

Fry sampler with sweet potato tots, onion rings, and French fries.

The sweet potato tots were greaseless, sweet, and spicy with cayenne. The onion rings, while a bit heavy on the batter, were fresh and piping hot. Now that those are covered, let’s get to the important stuff. The fries are some of the best in recent memory. Fried in beef tallow, they have a very hearty, deep taste that positively reverberates in the mouth after the first bite. The fries themselves are crispy and hot, and dipped in the blue cheese foam (airy and funky – one of Blais’ molecular touches) or the house made ketchup they are excellent.

Foie gras milkshake

I know what you are thinking – this is going to be awesome – fatty, creamy, faintly heady with the taste of foie echoing in the background. Kinda weird, kinda gross, TOTALLY awesome.

SO NOT WHAT IT WAS.

I mean, it was good. It was a very nice, thick, cool vanilla milkshake. Fragrant…with vanilla. Tasting…of vanilla. Where was the foie? And where was the tableside liquid nitrogen pouring? If they stop doing the tableside presentations, they might as well just do old fashioned milkshakes.

Nutella and toasted marshmallow shake

Less disappointing, though the lack of chemical mixing at the table was still a letdown. Nutty and a little bitter, it was balanced out by the sweet marshmallows. Recommended.

Flip burger confuses me. The food is good, and some of it is great. However…where are Blais’ sensibilities? Where is the drama, the molecular gastronomy, the sense of the weird and wonderful? My guess is that he has toned this all down in hopes of attracting more people to his restaurant, but sadly, I think that it might attract fewer.

Bring back those milkshakes and I will gladly return to try other burgers on the menu – I think that they have a lot of potential!

West Egg is a Good Egg in Atlanta

There are so many things about West Egg that are absolutely right, I think that we should just do this in list form:

1. Any breakfast place named after The Great Gatsby is automatically cool, regardless of the food that it serves. So I was predisposed to like this spot.

2. The line outside meant that there was a half hour wait. The coffee that I could get in the meantime and the enthusiastic looks on the faces of people who were finished eating meant that I waited on it.

3. Industrial casual cool. Spacious and comfortable, with a great, welcoming server who was quick on coffee refills.

Fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese and bacon

4. Why don’t I eat pimento cheese every day? I mean why on earth not? This pimento cheese is the best I have had. Creamy and sharp and salty and studded with velvety pimentos. It melts just slightly on the sour, juicy fried green tomatoes,  its creaminess cool against the hot tomatoes’ acidic tang. The bacon is thick cut and smoky, and the swath of ranch dressing on the bottom provide a mild, cooling aspect to the dish. I cold eat this thrice a day, every day, for about 5 months.

As my charming dining companion said ”These are as good as jalapeno poppers without the embarrassment of actually being a jalapeno popper.”

Well said.

5. My friend’s salmon cakes Benedict looked delicious and he said it was fantastic.

This is the friend who came up with the jalapeno popper line, so you can imagine how discerning and elegant his tastes are.

Huevos Tejanos – eggs scrambled with jalapeño, onion, tomato, chipotle salsa, and sour cream, with roasted garlic grits

6. Almost as good as the huevos rancheros at Cookshop, and that’s saying a lot. The salsa is even better than that at Cookshop – smoky, spicy, full of deeply roasted tomato flavor and plenty of spicy garlic. Speaking of spicy, they really load up the jalapenos here, seeds and all. I didn’t even  need any hot sauce for my eggs, and that NEVER happens. Juicy tomatoes  finely diced onions,and a dollop of smooth sour cream rounds out this excellent egg dish. The grits along side are a superstar – creamy and thick without being gloppy. Filled with sweet roasted garlic flavor and enough black pepper to stand up to the spice and heat of the eggs.

 7. West Egg has delicious food, excellent service, and fair prices. It also serves brunch till 10 pm on Sundays  Need any more reasons to come here?

Oh yeah..it is also named after The Great Gatsby. That should do it.

The Varsity – Disappointing Burgers with Awesome Sides

I’m totally unprepared for how to start this review.

I am used to recommending delicious food and unmissable experiences. I have no problem suggesting that you take out a mortgage on your home to enjoy a fine meal or travel 400 miles for the perfect slice of pizza. But, how can I recommend mediocre food?

And yet…I am.

The Varsity is the world’s biggest drive in. Though this Atlanta institution has been open since 1928 (with a few locations around town, now), precious little has changed in the decades that have passed. The menu is still short and sweet, the prices are still cheap, and carhops still come to your vehicle announcing “what’ll ya have?”. That’s the battle cry here – it is found at the counters and from the carhops, and though I have heard that there is a special ling that you must use to order, I just went up to the counter and winged it and did just fine.

Though the original location seemed totally packed, the ordering process went quickly and easily, with some totally kind and competent cashiers.

Onion Rings

A standout of the meal. Thick cut and freshly fried, covered in a batters o light and crisp that it actually has a pocket of air between the onion and its coating. The onions are sweet and steamy, an ideal counterpart to the lightly crunchy, wheaty breading. It feels somewhat ridiculous to be this obsessed with onion rings, but…honestly? They are totally awesome.

Chili Cheese Slaw Dog with Mustard

I wanted to love this…but it isn’t up to the standards of my favorite dog. The hot dog itself lacks snap and spice, the slaw is rather insipid, and the chili has only the faintest touch of spicy-savory flavoring that the best hot do g chili should have. The bun is cottony and though the whole dog is certainly tasty enough, it is in no way the best hot dog I have ever eaten. Tasty enough to eat, not tasty enough to build a shrine to.

Chili Cheese Burger

Also disappointing – can’t hold a candle to Merritts. Dry patty, somewhat grainy chili, and a spongy bun. Not bad, not good. Totally forgettable – which is NOT what I expect from the world-famous varsity.

Frosted Orange
Luckily, things look up with dessert. The frosted orange is heavenly – like what I imagine an Orange Julius might taste like. Creamy and cold, the first taste if of sweet, rich vanilla. Then, there is the final ending note of orange, citrusy and fresh. It is lighter than a milkshake but heavier than a soda – the prefect addition to a meal.

Fried Peach Pie

And this. Get it. McDonald’s should be embarrassed for selling the swill that they call fried pies. This is the queen of fried pies. A flaky, none to sweet shell that MUST be made with lard or some other oil unknown to us poor Yankees. It is just that crisp and rich. It is filled with smooth, sweet peaches that while some might see as slimy, I know to be luscious. This is one of the best treats on the face of the planet, and THIS I can heartily recommend.

The other stuff? Not so much. Yet, I ate the hot dog. I scarfed down the burger. And the fries looked so good that I wished that I had more room to try them. And, more than that…it’s The Varsity. It’s an institution, it’s cheap, and everyone in Atlanta eats here. There is no better way to really become part of the city during your short visit there, and the vibe is so laidback and fun that I can’t help but recommend it.