I was looking for a frozen yogurt place (and Atlanta is full of them) but they all seemed to have closed already, as it was a weeknight. So when I saw Jeni’s Ice Cream in the Westside Atlanta area, the first thing I noticed was that it was open, and even crowded. And the second thing I recalled was that I had eaten Jeni’s Ice Cream once before, from a food truck on a South by Southwest parking lot in Austin. But the permanent stores have far more flavor choices (such as the peanut-buttery Buckeye State which I ordered) than the trucks, and the all-natural ingredients make for great flavor and texture. I also have to notice and appreciate the later hours than most other Atlanta frozen dessert shops, which means that when most places are closed, Jeni’s is likely still open. The Ohio-based company makes its ice creams with only natural ingredients and flavors, and is definitely worth a visit. In addition to the Atlanta store, Jeni’s can be found across Ohio and in Nashville, Tennessee. When all else fails, it can also be ordered online and shipped to you where you live.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream
1198 Howell Mill Rd.
Atlanta, GA 30318
The number thirteen is anything but unlucky for pizza lovers in Atlanta, after the October 7th opening of Thirteen Pies Atlanta, the Buckhead location of a Fort Worth, Texas-based restaurant chain specializing in upscale pizzas and pasta. I was fortunate enough to try it on its second day open while I was in Atlanta for A3C, and I was for the most part pleased. Although there are a number of wood-oven pizza restaurants in most cities, Thirteen Pies has something of a unique twist, with a menu that features twelve specialty pizzas that are regularly available, and a semi-secret thirteenth that changes daily according to the fancy of the executive chef. Not that you cannot make alterations to customize your pizza, as I did, asking them to add applewood smoked bacon to their classic pepperoni, so I would assume that customers could request unique pizzas, as long as the ingredients are listed on the menu. Service was impeccable, and I was also pleased with the sleek, futuristic upscale look and feel of the establishment. Here’s hoping they make their way to Memphis.
Thirteen Pies Atlanta
250 Buckhead Ave Suite 317
Atlanta, GA 30305
After leaving the Jack Brown’s Beer and Burgers Joint in Lakeview, I wanted a breve latte before getting back on the highway to Atlanta, so I was thrilled to see a nearby coffee house on my iPhone’s Yelp app. The coffee house in question proved to be The Red Cat Coffee House, an attractive and spacious coffee bar in the middle of a burgeoning arts district in the shadow of the gigantic abandoned Sloss furnaces. Like any good coffee house, the Red Cat has the usual assortment of espresso-based drinks, and a light food menu of crepes and paninis, but unlike a number of coffee bars, the Red Cat roasts its own coffee in house. At one time, it was also a great place for live acoustic music in Birmingham, but has sadly discontinued its music policy. Nevertheless, it’s a great place for a latte or cappuccino when in the Lakeview area of Birmingham.
The Red Cat Coffee House and Gourmet Coffee Roasters
2901 2nd Av S
Birmingham, AL 35233
Over the last several years, a growing trend toward gourmet hamburgers has spread from America’s largest metropolitan areas to smaller cities and towns nationwide, but the trend largely missed Birmingham, Alabama, with just one gourmet burger bar opening over the last few years. But this summer has seen the opening of a new place in the Lakeview neighborhood called Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint, the first foray out of Virginia for the Harrisonburg-based chain. I had occasion to try it on my way through Birmingham last week en route to the A3C Hip-Hop Conference in Atlanta, and I was quite impressed. The menu is rather simple, actually, a number of designer hamburgers, french fries, and beers. The burgers are made with wagyu beef, and I chose one with barbecue sauce, bacon and cheese, that was absolutely delicious, if a little small. The french fries were golden brown, crispy and plentiful. And there was a very unusual and tempting dessert- a fried oreo cookie, which proved to be something like a beignet with an oreo cookie inside. Prices were reasonable, and the atmosphere cheerful, in a dive bar sort of way. Jack Brown’s will definitely be my go-to on future trips to Birmingham, and they’re on their way to Nashville as well.
Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint
2811 7th Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35233
Wanting to try something different for breakfast on a Sunday morning in New Orleans, I headed to a place called Wakin’ Bakin’ on Banks Street in a neighborhood called Mid City. This was a part of New Orleans that I had never seen before, and there actually proved to be several legendary breakfast spots in the area. In addition to the one I chose, there was also a placed called Biscuits and Buns on Banks, which had a line of people sitting outside waiting to get in, and a dive bar/music venue called the Banks Street Bar & Grill that apparently serves brunch on Sundays. There were also a couple of other kinds of restaurants for other meals of the day, such as the brightly-painted Mid City Pizza or The Crescent. Although it was hot, I chose to sit outside at a sidewalk table, since Wakin’ Bakin’ had quite a wait for an inside table. As is usually my choice, I opted for a bacon and cheese omelette, with breakfast potatoes and toast, and all was quite good. Prices are not particularly expensive either, so Wakin’ Bakin’ is a good go-to for breakfast in the Crescent City, although you should be aware that they are not open on Mondays.
4408 Banks Street
New Orleans, LA 70119
My morning panel at the Cutting Edge NOLA Music Business Conference was so early that I barely had time for breakfast, which I grabbed across the street from the conference hotel at John Besh’s Luke Tavern, which was good, if pricey. But after the panel, I decided to run out and see if I could grab lunch at the legendary Willie Mae’s Scotch House in Treme, a restaurant I had never gotten to try. I wasn’t at all sure I would get to. There are restaurants like Franklin’s Bar-B-Q in Austin that are just too crowded to get into, and Willie Mae’s has recently been featured on some Food Network TV shows. But I figured it couldn’t hurt to try, and after all, Willie Mae’s is known for one of my favorite dishes, fried chicken, and I wanted to see how it stacked up against the hometown favorite Gus’s in Memphis.
One thing that anyone visiting Willie Mae’s needs to know is that they do things a little differently than most restaurants. Though there is always a wait, there is not a waiting list as such. Instead, you stand outside under a tent, and people are seated as tables become available. Individual diners are encouraged to sit at the bar, and people are seated according to the number in their parties and what tables come open, not the order they first started waiting.
As for the menu, it is a typical soul food menu, but what almost everyone wants is the fried chicken, and with good reason. Like Gus’s in Memphis, it gets a pretty dark-brown coating, but Willie Mae’s seems a little less spicy than Gus’s, although there is a spice-laden finish that grows with Willie Mae’s over time. The crunchy coating encrusts pieces of white meat chicken that are juicy but not greasy at all, and for an up charge, one can get a breast and two wings. Although there are mashed potatoes and greens, I opted for the french fries instead, and they were basically good. The atmosphere, though crowded and bustling, is basically homey, and great soul music plays from overhead.
As for how it stacks up against Gus’s, I would have to call it an even tie, although there are subtle differences of course. As a lover of fried chicken, and both restaurants, I cannot proclaim either one the winner.
Willie Mae’s Scotch House
2401 St. Ann St
New Orleans, LA 70119
As I headed back toward the CBD, I drove through the Central City area, and with the weather blazing hot, when I saw a snow-cone sign on Washington Avenue, I took a detour onto the side street and found a snowball stand called The Red Rooster. While New Orleans people are familiar with snowballs, I need to point out that New Orleans-style snowballs are quite different from the snow cones that are sold elsewhere across the country. Not only are the flavors different, but so is the ice, which at the better snowball stands is shaved. This particular stand also serves food, and has a shrimp po-boy on the menu that I will have to try on a future visit. The street where the stand is located looked familiar to me, and might have been the location where I visited Eddie’s 3-Way Records back in the 1980’s. I recall that it was on a side street off of Washington Avenue, that it was a block from a housing project (likely the Magnolia Projects), and that there was a snowball stand nearby that served po-boys. Further down in Central City, I came to a number of inspirational murals, which are common in New Orleans. One listed the Zulu Nation Laws of Success, as well as a number of famous men and women and was attributed to the Central City Art Project. Another one stated “Be The Change You Seek.” One of the things I love about New Orleans is the prevalence of public art, official and unofficial, even in the roughest neighborhoods.
After the late afternoon listening session at Cutting Edge NOLA, I was in the mood for a burger, and after looking at all the various burger options, I decided to try Charcoal’s Gourmet Burger Bar uptown on Magazine Street. Charcoal’s is a large two-story restaurant on Magazine at Jackson, with a downstairs that seems to be a to-go location, and an upstairs bar for the dine-in customers. The upstairs bar also has balconies on its Magazine and Jackson Street sides, but the late afternoon had seen a line of thunderstorms, so everything was wet outside. The menu at Charcoal’s is interesting, and offers a choice between a number of predesigned specialty burgers, or the option to build your own . Meat choices include elk, antelope, turkey, bison, akaushi, shrimp, and even a vegetable burger for those who don’t want meat. There are also choices of cheeses, other toppings, Benton’s bacon, and freshly cut french fries. Prices are not cheap, but the charming space, attentive service and unparalleled burger options make Charcoal’s worth the price.
Charcoal’s Gourmet Burger Bar
2200 Magazine St
New Orleans, LA 70103
Tupelo, Mississippi has always had a big-city ambiance that belies its relatively small size. It has a large regional mall, its own TV station, a zoo, a large convention center and arena and a fairly big downtown, complete with tall buildings. Now, Tupelo also has a big-city steakhouse called Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen on Main Street downtown, opened by the same people who run the Neon Pig in North Tupelo. KOK is not just a great steakhouse with great food and an attractive ambiance, but it is also a burgeoning part of the locavore movement, a trend toward restaurants locally sourcing almost everything. A wood-burning pit downstairs fills the restaurant with an inviting aroma, and this is where steaks are grilled and shucks of corn are roasted. My expertly-cooked filet mignon was accompanied by fingerling potatoes, which were delicious, and I had substituted a husk of roasted corn (also amazing) for the vegetables. The large upstairs dining room is bright and cheerful, with local art works on the walls and plenty of windows, but there is also seating around a downstairs bar near the pit. Although I’m not a beer drinker, there is a decent selection of craft beers, many of them regional, for those who like that sort of thing. Altogether, I had a great meal and good fun at Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen, and will certainly be back.
Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen
124 W Main
Tupelo, MS 38804