We left Washington, Virginia on Monday morning, bellies and minds still full from the previous night’s amazing meal, and headed to Charlotte, North Carolina. From the initial planning stages of this trip, we reserved Charlotte as our stop to sample some southern barbecue. In particular we were curious to try the “whole hog” mix of pork seasoned with the thin, vinegary sauce that East Carolina is known for. However, the seven plus hour drive, and our increasing awareness that Isabela has had enough of our journey up and down the east coast, threw a wrench in this plan. Our chance to try some BBQ was stymied. Perhaps the theme of our next road trip will be “Barbecue in the United States.” We could travel through Memphis, the Carolinas, St. Louis, Texas, Virginia, stopping at various BBQ pits, restaurants, and festivals to sample each establishment’s wares … but I digress. After a restful night in Charlotte and an Ali-like return to the ring by Obama, we awoke energized, hungry and excited to move on to our next, and what would be our last, food related stop on our journey — Hot Atlanta.
We rolled into the ATL on Tuesday afternoon. That night we had reservations at Top Chef All-Star winner Richard Blaise’s newest eatery The Spence. I decided even before we arrived that I would love everything about this place. The design, concept, and menu intrigued me. The Spence is located in the “Midtown” section of Atlanta near Georgia Tech. The modern and funky interior has a bit of a NYC feel with an open kitchen, high ceilings, communal tables, modern lighting and floor to ceiling curtains. I fell in love with the open-air wood topped bar. A refreshing departure from the usual stainless steel eye soar you see in most restaurants. The reclaimed wood element is carried through to the kitchen line. Another far cry from the “Continental” or “Beverage Air” commercial equipment counter tops that grace most restaurant kitchens. As I watched the “symphony” of chefs work their stations, retrieve their mis en place and plate their food, it was obvious that this open kitchen was put together to achieve a certain look and feel rather than for practicality.
The vibe of the restaurant was like a bustling NYC restaurant with great energy and a hip play list pumping in the background. Cleverly noted on the menu as to what was the inspirations that day, the small plates and reasonable price point allowed us to sample much of what The Spence has to offer. We feasted on:
Bone Marrow, Tuna Tartare and Fried Quail Eggs
Soup of Kabocha Squash
Shredded Kale Caesar Salad
Pork Trotter Empanadas with Kimchee
Veal Sweatbread Schnitzel with Lemon and Onions
Braised Beef Tacos, Avocado and Guajillo
Lobster Knuckle Sandwich and Chicharron
Pecan Treacle Tart, Milk Jam Ice Cream
Mint Sponge Cake, Sweet Tea Ice Cream and Lemon
The Spence is a little outside the box and a definite must if you happen to find yourself in Atlanta.
After traveling like fugitives for the past two and a half weeks, the next day our initial thought was to get on the road and put this trip to bed. However, there was one more place in Atlanta that I wanted to check out — The Optimist Fish Camp and Oyster Bar. Who could forego a place with the name The Optimist? The experience was true to its name – – very favorable indeed. The Optimist is located in an old ham factory. Yes, a ham factory. Not sure what goes on in a ham factory but what goes on in The Optimist is nothing short of brilliant.
Again we sampled much of what was on the menu:
Boyd & Blair potato vodka, clam juice, tomato, spices, “oystershire” sauce, up with celery salt
Smoked White Fish Chowder
Peel and Eat GA Shrimp, Come Back Sauce and Lemon
Crispy Long Beans, Sea Salt, Buttermilk-Dill Mignonette
Fried Clam Roll, Kimchi Vinegar, House Pickles (as my wife pointed out was reminiscent of Rhode Island-style fried calamari with vinegar peppers)
Fish and Chips, Ale Battered Haddock, Malt Vinegar Aioli
Corn Milk Hushpuppies, “beignet style,” Honey-Butter
Everything was subpurb! This place was the perfect match between food and design. And who would of thunk that there is an amazing seafood restaurant in land-locked Atlanta.
Until next time ATL…