The Revolution Will Be Served: Jeff “Beachbum” Berry Mixes at the Hukilau and Takes us Through the Past, Present, and Future of Tiki

Posted on: Jun 11th, 2014 By:

By S.J. Chambers
Contributing Writer

From Wed. June 11 through Sun. June 15, Ft. Lauderdale, FL will be getting the Tiki treatment as enthusiasts seeking “a mini-vacation” replete with umbrella-garnished drinks and exotica tunes gather at the Bahia Mar Resort for the 13th annual Hukilau. It sounds just like the type of vintage vacation ATLRetro needs, so we will be on location sending you social media postcards from the event.

Tagged as the world’s most authentic Tiki event and founded by Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White, Hukilau has been keeping this retro culture of Polynesian kitsch and tropical libations alive and well since 2002, where the first festivities were Atlanta-born at Trader Vics. The event ventured South in 2003, to honor the Mai Kai Restaurant, one of the last original Tiki establishments left that serves Don the Beachcomber’s original recipes while entertaining dinners with an authentic Luau floor show. Each year has always outdone the last, bringing out performers such as Robert Drasnin and Los Straitjackets, renowned artists like Swag and Bosko, and the foremost Tiki gurus like Sven Kirsten, and Duda Leite. This year looks to be no different as the Hukilau has a full schedule of musical acts like The Intoxicators, performances by Marina the Fire-Eating Mermaid (Medusirena), and seminars by cocktail historians Philip Greene and Jeff Beachbum” Berry.

Jeff "Beachbum" Berry. Photo by Rimas Zailskas.

With six books and two apps based on his tropical findings, Berry is the foremost mixologist of Tiki Drinks, and has become the most sought-after consultant and critic of the Tiki and retro-bar scene. He was included among “25 Most Influential Cocktail Personalities of the Past Century” by IMBIBE magazine and has been called “one of the instigators of the cocktail revolution” by ESQUIRE. In addition to that, he has been featured and published in BON APPÉTIT, FOOD & WINE, NEW YORK TIMES, WINE ENTHUSIAST, among many other premier publications, and has had his drinks served in the premier bars around the world like Paris’ Le Tiki Lounge, San Francisco’s The Smuggler’s Cove, and the Windy City’s new Three Dots and A Dash.

His latest book, POTIONS OF THE CARIBBEAN, is a riveting coffeetable-style book that traces the Tiki cocktail’s main ingredient, rum, through its inception as a West Indie intoxicant and its evolution to becoming the main ingredient to the 1950s U.S. Tiki craze.

In his introduction, he writes that:  “POTIONS is basically an answer to a question I asked myself 30 years ago, sitting in a restaurant I couldn’t afford while sipping a drink I didn’t understand. The restaurant was Trader Vic’s, the drink a Navy Grog. Why did I like this drink as much as I did? Where did it come from? Why couldn’t I figure out what was in it?” It would take sussing out the problem in four books until the a-ha moment occurred:  “…it finally began to dawn on me that, almost without exception, the drinks served in my beloved South Pacific-themed restaurants and bars all had their roots in the Caribbean. For more years, than I care to admit, I’d been swimming in the wrong ocean.”

Berry could not find any text that made the Tiki/Caribbean connection, so he set out to create that text, and POTIONS was the result.  The Caribbean, of course, is not a light topic, and its bloody history of colonial conquest and Imperialism makes for subject matter darker than the oldest, molasses-infused rum. Under another’s pen, a book about this region could be daunting and obviously depressing, but with rum and cocktail archeology as the book’s focal point, Berry is able to write in a smart and anecdotal manner that makes for fast and enjoyable reading while not shying away from the West Indies brutality. Plus, it is chock full of historical and delicious recipes, including 16 unpublished recipes as well as 19 unpublished in book form.

ATLRetro was fortunate enough to pre-game with the Beachbum and discuss his new book, as well as get the scoop on his TOTAL TIKI app, his Hukilau seminar, and the future of Tiki. We worked up such a thirst, he was kind enough to share with us his honorary recipe he crafted for the annual occasion. Mahalo!

How long have you participated with the Hukilau. This is its 13th year? What do you think its biggest contribution to Tiki culture has been?

I think I’ve been going since 2006. And I haven’t missed one yet.

I think what it has done is served as a kind of a matrix for every aspect of Tiki culture on the Eastern seaboard. It’s provided a focal point for everybody to gather and exchange what we found, because it’s all vintage stuff, but it’s like people that live in New York, or they live in Washington, DC, or they live in Louisiana, or they live in Tennessee, and they find things at thrift stores and swap meets, and there’s really not a whole lot of people in a 100 miles radius, sometimes, of you that are into this stuff. So what the Hukilau does [is lets] you can bring all this new stuff you’ve found there and either share it, or sell it, or make people aware of it, and it’s kind of added to the knowledge bank of what the mid-century Tiki scene was like and what existed then, and it’s also a great way for people to compare notes…even what everyone [is] wearing. It even comes down to that sometimes….

It’s that, it’s the music, the actual history, the archeology, cuisine and drinks. The Hukilau provides this short gathering and exchange for all [of] this stuff. I think what’s specific to Tiki culture [is that] people bring that back with them, and they feel like that there is a Tiki culture and its not just something they’re into and nobody knows what it is; that there is this shared subculture they can all be a part of, and that kind of fosters the culture and stresses it and deepens it.

You will be presenting your sold-out seminar Tikis Dark Ages: From Fern Bars to Rebirththis Thursday. What can attendees look forward too?

What the seminar is going to be about is mostly the 1980s and the 1990s—those were Tiki’s dark ages. That’s when the whole Tiki craze crashed in the 70s with the dawn of disco and margaritas took over for Mai Tais and everything that we know and love…just kind of crashed and the dark ages ensued when you couldn’t get a decent drink, and it all seemed like it was totally hopeless to ever see that stuff come back again.

I think everybody at the Hukilau probably lived through the Tiki dark ages. It isn’t really a young crowd; everybody was around and drinking in the 80s and 90s, most of them anyway. So, I think it will be more of a personal story of how the whole revival came about, out of the ashes, if you will.

When did the revival begin to surface again?

It surfaced in little pockets around the country. Before the Internet, you had a big resurgence of it in Southern California, because it never totally, really went away. There was beach culture, there was surf culture, hot rod culture, the whole lounge music revival and rat pack stuff, rockabilly, tattoo culture, and all that stuff was just sort of this subcultural stew in L.A. in the 90s, and Tiki was part of it. It was just one aspect of it, and nobody really differentiated between any of these things—it was all just underground retro culture—and then Tiki kind of broke off and came in to its own in the early 2000s.

The internet vulcanized the whole underground subculture thing, and everybody sort of became into one thing more than another thing. So Tiki branched off—and then you were either into hot rods, or into rockabilly, or you were into Tiki. It wasn’t like you were into all of that stuff, which everybody originally was, and then everybody focused on what they loved the best because they had groups and chat rooms, like Tiki Central, where they could geek out on it all.

So, the Internet was a huge factor in the Tiki revival in the late 90s, early aughts, and then the cocktail revival [happened.] So, that whole craft cocktail scene, which really looked down its nose at Tiki in the beginning–nobody wanted to touch Tiki drinks with a 10-foot pole; if you ran a craft cocktail bar, you were doing pre-prohibition and 19th century classics–but eventually they started to see the worth of the drinks, and they embraced it, and that really helped lift Tiki up. Because once Tiki drinks became popular, Tiki bars started opening again and more mainstream articles were written about it, and now we are where we are.

That is interesting that the craft cocktail revival didnt embrace Tiki at first, and that touches on something Ive always been puzzled about, and that there seems to be two different craft cocktail schools of thought. Theres the people who worship Hemingway, Fitzgerald, the roaring twentiesand now that seems to be coming through MAD MENthen theres the Tiki componentthe tropical, Polynesian vibeand Ive always been puzzled how the two were related or not related to each other. In your book, when you immediately make the point that actually all these tropical drinks come from the Caribbean and not the South Pacific as they are themed, and when you get into Hemingway and Cuba and the art of the daiquiri, it begins to make sense the two worlds should co-habit, but it seems like the people who are interested in one cocktail culture over the other have different vibes they are going for. I cant see the Don Draper wanna-bes hanging out with the Trader Dons.

Potions of the Caribbean

POTIONS OF THE CARIBBEAN (Cocktail Kingdom) is the sixth book in Jeff Berry's Beachbum Berry series.

That’s a really good point and it’s something that’s getting shaken out right now. I was just in Chicago in February…I checked out a lot of the new super high-end craft cocktail bars that were not Tiki, and they all had Tiki drinks on them! Like, there’s one drink called the Jungle Bird, which you can get at every craft cocktail bar now—craft cocktail bartenders love it because there is Campari in it, that’s their gateway to Tiki drinks—but you can go to a non-Tiki craft cocktail bar in Berlin, London, Dubai, Tokyo, New York, San Francisco, and you will find tiki drinks on the menu now. Almost all of them do the original Trader Vic Mai Tai, the Jungle Bird, most of them will do a Zombie. They’re all starting to embrace it….  I think once all those prejudices—that you have to be pre-prohibition, or you’re Tiki, or that you are this or that—is all starting to meld into one general cocktail vibe. And Tiki drinks are taking their place in the canon alongside all the Jerry Thomas stuff, and the Fitzgerald stuff, and all that.

MAD MEN was actually kind of a synthesizer for Tiki. I forget what season it was, but there’s one season where Don Draper and one of his potential mistresses are hanging out in a hotel bar drinking Tiki drinks, and then the next season they ended up in Hawaii and at the Royal Hawaiian. [See “The Doorway,” episode 1 of season 6]. Tiki was a huge part of the MAD MEN era and a huge part of the sixties, and they paid attention to that in several of the episodes. I haven’t binged out on the last season or two, but they were definitely moving in that direction before I stopped keeping track of it.

A sense of travel was integral to the whole backyard Polynesianlifestyle back in Don Drapers time, which stemmed from so many having served in the South Seas, and the nostalgia they would feel for the Pacific when back in civilian life. If they experienced an aspect of the Polynesian lifestyle first hand, why did they not care that the drinks they were drinking were not from the place they were travelingtoo? 

You just hit on the entire theme of Sven Kirsten’s books, and the $64,000 question about this whole thing. Nothing about Tiki is authentic; it’s all faux. It’s all this made up mid-century American faux-naive take on primitive culture. Anything exotic, anything that was the other—if you look at record albums from the 50s—exotica music—you saw voodoo mixed up with Hawaii mixed up with African drums mixed up with Samba. It didn’t matter to these people as long as it was exotic and not red-blooded, bland, Eisenhower America. They just sort of lumped it all together in this umbrella term of exotica…and you go to Tiki places where there’d be African masks that had nothing to do with Oceania and it didn’t really concern anybody in the American middle-class suburban culture of the 50s and 60s that this stuff wasn’t authentic.… People took lots and lots of liberties, and Sven touches on this in his last book.

So is that the modern appeal of Tikithe pure fantasy? That its a packaged idea you can play within?

This cocktail guy named Robert Hess summed it up when someone asked him what he thought Tiki meant, and he thought it was a mini-vacation. And I think that’s why the trend is going mainstream. It’s not so much a sub-culture theme anymore, it’s big money now.

There’s a place in Chicago called Three Dots and a Dash serving 2000 drinks a night, and it’s a Tiki bar, and it’s expensive and it has a velvet rope where people wait to get in.  That’s what’s happening to Tiki right now, and certainly that’s what’s been happening for years in places like London, like at Mahiki, where Madonna and the Royal Family go drop thousand of pounds a night. So what you’re finding is it’s this mini-vacation and I think people are into that. The worst it can get with the economy and the political situation, with global warming, with all the things that can kill you or ruin your life, that’s all good for Tiki. People flock to Tiki bars and the worse it can get the better Tiki bars are. It’s a mini-vacation, an escape.

Lets talk about the TOTAL TIKI app, which features 250 exotic recipes based on your research for original recipes as well as your own concoctions. You mentioned earlier that everyone at the Hukilau are an older crowd and that there arent going to be that many millennials thereis Total Tiki an attempt to pull millennials into the fold?

Absolutely! When I was in my 20s looking for a good drink and couldn’t find one, I started looking in used bookstores in the cocktail book section, and going to swap meets looking for old menus, or went to the library, because, I grew up in Southern California and knew the names of these places, and so had a starting point. But, I really wish there had been books like the Beachbum books or this app, to know what people were drinking in the 1950s, 70s. I found all my stuff in thrift stores, so if somebody goes to a thrift store in the year 2050 and finds POTIONS OF THE CARIBBEAN, or, I guess there may not be books anymore, so they go online and find the app, they can take the pulse of what people were drinking in our age, and that would be really cool. That was what I was looking for—[what were people drinking] in a previous age. But, yes, definitely, the app is an attempt to introduce this style of drinking to people who would not ordinarily have been exposed to it just because they weren’t around it during it.

And millennials—the younger bartenders who I meet are totally into it. It’s not an easy thing to master. It’s one thing to make a perfect three-ingredient, pre-prohibition drink, or master the Manhattan, or the Old Fashioned, but to take an eight to 10 ingredient Don the Beachcomber-style punch and balance that out and make it work, and make everything that is in play serve the drink, that’s not an easy thing to do. So it is a good way for bartenders to stretch their muscles and expand their repertoire. They really get into it once they’re exposed to it.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the book was that you were able to implicitly explain the trinity basis (rum, lime, and sugar) of a good tropical cocktail and give a basis of balanced drinks. I really found the evolution of how we think of drinking fascinating, i.e,  with prohibition, people began to drink weak to strong, and then afterwards people like Hemingway promoted strong to weak, and from there how everything has perhaps gotten a little out of balance, especially in the dark ages, as youve said. So, where are we noware we all making crappy cocktails thanks to Papas instructions, or?

I didn’t mean to come off in the book as someone pointing fingers on drink-making today. I think we’re living in a Golden Age. The book stops in the 1990s, when things became really horrible–you know, the whole Jimmy Buffet, boat-drink thing, and the Miami Vices. It doesn’t really encompass the revival, the cocktail revolution, which we’re living through now. Drinks from the Caribbean aren’t that good now, because it’s all just tourist and cruise-ship drinks, but in the States, and really around the world, the cocktails have never been better, as far as I’m concerned.

I think if you took someone from pre-prohibition America and put them in 2014, in New York, I think they’d be much happier drinking now than they were then. I think there is an incredible amount of talent out there. There’s a whole new way of looking at drinks, the whole farm-to-glass thing, where people are paying a lot more attention to ingredients and are using ingredients that would have only been used in food before, and we also have stuff available to us now…spices, flavorings, fruits, herbs that never would have been available to anybody in that quantity before. It really is a great time to be alive in drinking, I think.

What the book is mostly trying to do, is just to take a look back and sort everything out. To me, the one other book out there that really gave me—I mean every time I looked up Caribbean drinks there were a few recipes here, or there were a few paragraphs in a book there, or they were general histories of the Caribbean which didn’t mention drinks at all, which I thought was weird because drinks played a huge part of it. I learned as I went. I didn’t really know a whole lot about it. I wanted to know a whole lot about it. I wanted to read that book, so I had to write it, basically.

The intent was to contextualize the drinks. Daiquiri, Mojito, Planter’s Punch—where do they come from, and how do they fit into the local cultures that gave birth to them? Who did they inspire? I mean, in this case, they inspired Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber, and all the stuff that we love, so that’s what the book was. I was just trying to give a context of these drinks that are just floating out there, and there are bits and pieces about them on the Internet. And there is a lot of misinformation about them too, completely unsupported nonsense is printed on the Internet and it goes viral and everyone thinks it’s correct, and I ran into a lot of that, and I didn’t know the difference either until I started doing research for the book. So, it’s just a history of what’s come before, and of course it’d be a great bonus for people who are reading it—Millennials reading it now who work in the cocktail industry—to find inspiration in it, and it does seem to be happening, at least here in New Orleans. I’ve talked to a lot of the local bartenders who are taking it and running with it and adapting some of the old recipes they’ve found in it.

So, now, all that knowledge and research is going to go into your own bar in New Orleans?

Yes! I’ve always said that I didn’t want to open a bar because it was too much work, and I wasn’t kidding, it really is a lot of work. But, my wife Annene [Kaye] and I are foisting ahead. It’s going to open in September, and it’s called Latitude 29, and it will be a Tiki bar. New Orleans doesn’t really have a full-scale Tiki bar/restaurant, luckily for us, so we’re hoping we’re going to be the first. We’ve got Bosko, the legendary Tiki carver/ceramist, doing our interior…, and the head bartender, Steven Yamada, is going to be coming down to the Hukilau with me and helping me with the seminar too.

Beachbum drink recipe

BEACHBUM'S OWN. Photo by Annene Kaye

So you are not going to be writing for a while.

Yeah, I’m a saloon keeper now, and I’m putting away the keyboard for a while and giving this a go and seeing how we do. The bar is the new work. I am writing a menu for it, and that’s the writing I’m going to be doing is writing the menu. It’s really cool to have a home forthe drinks and to be able to serve them to the best of my ability to people. That’s going to be really cool. That’s the next step in the evolution. I’ve been writing about them for a while now, and now I’m actually going to get to make some of them. I’m really looking forward to that whole chapter.

BEACHBUM’S OWN
(this exclusive recipe will be served at the Hukilau by Jeff Berry)
 
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce unsweetened pineapple juice
3/4 ounce orange juice
3/4 ounce passion fruit purée
3/4 ounce Licor 43
1 1/4 ounces El Dorado 5-year Demerara rum
1 1/2 ounces light Puerto Rican rum
Shake well with plenty of crushed ice.  Pour unstrained into a Beachbum Berry mug (pictured) or a double old-fashioned glass.
 

S. J. Chambers is a writer from Tallahassee, FL. When not found drafting pool-side, she is sublimity-seeking on the road, or in the air, and sometimes in a glass. She blogs irregularly at www.selenachambers.wordpress.com.

Category: Features, Wednesday Happy Hour & Supper Club | TAGS: None

Shaken And Stirred Up: Petite Auberge Infuses Olive Oils and Vinegars to Flavor a Creative New Menu and Take Home, Too

Posted on: Jul 19th, 2013 By:

Photo credit: Jaimes Lee.

By Rachel Marshall
Contributing Writer

“We also like the addition of vinegar to our classic martinis.”

Jaimes and I exchanged a look. Much like oil and vinegar, our solutions of total fascination and doubt just did not seem to mix. They just bumped into each other, making a separation that could only be eased by actually experiencing just what a vinegar cocktail could be. Surely, we had heard Michael, our host at Petite Auberge’s  oil and vinegar bar, wrong. Had he really suggested mixing alcohol and vinegar? You may remember Jaimes from the Moe’s BBQ article, and our adventure with the Adios, Motherfucker!. Although three kinds of liquor and Powerade can prepare a girl for practically anything, the concoction could not have prepared us for the main ingredient in a vinaigrette to suddenly merge with alcohol, like Tetsuo on a bender, but with more alcoholism and less orbital lasers.  In any case, the dynamic duo from your last ATLRetro article received more than they bargained for in the best possible way at the long-standing French restaurant, Petite Auberge.

So, if you’ve been kicking around ATL since the mid-70s, you’ve heard and most likely dined at the Petite Auberge. Michael, our host, has more than amply accepted and risen above the challenge of keeping the PA relevant, fun, and with no sacrifice to its already firmly placed integrity. The newest addition to the restaurant’s entourage of gastronomy holds a nondescript, humble portion of the restaurant to itself. A guest entering Petite Auberge could miss the set-up at a glance, but a longer look – even if just for a moment! – would rampantly breed curiosity. What are those metal containers doing lined up like that? What’s in them? Michael was more than happy to show off the answer.

Photo credit: Jaimes Lee.

Infused olive oils and vinegars await the adventurous gourmand, fledgling and pro a-like. Infusion is a delicate process, but Michael is working with the right kind of mad scientists from Cibaria International and Olive n’ Grape to bring his guests a completely unique experience. When it comes to his collection of olive oil and vinegar, Michael is one proud poppa. He took us on a tour of your basic olive oils to start, the canisters of which will greet you in the main lobby of the PA when you arrive.  What was remarkable was the grassy start on most of the olive oils that progressed to a smoky after-bite the further removed you became from extra virgin olive oil. I always liked the floral nature of olive oil, but trying the good stuff from Michael’s aforementioned heavy-hitters not only woke up my palatte, but redefined any and all olive oil standards. He treated us to a fantastic collage of snacks that showed off just what these oils and vinegars could do in the right hands.

In this case? We were put in Chef Tom’s care. He was catching his second wind from preparing a catering order, and took the time to serve us a couple light, but flavorful meals, such as a pecan-praline balsamic vinaigrette that took a pecan-crusted trout above and beyond its simple plating. The lightness of a medium cooked salmon filet was elevated by a drizzling of lemon white balsamic. Personal favorite?  You know, the one that tested Jaimes’s friendship and mine with its ultimate rivalry-inspiring awesomeness? Yeah, that was a frozen crepe served with raspberry coulis in a chocolate sauce boasting a blood orange olive oil as its main components. As good as the crepe was, Jaimes and I kept going back for sauce, and started to fantasize about mousses and chocolate terrines.

Photo credit: Jaimes Lee.

We enjoyed all of these simple, but wonderful dishes with a couple glasses of Michael’s recommended Riesling. We were discussing the industry, Michael’s German roots, and the rampancy of foodies as we enjoyed some crusty bread and herby Tunesian olive oil when the whole “vinegar in the martinis” thing came up. Michael suggested a chocolate martini, probably my least favorite drink in the history of drinks that were ever drinks. They’re always too sweet, too heavy, separate and unbalanced, just a hunk of sugar with some vodka thrust unapologetically and carelessly into the mix. Why would anyone treat vodka that way in the first place? Now that you understand where I’m coming from, let’s get to the cool part – I loved the chocolate martini. The usual ounce or so of chocolate was replaced with a teaspoon of dark chocolate balsamic.

Aside from our bartender’s natural and talented knack for making a damn good drink, the balsamic definitely lightened the mix, and eliminated any burn the vodka attempted to leave behind.  When it comes to my spirits, I pretty much like anything served neat with beer, and occasionally I’ll dabble with a White Russian if I trust the bartender. The sweet-treats and “girly drinks” are just always too cloying, heavy and stomach-ache-inducing from careless, unbridled sugar. That being said, I was in love with each peach white balsamic martini and/or Bellini set in front of me. Each drink was buoyant and delicate on the tongue, sparing my tummy.  Really, think about it. The substitution of syrup or sauces for vinegar – in terms of booze – is not so mysterious. Vinegar, much like distilled liquor or barreled beer, is fermented. The ethanol both vinegar and booze share wind up dancing together in a glass, a matrimony of basic, tasty chemistry awesome enough to make Antoine Lavoisier go weak in the bloomers.

Photo credit: Jaimes Lee.

So, in an age where everyone is checking out the next wine, beer or liquor tasting, I would suggest stopping by Petite Auberge’s olive oil n’ vinegar bar for a change of pace, and a delicious meal that flirts with infusions too numerous to be enjoyed during just one visit.  Being a lover of all things chewable, slurpable and mmmm-able means  sometimes  going outside of what’s cool, trending,  tried-and-true,  and instead venturing into a new, often times unpredictable territory that supersedes any and all expectations.  You would be surprised what amazing components can mesh together so well, just like oil and vinegar.

Category: Wednesday Happy Hour & Supper Club | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Getting the Rub on Moe’s Original Barbecue: A Diabolical Love of All Things Smokey, Caramelized, Spicy and Sweet

Posted on: May 21st, 2013 By:

By Rachel Marshall
Contributing Writer

“Come find me. I have a drink for you. I call it the Adios, Motherfucker,” John grinned, and left me and my friend Jaimes to wonder what exactly goes into an Adios, Motherfucker. Tequila, clearly, but after that? Jaimes and I would find out later, but until then we continued to enjoy our night at Moe’s Original Barbeque in Midtown.

The only person I wanted at my side for a foray into all things meat was Jaimes. She is no stranger to barbecue. In fact, some of my favorite grilling adventures come from this lovely, food-crazy girl. Naturally, she was going to be my co-pilot, as we investigated the newest Moe’s location here in ATL. Boasting several locations, Moe’s never lets the success go to their head. In fact, the establishment bends over backwards to show a flexible and diabolical love of all things smoky, caramelized, spicy and sweet.

Not only does Moe’s lean on traditional, familial “there’s, like, 15 ingredients in our rub” barbecue, this current Moe’s location refuses to let go of 349 14th Street’s past. Upon entering the establishment, a large Kool Korners Gro. sign is impossible to miss, crowning the curling, copyright cursive of red and white “Coca Cola.” Before Moe’s was Moe’s, Kool Korners Grocery was a hot spot for any foodie looking for a fix of Cuban sandwichery. Our host – chef, pitmaster, and all around badass Rocketman – was pretty clear that Moe’s was not in the market to forget the deeply forged roots of 349 14th St.

The space feels like a high-end dive, a plus in my books. Never really felt that a barbecue joint should be dressed up in the trappings of fine-dining with quartet music humming through the air. No, no! The more peanut shells on the floor the better, the more I have to yell for someone to hear me across the table, the better. Now, Moe’s does not have peanut shells or decibel violation, but there is a hominess that settles in as you find your seat within the belly of the beast.

A cold pitcher of beer later, and Jaimes and I are recovering from a feast. Rocketman and John pulled out all stops to make sure we really got to taste the spectrum of Moe’s barbecue offerings. Highlights for us? The smoked wings! Not fried. Not broiled.  Not roasted. Smoking the wings brought an incredibly subtle char, and left the meat inside juicy. These scarlet gems of meat candy cannot be missed if you scoot your way down 14th St.! The St. Louis-styled ribs are a perfect balance of sauce to rub, allowing me to savor every flavor, instead of one overlapping the other. Butterfly fried shrimp and catfish can still be detected in a complimentary batter, and shine when combined with house-made remoulade. I was hesitant to try the collards, because I generally find them over-cooked and sour everywhere I go, but these collards are different. Just looking at them, you can immediately spot the difference. The collards are vibrantly verdant, and a not-so-liberally applied vinegar makes them shine. Instead of a vinegar bomb erupting and blinding my palette for the rest of the meal, I was actually enjoying the taste of collards, instead of dark green vinegar death.

The feeling I had, enjoying this food, was that Moe’s was in the market to respect the food, and broadcast the flavors. Let’s take their coleslaw, for example. Some barbecue joints will slather their coleslaw in mayo and call it a day. Moe’s does a light apple cider vinegar marinade, which maintains the texture, and avoids any mayo-cloying that can occur. Moe’s is also very conservative with sauces, keeping most of them on the side, or lightly drizzled over food so as not to mask anything. At the same time? These same sauces and rubs follow a certain barbecue tradition. You ever ask a pitmaster what goes into their rub, the best answer you could receive is a long sigh, and a laundry list of herbs and spices. A lot of the time, this sort of list won’t have measurements of quantities; a pinch of this, a bit of that, and some of that stuff over there.

Jaimes and I are on the patio, flirting with a couple of coconut pies while we smoke cigarettes, and cautiously explore the Adios, Motherfucker. John is nearby, also enjoying a cigarette the way someone enjoys a quick snack. He sits with us, and we talk about where we come from, what we cook, what we like about barbecue, and what doesn’t work. Just shooting the shit with some food philosophies, a conversational path I stumble down and cannot wait to call a past-time. There is something nostalgic about finding a good barbecue place, whether it’s a longstanding player in the food game, or a newcomer. You can reminisce on cook-outs with your own folks, or grilling with friends on a back-porch. You maintain tradition, you continue to tell a story that someone in your family (or their family) started years and year and years ago with salt, pepper, brown sugar, cayenne, a pinch of this, and a pinch of that.

If you want to find out what’s in an Adios, Motherfucker, or just enjoy some really great grub, check out Moe’s Original Barbecue at 349 14th St., Atlanta, GA 30318.

Category: Wednesday Happy Hour & Supper Club | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Deoch. Ceol. Bia. Rince. Finding Simple Retro Pleasures at Rí Rá Irish Pub Just in Time for St. Patrick’s Day

Posted on: Feb 27th, 2013 By:

By Rachel Marshall
Contributing Writer

Deoch. Ceol. Bia. Rince.

Just as you’re leaving the main bar of Midtown’s Rí Rá location, glance over your shoulder on the way to the Harbour Bar and you’ll see these words. They mean: Drink. Music. Food. Dance. Consider some of the other chain restaurants you have been to or fast food gambles you have made – telling you there’s nothing like the neighborhood, or implying you have nothing better to do, so you “gotta eat.”  So, when you work for a site that specializes in the Retro, the nostalgic, and the wonderfully weird… what is one to do with a restaurant that has a dozen locations across the U.S.?

The simple answer to the question is:  “Deoch. Ceol. Bia. Rince.”

Rí Rá’s layout is heavy with homeland and family nostalgia. The founders were passionate about capturing a “proper Irish pub” experience. There are some obvious decisions in the decorations, but then there is something subtle that begins to take over: the warm wooden architecture, the open space and the fact there are large “group tables” scattered throughout the restaurant, actively encouraging patrons to celebrate with friends. Two and four tops throughout the restaurant also cater to those looking for something more intimate or relevant to a date night, but the best experience you can have at Ri Ra comes from sitting down to a large table, surrounded by happy faces that become rosier and louder with each course and each drink.

Friendly bartenders Adam and Eoghan at RiRa.

Crammed into the Harbour Bar with other lovers of food and drink, I entered expecting to hear the lilting Irish “stock” music that often pops up at self-proclaimed “Irish pubs.” Instead? Dropkick Murphies. Flogging Molly. The list just kept going, and before I knew it, the grinding voice of Dave King had enabled me to tuck into yet another Smithwicks. The room was buzzing with photographers and writers and travelers, all of them discussing their own journeys –  if they are going to the upcoming beer festival, if they managed to check out that restaurant they suggested at the last gathering. These are marathon eaters and comprise a total thiasus to all things Bacchus. We sat down ready to dine, ready to drink, ready for the music and the dance of a four-course meal.

Pear and goat-cheese salad at RiRa

Getting into the full array of the tasting menu would push the boundaries of the review. You are a busy reader with things to do, after all! But Chef Kelly Sollinger played an incredible balancing act with his meals. Each dish was playful and a special, worthy introduction to Irish eatery. He respects the qualities of an ingredient that make it subtle or overwhelming. For example, cheddar, an ingredient I believe some chefs play very fast and loose with, became a subtle binder for a boxty cake, decorated with sautéed arugula and balsamic vinaigrette. Earthy rosemary cut the rich density of a ground lamb slider, which also boasted pickled red onion taming the sharpness of a goat cheese spread. Not only are his dishes in perfect synch with their ingredients, but they pair very well with the Harpers, Guinness and Smithwicks on tap – especially the pear and blue cheese salad which melded perfectly with its champagne vinaigrette and the Smithwicks served alongside.

Before we reached dessert, the table enjoyed a 14-day house-brined beef brisket and ale-battered haddock. Brines are tough for me, so is cabbage, but the flavor is there, and the parsley-cream sauce and fluffy piping of mashed potato kept everything in line. Chef Kelly’s background with seafood is delightfully present. The haddock was battered respectfully, giving the diner that satisfying crunch, but letting the haddock’s tenderness and texture take over from there.

Dessert at RiRa: sticky toffee pudding and Guinness and brown bread ice cream.

By dessert, I was in a very happy place with my surroundings and my table-mates. The sponge cake with dates and toffee pudding neighbored a Guinness and brown bread ice cream, sharp on the back end as if I had just finished off a long draw from a tall glass of the same stout. The Irish coffee served was made with the French press method, my favorite when it comes to coffee – you just get so much more flavor from the ground bean that way! One of our bartenders, Eoghan, was circling the table with his third song of the evening – U2‘s “Where the Streets Have No Name.” I have heard that song 101 times, but here we were – all of us from different walks of life and different backgrounds, different beliefs and different moralities, all gathered around a table. The song is about the ideal world where a person is not defined by the “street” where they live, a world where there are no divisions of any sort. At a table like this, at no point do any of us think about one another’s class, race, wealth or some other criteria that has been deemed important. We only think about the food, the drink, the music, and how our conversations simply dance.

Irish coffee tops off an Irish feast at RiRa.

How retro can you get? Before any of the movies came out that we fell in love with and defend its kitch to this day, before we first played a plumber trying to save a princess from an angry monkey, before the first radio broadcast was played… we gathered around the table. Rí Rá, if you give it the chance you need to give it, is not just a chain, not just one in 12, not just another corporation. The restaurant wants you to sit for a while, to have a drink, to eat some food, and to celebrate just being there. This message becomes clearer if you speak to co-founder David Kelly who said, of this “reintroduction” of Rí Rá, that the message is simply: “We exist.”

So, if you aren’t doing anything this St. Patrick’s Day, or hell, this weekend? Head over to Midtown, and pull up a seat at the bar in Rí Rá. Make sure you dance. Make sure you listen to the “music” surrounding you. Make sure you drink. Make sure you eat. Simply exist.

Beginning Tuesday, March 12, Rí Rá will host friends, family and local Irish patriots as they kick-off their six-day toast to St. Patrick, highlighted by a block party celebration, closing off a portion of Crescent Avenue on Saturday, March 16 and Sunday, March 17 for live music performances and other fun activities. For more info on each day’s festivities and other special events, such as whiskey tastings, visit www.rira.com/atlanta/.

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Of Cupcakes and Pillow Fights: Pink Pastry Parlor is Like a Scrumptious Slumber Party for Girls, Both Big and Small

Posted on: Jan 31st, 2013 By:

By Rachel Marshall
Contributing Writer

Brave the traffic of Buckhead and you will be rewarded with a tasty treat at Pink Pastry Parlor‘s new Phipps Plaza location where owner Tiffany Young-Cooper is offering a sweet twist on girl power. Her confectionary parlor marries those first shopping trips with Mom and baking with Grandma to produce a palatable paradise to any little princess looking to cut loose with fellow royalty for an unforgettable party. Not only does Pink Pastry promise delectable and adorable cupcakes, but there is a runway room, tea room and, yes, even a pillow fight room where girls can feel beautiful, playful and classy. The Pink Pastry also offers daycare, as well as pastry lessons if Mom wants a ladies night out to enjoy cupcakes and wine.

ATLRetro had a chance to hang out with Tiffany for some glamour shots and stayed for the cupcakes!

What inspired the pillow fight? Because that is basically awesome.

The pillow fight idea came about while I was brainstorming about what every little girl wants for her party – A SLUMBER PARTY! This way she gets a little bit of everything!

Favorite cupcake? Or if it’s impossible to name just one, name your top three.

My favorite cupcake is the Italian Dream, and our top sellers are Strawberry Fairy and It’s My Birthday Cake!

Any new cupcakes you’re just dying to make? 

Salted caramel!!!!

You mention that first shopping trip with your mom and helping grandma bake. Can you go further into detail on how these women shaped your life and work?

I dreaded spending summers in the country learning to bake with my grandma. I loved kids and just knew I would be a pediatrician. But my granny saw something that I didn’t, and all those long summers paid off! Wish she was still here.

If you had any advice for anyone looking down the entrepreneurial path, what would it be? In retrospect, what was your best first step, and what was your worst?

Advice: Save up until you can’t save anymore! So put those hair/nail/massage appointments to the side for four months and see how much of an impact that makes! My best move: Staying economical. Every business owner in my plaza had luxury cars, and I’m still driving my 2007 Dodge. Delayed gratification is key! My worst move: Location is key. I chose affordability over profitability. Continue to save until you are able to afford a good location.

Which doll did you spend the most tea-time with while you were growing up? 

I’m a BARBIE girl. I had all five in one chair!

Do you like to listen to music when you’re baking? Any favorite playlists right now? 

I jam while I’m baking! My favorites are ol’ school: Queen and Donna Summers!

You emphasize self-esteem and empowerment. When you’re down, what is the best confidence booster? 

Best confidence booster is getting all dressed up in pink, hop on the Pink Pastry runway, lights out/disco ball on/alone/after hours and blast “Anything Can Happen” by Ellie Goulding. Talk about CONFIDENCE BUILDER!

If you could say anything to the little, rambunctious girl out there with flour on her hands and chocolate on her cheek, what would that be?  

It’s time for you to be your OWN cake boss at Pink Pastry! Maybe teach me some tricks!

Pink Pastry Parlor is located on the second floor of Phipps Plaza, next to Belk. Call (404) 841-9997. Or  visit the original Pink Pastry Parlor at 8465 Holcomb Road, Suite 1000, in Alpharetta. Call (770) 650-PINK (7465). http://pinkpastryparlor.com/

All photographs are courtesy of Pink Pastry Parlor and used with permission.

Category: Wednesday Happy Hour & Supper Club | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Just a Jump to the Left of The Plaza, Let’s Do Beer and Burgers at The Righteous Room Again

Posted on: Jan 16th, 2013 By:

Photo credit: Rachel Marshall

By Rachel Marshall
Contributing Writer

“We don’t really have a manager,” Rebecca the bartender said, offering a silly, sly, unapologetic grin. See, I had asked if I could speak to a manager about their experiences within a bar called The Righteous Room.  That moment when it becomes clear that the inmates run the asylum is the moment you realize, as someone who just wants a good drink and a good bite to eat, you’ve come to the right place.

The Righteous Room is located on Ponce De Leon Ave., right next to the glorious gloom and clattering 35mm projectors of The Plaza Theatre, which to me has never been crowned just by a glorious marquis, but by the parted lips of an old ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW poster. So, let that be your landmark. Just a jump to the left of a theatre in a perpetual state of doing the Time Warp again, The Righteous Room has been intriguing newcomers and keeping regulars hooked for about 17 years.

You are, essentially, entering a dive bar. Rugged brick and exposed vents bathe in the mingling hues of electric yellow chandeliers and blue Christmas lights that framework dusty chalkboards displaying the latest beer specials. Purchasable works of local artists adorn the walls, and the bathrooms need no decoration, only the whims of drunken occupants armed with Sharpies and wits hopped up on shots. Similar whims will often pump quarters and dollars into a nearby jukebox in a bid to hear that one perfect song before they either wander off into the Atlanta night, or trudge into The Plaza (a step to the right).

Photo credit: Rachel Marshall

So, I settled in for a drink and a meal. What’s great about the service at The Righteous Room is there is very little pomp or circumstance when it comes to service, and frankly, in a dive, that’s all I want. I want someone with metal piercing their faces and ink intricacy staining their arms to hand me a frosty beverage and a juicy burger. No flourish, no stage-show, just a grin that says: “This will mess you up. See you on the other side!”

I enjoyed a Mamma’s Lil Yella Pils and a New Belgium “Snow Day” under the gaze of a local artist’s portrait of Mardi Gras. In time, a pulled pork sandwich arrived between two gargantuan slices of grilled bread. With house-made horseradish sauce at my side, I tore into my meal without hesitation.

That’s right. House-made. With a couple of exceptions here and there, everything is made within The Righteous Room. Not only that, but if you’re not as carnivorous as me and prefer the leafier side of things, The Righteous Room has a menu that flatters the herbivores out there. The peppery whisper of dandelion greens within a fresh salad, the cool, creamy indulgence of hummus and a fire-good veggie chili are just a few things on the menu that will cater to those of you that aren’t meat-feeders like me.

Photo credit: Rachel Marshall

So, sure, these dishes may help keep you on your feet after that third or fourth shot, but before those kick in, it dawns on you; this is not your typical dive. Rebecca approaches to see how the meal is going, and soon we’re talking about the heart of the bar. Behind the scenes, the owners work close with the staff. Everyone is interested in each other’s goals, and seeing what everyone can bring to the table. Literally! The owners love meeting with their staff for open forums on the industry and what shapes not only their company, but their own experiences. This approach doesn’t just mean a restaurant or a bar does well, it resonates.

Yes, even if it’s just a small bar next to a movie theater.

Photo credit: Rachel Marshall

Overall, The Righteous Room is an excellent meet-up before and after Plaza viewings. Frankly, it’s a good hang-out even if you aren’t taking in a movie. Now, if you’re looking for a fast bite and some quick table turnover, The Righteous Room may not be for you. No, this is where you go to hang-out, unwind, get messed up and really touch base with friends and regulars before moving on with the rest of your evening plans. The chefs take their time with your meal, devoting a lot of attention and care to the plating and the flavor. Don’t get restless, just order yourself a drink! The bartenders and servers are attentive, quick and efficient with potent, cool drinks. Stick around long enough, come back enough and before you know it, you’ll feel like a regular on CHEERS where everybody knows your name.

Check out The Righteous Room on 1051 Ponce De Leon Ave., N.E., Atlanta, GA 30306. 

Category: Wednesday Happy Hour & Supper Club | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kat of the Week: Dante Stephensen Takes Us Down the Hatch to Discover the Stories Behind the Iconic Atlanta Restaurant’s Interior Treasures

Posted on: Dec 19th, 2012 By:

A broad view of the interior of Dante's Down the Hatch. Photo courtesy of Dante's.

All good things must come to an end, the old saying goes, so it was with a heavy heart that we learned that Dante’s Down the Hatch will be closing its doors at the end of July 2013. One can understand why owner Dante Stephensen would decide to finally sell the property–he’s had a 42-year run living his dream and surely it’s time to allow him a comfortable retirement. In fact, it seems amazing that located on such prime real estate, Dante’s lasted as long as it did; it even survived a fire. What we can be thankful for is that at least, unlike so many Atlanta iconic restaurants from The Mansion (also designed by Dante; building now owned by SCAD) to Dailey’s, we have a chance to say good-bye.

I can remember the first time my dad took me to Dante’s as a child. How cool it was to step inside a coffin and descend even deeper into Underground Atlanta, the restaurant’s original location. Remember, that in the 1970s, Underground wasn’t an Epcotlike tiled shopping center. It was dark, lit only by gaslight, and one really felt transported into a bygone era of turn-of-the-century arcade machines, an old soda counter which even served Moxie, general shops full of those marvelous striped hard stick candies in every flavor you could imagine, a wax museum and a giant “Mighty Mortier” organ at the very end of the street. Its crown jewel was Dante’s, decorated to appear like a old sailing ship with a live jazz band performing and live crocodiles in the moat (you can see the graves of the original Throckmortons as you approach the current restaurant). Even the menu–fondue and cocktails in hurricane glasses–was all about sharing a true drinking and dining experience. It was the epitome of a ’70s theme restaurant, yes, but owner Dante, who was sure to stop by your table (he still does!), ensured it was never tacky or kitschy like so many of today’s attractions.

Photo courtesy of Dante's Down the Hatch.

In 1981, when crime forced the old Underground to close, Dante moved the Hatch north to Buckhead, which was quickly taking over the mantle of Atlanta’s fine restaurant hub from a pre-Olympics increasingly daytime-only downtown. The relocation offered him the opportunity to redesign the restaurant in a larger space and make it even more magical, including outdoor space for his antique car collection. While he did reopen the original Dante’s from 1989-99 when Underground underwent its more mall-like rebirth, the Buckhead restaurant became the flagship and a chance for Dante to be a perfectionist in creating a truly special dining experience.

A while back, Dante gave ATLRetro a private tour of some of the many artifacts that decorate the Hatch, including stories about why they appealed to him and, how he found them–many come from antique auctions in Commerce, California, in the early ’80s. Sometimes the items trigger memories of his colorful life or observations on his passion for animals or the study of the world’s religions. I read a quote recently from author Theodora Goss that some people have adventures and other people are adventures. Dante surely is the latter. We hope you’ll enjoy this candid journey with Dante Stephenson to nine special places around the Hatch and also visit and support this Atlanta landmark treasure as many times as you can before it closes.

A stained glass window made of pieces from different eras. Photo credit: ATLRetro.com

1) The Art of Stained Glass Windows and Feng Shui. “With all the bombing [in Europe in WWII], somebody was going around digging up scraps of glass. Take this piece that I just happened to buy. The person who picked up the pieces must have been an art historian because the eight pieces of glass that were placed into it come from different periods by different artists over about a 400-year period. I just thought it was interesting and had a very unique story. It would have been built overseas, probably in Britain because I picked it up at an auction in California in 1979 or ‘80 when I was buying the antiques for this place. I had drawn the plans, and I had a very talented builder. Very few builders could build something like this, so he was able to take the antiques and the structure and blend them together artistically. I mean, this place is feng shui all over the place, although at the time I didn’t know what the word meant.”

Dante's interior incorporates many elements from Church fixtures to vintage signs and stained glass. Photo credit: ATLRetro.com.

2. Faith and Fondue. “There are two areas that I could cover in general. One is religion, and one is animals. I am a Biblical archaeologist. That’s a hobby of mine. My degrees are in archaeology, and I have grown to have a great interest in theology. In 2010, I was in Japan to satisfy another two hobbies—one is steam locomotives and I also visited some Shinto sites, which is one of the seven major religions of the world. The year before it was the Hindus and Sikhs in India, and before that the Buddhists in Tibet. In my quest to understand theology, I’m philosophically looking at all theologies. In the Hatch, I have artifacts from a number of different churches, primarily the Christian churches. I have a Lutheran pulpit behind me. I have a Presbyterian pulpit underneath one of the sails on the ship. I have Baptist pews, the red benches sitting over there. I have a Methodist communion rail up here. Those iron railings and banisters are all Church of England, which is our Episcopal church. On the lower deck, I have a Catholic confessional, and at the uppermost spot in the restaurant I have a Jewish Torah [guard-]rail.”

Owner Dante Stephensen and his broom of two personalities. Photo credit: ATLRetro.com.

3. Sailing the Seas of History. “The sails on my ship came from the 1800s ship called the Barba Negra, in Savannah. It was a Norwegian capital ship that was brought over here by a Danish-German skipper at the request of Mills Lane, who founded the C&S Bank, to be parked in the harbor at historic Savannah. It’s not there any more because it sank, but the only tall ship captain that we had in the state of Georgia was Gerhard Schwisow. He not only provided us with the sails. He did all the rigging and all the rope-tying here.

4. A Grin-worthy Garage Sale Find. Talk about interesting artifacts which I found in someone’s garage sale, I have a broom over there. It’s for people with split personalities. The restaurant is full of ways in which you can laugh at yourself.

5. Yes, Virginia, the Crocodile is Real. Pinocchio the Crocodile got his name because of the length of his nose. I could talk a lot about the crocodiles. It could be a whole article. In the late ‘60s, our Atlanta zoo lost its accreditation. I was one of those that organized to save it. I was not a major donor—I had no money back then—but I was a major volunteer. We had to work at the zoo while they were hiring new people, and because one of my degrees is in geology, I got placed into the reptile department. It was the only rescue house of its kind, as far as I know, in the nation for confiscated Crocodilia. That’s crocodiles and caimans, not alligators.

I was seeing parents show up at the zoo with their three-foot semi-tame crocodile that they innocently bought at a pet store thinking it was a lizard for their child when it was about 8 inches long. Because of my degree in zoology which makes me almost a ranger, I decided to apply for a permit for my downtown club to receive the confiscated animals, because up until that time when they were brought to the zoo, they were ultimately put to sleep by Fish and Game. You can’t take an animal that’s been hand-raised like that and let it loose in the swamps. These came from South and Central America. These were not alligators, so the cost to send them down there and let them loose was ridiculous, too.

Pinocchio and friend. Photo courtesy of Dante's Down the Hatch.

This one [Pinocchio] almost did harm to me, because we had to give him a shot and you wouldn’t think that an animal like that would have a sense of pain nerves as we do. But the three of us—a vet, my manager and I—we snuck up on him while he was sleeping. I wear a rubber suit because it’s waist-deep water. All of a sudden all three of us grabbed him at the same time because crocodiles are very strong. One holds the head, the other holds the body, and the other holds the tail. Then we put a towel over the head so that it’s dark to him, and then he calms down for the complete physical. Well, the vet had to give some intravenous fluids to this particular animal, and that was fine. But then he wanted to give him an injection of an antibiotic, and I’ve got to tell you when that needle went into[Pinocchio], he jolted to the point that all three of us were almost thrown. He’s only seven feet long. We held him, but he held his anger so that at the end of the event, the vet pulled away first, and then my manager pulled away. I’m holding him alone with the towel at one end and the tail at the other. As I removed the towel and stepped back, he went for me, and his head hit the pole because he was angry because I was part of this event that caused him to get pricked. That’s the only time in 40 years I’ve had a really close call. God’s on my side. She’s always been on my side.

Since Aunt Agatha is photo-shy, here's a different angle into the main bar area. Photo credit: ATLRetro.com.

6. The Witch in the Ladies Room. So let’s go to the bathroom. All my older four sisters said to me when I was much younger and thinking about building a unique place for people to relax that I had to protect the woman’s right to dine alone. So we do that here. If you come in alone or with a girlfriend that you hadn’t seen in years, you would particularly care if strangers came up and started to put the make on you because you’re talking to an old friend from way back. This is not a pick-up bar. So what happens is I’ll walk over to the table and just stand next to the guy. Nothing makes a guy madder than some other guy listening to his line, which he thinks is very unique but it isn’t. So finally the guy says “who are you?” “Oh, I’m Dante; I own the place. I see you’ve found my niece Louise.” He goes back to his table, and the ladies thank me.

Now let’s take that into the bathroom. I’m out at an antique auction in Commerce, California. I’d already drawn the plans and we’d already started the building. I’d gone to a restaurant with a group of guys who have chain restaurants, the Chart House, the Steak and Ale and so forth. I’m in the bathroom washing my hands after attending to business and looking in the mirror, as males like to do, wondering why they aren’t getting more dates. All of a sudden the lights go up over my head and a light comes on behind the mirror I’m looking into, and there sits a naked, elderly woman, topless with a crystal ball, winking at me. Well, I’ve had just enough wine that I believed it, so I’m hitting myself in the head as the light goes off and wondering if am I hallucinating. I go out of the door, come back in and the same thing happens again. I say, wow, what a neat idea. So I quickly run to the phone, wake up my builder and say “I know you’re on the lower bathroom level. Where are you in the structure?” “Well, I just finished closing in the mens room and the ladies room will be done tomorrow,” he says. I say, “don’t close in the last wall. I’ve got an idea.”

Mark Twain is one of several famous wax figures you may encounter at Dante's. Photo credit: ATLRetro.com.

Have you been to the bathroom? Have you met Aunt Agatha? Well, she is a Madame Tussaud wax figure, ugly as sin. I had an actress do the first set of voiceovers, and then when [Agatha] got wet in our fire, I had it redone by one of my staff. There are seven speeches that she gives where she makes fun of the women. That has really become the most popular singular thing in the restaurant. People remember Aunt Agatha more than anything else. I have to be careful with children, though. Different personalities react differently to the witch, and if the child screams and is really scared, we let them use the handicapped bathroom obviously. That’s the only problem that comes up.

7. Some Famous Regulars. There used to be a [Josephine] Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Underground Atlanta in the 1970s. Then David Hawthorne, who had it, moved it to Helen, Georgia. He sold off some of his figures, and I bought some for here. I’ve got Einstein. I’ve got Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, General Hood who burned Atlanta, John Wilkes Booth and a pirate – who originally was the detective holding Oswald when Ruby shot him. People ask me why do I have so many wax figures. I say at every full moon, they wake up and clean.

Dante relaxes in the downstairs Barbershop lounge. Photo credit: ATLRetro.com

8. The Basement Barbershop.  The barbershop is interesting, too. It dates back to 1880-something from England. We had this room that’s the butt-end of the moat of the crocodile, and the bathroom is below us—an ideal place for a lounge. Well, I decided, well, wait a minute, I bought this barbershop—why don’t I use it for the reason why I bought it. I bought it with the thought of being part of a lounge. I remember haircuts when they were 17 cents. I’m that old.

9. Magnificent Murals. One of the beauties of this place is you can totally think you are taking off. You look at this wall here and you don’t see much, but if you sit on the steps there, it’s three-dimensional, and you’re looking down a street. If you stand at the top of the stairs looking over there, you’re looking at a building, but if you get up next to it, it’s a flat surface. So I have a muralist who is a bit of a magician who can draw things in three dimensions which at the right angle will take you to one place.

A seascape mural adds to the nautical ambiance. Photo courtesy of Dante's.

Let’s walk up there right quick. The diorama of the ship was built by a handicapped worker whose hobby and passion was to build ships from scratch without kits. My hobby is trains and I did the train-setting which is much less interesting but nevertheless a part of it. It was built from the plans I drew.

Located at 3380 Peachtree Street just south of Lenox Square, Dante’s Down the Hatch  features live jazz six days a week (Tues-Sun) with acoustic guitar and vocalist on Mondays. But get there quick as the restaurant closes its doors forever on March 31, 2013. Reservations are recommended. Call 404-266-1600.

 

Category: Kool Kat of the Week, Wednesday Happy Hour & Supper Club | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Little Death: Absinthe Makes a Truly Scrumptious Recipe at The Day of the Cupcake

Posted on: Oct 4th, 2012 By:

Our top pick for Saturday Oct. 6 is a truly scrumptious tribute to one of our favorite Retro treats. Willy Wonka would appreciate the World of Pure Imagination that is the Sugar Dolls‘ annual Day of the Cupcake celebration. The confectionary-inspired festivities begin at Sacred Heart Tattoo ( Little Five Points location) from noon to 7 p.m. with $50 cupcake tattoos, sugar skull decorating & contest, free cupcakes, games and live performances. Then at 7 p.m., the fun moves to  The Five Spot where a $15 cover ($10 with cupcake tattoo) gets you $5 Lucid Absinthefree masks for early arrivals and music by bands Christ, LordToy Devils and Till Someone Loses an Eye featuring Aileen Loy, as well as special guests The Thimblerig CircusThe Chameleon QueenClay Crockerof Prentice Suspensions and aerial performances by: Lori VanVoorhis, Mara Chanin, Aileen Loy and Alexis Gorsuch. And of course, the Cupcake Eating Contest will be back as well! There’s also an art auction, and eccentric garb is encouraged but not required! The entire day and evening supports Aid Atlanta. Still don’t get what it’s all about. Read more about The Sugar Dolls and last year’s Day of the Cupcake here.

In the mood to eat cupcakes and drink absinthe, now?!  To get in the holiday spirit ahead of time, here’s a special adult cupcake recipe from The Sugar Dolls to tantalize your tastebuds…

The Sugar Dolls

“The Little Death”

Cupcake recipe with “Lucid Absinthe’ “

Cake Ingredients

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup Cocoa or  DARK Cocoa ( depending on how much of a bite you want)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water

Heat oven to 350°F
Put liners into your cupcakes pan. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of electric mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin) You may want to use a piping bag to put your batter into you liners, fill liners half way.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes
Cool completely
Lucid Ganche

  • 12 ounces chocolate, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • optional 1/4 cup Lucid Absinthe’

Place chocolate pieces in a large bowl. Heat heavy cream on medium high until it comes to a boil then slowly add your chocolate while maintaining a stir once melted take off heat and add in your absinthe, let cool.  While that cools you will need to hollow out the center of your cupcakes, then slowly pour the ganache into the center of each cake.
Now to frost!
Lucid Mocha Frosting

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons dark fresh brewed coffee
  • 1/4 cup Lucid Absinthe’

Cream butter for a few minutes in a mixer, Sift  confectioners sugar  and cocoa into the mixing bowl once incorporated add remaining  ingredients.  If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add a little more sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add additional Absinthe if your feeling frisky  or dark coffee if you need more bite and kick. Either way Whip the mess out of that frosting give it the good beating you want it to give you.  Frost cupcakes.  If you would like a garnish for your cupcakes, make another batch of ganche and once cool, drizzle it a top your tasty treats with a chocolate covered espresso bean or two.

 

 

 

Category: Features, Wednesday Happy Hour & Supper Club | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday Happy Hour: Shaking, Stirring and Cooling Off from the Summer Heat at the Czar Ice Bar

Posted on: Aug 15th, 2012 By:

ATLRetro has been planning to launch a cocktail and food section ever since we revved up, but we wanted to ensure that when we did, it would be a regular feature that you could count on. The ground rules would be simple – Retro location in a vintage building; Retro cuisine from the best in classic diners and blue plates to tantalizing tiki (guess where, we dare you!); venues that have been around long enough to be Atlanta institutions;  and/or worthy additions to the city’s cocktail scene. In other words, when you want to dress up in your swanky suit or vintage dress and slowly sip a fantastic drink with that special date, spouse or just friends, where should you go? We’ll alternate between supper club and happy hour pieces and promise at least one of each every month, always posting on a Wednesday to help you plan your weekend.

Appropriately, we think, ATLRetro first piece is a Happy Hour because everyone on MAD MEN knows that a great cocktail is the essential apertif to a delicious expense-account dinner, isn’t it? Our drink of the week is Vodka, and with hundreds of different vodkas on the menu, Czar Ice Bar, in Buckhead’s Andrews Entertainment District, has perhaps the largest selection in Atlanta. Normally heading to Buckhead might be a bit too neo-trendy for us, but we found Czar Ice Bar to be a surprise charm with a touch of old world class worthy of James Bond. Atmospherically the intimate blue-lit space was the perfect retreat from summer heat with a bar literally made of ice and a dramatic blue glass ceiling, seasoned with a taste of old Russia thanks to ornate seating, bottles lined in cathedral windows and towering paintings of pre-Soviet nobles. Oh, yeah, we could easily imagine Pierce Brosnan seated at it in a tux sipping a martini with a sexy spy in a slinky evening dress.

We recently caught up with co-owner Stephen de Haan to find out more about Czar Ice Bar’s striking interior design, generous vodka selection, and why sushi is on the menu (we can attest Master Sushi Chef Saito Saito‘s creations are both original and scrumptious). Of course, we also asked for  some advice on crafting the perfect vodka cocktail and how to stock your own bar at home.

ATLRetro: What’s the story behind Czar Ice Bar? 

Stephen de Haan: Czar Ice Bar developed from our passion for amazing cocktails. Specifically, with hundreds of different vodkas, flavors and house-made infusions, we have an amazing palate to paint with. Also, with the success of Prohibition around craft cocktails, we saw a void in the market. Specifically around women who enjoy vodka both in flavor and because it has the lowest calories for any spirit, and who are looking for a sexy nonsmoking environment. How did the owners get the idea for it?  We developed Czar around this idea of a sexy environment focused on vodka. Initially Cold-war era Soviet Union comes to mind, but we went back further to the aristocracy of the Russian Empire during the period of the Czars. We were inspired by the Winter Palace, specifically the sitting room, and what would a modern day Czar’s sitting room look and feel like. Combine this palatial feel with a modern vodka-based cocktail program and Master Sushi Chef Saito’s sushi masterpieces, and you have a place where any Russian princess would want to relax.

How many different vodkas are on the menu, and how do you select which vodkas to serve?  

We have over 300 vodkas. They have all been tasted and selected by [myself]. The first criteria is the nose; they need to be clean, not offensive like rubbing alcohol. The second is the mouth feel. All of our vodkas are smooth, with very little after-bite. Also we look for uniqueness, for example, vodkas that have unique distillates, such as Russian Bear which is distilled from molasses, and Pau which is distilled from pineapple in Hawaii. We love a the story behind the brand, the people, the process, and how it impacts the final product.

Vodka is often thought of as not having a lot of taste nuances when consumed straight-up. Other than flavor-infused vodkas, what are a few aspects that differentiate vodkas and makes one better than another for drinking straight or in cocktails?

When comparing the traditional vodkas side by side you will find a large difference between a potato vodka, or a winter wheat, or corn vodka. Once you know the flavor profile for each and find a preference, then explore the others in that category to find a personal favorite. Also, some people with a gluten sensitivity have not thought about the vodka, and the clouded head may not be a hangover, rather a reaction to some part of the distillate. A switch in vodka may be all it take to keep you feeling well and the head clear. Then again sometimes it is just imbibing a bit too much.

What traditional vodka cocktails do you serve (i.e. martini, cosmopolitan, etc.)? 

Of course, we have traditional martinis; our Czar Martini features Imperia vodka 8 times distilled and is made in a traditional style with a Dolin Dry Vermouth-rinsed cocktail glass served with blue cheese-stuffed olives. We also serve cosmopolitans, apple martinis and the like. One unique feature is a California Cosmo with your choice of 14 different orange-flavored vodkas.

What are a few of your more favorite, more innovative creations, and any anecdotes about how you came up with them? 

Recently for National Donut Daywe featured our own house-made Krispy Kreme vodka. We chopped one dozen doughnuts, paired with Van Gogh Caramel vodka and spun it in our laboratory centrifuge at 4,000 rpm for 20 mintues.  The result, a clear smooth Krispy Kreme vodka.

What’s your philosophy behind a vodka cocktail? For example, are there some mixers that are go better with vodka than others?

Very simple. Fresh is best, less is more. Start with a smooth clean vodka like Van Gogh Blue, and mix it with any fresh juice. You need not overdo the juice because a clean vodka will already disappear in the drink.

Any secret to the perfect martini? And is it shaken or stirred?  

The perfect martini, is almost like the perfect BBQ. Every region, every person has their take on the perfect martini. Some believe the vermouth should stay in the next room, others a spritz, and still others a rinse. The Czar Martini is what I consider the perfect martini.  Made with eight times distilled Imperia Vodka from Russia, shaken ice cold, served in a Dolin vermouth rinsed martini glass with Cabrales Blue Cheese-stuffed olives.

Sushi is traditionally paired with sake, so why sushi at a vodka bar?

Think Russia and caviar. Caviar is used in many sushi dishes so taking the next step only seems natural. Also, with Master Chef Saito’s house-made sauces that he garnishes many of his dishes with, we are using the same ingredients, mango, fresh orange, etc.

Are there any particular sushi/vodka pairings that you recommend from your menu, both for the conservative and the more adventurous diner? 

I particularly like the Smash Hit, a martini made with 360 Georgia Peach Vodka, fresh mint and fresh-squeezed lemon juice paired with the Lobster Roll. The sweetness of the lobster is enhanced with this clean sweet peach martini. On the more adventurous side, I would recommend the one of Chef Saito’s special dishes, the Pacific Ocean.  With a wonton sheet and sail, mixed fish, fresh cucumber, cream cheese and Shiro Dashi sauce, it pairs nicely with a Square One Organic Cucumber martini.

The interior design of Czar Ice Bar combines traditional elements of old Russia with the giant portraits and bar items displayed in spaces resembling cathedral windows with a very contemporary club atmosphere—blue lights and 2st century furnishings. Who was the designer and how did you come up with the look?  

I researched many images of the Czar Palaces and relayed those to my partner Stan Weaver who took the ideas and ran with them creating our own modern interpretation of these palaces.  We are very proud how all of the elements came together.

Do you have any advice to our readers on how to stock their home vodka bar?  

I see a lot of vodka that has spent tons of dollars on advertising producing a premium image. Those are ok, but I prefer to look at the artisanal small batch vodkas. On the label they will say small batch or pot-distilled. These are made by artisans one batch at a time creating the best product possible.

Finally how did you create the ice bar?  If it has not been done regionally before, how did you develop it?

The ice bar itself, 27 feet long, four inches thick of solid ice was a huge undertaking. We first found an ice skating rink manufacturer that “thought” it could be done but never had himself. They went to great lengths for us custom-manufacturing the refrigeration mat that freezes the ice. After that, we worked with local fabricators for a custom pan to house this in. Next was working with a number of engineers to review the cooling load specifications. Initially we thought we were going to have to use medical grade chillers, but soon found a source with a unit that met our very strict guidelines. As we installed it looking at different insulation technologies developed by NASA so that a guest’s legs sitting at the bar would not be cold from the immense slab of ice resting inches above them. The whole process was an experiment in itself, but it could not have turned out better.

All photographs are courtesy of Czar Ice Bar and used with permission.

Category: Features, Wednesday Happy Hour & Supper Club | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kat of the Week: Making Whoopie Pies with Widdi Turner of No Big Whoop Bakery, Just in Time for the Turnin’ Trixx Bake Sale and Valentine’s Day!

Posted on: Feb 8th, 2012 By:

Widdi Turner's whoopie pies make a delicious Valentine's gift.

By Jennifer Belgard
Contributing Editor

Widdi Turner is one of the most talented and busiest gals in the ATL. She’s an actor, producer, crafter, a baton twirling-go-go dancing-performer, and an adventurous baker. She’s a one woman whirlwind taking Atlanta by storm. This month celebrates the one-year anniversary of her No Big Whoop Bakery, and Widdi is taking it to new heights. Her delectable treats are the perfect gift this Valentine’s Day.

Widdi’s homemade Nutella Whoopie Pies are the number-one selling dessert at Wisteria Restaurant in Inman Park.  Her weekly specialty flavors are also available online, or at Casseroles in Morningside.  You can pick up her goodies and many others at the Turnin’ TriXXX Bake Sale Sunday, Feb. 12 at the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club in Little 5 Points from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

ATLRetro: Tell me a little about yourself.

Widdi Turner: Well, I do a little this, I do a little that!  I’ve worn a lot of hats in my life, which is probably why I first became an actor – I figured then I could be anything. In addition to acting – my biggest claim to fame would be appearances on GOOD EATS with Alton Brown – I also produce commercials, have my own crafts business [called] widdiwoo; twirl with Turnin’ TriXXXLittle 5 Points’ premier baton twirling troupe!; but mostly these days, I make whoopie pies – lots and lots of whoopie pies.

What led to the creation of No Big Whoop Bakery?

Speaking of Turnin’ TriXXX, we have a semi-annual bake sale at the Euclid Ave Yacht Club. Last year – one year ago this Valentine’s Day, in fact! – I introduced my whoopie pies along with cake pops and macaroons. The whoopie pies were the easiest of the three, so thankfully they were also the most popular!  And literally, after that day, the orders have never stopped coming in.  I had no intention of starting a business. It basically took on a life of its own, and I’m just tagging along for the ride.

Widdi Turner making whoopie pies.

I have about 10 that stay in constant rotation.  I recently cut the list down a little, although there are more flavors that I make if requested.  I do special events such as showers, wedding receptions, birthdays, etc.  I can personalize the wrapper that the treats come in with a special message, or display them unwrapped on platters in a decorative way.  I did one wedding reception where the bride was from Brazil and the groom was from India, so I created a whoopie pie of cardamom pistachio cake with mango buttercream filling.  They were a big hit!

Where do you find your inspiration?

It doesn’t hurt that I’m addicted to Food Network, Cooking Channel and TOP CHEF!  And of course, I could spend days exploring food blogs.  I try to think of foods I enjoy that demand to be recreated in whoopie pie form.  Being half-Asian, I’m familiar with flavors in Asian desserts, so I made a Japanese whoopie pie as a tsunami recovery fundraiser. It was a matcha tea cake with red bean paste buttercream and a swath of chestnut paste.  I called it the “Kibou Cake”; kibou means “hope” in Japanese.  Drinks can also be an inspiration, as the case is with one of my most popular flavors, the Irish Whoopie Bombe (Guinness chocolate cake, Jameson chocolate ganache and Bailey’s Irish Cream Cheese filling).

What has been your biggest challenge?

Basically I feel like I’m working 2+ full time jobs as I grow this business but still have to work “the day job.”  And it has grown to the point where I have to take the big leap soon of making it full time, but that takes money.  Right now I’m working on the business plan and fundraising ideas,  Wish me luck!

Widdi Turner's best-selling Nutella Whoopie Pies.

I am the baker at Casseroles in Morningside (1393 North Highland Ave behind Meringue), so they carry the pies, and Wisteria (471 North Highland Ave) carries my pies on their dessert menu. Currently they serve the Nutella Whoopie, and it’s their top selling item.  Did I mention I make my own Nutella?  You can also order from me by checking out my Facebook page and emailing me your order [at] widdi@nobigwhoopbakery.com.

Any specials for Valentine’s Day?

Agh!  Thanks for reminding me!  Well, I’ll be baking something – probably some new items to test out for the bakery – for the Turnin’ TriXXX Bake Sale that will be Sunday, Feb 12 at the Euclid Ave Yacht Club from 2 to 6 p.m.  And my Valentine’s Day specials will be posted on my Facebook page, so check back often!

All photos are courtesy of Widdi Turner and No Big Whoop Bakery!

Category: Kool Kat of the Week, Wednesday Happy Hour & Supper Club | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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