3 out of 10
I love me some Cuban food, so I was excited to try Mojitos in historic Norcross. I was also excited because I had never been to this part of Norcross, but had seen it many times on one of my favorite shows, ABC’s Resurrection, which filmed there but was unfortunately not resurrected for a third season.
This area of Norcross is filled with buildings dating back to the 1800s, some of which were immediately recognizable to me from TV, so it was very exciting to check things out. I literally felt like I had gone back in time or stumbled onto a TV set. It was really cool.
While historic Norcross delivered, Mojitos did not. I did love the vibe of the restaurant though. The intimate space with brightly colored Caribbean art made me feel like I’d traveled to Cuba. That feeling unfortunately started to fade when I was served a lackluster pina colada. How do you mess up a pina colada? This one needed way more sugar.
Mojitos pina colada
I have always loved Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward for its historic, laid-back charm. With the addition of Krog Street Market, it’s only gotten better. While the market is a bit of a destination, it’s just small and quirky enough to fit into the neighborhood and add to its charm versus detract from it.
A modern-day food court with tons of artisan fare, there’s lots to admire about Krog Street Market. Here are some of my favorites:
- While it can be tricky to find a spot, parking is free. This luxury is becoming less and less common in Atlanta.
- There is plenty of food to choose from, but the market is still small enough to walk around it a few times before making a selection. I like choices, but too many can be overwhelming.
- Since the closing of the beloved Gu’s Bistro on Buford Highway, this is now the only place to experience the ultra-satisfying Gu’s Dumplings (and other limited selections from the former restaurant’s menu).
- It’s not just all about eating. There’s drinking too! Perhaps the coolest thing about the market is Hop City, where you can find a mind-blowing selection of craft beers. Since you are able to buy them by the single bottle, I made an awesome variety pack for my husband one Valentine’s Day (in addition to snagging a few interesting brews for myself). You can also drink these beers as you walk around the market. And they have a bar where you can order by the glass if you want to be more sophisticated!
- If you’re not up for alcohol, you can get a mean smoothie at Nature’s Garden Express. I got a banana chai smoothie there that was to die for. It was the perfect dessert after slamming a bowl of Gu’s Dumplings.
- If your thirst is still not quenched, then prepare to be wowed. In addition to a fountain of free water, there’s also a fountain serving up free sparkling water!!! I love this so much I can’t stand it.
Lately I am living for Asian bakeries/cafes. There are two in particular that have my heart.
I first discovered Caffé Bene in Flushing, Queens. My husband and I stayed at a boutique hotel there over Thanksgiving last year and noticed that this place was abuzz even on a holiday. I got a massive piece of banana bread, and being fresh off of my Vietnam trip, I was delighted to find Vietnamese coffee on the menu. (If you have not had Vietnamese coffee before, it is a dream from heaven. Super strong coffee mixed with sweetened, condensed milk. It is deliciously indulgent and will keep you awake for days! Though the version in Vietnam is much stronger than the ones here.)
Anyway, I was halfway through my brick of banana bread when my husband sat down with something very curious. It was a giant piece of bread covered with what looked like squeeze cheese, and also…honey??? Come to find out it is called Garlic & Cheese Honey Bread and it is one of the greatest creations of all time. Sweet, sticky, garlicky, cheesy…it is so wrong it just has to be right!
Caffe Bene Garlic & Cheese Honey Bread
Kevin Gillespie’s Gunshow is all about the ‘wow factor,’ and I must say, I was wowed. Instead of getting my friends another lame gift card for Christmas, I decided to treat them to a night at this magical eatery. Never being able to predict Friday night traffic in Atlanta, I arrived about 30 minutes before everyone else, and was pleasantly surprised to be warmly welcomed with a seat at the bar and a very attentive bartender.
At a destination dining spot like this, I was afraid I’d be awkwardly standing alone in the small entrance until the rest of my party arrived. (This was the fate of diners who arrived later in the evening because it got super crowded. But since I got there fairly early — around 6:30 p.m. — I was instead treated to a theatrical presentation of the Old Fashioned, Gunshow’s house drink.)
As the bartender set a sugared cinnamon stick across the top of my drink and lit it on fire, then warmed up an orange peel and stuck it in there too, I was nothing short of delighted. Things got even better once my husband and friends got there and we started chowing down.
The Gunshow Old Fashioned
Between attending the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, taking a spontaneous trip to Vietnam, and trying a bunch of new restaurants, 2015 was an epic food year for me (hence I had to hire a personal trainer in December). I really stuffed my face good, so it’s hard to pick just a few of the best dishes I ate, but nonetheless, here is what I believe to be my top 10 list for 2015 (in no particular order).
Chef Special Spicy Tofu – Mamak – Atlanta, Georgia
I started the year out with a bang, trying Mamak, a new Malaysian restaurant on Buford Highway, and becoming instantly obsessed with it. I was so excited, in fact, that I just had to do a video. There was lots to love about Mamak, but the Chef Special Spicy Tofu had me at “hello.” (Check out my post/video for more juicy details.)
Chef Special Spicy Tofu – Mamak
Tonkotsu Ramen – Umaido – Suwanee, Georgia
I took a chance and selected this place (pretty close to my house) for my 2015 birthday dinner with some friends and family. I was a little nervous because the friends were coming from way ITP and aren’t typically that thrilled with the OTP experience. Luckily the swoon-worthy bowls of ramen at Umaido made them totally forget that they were approximately 42,000 miles from Atlanta (in their minds). A good time was had by all, and I have returned to Umaido several more times for that Tonkotsu (despite their lackluster service). Come to think of it, I should probably go there for lunch this week…
Tonkotsu Ramen – Umaido
If you read my last post, you know that Vietnam was the most awesome place I have ever been. That post provides an overview of my trip, and lists the top 10 experiences I had on my tour. In this post, I continue to tout the virtues of Vietnam by recapping 10 more amazing things about the country.
1. It seemed like everywhere we went – hotels, tourist attractions, people’s homes – we were given free tea. Sweet tea, earthy tea, hot tea, cold tea, caffeinated tea, herbal tea – the variety was endless, and they were all delicious!
2. Speaking of the hotels, they were all amazing. The level of service reminded me of the U.S. hotels of old. First off, instead of just randomly giving us shampoo and lotion in the room, they provided all of the necessary amenities – toothpaste, body wash, combs, slippers, robes, Q-tips – you name it. They also supplied more free bottled water than I could even drink, as well as little candies in the evening. On top of those little touches, they would practically do anything we needed without hesitation – make a restaurant reservation, call a cab, install a SIM card in my phone, come to my room to show me how to use the air conditioner, come to the business office to show me how to use the computers, restore electricity in my room when I blew a fuse at 3:30 a.m. – you know, the usual. All of the hotels also offered extensive breakfast buffets included with the room charge, and many also had pools as well as spas with very affordable services. One also had a free shuttle into town since it was a little ways out. We are really lacking that value and service here in the States these days – our hotels in Vietnam were so nice I felt like a pampered princess!
Hoi An Trails Resort & Spa, Vietnam
Royal Lotus Hotel, Halong Bay
I just got back from Vietnam and I can safely say it was the most amazing place I have ever been. Mind-blowing natural scenery? Check. Gorgeous architecture? Check. Amazing food? Super friendly people? Unique experiences? Beautiful beaches? Yup, it has all of that too. For me it was the perfect vacation destination.
Guided Tours and Gate 1 Travel
I went via a guided tour led by Gate 1 Travel. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as I had never done one of the company’s guided tours before. (I did a Gate 1 unguided tour of Prague, Budapest and Vienna several years back, which was great.) Before I left, I was having trouble getting my head around how one tour manager could possibly provide that much attention and assistance to 30-40 travelers all at once. However, our amazing tour manager Dang handled our group of 35 with ease. He truly made our experience stress free, seamlessly weaving us in and out of planes, boats and buses, and going above and beyond to help us with whatever he could.
The tour included a great mix of both the major tourist attractions (Halong Bay, the Ancient City in Hoi An, the old Imperial City in Hue, etc.), as well as off-the-beaten-path spots including a traditional home owned by an 80+ year old woman in Hue and a jaw-dropping ride through a storybook-like mountain pass between Da Nang and Hue. Dang’s passion for his job and his country were evident and appreciated every step of the way.
Imperial City, Hue, Vietnam
Cakes & Ale is a classy joint! No wonder Christiane Lauterbach likes it so much. I arrived during the Decatur Book Festival promptly at 11:30 am on a Saturday. Since it was just opening time, I was blissfully their very first customer of the day. Seated in a gorgeous dining room and served water in a pretty blue bottle, I felt very important and fancy.
Still too early for cocktails, I ordered an iced coffee, which came to me in a green mason jar accompanied by a small carafe of cream and a bowl overflowing with sugar cubes. I loved all the fanfare over my little old coffee!
Cakes & Ale Decatur
Since I was solo, I was directed to a tiny table near the front. Seated (very) next to me was a couple also taking a break from the festival. They were so close I pretty much digested their entire conversation. It didn’t really bother me, but it might have been a bit distracting had I been trying to carry on a conversation of my own too.
Living in the northern part of Lawrenceville, GA, I am almost as close to Athens as I am to Atlanta. My husband and I decided to take a day trip there for our anniversary, and it took us about the same amount of time to get there as it does to get into the city (if not less due to experiencing absolutely no traffic either way).
Athens is a funky, laid-back college town with lots to love. You won’t see the glitz and glamour that you see in Atlanta, but there are plenty of bakeries, boutiques and bars to keep everyone entertained. Just make sure you check the UGA football schedule before you go, because it can get crazy on game days.
We started our day with some strong espresso drinks and a chocolate croissant at a cute little bakery called Independent Baking Co. A tiny spot specializing mostly in coffee and freshly baked breads, we were informed when we arrived a little after 10am that we had just missed the Saturday morning rush. I was happy to hear it, as we were able to enjoy our morning fortification in peace sitting at the small counter facing the window.
Croissant and Cortado at Independent Baking Co.
This weekend will be an epic one for Atlanta foodies, with three major events taking place.
Taste of Atlanta
First off, there’s the annual Taste of Atlanta where attendees can taste dishes from dozens of area restaurants, and also learn cooking tips and tricks from some of our city’s best chefs and restaurateurs. For only $25 (for advanced tickets), or $35 at the gate, it’s well worth it. Highlights this year (in my opinion) include the chance to hear from Rusty Hamlin, the executive chef for the Zac Brown Band, at The Chef’s Table stage, as well as learn how to make authentic ramen in The Kitchen Workshop. Here’s my recap of last year’s great event — http://freshatl.com/taste-of-atlanta-top-5/.
Kale pakoras from Chai Pani at Taste of Atlanta 2014