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Atlanta food that doesn't suck (unlike South City and Fat Matt's)

I'm sorry to complain, but I'm just back from two disappointing dinners in ATL -- one at Fat Matt's, where the ribs would be laughed at in any real BBQ city, and one at South City, where the overpriced but perfectly decent food has somehow conned reviewers into treating it as the city's culinary gem. (Will they never tire of the gimmick "Updating Regional Cuisine for the Younger Trendy Crowd!")

This is a great city, but I'm really starting to doubt its food bona fides. I used to eat reasonably well at The Beautiful across from the MLK Center until it closed. But I'm out of good ideas now.

I have one meal left here. It's either lunch or dinner tomorrow. No limits on location. Can you true hounds out there tell me the one, single, truly outstanding restaurant to hit? Or does it just not exist in this city?

(For what it's worth, if you're in Seattle, where I'm from, you should eat your one meal at either Dahlia Lounge (traditional Seattle cuisine) or Harvest Vine (incredible Basque).)

Thanks amigos.

Fatman.

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  1. I'd disagree with both of your observations. Perhaps you hit either on a bad night. While Fat Matts may not be St Louis, Memphis or lowlands BBQ, it's pretty damn good.
    South City is also a very good, but as you said, a bit expensive place.

    None the less, my fave on repeated visits to ATL, is still Pura Vida on Highland. If you like the style of food, tapa, then this is one of the best I've been to since Spain. Up there with Emilios in Chicago and Azafran in NYC.

    1. Well, for what's it worth, I could have told you that South City Kitchen sucked (in my opinion, of course). I've not been to Fatt Matt's, so have no comment.

      Based on your choices so far it sounds like you're interesting in something with "local flavor," in which case I'm going to suggest Watershed in Decatur. I'd order either the vegetable plate or the salmon croquettes. Lunch and dinner available.

      The salmon croquettes might sound strange to somebody from Seattle, as salmon is obviously not local. But canned salmon is, and it (along with canned mackeral) have been staples of the "poor people" diet here in the south for many decades.

      Restaurant Eugene takes a southern approach with its otherwise elegant food, including things various pickled items, etc. (again, home-made pickles and preserves very characteristic of southern food). Pricey, with a quiet, elegant atmostphere.

      Finally, if what you're looking for is actually based on price point, go to Mary Mac's Tea Room on Ponce de Leon in Midtown.

      Lots of other suggestions if you're not actually interested in southern food.

      1. Your observation on Fat Matt's makes me chuckle. Sloppy joe's and boiled/grilled ribs are not BBQ. Whether it's a nostalgia thing, I don't know, but a lot of people don't get that. I admit liking their baked beans, though.

        By comparison, a lot of natives and Tech grads insist you visit The Varsity. I think it's OK for the occasional greasy food fix but nothing to write home about. At the same time, though I get all excited over the possibility of making a trip to Birmingham and having Milo's, which is a nostalgia thing for me (plus thinking about their sauce makes me slobber).

        You didn't really give any parameters for your final meal in ATL. Casual or upscale? Ethnic? Dive? Good value?

        Here are some solid choices:

        Madras Saravan Bhavan (Decatur)- top vegetarian Indian place, best enjoyed w/ a group so you can try a lot of dishes.

        Greenwood's on Green Street (Roswell)- very good homemade Southern food in massive portions; the fried chicken is worth the wait and the desserts rule; no reservations, but the food is worth waiting in line

        Joel- this is it for the high end; if they're running their 3-course prix fixe menu, it's an amazing value in fine dining

        Pozole- I've been twice now and have really enjoyed this; not sure how to classify it- southwestern or non-Tex Mex; good tacos to rival Taqueria/Sundown, and a surprisingly good side salad of tomatoes, cukes, and avocado; fyi, it's a bit of a scene, though

        If you make a trip to Decatur, whether for Watershed (which, honestly, might also offend your sense of value, if South City did), Taqueria del Sol, or somewhere else, *and* you're a beer drinker, be sure to walk up to the square and hit the upstairs Belgian bar at the Brick Store. Seattle is a tough beer scene to beat, but this is just a fabulously authentic spot.

        There are lots of other possibilities. It'd be hard to beat Seattle for Asian, but we definitely have some good places.

        Anyway, best of luck in the rest of your ATL experience.

        1. You guys are the greatest. I left the parameters blank (value, type of food, price, etc.) because I wanted exactly these no-limits recommendations. Thanks for taking the time to write.

          And hey, I hope I didn't suggest that Seattle has truly first-rate food. It has pretty good food, and in some restaurants on some nights excellent food, but it's no Chicago, San Francisco, or (for that matter) Houston.

          I lucked out and I think I may be able to squeeze two meals in today before leaving. I'll report back (and try to sound less snotty)!

          Oh, and Ted? I agree . . . the baked beans at Fat Matt's were pretty good.

          Fatman

          1. Coming all the way from Seattle, I'm surprised you chose Fatt Mac's and South City. Never been to Fatt Mac's and I don't think I ever read or heard that South City is the "city's culinary gem." Far from it. Decent at times depending on what you order.
            Last meal in Atlanta: Bacchanalia, Joel, or Aria.

            I was in Seattle in January and enjoyed my visits to Salumi, Matt's in the Market, Dahlia Lounge (where I had a wine dinner with Mike Januik), Lola, and Restaurant Zoe. Love your city.

            1. Reporting in: I made it to Watershed for a late lunch. First-rate shrimp grits (fluffy, light, rich) with "Pullman Plank" (long piece of toast). I appreciated Therese's recommendation of the salmon croquettes and the spirit in which it was offered (authentic southern staples), but they didn't send me - I think that's my fault; I'm too spoiled by wild Alaskan King in Seattle to appreciate a completely different type of dish down here. My other sides ("shed salad," potato salad, spinach) were fine -- the spinach was really very good.

              All in all, I'd definitely go back there. There's a nice unpretentiousness about the food -- new South but without the "Look At Me!" razzle dazzle of South City Kitchen.

              Ted, I couldn't make it to the Brick Store, alas (I had to get back downtown for work). Next time. But I'm following your/rcburli recommendations for dinner - Joel tonight.

              Blessings to all of you for your help. And rcburli, I'm so glad you hit the spots you did when you visited. Salumi is wonderful - I (along with many) cured a prosciutto there when they had their "adopt a prosciutto" plan last year - and Matt's is a really sweet, special spot.

              Fatman

              1. Have fun at Joel. Check out the groovy bar with the groovy lights, and astound everybody with your knowledge of the sinks in the WC: they're activated by sensors at foot level, so you need to dance back and forth a little bit to get the water to start flowing.

                And I should point out that the salmon croquettes at Watershed are not, in fact, made with canned salmon, but with poached fresh salmon (and likely really excellent quality salmon at that), even though canned salmon is the traditional starting point.

                Hmm, I may have dinner tonight at Watershed.

                1. Ted's right -- the 3 course prix fixe at Joel's is a great buy -- even with the wine pairings (which were very nice, not cheap plonk) it was only $59 pretax. That's spendy but not outrageous.

                  Therese is right -- the fancy lighted bar is supercool (like a W hotel without the annoyances) and the sinks in the bathrooms are swishy elite.

                  But with the deepest respect and love, I thought the food was perfectly fine, no better -- standard fresh local ingredients and farm raised organic ___ and new american with french technique -- which makes Joel a lot like many Seattle restaurants that are very highly regarded (Earth and Ocean, Mistral). You could be eating at almost any mid-to-high end new American place in the country. It's not (at all) that it was bad -- to the contrary, everything I had was tasty. It was also completely forgettable.

                  Right now, it's on my mind -- duck medallions with apricot pineapple salsa, roasted cod with beet jus and fingerling potatoes and parsley puree, opera cake with ice cream -- but I don't think it'll last in the stomach memory.

                  Having said all that: It's a deal to get food this nice, in a room that beautiful, with bathrooms that swish, for $39. A great not-so-cheap but still special date place. And I'm glad I went.

                  Thanks hounds. Give a shout-out if you're ever in Seattle!

                  Fatman

                  1. Opinion vary greatly - as you have already discovered - and geography plays into most suggestions. My familiarity is on the north side of the metro area.

                    I would heartily agree regarding Greenswood's on Green Street in Roswell. Across the street is Swallow at the Hollow (open Wednesday-Saturday), which has very good bbq. Their sides are particularly outstanding. I usually order ribs. Actually, Sam & Dave's BBQ 1 on Lower Roswell Road just east of Johnson Ferry Road in Cobb County (Marietta address) is the best bbq in the area. They are particularly noted for their brisket, but my son and daughter both raved about the chicken today. Their sides are all fresh and, generally, quite good.

                    Mi Pilon, on Buford Hwy at Mitchell Road (3 traffic lights north of Jimmy Carter Blvd.), does a superb job with Dominican cuisine. Their goat, pork and chicken offerings are particularly good. Red beans or black beans accompany the white or yellow rice along with excellent plantains. Huge quantity and reasonable prices.

                    1. Hey, We just moved to Mobile, Alabama from Seattle. Just here 5 months. We went to Atlanta one weekend and anxious to try some great Southern food we also went to Fat Matt's. We were very surprised at the hubbub. It was a dissappointment. Here in Mobile, the BBQ is awesome. Great, great seafood and all the Southern side dishes to go along. You should come to Mobile. Our job relocated us here and it's been interesting but I have to say, we do miss Seattle. Have a great time.

                      1. When I was in Atlanta, I liked Fat Matt's quite well, but I had the chopped pork. I also liked a Jamaican chain place, Bridgetown, bargain buffet lunch, and Flying Biscuit. Also had a more upscale meal at Canoe, nice location and fine food but overpriced.

                        When I was in Seattle, I liked Salumi and loved Matt's in the Market. Hated a place called Wild Ginger.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Wanda

                          A lot of people in Atlanta do not really care for Fat Matt's. Part of the problem is that Atlanta is not really a bbq town at all. Whoever steered the OP to Fat Matt's and South City as exemplars of the best ATL has to offer did a disservice. Watershed is a much better choice for southern, as are many local soul food and meat and three places. Glad you liked the pulled pork, though. I have not had Fat Matt's pulled pork but my favorite locally is OB's south of the city off of I-75.

                        2. I don't live in Atlanta, thank goodness, but I visit often. Fat Matt's is not barbecue at all, in my opinion. The closest I've seen in the area is Harold's. It's just south of downtown, in an area those in the North of the city might be a bit leery of, but I felt perfectly fine there. Their barbecue is servicable, and certainly several steps above Fat Matt's. What they do have that I would recommend is a couple of Southern staples that are hard to find, at least where I live: cracklin' corn bread and brunswick stew. The brunswick stew is a thick, slightly acidic meat-based stew. And cracklin' corn bread is, as the name would suggest, cornbread loaded with pork cracklins. Not exactly food for those with high cholesterol, but very good.

                          1. I agree, Emilyw. I ate at Harold's 3 years ago and it was exactly as you describe -- a lot better than Fat Matt's (not really a compliment), but merely adequate. But I can't really talk. Seattle BBQ is mostly dog food.

                            Obviously I need to hit Greenwood next trip. Thanks hounds. Something to look forward to.

                            Fatman

                            1. You can't go wrong with Canoe. Granted a bit pricey, and dare I say a bit "trendy", but the quality is outstanding. And the presentation and service are excellent. Try the squash soup if it's on the menu--superb!

                              1. fat matts has the best ribs i have consumed. period

                                1. Hi all,

                                  There's this guide with a listing of Atlanta's 50 best restaurants, I noticed you mentioned a few on the list so it might interest you guys to take a look at it. I am from Canada and will be using this as a reference for my trip to Atlanta so let me know if you have ever been to some of the places. Any input will be greatly appreciated.

                                  http://atlantahappenings.creativeloaf...

                                  1. If you want good up to date info on dining in atlanta go to atlantacuisine.com

                                    If you are looking for some good recs from that list, with out even looking at it I would go with Aria, Restaurant Eugene or rathbun's.

                                    1. Goodness, you were sadly misinformed by someone. That whole statement about SCK "conned reviewers into treating it as the city's culinary gem" is just wrong. Or maybe you just have the wrong reviewers. There are much better places in Atlanta. Floataway Cafe, Cafe Eugene, Shaun's and Cuerno come immediately to mind. In the same chain of restaurants as SCK is La Tavola, a lovely and satisfying place. Please make a return visit and contact someone who tries to stay on top of food destinations in Atlanta.