Foodie Adventures – Southern Restaurants Family Road Trip

As a food scientist who helps companies create innovative new products and someone who is just plain passionate about food, it is not surprising that I have created a family of foodies! I love to cook and they love to eat and critique my epicurean creations. We have fun with food; we like to try new ingredients, experiment with combinations of flavors and textures, and experience the sensory delights of a new recipe or menu. Mostly, we enjoy time to connect, have fun, and fellowship together over a great meal.

It takes some effort and planning to keep these discerning palates interested and engaged in “what’s for dinner”. I get a ton of culinary inspiration from shows and websites like the Food Network, Cooking Channel TV, Travel Channel, Rachael Ray and, most recently, favorite recipes from friends on Pinterest. I especially love to watch shows like Rachael Ray’s Dining on $40 a Day or The Best Thing I Ever Ate on the Food Network featuring restaurants and their specialty dishes from around the country and the world.

Keeping a close eye on restaurant food trends gives me an edge on focusing my clients’ innovation efforts before those trends make their way into retail markets.

So, it was not a surprise to my family when I suggested a weekend road trip to Chattanooga and Atlanta to check out some of the restaurants featured on my favorite shows and websites, before our oldest daughter headed back to college.

We decided to road trip in style and rented a Lincoln Town Car, the size of a small foreign country. As we left our hometown of Nashville behind, we decided our road trip motto was “Eat Food and Bust” and we definitely managed to live up to that motto during the next three days!

First stop was dinner on Friday evening at the Back Inn Café, a re-purposed historic home in the Bluff View Art District in Chattanooga. We dined on the three-season porch overlooking the river and city lights. Along with the great atmosphere and exceptional service, we all agreed that the highlights of the evening were the fried green tomatoes served on arugula with herbed goat cheese and prosciutto and the breaded frog legs which were perfectly tender, succulent and served with a marinated cabbage slaw. My entrée, shrimp and grits with Tasso ham and a spicy cream sauce, was a standout! We topped off dinner with a stroll around the Art District and chocolates at Rembrandt’s.

Saturday morning we took a brisk walk on Tremont Street, a charming Chattanooga community undergoing revitalization, before enjoying a hearty breakfast at Aretha Frankenstein, an eclectic little neighborhood gem. The feast delivered to our table made our 45-minute wait worthwhile. Highlights included the Fat Stack Buckwheat Pancakes, which were more cake than pan, topped with wild Maine blueberries and the fried potatoes with jalapeno peppers, onions, and a hint of curry (I think).

We rolled out of Chattanooga, literally, and headed to Atlanta for lunch. While we were all still in a food comma from breakfast, we couldn’t resist fully experiencing our unique lunch spot selection, the Hankook Taqueria, a Korean BBQ taco stand in Atlanta’s West Midtown Design District. Our hands-down favorite dish was the Calamari Tacos with sweet chili sauce, cilantro, green onions, soy sesame marinated green cabbage, lime, and jack cheese. We also shared an order of the Bibim-Bop, a classic Korean street food dish.

After lunch, we enjoyed exploring the wide variety of shops in the Design District and we toured King Plow Art Center, a re-purposed plow and machine factory turned arts, vocational, and education community. The refurbished main building had a stunning reception room with incredible large-scale artwork to contrast with the raw industrial architectural elements.

Throughout the weekend, we found that we enjoyed exploring and discovering the sights, sounds, textures, and culture of the neighborhoods surrounding our selected restaurants as much as the culinary experience.

After checking into our hotel in Midtown Atlanta and enjoying a quick siesta, we drove out to the famous Buckhead community to enjoy dinner at the Horseradish Grill. Our favorite menu delicacies included the Honey-glazed roasted quail and the She Crab Soup. The restaurant atmosphere was warm and inviting and inspired ideas for our dream house with a large great room with unique architectural details. After dinner, we headed over to a local comedy club, The Basement Theatre, for laugh-a-minute entertainment by a local improv group. We capped off the night with a milkshake at The Varsity, the world’s largest drive-in restaurant and an Atlanta institution. “What’ll Ya Have?”

On Sunday, Day 2 of our adventure, we were able to park the car since our selected dining and sightseeing spots were within walking distance. We started the morning with breakfast at a classic Southern diner, The Silver Skillet Restaurant. The period atmosphere and diner décor have been featured in movies like “Remember the Titans” and on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” hosted by Guy Fieri. While the Country Ham and Red-eyed gravy are must-try menu standards, the piece of Lemon Ice Box Cake we shared was definitely the favorite pick with my family. After breakfast, we spent the morning visiting Atlanta’s High Art Museum and the featured exhibit “Picasso To Warhol” a collection of works by fourteen twentieth-century artists. Amazing to experience so much visual beauty in one space and in one morning!

By early afternoon, the mention of lunch still made us all groan, but we decided walking over to South City Kitchen would help us work up an appetite. Continuing with our traditional Southern food theme, my husband ordered the Southern Fried Chicken and Waffle off the Sunday brunch menu. I decided the veggie plate was just the balance I needed for my road trip diet and I was not disappointed by the delicious sweet caramelized roasted brussel sprouts, the kale salad and the hearty large-grain creamy grits. The real find at this road trip stop was the Conundrum Wine, a wonderfully complex and robust white wine made with five grape varietals. Like the name suggests, this wine keeps you guessing to decide what’s in there. After lunch, we were all definitely ready to burn off a few calories before the next eating frenzie, so we took a Sunday afternoon stroll to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens in Piedmont Park.

Our restaurant selection for dinner, Veni, Vidi, Vici’s, offered a fitting sentiment for our foodie road trip attitude – “We came, we saw, we conquered!” We were not impressed with the somewhat stuffy and uptight atmosphere of this Italian trattoria. We couldn’t even get our waiter to crack a smile. The Agnolotti , a handmade pasta dish stuffed with deli meats, toasted pecans, fontina cheese, brown butter and herbs, was a bright spot in the evening. We also liked their personalized wine glasses. This was definitely our least favorite pick of the weekend. Our dining experience reminded methat you only have one chance to make a great impression!

Our last day was Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Atlanta was in high celebration mode. We headed down to breakfast at The Flying Biscuit Café Midtown for a really fun start to the day. Located in a hip artsy neighborhood, they are famous for their complimentary biscuits with cranberry apple butter. We had a hard time picking just one dish to order off the menu. We were delighted with our choices, Orange French Toast with Raspberry Coulis and Cream (pictured); Bangers and Mac, a Southern twist on an English classic; and Fried Green Tomato Eggs Benedict served on grits, of coarse! Before heading out of town we did a little shopping at the historic Atlanta Underground and checked out a few local consignment shops.

We were homeward bound, back to our beloved Nashville for a week at the gym and a big dose of detoxing, but not before a final lunch stop at the famous Marietta Diner, which has a little something for everyone and a lot of Greek menu items. This restaurant is like a New York mirage in the middle of the Southern Bible Belt. We were blown away by the endless dessert case that we passed on the way to our table. The menu hits at our table were the Carribean Monte Cristo sandwich and the piece of Chocolate Suicide Cake that we shared. We figured if this was going to be our last meal for a while, we might as well go in style!

This weekend, we definitely proved that the family that plays and eats together, stays together! We will definitely do more family foodie exploring together soon.

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