Tuesday, July 28, 2015

POOR CALVIN'S-A RICHER ATLANTA


Spectacular Menu Reflects Many Cultures


“Umami…is the quasi-secret heart and soul of almost every braise, stew, and soup.”
                                             Michael Pollan


By Doc Lawrence

Chef Calvin Phan with Malika Bowling
ATLANTA. Just a few blocks north of Mary Mac’s, arguably Georgia’s best-known restaurant, Poor Calvin’s restaurant sits quietly along Piedmont Avenue. Billed as “absolute fusion,” a claim immediately backed up, it is a testament to the dynamic evolution of the area’s population and resulting elevation of food expectations and good dining options.

Walk inside for the first time and step into a scene from The Quiet American, Graham Greene’s classic novel about Vietnam of long ago. Fusion at Poor Calvin’s means food with a broad culinary cultural brush: Asia meets America’s Deep South.

Accompanied by the distinguished food writer Malika Bowling (who introduced me to the joy of dining here), lunch became an epicurean journey where menu items required careful consideration of wines and cocktails. While the menu represents fusion, the wine and cocktail offering was geared to fit the dishes, or serve the traditional function as an aperitif or thirst quencher.

Chef and owner, Calvin Phan took time to discuss ingredients, particularly batter used in the fried items and herds and spices added to various dishes. A deep-south staple, fried chicken glowed golden brown suggesting a lighter version than what you would expect at Mary Mac’s. “We batter with our version of tempura,” Chef Calvin revealed, thus Asian flavors appear “because we added our herbs and spices.”

Umami works best when a well-managed kitchen honors the amazing flavor potential. Predictably, it manifests in the food served at Poor Calvin’s, reflecting in a way the Chef’s journey from Vietnam and Germany to Atlanta with a few years serving his food in the wonderful South Georgia city of Statesboro.  Knowing this, you’d reasonably expect masterful blending of food cultures. It can be tricky, but for Poor Calvin’s it is effortless.

The eclectic assortment of dishes isn’t intimidating. Chef Calvin woos diners with depth of flavors accompanied by a presentation worthy of the most accomplished food stylists. The menu features dishes with French, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, New Zealand and several with Georgia farm connections. The wines are diverse and appear selected with the customer in mind.

Perhaps it is obligatory to consider the totality of the restaurant experience in arriving at any conclusion regarding the level of excellence. The wines available should be part of the equation. Riesling works almost perfectly with the omnipresent but subtle umami-inspired flavors, and the by-the glass offering of an Oregon Riesling stated that the wines are selected based on relevance to the food served. Additional wines on the list would work well. You can’t go wrong with sparkling wine and the Gruet Brut Rosé from the renowned New Mexico winery will make you forget Champagne.

The balanced menu incorporating the Southern kitchen traditions with global culinary adventures stimulates the imagination and the appetite. The jumbo lump crab cake. lobster macaroni and cheese, lemongrass steamed mussels plus the beef satay dutifully satisfied two diners on a steamy Dog Day afternoon. The outcome was a delightful experience where good food prepared and served by a well-trained staff was equal to expectations.

Location means as much in the restaurant world as is does with retail stores. Poor Calvin’s is very close to the Fabulous Fox and Emory’s midtown medical facility. Georgia Tech is in the neighborhood and Turner Field is an easy drive for Braves fans. For locals and visitors who eschew fast food or inconvenient dining options, Poor Calvin’s will be a rewarding choice. Like a rare gemstone, it represents today’s Atlanta while previewing the restaurants that remain in dreams.

Poor Calvin’s
510 Piedmont Ave.
Atlanta, GA 30308
(404) 254.4051
www.poorcalvins.com




Thursday, July 23, 2015

GENERAL SHERMAN AND COALHOUSE WALKER

An Evening with E.L. Doctorow

“Good writing is true writing.”           
                 Ernest Hemingway

By Doc Lawrence

ATLANTA-The announcement of the death of esteemed novelist E. L. Doctorow took me back to an evening in 2005 with the author at the Carter Center in Atlanta. Ironically, his then new book, “The March,” was largely based on the Georgia campaigns of Union General William T. Sherman whose headquarters during the Battle of Atlanta was on the ground now occupied by the Carter Presidential Library. The view of Atlanta’s skyline from the Center is breathtaking.

I brought every book I owned authored by Mr. Doctorow, purchased my copy of “The March” and the native of New York City graciously signed them all.

Doctorow said he carefully researched people, places and events for “The March” sharing with the packed auditorium interesting observations. “Sherman came to regret some of what happened in Georgia,” he said, and in some instances “tried to make amends as he possibly could.” He opined that Sherman was “probably a racist.” One comment about Civil War monuments that abound in Southern cities is quite relevant today.

“Monuments are erected by a deeply-injured people,” he said, with understanding, perhaps sympathy. He repeated this during the evening and it has changed the way I view most of them today. In a recent interview on public radio, president Jimmy Carter made similar remarks.

Doctorow’s commanding creation was not Sherman but the tragic Coalhouse Walker in “Ragtime.” Walker’s pain and rage jumped from the pages of the book, erupted on the movie screen and thundered in the musical. Doctorow, through Coalhouse, rolled out the country’s struggles with racial injustice with a combination of authenticity, drama and unthinkable tragedy. Randy Newman’s magnificent score for the movie is a Hollywood classic.

“The March” reached back into the swath of Sherman’s March to the Sea, “populating the destructive and decisive Civil War campaign of General William T. Sherman,” according to The New York Times obituary, with “the capture of Atlanta and the . . [m]arch to the sea — with a plethora of characters. Black and white, wealthy and wanting, military and civilian, sympathetic and repugnant, they are a veritable representation of the American people.”

E.L. Doctorow interpreted much of the events that molded America, confirming that a good story well told enlightens and broadens the mind and soul. Since that evening with him, each time I visit the Atlanta History Center or the Woodruff Library at Emory University, I often imagine him quietly researching at a corner table.



Saturday, July 18, 2015

BRAVES, CUBS & JACK DANIEL'S

SUMMER TAILGATING DOWN SOUTH


"The bases are loaded again, and I wish I was too."

                   Skip Carey, Atlanta Braves Legendary Announcer

By Doc Lawrence

ATLANTA-There will never be another Skip Carey. Funny, irreverent, sarcastic and unfailingly brilliant, he called the game as he interpreted it and during the Dog Days when the earlier versions of the Braves really sucked, he made watching and listening entertaining and enriching. His family’s  relationship with the Chicago Cubs recalls priceless memories.

Chicago is a great sports city with food that showcases the best of the Midwest. It’s hot in Atlanta and the Windy City this time of year and if we have one great advantage, it is tailgating. This outdoor food and beverage celebration was born here and will forever have a Southern accent.

Baseball, Tailgating and Jack
Early memories of the Cubs include Hall of Fame members Ferguson Jenkins, Ernie Banks and a very young Greg Maddux. Yes,  “Mad Dawg” won a Cy Young-winning pitching for the Cubs before arriving in Atlanta to help bring a World Championship to Dixie.

We haven’t been tailgating in the Turner Field parking lot for a couple of months. Lara Lyn Carter has been on the road producing some world-class cooking shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting at Jefferson’s Monticello and Nashville plus points in between.

The second half of the Braves season just started and Chef Lara Lyn, an unwavering Braves, fan has created two original recipes.
Chef Lara Lyn Carter

Spicy Pimento Cheese Stuffed Burgers

2 lbs. ground round
4 large bakery style buns
1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese grated
1/4 cup pepper jack cheese grated
1 tbsp. sour cream
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Divide the beef into 4 equal portions and shape into a ball. Press a “well” or hole in the center of the ball. Combine all of the ingredients together for the pimento cheese. Divide the pimento cheese evenly and stuff the mixture into the hole of the burger. Form the burger to seal off the hole and keep the cheese mixture in the center. Gently pat the burger into patty form. Grill the burger over high heat to sear the burger and keep the cheese mixture from coming out. Cook the burgers evenly on both until desired doneness.

Jack Daniel’s Braves Baked Beans
1 lb. dry kidney beans
1 sweet onion quartered
4 quarts of water divided
Soak beans in 2 quarts of water overnight. Drain beans and discard the water. In a large pot, cook beans and onion in 2 quarts of water over medium-high heat for 45 minutes. Remove beans from heat, cover and allow beans to rest for 30 minutes.
The Sauce
1/2 cup sorghum
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp. salt1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground clove
3 tbsp. Jack Daniel’s Whiskey
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sorghum, ketchup, brown sugar, salt, ginger, clove, and whiskey. Stir constantly until all of the ingredients have blended well and the sugar has dissolved. Pour beans with the water in a Dutch oven and pour sauce over beans and stir well. Cover beans and bake at 325 degrees for 3 hours.

It’s two hours before the first pitch and the Braves pep band is beating war drums and revving up the Tomahawk Chop.

To get in the mood, I’ve opened the bottle of Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7., making pre-game cocktails that have the taste of the Deep South. Most popular? A variation of the classic Old Fashioned. Jack is substituted for Bourbon, Peychaud’s bitters, a bright red cherry and a burnt orange peel served with chunk ice complete the deal.

Wines that go down well here in Atlanta include a chilled Rosé from Provence and the wonderful Old Vines Zinfandel from Dry Creek Winery.

The recipe for a perfect Summer day: Baseball, the Braves, great fans, welcomed guests and food that works beautifully with our selected beverages.

Go Braves!

Perfect Tailgating Wine



Monday, July 13, 2015

THE MOCKINGBIRD TRAIL



Return to Monroeville

By Doc Lawrence

MONROEVILLE, AL-The quiet little city, close to the place where Hank Williams spent his boyhood, has an exalted place in American literature. Here, Harper Lee and Truman Capote grew up as next door neighbors, reuniting as young adults as staff writers for The New Yorker, and going on to garner some impressive fame. To Kill a Mockingbird, occupies  a sacred place in American literature. And when I hear the haunting song “Moon River,” I see images of Holly, the character created by Capote in Breakfast at Tiffiny’s, portrayed on the screen by lovely Audrey Hepburn.

With the long anticipated release of Go Set a Watchman, Miss Lee’s sequel to Mockingbird, the media focus on this model Deep South town designated, as Alabama’s literary capital is fascinating. No matter the diversions of the digital age and the alleged dumbing down of the population, we still love to read books and will stand in line to purchase a good one. Stories, after all, stimulate the imagination. Few things provide better companionship when you are alone.

The Mockingbird House
The historic courthouse on the city square is a magnet to visitors spellbound by To Kill A Mockingbird. Walking the grounds, a visitor sees a birdhouse marked as “Mockingbird.” Inside is a wonderfully curated. museum dedicated to both Truman Capote and Harper Lee. Some of their relatives live here and conversations resonate with authenticity.

Monroeville provided Capote with poignant material. Writing in Self Portrait in 1972, Capote said, “As a child, I lived until I was ten or so with an elderly spinster relative in a rural, remote part of Alabama, Miss Sook Faulk. She was not more than twelve years old mentally, which is what accounted for her purity, timidity, her strange, unexpected wisdom.” He wrote two stories about her: A Christmas Memory and The Thanksgiving Visitor. A historical marker in Monroeville now serves as a guidepost for visitors seeking the Faulk house: a plot of land with the remains of a brick foundation near the historic courthouse square.

Returning to Alabama, my late mother’s home state, is an opportunity to learn and enjoy. The state’s culinary heritage ranks alongside it’s music (W. C. Handy, Sam Phillips, Emmylou Harris, Nat King Cole, Hank Williams), folk art (Myrtice West, Chris Clark, Charlie Luca, Mose Tolliver,), and literary figures Haper Lee and Truman Capote joined by many others like Pearl Cleage, Tom Key, Howell Raines, Celestine Sibley and Fannie Flagg.

Almost predictably, the new novel triggered gratuitous observations from people in far away places about Miss Lee and the characters in her novels. Like Margaret Mitchell and William Faulkner, Harper Lee and Truman Capote remain enigmatic. Being different has advantages. Down South, food, music, art and even worship follows a pattern.

Johnny Cash, singing a Tom Petty anthem proclaims:
We have our own way of praying
and every prayer is done
With a Southern accent
Where I come from.






Saturday, July 11, 2015

ART STATION'S DIXIE SWIM CLUB


Laughs and Tears on Demand in this Delightful Play


By Doc Lawrence

STONE MOUNTAIN, GA-College friendships change with graduation, careers, marriage and children. The delightfully all-too-human girls in The Dixie Swim Club cover over 30 years of joy, heartbreak, and martinis at their beloved Outer Banks vacation beach cottage. The play, a popular production, closes out the current season at Stone Mountain’s acclaimed Art Station Theatre with enough bang to sell out every performance.

Best-selling author and Decatur, Georgia native Roy Blount, Jr. said that “the South is a place, the north is a direction.” The Swim Club not only entertains for two hours, but in the best tradition of Steel Magnolias, repudiates the stereotypical Southern woman. There are ties that bind us down here that include friendship, love, family and the unconditional support that surfaces with hardship and death.

And, yes. these former athletes laugh at themselves.

Southern cuisine today occupies an exalted status, surviving relentless attacks from outsiders whose gratuitous claims that fried chicken, hog jowl-seasoned fresh garden vegetables, brewed sweet tea and homemade peach cobbler have no place on the modern dinner table. The plays funniest scenes involve the revulsion prompted by weird snacks served in a failed effort to guide the girls to an imagined better lifestyle.
A Southern Classic

The Dixie Swim Club provides a peek into the very special relationship of these five charming women, each with her own needs, wants and dreams. Sheree manages the group with irritating schedules, disgustingly healthy snacks, but soothed by a perky attitude. Dinah is the no-nonsense, career girl Atlanta lawyer who is never far from her Martini shaker. Lexie has a long history of failed marriages and cosmetic surgeries and Jeri Neal is the lapsed nun turned wife and mother. Vernadette has a rocky marriage, incarcerated children, with poverty one step away.

The dialogue recalls Designing Women, but never falls into the abyss of offensive characterizations that diminish many faux comedies about the South. The show contains perhaps the longest monologue about biscuits in the history of theater, an audience-pleasing scene that would make Scarlett O’Hara proud.
Almost on demand, we laugh and cry as these friends through the vehicle of quick, witty dialogue, good running jokes and self-deprecating humor, cope with marriage, children, love, sex, disease and death in this utterly delightful play.

Written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, The Dixie Swim Club starring Aretta Baumgartner, Kara Cantrell, Suzanne Roush, Dina Shadwell and Karen Whitaker runs through July 26.

More information and tickets: (770) 469.1105; www.artstation.org



Thursday, July 2, 2015

JEFFERSON IN JULY-


LIBERTY AND WINE

By Doc Lawrence

Since 1776, American’s have gathered to celebrate the birth of America. The soirees mirror in many ways the hospitality extended by Thomas Jefferson: family and friends feasting on food, wines surrounded by lots of good will.

Thanks to the professional expertise of the esteemed wine authority Harry Constantinescu, President & CEO of The Knights of Wine Society, I am delighted to share with those hosting a gathering this Saturday one of Jefferson’s favorite wines, a sparkling white that compares to fine Champagne at a fraction of the price.

With flavors of ripe pear, fresh ginger, almond skin and candied lemon zest, Saint-Hilaire Brut Blanquette de Limoux is a lively wine from Limoux where monks were making sparkling wine long before Champagne. Like its expensive relative, it is incredibly food-friendly. Chef Lara Lyn Carter, star of Georgia Public Television’s hit cooking show, “Thyme for Sharing,” says it is “almost perfect with barbecue or anything from the grill. There’s no guesswork with this refreshing wine.”

Robert Parker lauds Saint-Hilaire as “probably the least-known well-made sparkling wine of France.” It was a Wine Spectator 100 top values wine last year, selected from more than 18,000 wine reviews.

What is now the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire began as a primitive chapel in the 6th century
It was in the Abbey's historic cellars where in 1531 Benedictine Monks created the world’s first sparkling wine more than a century before Champagne. It’s France’s oldest sparkling wine. 
It’s said that Thomas Jefferson loved this wine and brought it to America. At the time of his death, there were 49 bottles of Saint-Hilaire in his cellar. While enjoying a glass of this wonderful wine this weekend, close your eyes. You should be able to imagine Jefferson at his writing desk composing the Declaration of Independence.

NOTE: Lara Lyn Carter’s visit to Monticello and her discussions about Jefferson’s cellar, food preferences and wines is a very rare treat for television viewers. It is highly entertaining:
http://www.gpb.org/thyme-for-sharing/episodes/1



Lara Lyn Carter at Monticello

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

FATHER'S DAY 2015

A LIFETIME OF LEADERSHIP

"The righteous man walks in his integrity; His children are blessed after him."
                                       Proverbs 20:7

STONE MOUNTAIN, GA-It’s not a big day for the fresh flower industry and restaurants don’t count on massive crowds, but Father’s Day has more importance than window dressing of festivities. Not to discount tributes-they are important-but fatherhood carries many elements that merit pondering on the day set aside for remembering.

I’m the fortunate son. Dad, at 96, is, by threads, hanging on. He challenges the end by whispering that he will live until he reaches 100. Doubt him at your peril.

His youth mirrored millions of other men of the era. Leaving the farm during the depression, he came to Atlanta and was a team member at Bell Aircraft that built the legendary B-29. One became the Enola Gay. Drafted during World War II, he fought across Europe under George Patton as a foot soldier in the Third Army, later assigned to a legendary army called the Thunderbirds and mustered out while serving as an MP in New Orleans after a spell with General Jonathan Wainwright.

My mother had a boy’s army dress uniform made for me to greet him at the station when he got off the train named The Crescent in Atlanta.

He was movie star handsome.

Atlanta's  "Baseball Magnolia"
Education and home ownership came through the GI Bill of Rights. Dad had a high opinion of FDR and Harry Truman and accomplished everything possible during my baby days. The early years were tranquil where the only interruption was his determination to get a college education which he did at night and for a while in Indiana.

Food was always on the table, we dressed well for school and church, and he only wanted one thing for his three children: a good education. We went to college where we chose and honored his wish.

He takes pride in outliving almost everyone he knew or worked with except for one overbearing tragedy: the loss of his youngest son, an event that almost did what the Nazi’s could not.

My childhood memories include many fishing trips. Carrabelle, Florida where, at about 10 miles out, I got seasick and prayed I would die. Freshwater fishing in Alabama on the Tennessee River. The pier in Lake Worth Florida. Big game fishing in the Atlantic and a boatload of trout caught on the Indian River. My preference for fresh fish has never lessened.

Baseball, whether I played or we went to see the greatest minor league team in history, the beloved Atlanta Crackers, was primary entertainment. His favorites (and mine) were Ralph “Country” Brown, a speedy centerfielder who never made it to the big leagues and Eddie Mathews who did and joined Babe Ruth as the only player to hit a home over the centerfield Magnolia tree in Atlanta’s Ponce de Leon ballpark.

The old tree still stands and I visit it occasionally, always thinking of the farm boy who survived war, worked hard, served his community quite well and gave me a jump start in life.

We lead best by example. My father is a composite of Robert E. Lee and Billy Graham. A ferocious warrior, a Southern gentleman and devoted Christian. A good and decent man who laughs at the stories from Jerry Clower and Lewis Grizzard.

Happy Father’s Day big guy. Thanks for a wonderful life.