Q: I’m going to a meeting in Atlanta. Is there anything new I should try there?
A: When I was last in Atlanta, the new addition I was most eager to experience was the revamped presentation of the Cyclorama, which was moved from Grant Park to the Atlanta History Center and unveiled in February.
The museum has done a terrific job of illuminating the massive painting, both literally and figuratively. It’s absolutely worth seeing (and if you get there before Sept. 29, you can still catch the excellent Barbecue Nation exhibit, featuring Charleston’s own Rodney Scott. Until I toured the exhibit, I didn’t understand the role that drive-in theater slow cookers played in carrying the flavor of barbecue sauce beyond the South.)
But you’re probably looking for food-and-drink suggestions, not a sightseeing guide. So I’d send you first to Cardinal, a dimly lit bar tucked into the back of Third Street Goods, a small Grant Park market that exudes reverence for ethical food production practices.
Cardinal is foremost a cocktail bar, but it’s notably free of the aggression conveyed by the strict rules and stark design that rule some spirits-forward cocktail bars. (For what it’s worth, Cardinal is female-owned and run.) It has a terrific list of vermouths and sherries, but the delicate Cardinal, featuring gin, dry vermouth, muscadine wine and honey, demands a detour.
Chef Ron Hsu, who was previously Le Bernadin’s creative director and a contestant on Netflix’s "The Final Table," named the Candler Park tasting menu restaurant for his mother, restaurateur Betty Hsu. Hsu was jokingly nicknamed “lazy” because she never stopped working, and the irony applies here, too: Lazy Betty’s dishes are admirably exact.
They’re somewhat retro in other ways, too: One dish in the parade was essentially a mound of buttery mashed potatoes. But it’s clear that Hsu didn’t revive the preparation for nostalgia’s sake: Lazy Betty’s concern for making customers comfortable, use of technique in service of flavor and attention to beauty are old playbook pages that deserve to be put back into circulation.
Nothing at Lazy Betty is designed to startle — among local analogues, I found the excellent food most reminiscent of Michelle Weaver’s cooking at Charleston Grill — but that approach provides an ideal foundation for a lovely evening, should you be able to score a seat.
Finally, the most exciting restaurant I found was 8Arm, which isn’t new. But executive chef Maricela Vega was just appointed to her post in March. The former pop-up chef and farmer advocate is a Mexican immigrant; her heritage informs her popular tamales, which are sold at Third Street Goods (remember that spot from a few paragraphs back?)
I visited 8Arm for brunch, which was a riot of textures and early summer flavors. Vega’s fond of chiles and cashews, which sometimes conspire to allude to the Indian subcontinent. Both show up in a wonderful Carolina gold rice bowl populated by tomato and zucchini, although the most stunning dish on our table was an ethereal broccoli gazpacho.
Vega also makes good use of bread from Root Baking Co., located just across the street at Ponce City Market since its owners left Charleston. If you haven’t yet gotten to Root, that belongs on your list, too. Safe travels!