Monday, May 24, 2010

Beekeeping and Brunch Amid Skyscrapers

On the fifth floor terrace of an Atlanta hotel, I learned everything I always wanted to know about beekeeping. That's right, the miracle that is honey is taking place in midtown Atlanta, not at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, just a hop, skip and jump across a few skyscrapers, but smack dab on 14th Street at the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel. Chef Robert Gerstenecker harvests the honey, processes it and uses it in his fine dining restaurant, Park 75.

The terrace is also home to six planters filled with herbs, tomatoes and peppers, and a hydroponic garden for lettuces. Chef Gerstenecker grew up on a farm in Canada and believes in incorporating farm-to-table principles in his cuisine.

chef w bees
Chef Gerstenecker shows off a tray from the hive. The hive will produce about 100 pounds of honey this year.

The hydroponic lettuces go from seed to harvest in just one month.

The variegated sage is a brilliant addition to the herb garden. 

Housemade pickles in the Park 75 kitchen. They tasted just like the bread and butter pickles my aunt made.
buttery and honey
The honey and comb atop fresh sweet cream butter that accompanied the banana bread starter.

The way all good meals should end: with freshly glazed doughnuts (above) and sorbet (below) in the kitchen.


I visited Park 75 this past weekend as part of the Blogger's Brunch - about two dozen local food bloggers were treated to a tour of the rooftop garden and demonstration of the hives, followed by a stellar brunch at Park 75 featuring the "rooftop honey" and produce.

The Menu
The cocktail: a Mason jar Bloody Mary with a skewer of pickles - bread and butter, okra and pearl onion. And a crispy slice of bacon. I'm not making this up. As God is my witness, there was bacon in the booze and I ate it, cold congealed fat and all, and it was pretty darn good.
On the table: homemade banana bread, very good, maybe not as good as my best loaf, but still nothing to be ashamed about. Sweet cream butter topped with honey and honeycomb. And homemade bread and butter pickles and pickled okra. I had to restrain myself from eating my portion and my neighbor's - they were the old-fashioned kind that nobody makes anymore.
Athens Benedict, a vegetarian version with an heirloom tomato, sprouts, avocado and herb hollandaise. A sterling reminder that a runny egg yolk is a beautiful thing, especially when topped with hollandaise. Outstanding.
Chicken & Waffle, fried chicken glazed with rooftop honey sitting on the cutest little waffle I'd ever seen. This was lovely to look at, and many of the bloggers raved, but it's a dish that I just don't get. (Still ate it, though, cause someone worked really hard to make it.)
Wood-Grilled Waygu Skirt Steak with Blue Cheese Potato Salad. Some sort of Asian sweet glaze on the beef. Very tasty. And you don't have to sell me on blue cheese, it's one of my favorite things.
Tempura Squash Blossom filled with local Split Creek goat cheese. This was perfect - I've never prepared squash blossoms before and certainly never eaten them in a restaurant. This was simple and fresh and fun. Probably my fave bite of the day.
Seared Scallop with Spring Vegetable Risotto. The cook who prepared the scallops should go to Top Chef - the scallop gave up its life in a noble and perfectly-cooked fashion. Nary a drop of risotto remained on my plate.

After this feast, we repaired to the kitchen for desserts - homemade doughnuts (Boston cream, glazed and chocolate sauce) and house made sorbet. My friend and fellow blogger Susan says the doughnuts were delicious, but I went for the sorbet - two mini scoops, mango and lemon.

You know how you can eat an obscene amount of glorious food, but still require just a little something to finish it off? Chef Gerstenecker understands this and had housemade chocolates on hand. This glossy dark bar is the best kind of chocolate - just one piece is all you need to satisfy the urge.

But wait there's more - a lagniappe to take home - I left with a goody bag full of housemade spiced pecans and peach preserves from last summer. I feel like I visited Chef Gerstenecker's childhood farmhouse. I wonder if he'll give me the recipe for the pickles?

© 2010, Lucy Mercer.


Julie said...

This looks so fun! The food looks amazing! I've stayed at The Four Seasons in Atlanta. Years ago when I traveled on business. It was always one of my favorite places to stay.

Amazing he keeps bees and gardens on rooftop.

Anonymous said...

Looks incredible. How did I miss the boat on that one? I have pickles and kim chi fermenting in my kitchen right now. Maybe I can set a trend on people making their own pickles like back in the day. If you're interested you can check my blog, My latest post is about some quick and canned pickles I did.