Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sagra delle Fragole at FIGO Pasta

FIGO Pasta in Vinings celebrates Strawberry Sagra

How incredible is it that the Italian language has its own word for food festival? The word is sagra, and Figo Pasta is celebrating its Sagra delle Fragole in honor of strawberries through the end of summer with a three-course menu highlighting the sweet and tart fruit.

House-made bread with olive oil, while waiting. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 The menu begins with Bruschetta alla Fragole, slices of toasted ciabatta with a shmear of goat cheese, topped with a salad of sliced cherry tomatoes and strawberries with balsamic vinegar and basil ($5). The generous portion could easily be shared, but I confess that I gobbled down all three pieces without apology.

Strawberry bruschetta. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Next up: Osso Bucco Ravioli ~ a filling of braised veal shank meat stuffed into Figo’s house-made ravioli. Served with a Parmesan cream sauce and drizzled with a snappy strawberry black pepper glaze ($12). My ravioli-crazy daughter loved this dish, especially the tart and savory combination of sauce and glaze.

Ravioli at Figo Pasta. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

And for dolci, the sweet stuff, pasta dough infused with strawberries and filled with a rich mixture of Nutella, ricotta and mascarpone, then deep-fried to crispy goodness. Eager dessert lovers beware – fresh out of the fryer, you get a mouth full of Nutella lava and possibly a dribble on the chin or table. Small bites from the corners are the way to go here. And yes, the ravioli are delicious. By all means, share this dish ($5).

Strawberry fried ravioli with Nutella filling. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Figo has seven locations throughout Atlanta; I visited the Vinings location. Figo Pasta in Vinings is the best kind of neighborhood restaurant – patrons walk their dogs to the front door of the east Paces Ferry location, tie their animal to the porch rail, pop inside to order, and return to the porch to wait for an employee to bring the food outside.  It’s also toddler and infant friendly as evidenced by the many young families stopping by for pasta on a recent Sunday evening.

The sagra tradition doesn’t end when the strawberry season does (if strawberry season ever truly ends) – Grape Sagra is slated for September. 

Figo Pasta, seven locations throughout Atlanta.
The meal was complimentary; my opinions are my own.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Give schnitzel a try at Seven Hens in Decatur

“GBD. That’s Golden Brown Delicious.” That’s how 7 Hens owner Michael Gurevich describes his Decatur restaurant’s signature dish, the chicken schnitzel.

“We take a locally raised product, fresh chicken breasts from Gainesville, Georgia, pound them out, bread them and fry them to GBD, Golden Brown Delicious,” Gurevich says. The chicken gets a taste of international flavor using six profiles such as American, Mexican and French, and finishing touches in the forms of sauces and toppings. The schnitzel is served on a baguette, as a wrap, on a platter or as a salad. 

7 Hens chicken schnitzel wrap. Joseph Szala
Schnitzel is Israeli street food, Gurevich says, “But it’s more than that. You’ll find it cooked at home, too.” The entrepreneur came to the U.S. as a student and chose the Emory area to build the first of what could become a fast-casual schnitzel franchise.

A fast-casual chicken schnitzel restaurant, 7 Hens is now open in Decatur. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

 The name 7 Hens is taken from the six variations on the schnitzel flavoring –  American, Mexican, Italian, French, Chinese and Indian, plus the build-your-own option, the Traveler. Finishing touches include olive tapenade aioli, chipotle aioli, barbecue, teriyaki, and Ranch, most of which are house-made. Toppings include greens such as lettuce and spinach, pickles, avocado and mushrooms. Sides feature fries made with Yukon Gold potatoes, chips or salad. Vegetarians are accommodated with schnitzel-fried tofu and those with a fear of frying may ask for their chicken to be grilled. My little one gobbled up the Lil’ Henny meal for children 12 and under. She chose the house-made Ranch dressing to accompany her sliced chicken schnitzel and loved the sauce so much we had to take the extras home.  

7 Hens' Brad Allan pounds out the chicken breast before breading and frying. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

7 Hens is located in North Decatur Plaza at North Decatur and Clairmont Road, the same shopping center as Rainbow Grocery and Mattress Firm. 2140 North Decatur Road Decatur, GA 30033. (404) 633-3000. The restaurant hours are Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The chefs use a mezzaluna to slice the chicken schnitzel. (Ryan Kersting, left, and Brad Allan, right.) Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books.

Thanks for a lovely and fun meal, 7 Hens crew - owner Michael Gurevich, and Chefs Ryan Kersting and Brad Allan!

The American from 7 Hens. Photo by 7 Hens.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Atlanta's Sweet Auburn Curb Market

Sweet Auburn Curb Market/Photo by Atlanta Culinary Tours
Dear readers, this is a re-post of a story from last summer about Sweet Auburn Curb Market, a fantastic farmer's market in downtown Atlanta. The re-post is for #LetsLunch, a monthly Twitter party on a given topic. This month, the global #LetsLunch blogger network takes on farmers markets. Look to the end of the post for links to other #LetsLunch stories. Thanks for reading!

by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to tour Atlanta's oldest farmer's market, the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, which has been feeding Atlantans since 1918. My new friends at Atlanta Culinary Tours, Beth and David, guided a group of about a dozen culinary tourists through the market, admiring produce and sampling goodies along the way.

Collards at Sweet Auburn Curb Market/Photo by Atlanta Culinary Tours
 One of my favorite reasons to shop the curb market is collard greens. You can buy them whole and process them yourself, a labor and sink full of love, or buy them bagged and chopped, ready for the pot.

Produce like these turnips is fresh from the farm at the Sweet Auburn Curb Market. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Ciao Boca meatball sandwich by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
One of the first bites of the day was this delicious meatball sandwich made by Deborah, owner of  Ciao Boca, an Italian eatery inside the market.

One of my favorite signs at the market. by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
In these days of nose to tail cooking, the market is the place to get every porcine part, possibly even the oink. Other critter parts are available at the market, signs that I just don't see at my neighborhood Kroger. Not to be missed: a product new to me, rank meat, which is aged salted pork fatback, used for seasoning with Southern vegetables. That's right, a meat product marketed as "rank."

Signs at Sweet Auburn Curb Market by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
The Curb Market is a great place for ingredients and a meal. The market is set up food court style, with restaurants including Tilapia Express Seafood, home of outstanding fried fish. Metro Deli & Soul Food is home to exactly that - soul food specialties such as spicy, tender greens, the mac and cheese my kids wish I knew how to make; and crispy, juicy fried chicken. If you're near downtown Atlanta, pull into the parking lot adjacent to the market and be sure to get your parking ticket validated by a vendor. The first 90 minutes are free - probably the best parking deal in downtown.

Tilapia Express Seafood at Sweet Auburn Curb Market by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Get a plate of Southern goodness at Metro Deli and Soul Food. By Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Barbecue fans take note: Sweet Auburn Barbecue just opened in the market.
Sweet Auburn Barbecue by Lucy MercerA A Cook and Her Books
After your soul food cravings are satisfied, check out some of the quirkier items at the market, folk remedies such as this Georgia specialty: white dirt.

White dirt, a.k.a. kaolin, available at Sweet Auburn Curb Market. By Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

White dirt is kaolin, a clay mined in South Georgia that has commercial applications in the paper, paint and rubber industries. It's also consumed as kind of an earthy antacid. If you've ever heard the expression "clay-eater," this is where it comes from. And if you're wearing your smarty pants, you already know that clay-eating is a form of geophagy ("earth eating") and pica (eating of non-food items).

Which brings us to another popular folk remedy, the golden elixir known as Wild Bill's Yellow Root Tea, a tonic used to lower blood pressure and treat diabetes.

Wild Bill's Yellow Root Tea by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Wild Bill's is a convenience product, you may prefer to make your own, using freshly harvested yellow root, also available at the market. I love the homemade signs!

Yellow root at Sweet Auburn Curb Market by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

There's plenty more at the market, including the best pralines I ever ate, made by Louisianan Dionne Gant at Miss D's New Orleans Pralines. I didn't realize how grainy my homemade pralines were until I tasted hers - smooth, creamy, sweet-but-not-too, featuring Georgia grown pecans. (I'll return there during Christmastime for sweet stocking stuffers.)

Miss D's New Orleans Pralines/Sweet Auburn Curb Market
 Start your day at Cafe Campesino, just inside Sweet Auburn Curb Market. We sampled hummingbird scones, a novel take on the Southern banana cake with pineapple and pecans, and some bracing brews from the selection of fair trade beans.

Cafe Campesino/Sweet Auburn Curb Market

Sweet Auburn Bakery by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 The sweet stuff is abundant at the Curb Market. Sweet Auburn Bakery is justifiably famous for its sweet potato cheesecake.

It's time to disclose that Atlanta Culinary Tours allowed me (and my mom!) to take the tour gratis. If you're looking for a weekend activity, check out their list of tours. For $32 a person, you fill your brain and belly with Sweet Auburn lore and love. An excellent date, with a special someone, or your mom (we had a blast!).

Sweet Auburn Curb Market is located at 209 Edgewood Ave. SE near downtown Atlanta and is easily reached from the connector. Pull into the parking lot and get your parking ticket validated - the first 90 minutes are free.

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