fiddlehead definition

fid·dle·head [ fídd'l hèd ] (plural fid·dle·heads) noun
Definition: edible fern shoot: the coiled frond of a young fern, often cooked and eaten as a delicacy

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fall Cocktails in Atlanta

On a spectacular day watching the sun set from my perch at Top of the Mark in San Francisco I talked with my bartender about fall and the autumnal drinks I love so. Gone are the fruity, pastel, light drinks of summer. On the fall inspired cocktail menus are rich, spicy, dark concoctions meant to warm one from within. "What is your favorite?" He asked. I told him about Navarro Carr from The Sound Table and his perfect Toronto. This is where we switched proverbial places and I tended to him, instructing each delicious step along the way to my go-to fall elixir. He stirred, tasted, and declared it simple, yet intriguing.

We arrived at the subject of Atlanta bartending when I flipped through a dog-eared copy of San Francisco Magazine and spotted Jason Rager who recently moved from Atlanta and his post at Holeman and Finch Public House to San Francisco's AQ. Rager's Manhattan was a favorite fall (and all year) cocktail of mine with 110 proof Willett rye, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, both Angostura and Regan's bitters, and a house-made cherry. I can never replicate it at home. Though he and Greg Best are gone, cocktails are still outstanding at this James Beard nominated Bar Program. The Ranier Expedition is a favorite of mine lately- High West Silver Oak, Imbue Petal and Thorn, Punt e Mes, Amargo Vallet (herbal, spicy liquor ), lemon bitters.

Top of the Mark Manhattan
Angela Manhattan at Miso Izakaya
My bartender tried his hand at a perfect Manhattan. It was good, but not a Jason Rager Manhattan or The Angela Manhattan Ronnie Le Claire makes at Miso Izakaya. The swizzle sticks were great though. San Francisco bars love their swizzle sticks. More swizzle sticks, more matchbooks, Atlanta! The conversation carried on and I talked about a fun week of trying fall cocktail menus in Atlanta with a friend. Follow along below.

Our cocktail adventure began with mixtress extraordinaire Kellie Thorn at Empire State South. I swooned over a Brief Encounter, all boozy with the strong spices of fall (Lion's Pride dark oat whiskey, Carpano, Antica Formula, barrel aged bitters) yet nostalgic for the summer that has gone  with a strawberry shrub from local strawberries of early summer. It was bewitching how it matched my enthusiasm for the coming cold at the loss of summer's bounty.

We moved to Abattoir for foie gras from chef Hector Santiago's Butcher's menu and a fall sipper. Bartender's choice: The Autumn Crisp from Ryan McLaughlin. It tasted like something you would want to sip from a thermos next to a fire and was gorgeous in the glass with a dried apple slice resting on the edge. Recipe here:

2 oz. American Spirit Whiskey
1 oz Cinnamon spiced iced tea (we use Harney and Sons)
1 oz Fresh squeezed Ellijay Apple Juice
¾ oz Honey Water (1 part honey to 1 part water)
2 bar spoons lemon juice
Dried apple slice - garnish

Combine all ingredients in a glass. Add ice. Add apple slice garnish.

From Abattoir we headed to Miso Izakaya to treat my out of towner to one of Atlanta's best cocktails: The Unsung Hiro. During the summer, it sips like a refreshing cooler but the magic of this concoction is its morphing ability.  The cool, crisp fall evening was equally matched by the rye, spicy ginger, and Lapsang Souchong infused sea salt that dances atop the hand cut cube of ice filling the glass. I declared this my favorite summer cocktail but I need to include it as a favorite fall sipper too.
Last stop for this particular evening is a favorite haunt- Proof and Provision. Small, dark, and undergroundish, you never know what kind of crowd will roll in here. Bartenders are solid, endearing, super creative, and most of all able to put up with whatever crowd floats in. See, across the street is the Fox Theater. I have witnessed dressed up for the ballet people ordering shots of Goldschlager (which P and P does not carry) and throngs of vest-wearing, PBR-ordering Mumford and Sons fans using words like "bespoke cocktail." The guys behind the bar don't flinch; they just roll with it. The crowd was weird this particular night but the drinks were solid. Fitting a fall evening as well as the end of a good day of sampling was The Firm Handshake, a menu staple. Redemption Rye, Leopold's Fernet, demerara syrup, bitters, and a smoky lapsang souchong tea-infused ice ball blend in perfect harmony of sweet and bitter.


As we walked into the stony cavern that is  Wrecking Bar, my friend from Las Vegas smiled and sat with "There is nothing like this in Vegas." I sipped a High West Campfire while he smiled happily with an  Elijah Craig 18 year. Behind the bar Ian Cox and Brian Ferraro kept the jokes coming while crafting classic cocktails. Ian made his Rye in the Dark, his mixture in the Taste of Atlanta Barcraft Competition. I will be ordering this perfect fall sipper with rye and Fernet for months to come.
sampling from the vast bourbon selection

We stopped at my favorite pre-Chastain spot before our concert, Food 101. The Goldentini was a nectarous barrel-aged mix of Troy and Sons Platinum whiskey, Lillet Blanc, and rhubarb bitters. It was perfect with the beef jerky chef Justin Keith shared with us as we discussed the merits of bevnaps at length.

Paul Calvert of Paper Plane has a Smith's inspired menu that blew me away. In a glass he managed to capture the essence of a song, the angst of youth, and autumnal flavors in one fell swoop. Big Mouth Strikes Again is a big mouthful of fall: bourbon, vermouth, cappalletti aperitif, bigallett china-china (made from sweet and bitter orange peels and spices), and bitters. Calvert arranges his cocktail menus from light to dark. This one lies appropriately on the bottom of the list. I have also had a few "There's a Light That Never Goes Out" this season. It never fails to delight my senses. The walnut paneled walls and comfy barstools never fail at soothing comfort either. Stepping into the space at Paper Plane feels at the same time habitual and enchanting, a perfect place to beguile time. We ended this evening with a walk through the tiny-light strewn courtyard to our cab.

The third evening was cool and we settled in for rabbit rillettes and cocktails at One Eared Stag which is a really cozy spot on a Sunday evening. I had a great autumn inspired drink but it was a bartender's choice so I don't have many details to spare other than Rye and cherry bitters, I think.

Final stop on our three day cocktail crawl is my new favorite in Atlanta, Kimball House. I am thoroughly  and profoundly enchanted with everything about Kimball House. I have frequented the many establishments that have held court in this building but none have filled the space with the grandeur it deserves. It is transportive stepping into Kimball House. On this particular rainy evening, the space was dazzling. I wanted to order caviar service and sip gin from the many vintage glasses as towers of oysters were presented. The outstanding oyster program is something that Atlanta has been missing. I look forward to seeing the menu filled with twenty or so fresh choices from around the US on Instagram each day. We didn't have any this evening but I did wax poetically about a night when I helped with a tower of fresh shells, each one shucked to perfection with no shell and ample sea water. This evening it was all about Miles McQuarrie's bar program and the nighttime ambiance that is the inside of an old train depot.

Mexican Razor Blade
We had a couple of Mexican Razor Blades-- tequila, sherry, lime, coconut, cinnamon, cayenne--spicy, smoky, and delicately layered with exotic flavors. The Bellman is another favorite with rye, Carpano Antica Formula vermouth, and many bitters.

The Bellman
So we ended a weekend worthy of the word epic filled with the joys of life and sweater weather concoctions. Our three days of conversations were lifted with those who delightfully entertain behind the bar. I have a list of places and barkeeps we missed. I will leave that to our next adventure.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


I walked to find the meadow, to sink down into the grass, soak in the sun, and feel childhood pleasure. The grass was lush and brilliant green on this early autumn afternoon. The sky was a cloudless robin's egg blue, the type odes and songs are written about. Breaking up these jewel tones was an explosion of gold plumes softly swaying in the gentle breeze. Goldenrod, one of summer's last flowers.
I watched the bees alight on the blossoms, drinking the already honey-scented nectar. Animals and insects, attracted by the bright, showy plumes, drink the abundant nectar and collect the heavy pollen. Heavy pollen. Hear that? Goldenrod is not wind pollinated and even if it was, its pollen is too heavy and sticky. Poor goldenrod is always blamed for early fall allergy season but the real culprit is the plant that shares its bloom time with goldenrod: ragweed. Ragweed has the small greenish yellow flower heads and produces giant amounts of necessary tiny pollen to float in the wind. Fields ablaze with goldenrod do signal the coming of colder temperatures, but are not to blame for your sneezing.
Billy goat weed, Feverfew, and Goldenrod- a ruderal bouquet 
To most goldenrod is considered a weed. Well, maybe not in Kentucky where it is the state flower or Delaware where it is the state herb (who knew there were state herbs?). The perennial with single woody, hairy stems grow from 3 to 7 feet tall. Its narrow, dark leaves alternate between jagged and smooth edges. It multiplies by sending root runners which take root and start to grow new plants. Strawberries do this too. This is why there are usually clumps of goldenrod together. The bright flowers bloom in late summer to early fall. Because it can crossbreed with other plants, there are more than 100 species of goldenrod. Goldenrod is noticeable both because of its fiery bloom and because it is a ruderal ( from Latin rūdus meaning rubble)species, meaning it easily grows in poor soil or disturbed soil. These are the first to colonize after a forest fire or take over an abandoned lot.
Fun History of goldenrod:
  • Thomas Edison experimented with goldenrod when he tried to find a naturally occurring substitute for rubber at the request of Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. The rubber tree, which does not grow in the United States, provided the natural rubber used for tires up to that time and it was becoming increasingly expensive. Edison managed to get 12% rubber out of the plants. Henry Ford even made a Model T with tires made of goldenrod rubber and claimed the tires strong and long lasting. Eventually synthetic rubber was discovered.
  • Goldenrod was one of the plants used for tea after English tea was boycotted following the Boston Tea Party (1773). They called it "Liberty tea." It was also used after the Civil War when English tea was difficult to obtain.

The vibrant yellow flowers have long been a source of dye. All parts of the plant are edible and all varietals are safe. Goldenrod is of the genus Solidago which means "to strengthen" or "to make whole." Beyond tea, it has long been used medicinally for respiratory and urinary tract issues and to help ease pain. Tinctures and tonics have also been made to utilize goldenrod's antibacterial properties both internally and externally. Use the flowers for garnish. Cook leaves much like spinach or use in soups and stews. Use both the flowers and leaves to make a sweet, delicate tea with bright herbal hints and a fennel-like scent. It tastes a bit like sweet hay. The healing and calming qualities of this tisane can also ease emotional pain.

Fresh Leaf  Goldenrod Tea:

 Chop leaves and flowers
Steep, covered @T in 1 cup of boiling water (or 1T dry)
for 20-30 minutes

Enjoy while Sting sings Fields of Gold.