Atlanta Recap: General Muir, Botanical Gardens, Zyka, & Soul Veg
A few weekends ago (I guess March 1 is a few weekends ago now, huh), G & I drove down to Atlanta for a quick weekend of eating, exploring, hanging out with friends, and poetry listening. It’s always tough to choose where to eat a meal (I still keep up with all the Atlanta restaurant openings & closings), but this time I tried to balance tried & true favorites with some of the acclaimed newcomers to the scene.
Our first morning in town found us meeting up with one of my friends, J, who also, coincidentally, is a food photographer and newbie blogger. It seemed like a no-brainer to suggest checking out General Muir, the brainchild of Ben & Jennifer Johnson of the popular West Egg Cafe with chef Tom Ginsberg of Bocado fame working culinary magic in the kitchen. Located in a totally brand new shopping center close to Emory and right across from the CDC, it’s a wonky place for a promising restaurant, but I think the location is stellar for the Emory/Briarcliff crowd and I don’t see it going under any time soon (and that’s a good thing.)
I love how the interior is so open, clean, bright, and yet with character. It feels like it’s been there for 100 years, not the several months it has under its belt. Others have said that it mimics traditional Jewish delicatessens in New York City brilliantly–I personally don’t have any experience with those, but I do know that it feels old school and personable, a total feat for a brand new development.
It was difficult to choose any one thing to eat–an open faced bagel? What about a smoked hash with pastrami and sunny eggs? Chicken breakfast laffa with lentils (no idea what it is, but lentils for breakfast? Heck yeah!)? Seriously, it’s a baffling hard decision. I ended up going with the Avenue A, an open faced bagel featuring nova, schmear, grapefruit, avocado, cucumber, dill, and onion–a riff on a classic nova & schmear bagel. Surprisingly beautiful (I expected things to be more piled on, not prettily diced & arranged), the bagel was a stellar start to the morning, the nova slightly fish and salty, the grapefruit and dill a nice pop. And who doesn’t love anything with avocado? Was it an $11 bagel? Ehhhhh….maybe not? But I’d recommend it to anyone.
G went with a more traditional breakfast, The General, which served up two pieces of pastrami, two eggs, two latkes, applesauce, and sour cream ($10). The eggs were cooked beautifully and we both loved the restaurant’s take on pastrami–fried crispy like bacon–but thought the latkes were a little uninspiring. They were good, but the portions felt a little slim and there wasn’t anything extraordinary about them. They were just latkes. Which are awesome. But we expected a little more a twist or somethin somethin.
Overall, I thought General Muir is an awesome addition to the Atlanta food scene–nary another Jewish Delicatessen exists these days–but the food didn’t quite live up to all the hype. But, then again, it was just one bagel and one plate of eggs. Their pastrami poutine? Oh dear heavens I wish I’d had a way to try that out for lunch or dinner.
After mowing down on breakfast, G & I headed off to one of my favorite places–the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Other than the fact that you now have to pay for parking AND pay an astronomical $18 entrance fee (um, seriously, shouldn’t parking be included in that??!!), the gardens are still as amazing as ever (except for the fact that their redesigned woodlands with tree bridge did away with my favorite chill out place in the entire city. Sigh, win some, lose some).
It was hard not to be utterly captivated by these little frogs–the frog exhibit is actually part of an extensive breeding and research program that’s trying to understand what is killing off the frogs in tropical regions and how we can save them. Super cool, right? Plus taking photos of the frogs (and plants) indulged my fantasy of becoming a National Geographic photographer like my friend Anand (whose work is incredible–check it out!).
Another spectacular section of the garden is the tropical rain forest conservatory. It’s almost too difficult to photograph (above is a photo of lianas hanging from the ceiling) given the density of plants, water installations, and birds (several little quail looking birds roam around freely). It’s freakishly accurate to my experience in the Peruvian Amazon and I love walking around in it if only to feel like I’m back in South America going on nature hikes every day.
Next to the rainforest conservatory is the desert conservatory–an oddly lush recreation of the Madagascar desert. Apparently 85% of plants in Madagascar are endemic (found no where else), so it’s a special greenhouse with all the strange spiky and succulent plants.
Another section of the Fuqua Conservatory (in which all these greenhouse exhibits are located) is the high elevation and orchid house. The high elevation section of the house showcases high elevation rainforest species (i.e. cloud rain forests) and is where you’ll find tons of ephiphytes, orchids, and pitcher plants. I wish I were someone who had the time to learn how to grown and take care of orchids–they’re so otherworldly–but I think I’ll leave that craft to the specialists at these gardens.
Thankfully famished from all those plants, we headed out past Emory to my favorite Indian restaurant in the entire (yes the entire) world, Zyka. Zyka has changed some since I first started eating there..ten???…years ago. It’s actually a little more decorated and clean than before and instead of using styrofoam they use biodegradable containers to serve the food in, but the key parts of the restaurant, the food, remains unchanged. In fact, funny side story, Zyka is where I adopted the spelling of my name. I was grabbing dinner there with a friend the summer after my senior year of high school and when I placed my order, the woman asked for my name. I said “Jess” and she wrote it down as “Jes.” I’d never seen that spelling before and fell in love with it, thus adopting it as the spelling of my name when college started and the rest is history.
Anyways, besides giving me my name, Zyka also lays claim to the best damn naan ever. EVER. I’ve never ever ever ever eaten any naan rivaling zyka’s. I don’t know if it’s their dough or the temperature of their tandori ovens, but this naan is puffy and charred on the bottom and full of air bubbles and light and all things good. I used to order several pieces of it to eat with all my meals there.
While they do serve supposedly awesome vegetarian fare, hands down my favorite dish (and the one I always ate) is Aachar Goshi–mutton simmered with fresh tomatoes, fried onions, fresh cilantro and tempered with whole garlic, cloves, fennel seeds and whole red chilies. It is undeniably the most delicious northern Indian dish I’ve ever eaten. The mutton flakes off the bone, the spices are layered so well that one single bite can satisfy you for a full minute. And dip that naan in the curry? Heaven. Plain heaven. Oh, and it only costs $6 or something ridiculous like that (naan or rice is extra). So if you aren’t veg, try the Aachar Goshi, you won’t be sorry.
Although we were in the most heavenly of Indian food comas, we did want to actually do something before our dinner plans with friends, so we (as we always do since there are no decent stores here in Roanoke) drove off to the mall to go shopping. It was an amazing afternoon for G who stocked up on a bunch of pants and shirts and shoes for Europe, but I was left high and dry. Seriously, for those of you who shop much, are you as grossed out by the early spring fashion as I am? I mean, is everything marketed to old ladies or people who just LOVE neon pastels? Sigh. I did actually pick up two pairs of shoes at REI, so not everything was a bust.
After shopping, we met up with some good friends for another classic Atlanta favorite–Soul Veg. I’ve paid homage to Soul Veg with this dressing recipe, but nothing that I can make is as good as the real deal. Vegan soul food. I got you there, right?
Every meal starts with a lettuce, cucumber, tomato, and sprout salad with the most unreal, out of this world, nooch-based salad dressing. I could swim in the stuff. I could live off it. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted. And there are no good words to describe it. Fucking amazing, that’s all I’ve got.
But the main meal? My main deal forever? BBQ Kalebone with mac n’ cheese and collard greens. Kalebone includes neither kale nor bones in the recipe, but it is made of seitan slathered in a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. The collards are simply and flavorfully cooked, but the mac n’ cheese is the other star of the meal. It’s super noochy but creamy too and, while you couldn’t trick a meat-only person to think it was cheese, you could make them happy with it. It’s amazing without being vegan, if you know what I mean.
Now completely, truly, utterly in a food coma, we waddled to the liquor store to buy fancy liquor that we can’t get in Virginia and get craft brews to sip on. Oh, private liquor stores, how I miss thee.
But you know what I found at the liquor store that I never expected? BEER ICE CREAM. Yes. This little pint of Brown Ale Chip ice cream actually tastes faintly of brown ale and even packs a 2.4% ABV or something like that. It’s pretty damn awesome.
Beered, dined, and beer ice creamed, we collapsed in bed and rested up for a very full Saturday ahead. And that will come in a second post–hopefully sooner than later!
1540 Avenue Pl NE
Atlanta, GA 30329
1677 Scott Blvd
Decatur, GA 30033
Soul Veg 2
652 N Highland Ave NE
Atlanta, GA 30306