Friday, February 15, 2008

Hotdog Heaven: Chicago Cuisine with a Southern Twist

Although I was born in Chicago, I can’t truly call myself a Chicagoan. I only lived there for a year and obviously don’t remember much. My father, on the other hand, is a Chicagoan through and through. He was born and raised there and truly loves that city. He loves the history, the sports teams (especially the Cubs) and of course, the food. One of his favorite things in the world is going to Wrigley Field, watching the Cubs play and having a real Chicago-style hotdog. So, for his 53rd birthday my mother planned a trip to Hotdog Heaven (pictured above), a cute little restaurant that promised to offer real Chicago-style hotdogs.

Located in downtown Canton, Hotdog Heaven is an adorable little place with a swinging screen door and a smiling face to greet you as soon as you walk in. Owner Beck Wentzel makes every customer feel at home and takes your order at the register while her husband, Barney, cooks in the back. They offer more than just hotdogs, though. They have all types of sandwiches, burgers and even steak dinners.

At my dad’s birthday celebration, the 9 of us took up a big part of the tiny restaurant. Becky greeted us as we came in and had even gone out of her way to get my father a birthday cake. She was so excited to have us. We each ordered our hotdog to our liking along with an array of cheese fries, onion rings and deep fried potato chips (pictured right).

I ordered, as my dad did, their Chicago Polish Dog (pictured left) with all the fixin’s. For those of you who don’t know, Chicago –style dogs come a little differently then your average hotdog. They are usually topped with pickles, tomatoes, sweet relish, onions, peppers and mustard. It’s almost a cardinal sin to put ketchup on the dog; you just don’t do it. It’s too much on this already wonderful delight and takes away from the flavors that the other toppings bring. My hotdog was perfect and brought me back to many a summer vacations visiting Chicago with my family (we always made time to get a hotdog on our trips back).

Overall, the birthday party was a success. Hotdog Heaven was the perfect mix of Southern hospitality and authentic Chicago cuisine for my dad. He was happy to get to spend time with his family, enjoy one his favorite foods and go back to his favorite city in the world, even if it was just for dinner!

Cinnamon .. the real deal

I'm about to make a confession. I am addicted to cinnamon. No one knows this. Well, until now. If a restaurant dish (sweet or savory) has cinnamon in it then I'm ordering it. I sprinkle cinnamon on my cereal instead of sugar. I pour it in my coffee at Starbucks when no one's looking. It's great in soups and chili. Cinnamon flavored candy wins out over chocolate in my book every day. I know, weird.

Every now and then I'll read an article about some health benefits of cinnamon and I give myself a little pat on the back for this healthy habit, while ignoring the articles about how bad Diet Coke is for you! But I really never stopped to think about cinnamon and where it came from and where you get the very best. TSP Spices has a great product that packages teaspoon size packets of organic spices in a beautiful silver tin for cooks and kitchens. Of course I bought the "Sweet Basics" package with "true cinnamon" in it. Their recent blog entry talks about why they chose this title and gives some fun facts about cinnamon. I enjoyed it immensely.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

SIP The Political Experience

I don’t remember politics being so prevalent in the news (and everywhere you turn) in the past. So, when my favorite french pressed java joint, SIP, announced that it would host a fundraiser for presidential candidate, Barack Obama, I decided to see what all the hype was about. The turnout was great! I saw lots of important looking people, so I decided to whip out my camera so I could look more important. I met and took pictures of several people, including Kimmy Cantrell (pictured left). An enormously talented sculptor, Kimmy was gracious enough to donate several pieces to the event’s live auction, which are valued at over $10,000. The crowd was enthusiastic and the lavendar pistachio hot chocolate was heavenly! It was easy to see how people get into politics; especially with those cute “Obama Mama” baby t-shirts, which were sold out early in the evening.

Old Mick's Peachtree Location Becomes VITA in March!

Finally! The old Mick's eyesore on Peachtree has gotten a facelift. If you ride by you can already see a lot of the changes outside - the awnings should be up this week. I was lucky to get a tour inside and it's beautiful! The new restaurant, owned by Tony LaRocco, will be called VITA and is set to open March 17.
A lot of Atlantans know Tony as the guy who brought us Fratelli di Napoli. He brought "family-style dining" to Atlanta WAY before Maggiano's did! He eventually sold the wildly successful Fratelli restaurants and moved to Florida and we haven't seen much from him in a few years.

One day the word started spreading through the restaurant community that Tony was sick. Really sick. Turns out he had leukemia - the worst kind. Having known Tony since I did his opening PR for Fratelli back in 95 or 96, I knew he'd make it through. But it really didn't look good there for a while.

The good news for everyone is that Tony is completely recovered and is going to bring us a classic New York Italian restaurant which he named VITA for "life." And yes, for those of you who know to ask, he will be serving the famous and delicious rigatoni with vodka sauce!!! Yay!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Atlanta Restaurants Are Feeding Hungry Hearts

Here's some Valentine's advice straight from our hearts...go for a bite of give and a dash of take. If he treated you to the ultra-romantic night out last year, turn the tables and take him out for a meaty masterpiece. Last year, he brought Valentine's chocolate to your doorstep, this year show up with heart-shaped doughnuts. Went formal? Go comedy or country! If absence is making the heart grow fonder, send tokens of affection - we've listed some suggestions below!

Why leave 'em guessing? Krispy Kreme heart-shaped doughnuts are sweet through and through! Unlike a box of chocolates, one always knows what to expect with Krispy Kreme doughnuts. The outsides are dazzling in white icing with pink, red and white sprinkles. Your beau will be heartbroken if you don't buy some of these luscious lovelies by February 14 . . . after that they're gone until next February!

Buy two-dozen doughnuts of any kind before February 14 and you'll receive 12 Share the Love Valentine's Day cards, each good for a free doughnut. Oh, and if you're sweet on lots of valentines, place your large order 48 hours in advance. Available at all Atlanta Krispy Kreme stores:

Atlanta - 295 Ponce de Leon Avenue, 404-876- 7307
Buford - 3387 Buford Drive, 770-831-1174
Duluth - 1550 Pleasant Hill Road, 770-717-5134
Lilburn - 4129 Highway 78, 770-985-2810
Marietta - 299 Cobb Parkway, South, 770-425- 0374
Riverdale - 6689 Highway 85, 770-997-6210
Roswell - 791 Atlanta Street, 770-998-0779

Blackberry schedules and IM buzzes are so unromantic. Turn them off and turn on your date with the spontaneity of dinner, laughs and prizes at Whole World Theatre's Valentine's Day improv comedy special. The evening's in the hands of a fun-loving twosome: Front Page News-Midtown serves dinner at 7 p.m., and Whole World Theatre brings on the laughs at 9 p.m. In between, head for the dessert bar, complete with Krispy Kreme's heart-shaped doughnuts! Per couple: show only, $75; show and dinner (including a bottle of wine), $120. For reservations, call 404-817-PLAY. 1216 Spring Street in Midtown.

A dinner of authentic central Italian fare from Allegro's special "Amore Mio" menu will steal any lover's heart. The four-course Valentine's Day prix fixe menu is $100 per couple (tax, gratuity and wine excluded). Choose one dish for each course on the Valentine's menu:

First Course
Pane Sardo -- toasted Sardinian flat bread with king crab, slow-cooked tomatoes, celery micro greens with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil
Carpaccio di Salmone -- smoked salmon carpaccio with blood oranges, cumin-flavored carrots, Pantelleria caper berries, basil micro greens

Second Course
Risotto al Balsamico -- butter and Parmigiano risotto topped with 12-year-old balsamic- marinated fresh strawberries
Cappellacci Cupido -- butternut squash cappellacci with cranberry compote and amaretti cookie crumbles

Third Course
Filetto Valentino -- grilled filet mignon with Brussels sprout au gratin flavored with horseradish and finished with black beef glaze
Branzino Casanova -- pan-seared Chilean sea bass served with crispy polenta topped with roasted tomato, capers and olive relish

Fourth Course
Dolcezza -- white chocolate and strawberry parfait
Tortino alla Nutella e Vaniglia -- chocolate and Nutella lava cake with vanilla gelato

Dinner will be served from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. 560 Dutch Valley Road in the Belvedere condominium building; 404-888-1890. Buon appetito!

Aqua Blue woos with courses featuring lobster, crab and chocolate on its Valentine's dinner menu: Charleston she crab bisque; Maine lobster and spinach salad; thyme roast tenderloin with lobster, jumbo lump crab Napoleon, winter vegetable fricassee and lobster knuckle sauce; and Aqua Blue Chocolate "Bomb" of dark and semi-sweet chocolate mousse with raspberry. $65 per person, $130 a couple, including two glasses of champagne. 1564 Holcomb Bridge Road, Roswell; 770-643-8886.

Aria, known as one of Atlanta's most romantic dining destinations, serves a four-course prix fixe Valentine's Day menu that sings of romance. $90 per person (tax, gratuity and beverages not included). Serving dinner from 6 to 10 p.m. 490 East Paces Ferry Road; 404-233-7673.

Chipotle wraps up that extra something...a receipt worth a free burrito on February 13 or 14 for any guest who purchases a gift card for their valentine this month before February 12 (minimum $10). One free burrito per gift card purchased. Chipotle has 12 Atlanta-area locations.

Sweetheart, forget the frou-frou, "meat" your man for the Valentine's meal of his dreams at Fogo de Chão, a true Brazilian churrascaria. Give your gaucho the green light on table-side carving of 15 savory cuts of meat -- as much as your man wants. Voracious for veggies? Tour the sumptuous salad bar laden with vegetables, salads, fruits, cheeses, meats and more. Lunch (served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) is $29.50 per person; dinner (served from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.) is $46.50 per person. 3101 Piedmont Road;404-266-9988.

Food Studio, near the heart of the city, offers a Valentine's Day four-course prix fixe menu for $65 per person. Choose one item for each course from the special menu:

Amuse Bouche

First Course
Hammock Hallow field greens, fingerling potatoes, white asparagus with mustard vinaigretteSeared Maine diver scallops, parsnip- black truffle risotto
Grilled Carolina quail with caramelized onion tart and spiced fig compote
Butter-poached shrimp with cauliflower puree, grilled porcini mushrooms

Second Course
Grilled beef tenderloin, horseradish potatoes, Swiss chard, red wine reduction
Braised lamb shank, polenta, creamed escarole, braise reduction
Alaskan halibut, ricotta gnocchi, Brussels sprouts, hedgehog mushrooms
Spice-rubbed pork tenderloin with root vegetable hash, Tuscan kale, sherry jus

Third Course
Warm walnut tart with poached pears and rosemary sabayon
Valrhona chocolate-covered cherry bombe with sour cherry reduction.

Dinner hours are 5:30 to 10 p.m. 887 W. Marietta Street in the King Plow Arts Center; 404-815-6677.

Marlow's Tavern in Alpharetta, Kennesaw, Midtown and Vinings are all offering different, special three-course dinner menus on Valentine's Day (regular menu also will be available). A Sexy Singles Party at the Vinings location begins at 9 p.m. on Valentine's night and will feature drink specials in the bar area. Check individual locations for menu items and pricing information. In Alpharetta at 3719 Old Alabama Road, 770-475-1800; Kennesaw at 745 Chastain Road, NW, 770-425-8777; Midtown at 950 West Peachtree Street, 404-815-0323; and Vinings at 2355 Cumberland Parkway, 770-432-2526.

Morton's Steakhouse in Buckhead marries its signature steak and seafood together in one of the best Valentine's Day four-course menu deals around. For just $99 for two, each person enjoys a single-cut filet; choice of seafood options including Morton's jumbo lump crab cake, Shrimp Alexander or broiled sea scallops wrapped in bacon with apricot chutney; choice of Caesar or Morton's salad; and a choice of Morton's legendary hot chocolate cake or Key lime pie for dessert. Buckhead location ONLY, located in the Peachtree Lenox Building at 3379 Peachtree Road, NE; 404-816-6535.

Trilogy will have East Cobb swooning in the main dining room with a rose for each lady and menu specials. Entertainment room guests will be enamored with the Kenny Chesney and Shania Twain cover band and look-a-likes at 8 p.m. The entertainment room has a $20 cover charge per person. 4930 Davidson Road behind the Parkaire shopping center in East Cobb; 770-971-4770.

Wolf Mountain Vineyard and Winery is hosting the second of their Valentine Gourmet Dinners with wine pairings on Saturday, February 16 at 7 p.m. Cost is $80 per person, all inclusive. Dinner begins with a cellar reception featuring mini-smoked duck ravioli with ginger hoisin dipping sauce accompanied by 2006 Chanteloup. Dinner menu and pairings include:
  • Stuffed jumbo shrimp with crab meat in a bed of baby mixed greens, walnuts, shaved Asiago and tossed in a roasted shallot vinaigrette; 2006 Chanteloup

  • Sorbet

  • Fried lobster tail and Chateaubriand duo drizzled in a rosemary demi glace with potato croquets and asparagus; 2006 Coupage

  • Cheese course brings a sampling of artisan cheeses; 2005 Instinct

  • Flourless chocolate cake with raspberry sauce garnished with fresh berries, served with gourmet Brazilian coffee roasted for Wolf Mountain Vineyards; 2005 Claret or 2006 Seyval Demi-Sec
For reservations, call 706-867-9862. 180 Wolf Mountain Trail in Dahlonega.

If your Valentine loves you, and all things of food and vine, we've found some gifts to tickle their fancy:

tsp spices will spice up your relationship by delivering organic spices in perfectly-measured, freshly sealed, single-use packages. Spice gals and guys can now kiss kitchen chaos goodbye and embrace more flavorful foods at home! To learn more or to buy, visit -- and be sure to stop over at The Seasoned Palate Weblog for spicy revelations.

Even if you're not popping the question you can pop the cork on fabulous wines from Niner Wine Estates. Find your favorite on the list of high- quality varietals created from estate-grown fruit: Sauvignon Blanc, Barbera Rosato, Barbera, Sangiovese, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Available at several of Atlanta's top restaurants, Niner Wines are also available at Hinton's Wine Store located at 8455 Holcomb Bridge Road in Alpharetta; 770-641-1900.

Those passionate about their grills will cherish love tokens of Grill Wipes, Stainless Steel Wipes and the Steaming Grill Brush from Grate Chef®. Less time cleaning the grill means more time for thrills! Products are sold online at and in nationwide grocery stores, hardware stores and specialty stores. Grill 'em for more info at 877- 900-8415 or

The love-struck cherub knows less time spent driving, stopping and shopping means more time for romance! Whole Foods Market and Harry's Farmers Market have it all, from flowers to food. The rest is up to you!

Run for the roses as Whole Foods Market and Harry's Farmers Market locations in Georgia rise up with their annual Valentine's Day rose special: Two dozen roses for $19.99 through February 14! There's no excuse not to push the petals her way -- you can't miss the big outdoor wrapping tables.

Wake up to a romantic breakfast in bed for $24.99. Hit snooze and steal time for a boxed bounty for two, including mini quiches, fresh-baked muffins, healthy melon and OJ.

The Bundle of Love, $89.99, snuggles all of those Valentine's classics together for one quick pick up: Two-dozen roses OR 20 tulip stems arranged in a vase with baby's breath and greenery; Nicolas Feuillatte champagne; and Moonstruck all-natural chocolate truffles.

Seven locations are waiting to embrace you and your Valentine's Day needs:
Buckhead: 77 West Paces Ferry Road, NW; 404-324-4100
Briarcliff: 2111 Briarcliff Road; 404-634-7800
Duluth-Johns Creek: 5945 State Bridge Road; 678- 514-2400
Sandy Springs: 5930 Roswell Road; 404-236- 0810
Ponce: 650 Ponce de Leon Avenue, NE; 404-853- 1681
Harry's Farmers Market in Alpharetta: 1180 Upper Hembree Road; 770-664-6300
Harry's Farmers Market in Marietta: 70 Powers Ferry Road, SE; 770-578-4400

The 4th Annual Atlanta Fine Wine Festival on Saturday, February 16, ends Valentine's week on a compassionate note. As guests enjoy food from top restaurants, like Canoe, and sample and bid on fine wines such as Niner Wine Estates, they'll be helping raise funds for a loving cause, Visiting Nurse - Hospice Atlanta. This year's event takes place from 2 - 6 p.m. on Saturday, February 16 at Mason Murer Fine Art, located at 199 Armour Drive in Atlanta; 404-879-1500. Learn more about the event's charity, auction, sponsors, participating wines and restaurants, and ticketing information at Info number:404-520-3113.

Trilogy continues to wow the neighborhood with a diverse range of entertainment! Bring the family to hear rock with a mission as Christian band Soulstice takes to the stage with fast- paced praise music on Sunday, February 17. This is not your grandpa's music. $15 cover charge per person includes a pre-show hamburger/hot dog buffet at 5 p.m. followed by the band's performance at 6:30 p.m. 4930 Davidson Road behind the Parkaire shopping center in East Cobb; 770-971-4770. Sneak preview the band at

His descriptions are so vivid you can almost taste them! Vajra Stratigos, beverage director for Fifth Group Restaurants® turns to YouTube to get the word out on the perfect wines for Valentine's. Garner his insight on bubbly through white, red and dessert wine suggestions. Click here to view . . . and the list:

Aubry, Brut Rosé, Premier Cru
Chateau Ste. Michelle, "Eroica," Riesling 2006
C. Joguet, "Les Varennes du Grand Clos," Chinon 2004
Turley Wine Cellars, "Duarte," Zinfandel Contra Costa County, CA 2005
Alvear, "Solera 1927," Pedro Ximénez Spain

Fifth Group Restaurants owns and operates Ecco, Food Studio®, La Tavola Trattoria, South City Kitchen® Midtown and Vinings and Bold American Catering®. For more information about Fifth Group Restaurants, visit For more wine suggestions from Vajra, check out his blog, Vajra Straight Up.

. . . Or cookies, cakes, breads and secret recipes. Separate amateur and professional baker categories mean all that enter have a chance at winning bread while raising dough during Share Our Strength's Great American Baking Contest on Thursday, February 21 at The Cook's Warehouse in Midtown. The 7 - 9 p.m. bake-off kicks off the organization's Great American Bake Sale in Atlanta to help alleviate childhood hunger in America. Contest entry fees are $25/amateurs and $95/professionals. Atlanta Journal- Constitution Food Writer John Kessler will judge the pros, and a panel of pastry chefs will slice into the amateur chefs' creations. Samplings of desserts and wines are included in the event admission fee of $25 per person. Obtain contest specifics at,or call Amy Crowell at 770-436-5151.

The Cook's Warehouse in Midtown is located at 549-I Amsterdam Avenue; 404-815-4993.

Share Our Strength's Great American Bake Sale®, presented by Domino® Sugar and C&H®, is a national campaign that mobilizes Americans to end childhood hunger by holding bake sales in their communities.

While Owner/Chef Michael Tuohy, a San Francisco transplant who has been at the forefront of the Atlanta dining scene for more than 20 years, has always been ahead of his time by offering a variety of small plates at his restaurant since opening in 2002 - Bon Appetit magazine even named Woodfire Grill as the spot for "Best Small Plates" in 2004. But now, he has further expanded this section of the Woodfire Grill menu to reflect the way Atlantans are eating today. Defined by the end of the entrée and the launch of a lifestyle of grazing among numerous flavors and textures, the focal point of Tuohy's menu is the enormous selection of little bites that give the diner complete control over his or her meal. Many of Woodfire Grill's previous entrée options have been made into smaller portions.

"I believe this change reflects the way guests want to eat when dining out," says Tuohy. "There is a convergence of diners young and mature that want to experience and share lots of flavors and tastes; it's a more communal approach. Diners want to move on from a dish after three to four bites, so an entree can be too much of a commitment," he adds.

Additionally, The Café at Woodfire's menu features artisan cured meats, artisan cheese selections with a wide variety of accompaniments and pizzettas to suit the mood of patrons. Several of these items are also available for purchase in The Café to take home. For those guests who are willing to put their meal choices into the capable hands of Chef Tuohy, a four-course vegetable tasting menu and a chef's tasting menu are featured on the backside of the regular menu to showcase the day's freshest locally grown organic produce and other seasonal offerings that are central to the restaurant's philosophy of ingredient-focused fair with a Northern California flair. Woodfire Grill is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday and is located at 1782 Cheshire Bride Road; 404-347-9055;

Social butterflies and event divas will see Atlanta's restaurant, happenings and retail scene bloom on Part newsletter, part blog, there's plenty of eye-candy and meaty information to make clicking on this link worth your while!