Gone with the wings in At­lanta

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - KA­T­RINA LOB­LEY

At­lanta is throw­ing down the kind of day that would break even Scar­lett O’Hara’s hard heart. Clouds hover over the world’s busiest air­port; wind shoves the rain side­ways. I could spend my 10-hour lay­over stay­ing dry within the ter­mi­nal but I have a date with a haute South­ern kitchen.

A train whisks me from the air­port to the Mid­town neigh­bour­hood in less than half an hour. Mar­garet Mitchell House & Mu­seum, where the author penned her Pulitzer Prize-win­ning novel Gone With the Wind in Apart­ment 1, is a minute’s stroll from the sta­tion. Af­ter turn­ing onto Peachtree Street, I pause near the in­ter­sec­tion with 13th Street, the spot where an off-duty taxi driver struck Mitchell in 1949. She died five days later at the age of 48. I am that same age; I look once, twice, thrice be­fore cross­ing ev­ery street to reach South City Kitchen Mid­town.

De­spite the weather, the 150-seat joint is jump­ing. South City Kitchen oc­cu­pies a 1920s dou­ble-storey bun­ga­low dwarfed by sky­scrapers. Its homely roofline is vis­i­ble from across the street but up close a thor­oughly mod­ern pa­tio dom­i­nates the fa­cade. In­side, the vibe is smart yet ca­sual. Ta­bles are cov­ered in white cloths; wait­ers wear checked shirts with jeans. Seated in front of the white-tiled fire­place, I study the menu’s con­tem­po­rary South­ern fare. I could start with bour­bon-cured salmon or the she-crab soup but this place is fa­mous for its fried green toma­toes.

Ex­ec­u­tive chef Chip Ul­brich’s crumbed tomato discs stuffed with goat’s cheese re­cline on a bed of red pep­per coulis ringed with basil-in­fused oil. The toma­toes taste as good as they look. My ap­pre­cia­tive noises are drowned out as bar­tenders jig­gle cock­tails over ice and lo­cals laugh at each other’s sto­ries. My choice of cock­tail ar­rives; it’s a Smoky Seel­bach mixed from Old Over­holt rye, orange liqueur, sparkling wine and bit­ters, poured over a rinse of Laphroaig’s heav­ily peated whisky. It’s a con­coc­tion I’d never or­der in Aus­tralia but in At­lanta its brunch-time bold­ness seems just right.

Be­tween cour­ses, warm corn­bread and a but­ter­milk bis­cuit (or scone, to us) ar­rives, with spiced ap­ple sauce and whipped but­ter on the side. I nib­ble, try­ing to leave room for what’s com­ing. I’ve for­saken Ul­brich’s spin on shrimp and grits — a dish from the low coun­try of South Car­olina and coastal Georgia. His recipe uses Red Mule Grits — or­ganic corn ground in a mill im­prob­a­bly pow­ered by a red mule called Luke who lives near Athens, Georgia. Ul­brich jacks up the flavour with tasso ham (a Ca­jun-style, spice-rubbed ham from Louisiana), poblano pep­pers and smoked tomato gravy.

In­stead, I have my heart set on fried chicken and waffles. When they lob, Ul­brich breezes past in his trade­mark fe­dora. “Do you want hot sauce with that? It’s re­ally good,” he says. And so I ex­per­i­ment with fork­fuls of chicken and waf­fle, doused re­spec­tively with hot sauce and Ver­mont maple syrup. The bites are in turn crunchy and fluffy, sweet and packed with heat, and should not be this de­li­cious. I think I’m hooked.

Ul­brich soaks his air­line chicken breast (a cut that in­cludes a wing bone) in a but­ter­milk brine for two days be­fore dip­ping the pieces into fresh but­ter­milk, flour­ing, sea­son­ing and fry­ing. Malted flour goes into the waffles. At­lanta also fea­tures an­other place fa­mous for chicken and waffles — Gladys Knight and Ron Wi­nan’s Chicken and Waffles fur­ther south on Peachtree (and at two other lo­ca­tions). Chef Ul­brich wanted to dis­tin­guish his dish from the com­pe­ti­tion. I could ask what’s dif­fer­ent be­sides the cut but frankly, my dear, I’m too busy chow­ing down to give a damn. • mid­town.southc­i­tyk­itchen.com

Meaty South­ern fare, above right, served at the South City Kitchen Mid­town, far right

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