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If you were tuned to the Travel Channel last night at 9pm, you’d have been watching the Atlanta episode of Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover.
More of a love letter to our town than a tv show about food, The Layover sends Bourdain all over Atlanta.
First, Bourdain pays a visit to Fat Matt’s Rib Shack, where he talks about the ribs. Pre-empting any objections from food nerds that this isn’t real BBQ, he draws an amusing comparison — it’s like being “married to a Harvard graduate supermodel, but every once in a while you just want a really nasty girl in cheap heels with a trashy Queens accent who chews gum – I’m saying you want that, not me.”
Moving swiftly through a 36 hour visit to the city, he hits the Tom Lowe Shooting Grounds with Ryan Smith to shoot skeet. Smith shows some remarkable natural skill with a shotgun, so if you were ever going to consider running out of ESS without paying, you might want to rethink it. Then it’s on to Holeman and Finch with Sean Brock (of Charleston’s Husk Restaurant) for some of Linton Hopkins’s charcuterie and one of H&F’s limited edition double cheeseburgers.
Bourdain rounds out the first day at Octopus Bar in East Atlanta Village, drinking with Ryan Smith and Sean Brock, and bitching about food service jobs with industry folks.
Day two begins at Octane and the Little Tart Bake Shop in Grant Park where Bourdain grabs a croissant and a fascinating New York Times article about Life After Top Chef before catching up with Richard Blais for a trip to the Buford Highway Farmer’s Market.
Blais shows him around the many Asian ingredients and confides that right now he’s enthralled with Eastern European foods. The pair check out the extensive seafood counter and then grab some Korean dumplings.
Back on Buford Highway driving back to town, Bourdain stops off at El Taco Veloz and we see clips from a number of other hidden gem ethnic eateries.
As night falls, we find ourselves at Miller Union in West Midtown to meet Alton Brown. They talk about farm to table (it’s Alton’s favorite farm to table place in Atlanta), and sample some of Steven Satterfield’s dishes. Brown has some great talking points — first that if you ask what it is to be Southern, you might get a response that “Atlanta is the Varsity and Atlanta is the blah blah blah. Atlanta doesn’t know what it is yet.”
The second point Alton brings up is the elephant in the room. The room being the South, and the elephant being race. He smartly points out that for generations iconic Southern food was cooked by poor black people for rich white people, and that the recipes, the food knowledge, was passed down through black families. “We’re just starting to reckon with it,” says Brown.
Bourdain reflects that “The local food supply and southern traditions are what’s driving chefs in Atlanta. And in turn, chefs are driving what the farmers grow. It’s a whole new world down here.”
The “last and most important stop in town” is The Clermont Lounge. Having plied Alton Brown with sufficient liquor to get him to agree to tag along, Bourdain heads to the famous strip club. Hilariously for viewers, when Bourdain introduces Brown to legendary stripper, Blondie. “I know Blondie,” says Brown, but it’s clear that Blondie has no idea who the Food Network celebrity is.
The video of a somewhat bewildered and amused Alton Brown in the Clermont Lounge is worth the price of admission, and for many viewers, I suspect, the best reason to watch.
“America’s a great country,” says Brown as Blondie performs a jump and slide down to the splits. “You’ve seen greatness now, my friend,” replies Bourdain. And in this wonderful tour through Atlanta’s culinary life, so have we.