A Taste of Tuscany Right Here in Virginia Highlands

It has been about three months since Foodiesaurus went away for her big European food crawl. Therefore, it’s been three LONG months since Foodie’s visit to Florence and, specifically, to Pipistrello Pizzeria and its Pizza Maialona con Bufalo and to Tuscany’s amazing gelaterias. That’s a long time—even for a dinosaur.

So, on one recent Sunday afternoon, Foodie set out to see how Atlanta’s Italian-inspired cuisine would fare by comparison. And it was good!

The first stop was Fritti in Atlanta’s Virginia Highlands area near Inman Park. The lunch menu highlighted Fritti’s Verace Pizza Napoletana, but a little lower I hit pay dirt: a locally-available Maialona. The Italian version of this traditional pizza (which you may recall I ate three or four times in eight days while visiting Florence) featured the same toppings, only in Italy the meats were mixed up and the pizza was topped with fresh buffalo mozzarella.

Unexpectedly, the local version segregated each meat into its own triangular zone so when you cut the pie (as you would in Italy), you either ended up with a slice of only salame, only sausage, etc., or at most, a slice with half of one meat and half of another. I must confess, I like the Florentine version better and next time I order the Maialona at Fritti, I plan to request it “scrambled.”

The only other challenge I had with the Fritti Maialona was that the salame read more like pepperoni than the salame served in Florence Otherwise, the Fritti Maialona was terrific. I will certainly be back for more!

Next up was Paolo’s Gelato near the corner of Highland Avenue and Virginia Avenue. Featured on loads of local and national television programs and in magazines galore, Paolo’s truly is the best gelato I’ve eaten in the States. I think in Florence, however, I would consider the pistachio and straciatella I tried the second or third best gelato. All things considered, that ain’t bad and lucky are those (like me) who can get gelato of this quality not too far from home!

In the final analysis, the Virginia Highlands are blessed by Italians doing the food thing as well as if they were home. And we, the citizens of the Greater Atlanta area are the beneficiaries of this largess. You could spend a lot more time on a plane before finding Italian fare this good.

Rawr!
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Winter Barbeque: Don’t Sacrifice Your Smokey Sweet Just ‘Cause It’s Cold Outside!

When the weather turns so nasty the very thought of carrying a plate of meat out to the grill sends chills of horror down your spine, how are you going to get your BBQ on?

Well, I had a few ideas. And to save you the grind of sampling the best of Atlanta, I bit the bullet by trying three well-respected area BBQ joints to see if they lived up to their respective reputations. At each place, I ate spare ribs with two sides (well, and maybe a little more). These are the results.

First up was the new Pig ‘N Chik on Briarcliff Road near Emory University.

Pig 'N Chik Briarcliff

In addition to the usual dine-in and take-out BBQ business, one really great thing about the Chik is their delivery service. Have a cold and don’t want to slog down to the rib joint? They’ve got you covered. On this occasion, however, I ate in.

The spare rib plate comes with a full rack and choice of two pretty standard sides. I chose the mac and cheese and the fried okra. The meat was actually very tender and the sauce was a nice balance between sweet and vinegar. The sides were good but not the best examples of either dish.

Pig 'N Chik Spare Rib Plate (featuring Fried Okra and Mac and Cheese)
Pig 'N Chik Spare Ribs--Tender and Tasty

On a different occasion, I also tried the pulled pork and cole slaw. Neither was exemplary but both were decent. 

Overall, the food at the Chik is a good, solid example of Southern BBQ and the convenience of the delivery service makes Pig ‘N Chik a nice way to scratch your BBQ itch during the worst weather this Winter.

Next up was Community Q on Clairmont Road in Decatur, Georgia.

Community Q, Decatur

In my opinion, the Q is the next evolutionary stage of BBQ in Atlanta in that it brings a locavore sensibility to the old Southern standard. The half rack of “St. Louis-Style” spare ribs are meaty with a good amount of soft flavorful fat on the thick end. And the sides are far and away the best of the three restaurants I surveyed.

The mac and cheese are really rigatoni and not elbows, and the dish is actually baked with crispy cheese bits distributed throughout. The cabbage forming basis of the cole slaw is crispy-tender and flavorful; the sauce light, fresh, and not overly sweet.

Community Q Half Rack of Spare Ribs with Cole Slaw and Mac and Cheese

On a different occasion, I also tried the pulled pork and potato salad–both of which were excellent. As with the spare ribs, the pulled pork was juicy and served as thick chunks instead of the more typical stringy threads. And the potato salad was made of cubed red potatoes dressed in a very well-balanced blend of creamy mayo and mustard, and savory and sweet pickles.

Accordingly, I would recommend Community Q without reservation to anyone looking for an excellent and very filling (thanks to all that beautiful pork fat) example of Atlanta BBQ.

Last, but certainly not least, was Fat Matt’s Rib Shack on Piedmont Avenue NE.  Here as at the other restaurants, I tried the spare ribs, only this time with baked beans and slaw.

Fat Matt's Rib Shack Spare Ribs--Simply Unbelievable

Cutting straight to the chase, the ribs were transcendent. I have never eaten pork in any form half as good as the stuff I ate that night. I won’t even pretend to understand how they got that flavor out of what is essentially the same raw material everyone uses. I just know they did it and I will be back.

The sides were not quite as amazing as Community Q, but they were really good. The beer selection was also terrific and the Blues band performing that night was surprisingly awesome for such a small venue.

In conclusion, Fat Matt’s ribs are a miracle, Community Q is the best overall for ribs and sides, and Pig ‘N Chik’s delivery makes it the thing to do for winter barbeque dining at home (check the web for their menu).

Rawr!

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