My Curated Weed Patch

Last Autumn, I moved into a new place and was responsible (for the first time since 2008) for the “yard.”

I put “yard” in quotes because the back is so shaded from the overhang of dense tree branches, it is basically a small, awkwardly-sloping dirt patch. The front is a narrow sliver of ground on one side of the walk leading to the front door and an awkwardly-sloping 8′ x 8′ area on the other.

Mercifully, the HOA takes care of the shrubberies on the other side of the sidewalk running along the front, but neighbors on either side care for their own “lawn” indifferently, so they have the weeds. These weeds sometimes like to come next door to my place to play and thus begins our tale.

Immediately before I moved in, the owner decided to take down a tree that had shaded the front for many years. It was necessary because the tree had become hazardous. So they mulched the stump and after such a long time in the dark, the ground was essentially bare except for a large “elephant ear” plant growing beneath the window.

Having been a container gardener for several years, I set out my pots and wondered whether I should invest in any lawn care equipment for such a little bit of ground. If not, what was I going to do with it?

For the time being I did nothing, however, and in the full morning sun each day, what had lain beneath began to assert itself.

First, three flowering things with tulip-like leaves sprang up. I learned in the next freeze that whatever that was didn’t tolerate frost well.

Soon after, some monkey grass started happening near the front. Toward the top of the lawn behind my large pansy pot, a very attractive ground cover started to spread. (I think it may be the Elizabeth variety of Sedum.)

Then came the weeds.

Dandelion was first. As the autumn progressed, however, so too did the number and variety of native plants.

There were these little plants with dark green, spade-shaped leaves that produce tiny purple flowers. Soon after, some fern-like vines erupted. These had paler fronds with the most beguiling curled tendrils on the end with even smaller purple flowers.

Then came the random grasses (at least two kinds), some kind of spread-y thing that seems to exist just to drape over everything else, thistle, and a bit of clover. Those were ones I kind of recognized anyway.

Because the nights grew colder, the weeds mostly stayed in check with a little hand removal and the ever-so slight application of Round-up. (*Don’t throw things at me YET, bee-lovers. For, this is a story of redemption.)

Then as they tend to do, the days once again grew longer. The frosts ended, but I still had a problem: responsibility for this bit of ground and no equipment. <sigh>

Fortunately, my powers of observation, keen sense of the aesthetic, and total cheapness were all working for me when I decided, I like my weeds. There. I said it. I. Like. Weeds.

They really are quite lovely and mine are mostly fairly short. They grow without any effort from me, survive without me watering them, and the bees* (eh? eh?) seem to like them.

Now my life is different after committing the highest form of suburban heresy. But my plan is a bold one.

I enter a gladiator in the Darwinian competitive fray between the pretty and small and the tall and unattractive. I will weigh in on the side of the weeds I like by hand-removing the weeds I don’t.

My hypothesis is the small and pretty will eventually occupy the entire space and crowd out the others. It may take the entire season before I have enough evidence to be proved correct (or otherwise), but in the interim, I am getting a little exercise, I am saving a ton of money on fertilizers, herbicides (bad! very bad!), seed, and water.

Here is where we are today.

     

Hopefully, I remember to circle back in late summer to update you on my progress. 

Rawr!

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!
—————————————————————————————————————————————
RATING:

Fritti—

Overall:

Food:

Ambiance:


Paolo’s Gelato—

Overall:

Food:

Ambiance:

Heading out and hoping Italy gets it together before I get there! But first it’s off to lovely Ireland in Autumn.

So I’m in the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and locally-grown is featured even here–in a restaurant called, One Flew South.

Having a farm bacon goat cheese frisse salad and a lovely Ben Marco Malbec. I won’t lie to you: it’s hellaspensive, but at least it’s available as an alternative to the endless chain-restaurant-lined corridors you might have found here just five years ago. Another Ruby Tuesday, I can do without!

Rawr!

The Original Pancake House–Did You Know How Good This Place Is (at least the one on LaVista Road in Atlanta)?

The Original Pancake House. If you’re like me, you’ve probably driven by, like, 53 of these and never once stopped. Well, I’m here to tell you, my friend: quit doing that!

One reason I’ve never stopped, other than the low-carb diet since 2003, is my apparently whack belief that one pancake/waffle/denny’s/shoney’s establishment is more or less like another. And usually, that has been the case. But The Original Pancake House on LaVista Road NE in Atlanta (or OPH(L) for short), may be the exception to the rule.

My first visit to OPH(L) was during a mid-morning peak time one recent Saturday; the next was a “shoot-a-canon-through-it” mid-morning weekday. Both times I sat at the bar. Both times I placed the same order: two eggs over easy, sausage, three pancakes with sugar-free syrup, coffee, and water.

(You can infer from this that I enjoyed the first breakfast so well that I just wanted a repeat, and not that the menu was in any way not pages and pages of deliciousness described. It certainly was the former.)

Whereas most “diner” eggs are greasy and/or over-cooked, OPH(L)’s over easy was textbook with a perfectly soft, not overly runny interior. (Frankly, I wish I could make them as well.) Whereas most “diner” sausage is a dried-out, crusty, rubbery puck, OPH(L)’s was tender yet cooked through, perfectly-seasoned, and moist with what seemed like actual pork fat. Mmmmm.

Now I come to the pancakes served with authentic—wait for it—butter. These were probably among the very best examples I have ever tried. They were not oversweet, dry, chewy, loose, wet, lumpy, or any other bad thing. In fact they were cakes of steamy, firm, buttery pure love.

Now granted, being a Louisiana dinosaur, I happen to think the pinnacle of pancake syrup is Steen’s Cane Syrup, a kind of Cajun blackstrap molasses. So I’m admittedly no maple syrup connoisseur. But to my taste, even the sugar-free syrup they served (I forget the brand) was actually indistinguishable from real maple syrup in taste and texture.

What’s more the coffee was fresh, strong, and bottomless, and the service was reasonably attentive and welcoming. Sitting there at the bar was like a trip back to a simpler time when people enjoyed a little gossip with their brunch. Apparently, that hasn’t changed much along with the now-retro 1950’s décor.

All-in-all, I found the Original Pancake House to be a great way to spend both the morning and about $10 a head.

Rawr!

——————————————————————————————————————

RATING:

Overall:

Food:

Ambiance:

Top Spice Thai & Malaysian–Nan in Midtown Has a Little Competition from North Druid Hills

Along with pork, another favorite of mine is Thai food—especially if there’s pork in there. Before now, Thai in Atlanta meant just one thing to me: Nan in Midtown. But now I not so sure. You see, there’s another Thai in town. A small chain of just two restaurants called, Top Spice. And you know what? They’ve won all those great reviews fair and square.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Nan rocks! First of all, it’s one of the prettiest restaurants around. But the décor isn’t the only thing working for Nan. The kitchen cooks as good as it looks, featuring text book examples of coconut soup and various curries and top shelf, prime ingredients in their translations of traditional dishes.

All of their dishes are incredibly fresh and the elegant portions, while not overlarge, are satisfying. To finish, just about any of the desserts are to die for—but be sure to try the Three Flavors Homemade Ice Creams.

And for the PGA fan, there is a photo gallery of pro golfers near the entrance that are a who’s who of rich and famous diners. Apparently, the owners have some kind of Vijay Sing connection. So if you want to eat where some of the top PGA players hang out when they are passing through Atlanta, be sure to try Nan.

If there is any issue with Nan, it is the fine dining ding to your wallet prior to departure. And that valet parking is really the only way to enter. So what’s the budget-minded or the self-park-er to do for good Thai? The answer clearly is Top Spice.

Located in the renovated Toco Hills strip shopping center and with a second location at Akers Mill, Top Spice is a legitimate alternative to Nan for most occasions. I visited the Toco Hills location for lunch and dinner.

At Top Spice, even the top shelf drinks are reasonably priced. I enjoyed a generous Grey Goose vodka at my evening meal for around $8.

I started with Fresh Basil Rolls on each occasion and found them very fresh and containing a reasonable balance of protein to rice noodles. And the accompanying plum sauce with chopped peanuts is excellent as a dip or a between course snack—Kidding! (Not really).

Soft Shell Crab--Thai-style

My first entrée was from the Thai menu. I ordered the Soft Shell Crab dish at the recommendation of my waiter, and it was awesome! The crabs were (again) very fresh medium-sized blue points and you get two of them. The crabs were properly cleaned of fat and gills, lightly-crusted, deep-fried, and served in green curry with small but juicy shrimp and tender-crisp asparagus.

Although the crabs were quite filling, I took a bullet for the team and ordered dessert. The very helpful waiter explained that two of the desserts were made in-house—the Kaya Pencake and the Sticky Rice with Mango and both were especially good. I went Sticky Rice and was not disappointed.

Thai Sticky Rice

On the plate was a beautiful presentation of a molded warm rice cake topped with a smattering of toasted blond sesame seeds, a fan of expertly sliced mango, and a small ramekin of warm “coconut syrup” that tasted like my idea of sweetened condensed milk if it were made with coconut cream instead of dairy.

The combination was intoxicating. Each bite of rice dipped in sauce was heaven. And amazingly, the rice and syrup stayed warm until the end. Oh, yes, I did finish it! And I took my time savoring each lovely grain.

For lunch, the budget-minded need fear not at Top Spice, for there are lunch specials which are all of the quality of the dinner menu but at a fraction of the price. This menu includes such dishes as Pad Thai. I enjoyed the Nam Sod from the regular salad menu, however.

The only complaint I have about Top Spice’s interpretation of this classic dish is their handling of the raw cabbage side which they serve quartered and almost unimpenetrably solid, like a cabbage brick. I have enjoyed cabbage served as more of a cup containing the minced pork mixture in the past, which I eat like a salad.

Otherwise, this is probably the best Nam Sod I have ever had. Very balanced and not overly sweet, it is spicy without blowing your head off with chili. If you are into this dish, you definitely should give it a try here.

Oh, and despite its location, Top Spice is beautiful too. Dress is casual to business casual, and the atmosphere is elegantly relaxed. In 2007, Top Spice apparently got a lot great press and was awarded Best of City search and rated by Zagat.

In the final analysis, whether you want high-end or really high-quality but not so fussy, Atlanta has Thai covered. For the big spending golf/Thai fan, there’s beautiful Nan. But if you want great Thai without the sticker shock or if you just enjoy Malaysian, Top Spice is the clear winner.

Rawr!
—————————————————————————————————————————————
RATING:

Nan—

Overall:

Food:

Ambiance:

Top Spice—

Overall:

Food:

Ambiance: