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- 02/20/15--09:03: _The 5 Breweries You...
- 02/25/15--14:16: _Portraits of the Ne...
- 03/02/15--10:00: _Portraits from the ...
- 03/04/15--08:20: _Tour Guide: Hugh Ac...
- 03/06/15--11:12: _City Guide: Miami
- 03/09/15--09:15: _Dinner with Alma's ...
- 03/09/15--12:21: _Wild at Heart
- 03/10/15--07:00: _Jamaican Breakfast ...
- 02/16/15--11:00: _Iconic Eats: Louisiana
- 03/12/15--14:00: _Postcard: A Shared ...
- 03/13/15--10:18: _D.C.'s Homegrown Ta...
- 03/13/15--12:15: _City Guide: Buenos ...
- 03/13/15--18:00: _Scenes from Vail
- 03/14/15--07:00: _Neapolitan Pizza Re...
- 03/18/15--14:38: _Dispatch: Where to ...
- 04/09/15--06:00: _Set Ups: New Orlean...
- 04/13/15--15:01: _Road Trip: 'Wich Hunt
- 04/14/15--07:54: _The Road to Abruzzo
- 04/14/15--14:00: _10 Noodle Dishes No...
- 04/15/15--06:00: _Dispatch: Tacos de ...
- 02/20/15--09:03: The 5 Breweries You Must Visit in Asheville, NC
- 02/25/15--14:16: Portraits of the New South
- 03/02/15--10:00: Portraits from the New South
- 03/04/15--08:20: Tour Guide: Hugh Acheson's Athens, GA
- 03/06/15--11:12: City Guide: Miami
- 03/09/15--09:15: Dinner with Alma's Ari Taymor
- 03/09/15--12:21: Wild at Heart
- 03/10/15--07:00: Jamaican Breakfast Recipes
- 02/16/15--11:00: Iconic Eats: Louisiana
- 03/12/15--14:00: Postcard: A Shared Meal in Thailand
- 03/13/15--10:18: D.C.'s Homegrown Talent
- 03/13/15--12:15: City Guide: Buenos Aires
- 03/13/15--18:00: Scenes from Vail
- 03/14/15--07:00: Neapolitan Pizza Recipes
- 03/18/15--14:38: Dispatch: Where to Drink in St. Petersburg
- 04/09/15--06:00: Set Ups: New Orleans' Low-Key, DIY Bottle Service
- 04/13/15--15:01: Road Trip: 'Wich Hunt
- 04/14/15--07:54: The Road to Abruzzo
- 04/14/15--14:00: 10 Noodle Dishes Not to Miss in Vietnam
- 04/15/15--06:00: Dispatch: Tacos de Canasta Especiales, Mexico City
For the past year or so, I’ve been lucky enough to work on a project that allows me to capture the creative communities of twelve US cities in portrait and writing. What these people have in common is that they are part of a growing movement of independent creatives with an interest in living outside of large cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. They also represent a increasingly large group of people with a growing interest in self-employment, freelance work, or a role at a smaller company.
Five of the twelve cities are located in the South, an area of the country I’ve always been drawn to for its soul and food, and one that has been increasingly capturing the rest of the country's attention over the last few years. Below are eight of these talented folks, including six that weigh in on the amount of national attention the Southern food community has received over the past few years, how they would define "the new South”, and what they’re excited about happening in the South right now.
See the portraits »
Find even more portraits on the One of Many site»
Hugh Acheson is a Canadian-born chef and author who discovered Athens, GA in his twenties when he moved there with his wife Mary, an Athens native. He would later open two restaurants in town: Five & Ten and The National. Even though he has since expanded to Atlanta and Savannah, his family calls Athens home. "Athens is really a unique Southern city in its ability to provide a home for a motley crew of people," says Acheson. "It's academic, artsy, musical, and though it's not very big, it has some great culinary talent and restaurant gems."
Here, he shares his favorite places to eat, drink, and catch a show.
5 Points Bottle ShopThis liquor store’s crazy array of choices makes it a must-visit. It draws a very diverse crowd, from frat boys buying kegs and beer geeks buying lambics, to whiskey collectors buying bourbon and oenophiles filling their cellars.
5 Points Bottle Shop
1655 South Lumpkin Street
Athens, GA 30606
40 Watt ClubAthens isn’t Athens without the 40 Watt, an intimate music venue that’s been around since 1978. Go see a show, have a drink at the tiki bar, and you'll realize what an amazing music scene Athens has.
40 Watt Club
285 West Washington Street
Athens, GA 30601
Automatic PizzaAutomatic is a new pizza place opened by good friends of mine. They’re serving classic New York–style pizza and sandwiches in a smartly designed corner spot—which is a much better use of space than the Pizza Hut that was there before.
1397 Prince Ave
Athens, Georgia 30606
Condor ChocolatesPulling inspiration from their Ecuadorian roots and a childhood love for chocolate, brothers Nick and Peter Dale opened this little 5-points gem just recently. The sipping chocolate is killer.
1658 S Lumpkin Street
Athens, GA 30606
Manhattan CaféThe worn luster of this bar is part of its charm. For years Joey Tatum’s beautiful neighborhood haunt has been slinging simple, affordable drinks in a spot that I just love. Get a Maker’s and ginger and watch the world slowly improve.
337 North Hull Street
Athens, GA 30601
TlalocTlaloc has the best pupusas, sopes, and authentic Mexican and Salvadorean food in town. True joy emanates from the kitchen; you’ll hear the ladies singing back there all through your lunch.
1225 North Chase Street
Athens, GA 30601
The Branded ButcherIf you’re going to a show at the Georgia Theatre, head here first for one of the best dinners in town. They offer amazing proteins, culinary craftsmanship, and a kickass Scotch egg.
The Branded Butcher
225 North Lumpkin Street
Athens, GA 30601
Miami's forward momentum is astonishing. The rate at which change occurs is faster than the speed of Maserati coupes racing across the MacArthur Causeway, a picturesque highway that connects Miami proper to Miami Beach over a glistening bay. It is, and always has been, a glamorous destination. Visitors come looking for an escape, willing to be seduced by the charm of their surroundings. It's as if the environment is systematically manufactured to excite all of our senses.
Miami grew exponentially during a series of booms in the 20th century—until each period's bubble burst. Now, the city has expanded once again and is truly in the best shape it's ever been. The indicator? Countless cranes crowding the skyline both near the water and inland making way for the next chic cocktail bar or chef-driven restaurant. That "out with the old, in with the new" mentality governs the lives of those who live here, and as such, Miamians are an adaptable bunch with a strong affinity for the ambitious and adventurous. Recently, though, understanding the past has become more of a priority, as more and more people call Miami a permanent home instead of a fantasy getaway.
Here are the most important places to see, eat, and stay in this ever-evolving Magic City.
WHERE TO EAT
Zak the Baker Wynwood Bakery & Cafe
405 NW 26th St., Miami, Florida
229 14th St., Miami Beach, Florida
Mandolin Aegean Bistro
4312 NE 2nd Ave., Miami, Florida
Sawaddee Thai & Sushi Restaurant
6968 Bay Dr., Miami Beach, Florida
+1/305-866-8111Chef Michael Pirolo at Macchialina embodies the maxim "Italians do it better" at his rustic-chic tavern. It's a haven for authentic house-made pastas, fine salumi and cheese boards, and porchetta, as well as an undeniably memorable tiramisù. Pirolo shares the character of his childhood in Italy through his menu, and regulars respond with allegiance. With that said, reservations are a must here. Sunday brunch offers an imaginative menu that's sure to cure any South Beach hangover.
820 Alton Rd., Miami Beach, Florida
1601 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, Florida
210 NE 18th St., Miami, Florida
134 NE 2nd Ave., Miami, Florida
2629 NW 79th Ave., Doral, Florida
Seagraphe at Thompson Miami Beach
4041 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, Florida
WHERE TO STAY
The Setai, Miami Beach
2001 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, Florida
The Vagabond Hotel
7301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, Florida
270 Biscayne Blvd Way, Miami, Florida
WHERE TO DRINKThe Broken Shaker by Gabriel Orta and Elad Zvi has made headlines since it opened as a pop-up more than two years ago in a petite space resembling the wild offspring of Paris, New Orleans, and Oaxaca. The cocktail menu changes every 10 days and contains exotic options like an aperitivo with Cocchi Americano, Amontillado sherry, fresh hibiscus, and lime juice topped with sparkling water. When you visit you'll quickly learn that all the buzz is well-deserved, thanks to fresh ingredients from an on-site garden; inventive original recipes made by down-to-earth bartenders; a back bar stocked with notable spirits, vintage liqueurs; and myriad bottles of house-made bitters, elixirs, tinctures, and syrups. The outdoor courtyard is something of a bohemian playground complete with a pool, citrus trees, ping-pong tables, and ample space for lingering into the wee hours of the night by candlelight. The adjacent restaurant, aptly named 27, is managed by the same power duo and the bar on the second floor of this old Florida house is a top-notch addition to Miami's cocktail circuit.
The Broken Shaker and 27 Restaurant
At Freehand Miami
2727 Indian Creek Dr., Miami Beach, Florida
The Rum Line
At Loews Miami Beach Hotel
1601 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, Florida
At Miami Beach Edition
2901 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, Florida
3425 NE Second Ave., Miami, Florida
Tap Tap Restaurant
819 5th St., Miami Beach, Florida
WHAT TO DO
Yellow Green Farmers Market
1940 N 30th Rd., Hollywood, Florida
2322 NE 2nd Ave., Miami, Florida
To reserve, visit Eleanor's website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Classes are $85 per person. For those looking to up their at-home bar game, The Regent Cocktail Club offers twice-monthly interactive classes. Bartenders guide pupils through fundamental techniques, methodology, popular recipes, and the featured spirit's history. The two-hour classes are limited to 20 people and prices are $85 per person online or $100 per person at the venue. Small bites from the hotel's Dolce Italian are served.
The Regent Cocktail Club
1685 James Ave., Miami Beach, Florida
(1st and 3rd Friday, 7-9 p.m.) (Starting March 6)
Sign up here.
Contact is by email only: email@example.com
The next dinner is March 16th.
Marky's Gourmet Store
687 NE 79th St., Miami, Florida
Robert Is Here
19200 SW 344th St., Homestead, Florida
(Open first weekend of Nov. through Labor Day)
Verde Community Farm & Market
12690 SW 280th St., Homestead, Florida
30205 SW 217th Ave., Homestead, Florida
As more food arrived, California's allure was obvious. Hay-roasted potatoes with goat's milk, warm smoked trout blanketed in roe, and ribs (brined, smoked, grilled, and glazed) all came out family style, "because it's messy and fun." Our glasses stayed full of Zev Rovine wines, and enormous pine-and-parsnip ice cream sundaes rounded everything out, tasting like a crisp, apple-y forest very far from Manhattan. Check out some of our favorite moments from the night below.
"This is Mermaid's Necklace," says James Ashmore, handing over a delicate strand of emerald beads he just plucked from the cold depths of the Tasman Sea at the southern end of Australia's island state. "Try it," he says.
The seaweed pops like caviar on the tongue. It's unexpectedly sweet. The faint scent of algae hangs in the air and sea eagles circle overhead.
Ashmore is, by trade, a purveyor of seafood, but his true passion is foraging for seaweed. Using an oxygen compressor, he swims for hours through underwater forests where urchins and abalone cling between waving strands of bull kelp. On a good day he'll gather 500 pounds of wakame, kombu, and more exotic seaweeds in his mesh bag.
A friend of mine from Sydney described Tasmania as "Vermont with bigger sharks." The climate is similarly suited for apple orchards and apple-cheeked dairymaids. A certain stubborn independence about the citizens is also characteristic of the Northeast Kingdom—but comparisons come to a screeching halt the minute a wallaby or koala appears out of the peppermint gums to cross the road. (And here be devils, too.) Almost half the island is protected wilderness. It has the cleanest air recorded on earth. Tap water tastes faintly of the peaty central highlands; whiskey distilled from it concentrates the flavor. Converging on the waterfront at Hobart, the southern capital city, are a Royal Australian Navy submarine, a Chinese icebreaker, a radical activist Sea Shepherd cruiser, and a fishing trawler christened Suicidal Dream. South from here is Bruny Island, the pristine outpost of oyster cultivators and cheese makers, colloquially known as "the island off the island off the island." Below that: Antarctica. I'm far from home, and mermaid's necklace may be the most truly wild thing I've ever eaten.
Greater Hobart sprawls on both sides of the Derwent estuary, but the original harbor front, with its Victorian pubs and sandstone warehouses, retains its provincial roots and pedestrian-friendly vibe. Signs of conversion are everywhere as developers are repurposing much of the commercial architecture. Franklin, a new downtown restaurant, occupies a barely converted automobile showroom. The bar is poured concrete, the windows are industrial, and at the center of the open kitchen, the lanky chef David Moyle wrestles with a fire-breathing Scotch oven he's nicknamed "The Beast."
Scotch ovens, common in 19th-century Australia, were wood-fired monsters designed for commercial bread baking. Moyle's custom-forged version pulls radiant heat through an arched brick chamber where he can roast a whole pig at full blast or slowly dry oysters and baby octopus on cool-down days.
"Even when resting, the oven's residual heat suffices to do this," Moyle says, handing me a mysterious little gray chip. The oyster rehydrates in my mouth, releasing an intense, forgotten brine.
The oysters are added to a sauce for slivered abalone, plated in its pearlescent shell and wrapped with the bull kelp Moyle gathers on his days off surfing at Bruny Island's Coal Point. Menu descriptors are deceptively lo-fi at Franklin. This disdain for pretension is the mark of a guy who sports the gnarly beard of pirates and Portland baristas. He lives in a geodesic dome between an oyster farm and a biodynamic vineyard. Doesn't wear a watch. Moyle favors lesser-loved ingredients like periwinkles and whiting, grilled beef hearts and smoked bone marrow, bitter leaves and medicinal herbs. The mermaid's necklace from Ashmore appears on a raw-fish plate. A humble bowl of squid broth paired with sweet white Hakurei turnips and garlic greens turns out to be not so simple. It speaks of underworlds both oceanic and earthy.
On an island at the bottom of the world, chefs and farmers are creating a rule-breaking food scene all their own.
Why come all this way to eat seaweed and soup? Because Ashmore and Moyle belong to a tight-knit community of chefs, farmers, and foragers who've chosen this remote place, and its access to fiercely fresh ingredients, to create a rule-breaking food scene of their own. (And there's the added benefit of surfing and unpopulated white sand beaches.) To discover this happening on the fringe, where everyone goes about experimenting with such outlandish bounty, is unquestionably worth the 30-plus hours I've spent in transit getting here. Tagging along with these same mavericks to the source of their inspiration appeals even more to someone who loves places wild at heart.
On his day off, Moyle and I head south to Bruny Island in his Renault Clio junker. The front grill is missing. Frank, his black kelpie puppy, shares the backseat with a surfboard. The ferry pulls away from its dock in Kettering, an eastern shore suburb 30 minutes outside Hobart, and crosses the D'Entrecasteaux Channel. Today, no wind kicks up a chop. We pull over for Cokes and hot sausage rolls at the newsagent close to the ferry terminal—not far from the spot where explorers James Cook and William Bligh once anchored to resupply fresh water and shoot possums. Frank eats most of my sausage roll and then we're off toward Ross O'Meara's farm.
In a state populated by back-to-the-landers, incomer and native alike, pristine Bruny may just be its true capital. We meet O'Meara at his family's property, which rises from the road to open fields, stream-fed ponds, and a stand of eucalyptus on a lower slope of Mount Mangana. Frank jumps an electric fence to chase sheep. The rest of us hike up the hill to see where Berkshire, Wessex Saddleback, and Tamworth pigs are rooting. O'Meara climbs into their five-acre bush paddock and bends low to greet one of his favorite swine. The beast is surprisingly coy but allows the burly farmer close enough to briefly touch his snout. Sows Juanita and Desiree arrive from a mud bath in a watering hole to rub against us. "They love a good wallow," says O'Meara.
Back in O'Meara's tin-roof farmhouse, his wife, Emma, sets the table as Ross pan-fries some of his chubby pork sausages for lunch. We sit down to rustic rillettes, homemade pickles, and a creamy mustard he makes with apple cider vinegar aging in oak barrels out in the yard. O'Meara talks about a reclusive neighbor who breeds the squabs served at Franklin. "He's total Tasmanian," says O'Meara, by which he means he has an innate disregard for anything beyond the immediate locale.
O'Meara hands me a pot of mustard and a slab of newly cured bacon as parting gifts. Digging in my bag, I hand over a bottle of pinot noir and a bag of Ashmore's dried wakame. I call that a fair trade.
Luke Burgess is agitated about a tiny worm that showed up one night at his restaurant Garagistes in Hobart. It's not the fact that it hid inside a little flower on a diner's plate that has him worked up, but rather the attitude of the offended customer, who called him on the carpet for it. "She didn't understand that Paulette's produce is completely organic and barely handled," Burgess says. Paulette Whitney and her husband, Matt, run Provenance Growers in the Huon Valley. One afternoon, Burgess and I drive out to meet the Whitneys so I can appreciate the delicacy of their produce for myself. Protected from prevailing southerly winds by a eucalyptus rainforest, their greenhouses and raised beds are crowded with sweet cicely, lovage, oxalis, angelica, nettles, and Tasmanian yellow tomatoes.
Burgess apprenticed with Tetsuya Wakuda in Sydney, then worked at noma in Copenhagen, before opening his own place in Hobart about five years ago. Despite the global résumé, however, his food is as fleetingly seasonal as a spring bloom, changing as he fetches ingredients from the Whitneys as well as from his close friend Rodney Dunn, another farmer farther out of town in the Derwent Valley. Where Moyle is raw and gutsy, Burgess is refined and hyper-focused, down to the flower blossoms artfully upended on his plates.
I suggest Burgess charge extra for the presence of worms, given the vogue for lemon ants in another hemisphere. The Whitneys are potting herbs to sell at their Farm Gate Market stall but pause long enough to discuss the value of Kubota versus John Deere tractors.
A sun-bleached blonde in denim and worn Blundstone brogues, Paulette has a deep knowledge of indigenous plants—kangaroo apple, sagg, murnong—used for traditional remedies. She admits to seed catalog lust; Quarantine Tasmania harshly restricts the import of new varieties to prevent a fruit fly incursion. But the limitations also led Paulette to focus on local plants, like her pots of sheep's sorrel, peppery shepherd's purse, and sow thistle. A jar filled with genuinely ugly yellow-and-black dent corn kernels sits on a garden table, where we drink verbena tea and eat shortbread cookies she baked for the occasion. Paulette mentions that their youngest daughter, Heidi, is participating in the Huon Agricultural Society Show's floral contest for the first time—her entry is a huge euphorbia bloom atop a headless teddy bear. Older sister Elsie has bought a clutch of quail by raising and selling her own radishes. A hen and her brood scatter as we leave the yard. Matt, who worked for Burgess before becoming a full-time farmer, hands him plastic containers of radish flowers and baby red orach leaves, which later ride on my lap back into town, lighter than a baby chick. It occurs to me that if a young couple is willing to crawl in the dirt on their hands and knees to pick chickweed and shungiku chrysanthemum, then the worms are come by honorably.
In a former garage, Garagistes has a pared down, monastic aesthetic—rows of blond oak refectory tables, exposed beams, rough-glaze ceramics, waitstaff and kitchen crew in somber black. A dry-age cellar with a peek hole tempts devotees of house-cured charcuterie. Burgess is bent over plates in a galley kitchen where one commis works a flaming steel contraption that is equals parts rotisserie and parilla grill. His set menu is an indulgent tour of Tasmania itself: from tartare of Wagyu from a ranch on Robbins Island in the north to hapuka (wreckfish) caught off the southeast coast. Apart from that, Garagistes is harder to define. It's not Asian or Nordic or Mediterranean, although the cheeky sake pairings raised wine-snob eyebrows when first introduced, and Burgess serves a bowl of Manila clams in anise hyssop dashi next to a plate of Wessex Saddleback guanciale. Tiny pink-eye potatoes are smoked with native kunzea (a myrtle cousin) and topped with those fragile radish flowers from the Whitneys. A glazed wood pigeon with curled feet intact lands on the table. This is nature, red in tooth and claw; someone who flinches over a worm isn't going to relish game presented properly. On an island at the bottom of the world, with a half-million residents whose collective ancestry ranges from Canton to Cornwall, food of this caliber and originality proves Tasmania's self-reliance in the most delectable way. My waiter uncorks a darkly complex, biodynamic pinot noir from a vineyard so small that its output rarely reaches the Australian mainland. Touché, I think, to quarantines.
Bananas FosterCreated in 1951 at the legendary Brennan's restaurant in New Orleans to honor Richard Foster, a friend of the restaurant and local businessman, this boozy, buttery concoction of caramelized bananas flambéed in rum sauce has since become a dining-out classic.
The crawfish boil—crawfish and other seafood cooked in a roiling brew of aromatic vegetable and fiery spices—is a Gulf Coast tradition of Cajun origin. As with many other Louisiana dishes, there are plenty of variations; our favorite includes crawfish, shrimp, potatoes, celery, garlic, and plenty of Old Bay.
EtoufféeFrom the French word for smothered, étouffée is a thick, spicy Cajun stew composed of meat—traditionally crawfish—engulfed in a thick sauce made from a dark roux, a flavorful thickener made by cooking fat with flour.
BeignetsNamed for the French word for fritter, these pillowy squares of fried, yeasted dough dusted with powdered sugar were brought to Louisiana by the Acadians. They're now a staple New Orleans dessert, most famously served at the iconic Café du Monde.
JambalayaJambalaya is a highly seasoned Creole dish in which any of several combinations of seafood, meat, poultry, and vegetables is cooked with white rice. Unlike many other Louisiana dishes, the rice is not cooked separately, but is added raw to the broth to cook and absorb the flavors of the dish. No two jambalayas are alike; most cooks usually use whatever they have on hand.
King CakeKing cakes, which commemorate the Epiphany—the wise men's discovery of the baby Jesus—are eaten the world over in various forms, but they're nowhere more beloved than in New Orleans, where the cake is associated with the festivities of Mardi Gras, and is brightly festooned with colorful sanding sugars or icing.
MuffulettaSalvatore Lupo, who opened Central Grocery in 1906, created the muffuletta for the Sicilian farmers selling their goods at the French Quarter market. (The name derives from muffuliette, a Sicilian colloquialism for soft rolls.) The wide, sesame-seeded round loaf and the salad of pickled carrots, celery, peppers, cauliflower, and olives that slowly soak into the bread overnight make the sandwich legendary.
Oysters RockefellerOysters Rockefeller were created in New Orleans, at the legendary Antoine's. The restaurant refuses to release a recipe, but the dish has been pieced together over the years by intrepid home cooks: Oysters are topped with a roux full of herbs and vegetables, then combined with bread crumbs and broiled until the bivalves are tender and a delicate crust forms.
Po'BoyThe po'boy is at its most basic a sandwich of crisp, airy French bread housing fried oysters, catfish, or roast beef, always "dressed" with lettuce, tomato, pickles and ketchup and hot sauce. But beyond the traditional renditions, New Orleans joints like Crabby Jack's are thinking (and serving) up more unconventional versions of the lunchtime classic, from slow-roasted duck po'boy dripping with rich gravy to a fried green tomato po'boy topped with a creamy, spicy shrimp remoulade.
GumboWritten mentions of gumbo go back centuries, but no one knows when exactly it was born. A medley of West African, Cajun, Creole, and French influence, it is a thick, comforting, and versatile stew. It frequently features spicy, smoky andouille sausage and is usually built up from a roux, a flavorful thickener made by cooking fat with flour, but as home cook Janice Macomber says, "there are as many gumbos in Louisiana as there are mamas."
Illustrations by Katie McBride
On a recent trip to Thailand I spent five weeks in Mae Hong Son, a town north of Chang Mai near the Burmese border. I was there to teach English to young Buddhist monks, and partway through my stay, they offered to house me at the monastery itself, as opposed to my current lodging at a nearby guesthouse. Part of the deal was that I respect monastery lifestyle, which included wearing all white, helping with chores, sleeping on just a thin wicker mat, and taking my last meal of the day at noon. The monks (and I) got up at dawn each day to weave through the streets in single file, gathering donations of food from locals. When we returned to the temple, female volunteers collected the food to prepare the monks’ breakfast and lunch. According to custom, the monks aren’t allowed to eat with women, so I had to wait while they dined on a variety of fish-sauce-flavored noodles, steamed vegetables, fruit, and spicy soups. While I waited, I’d inquire after the various dishes, noting which contained the most chile peppers so I could steer clear of them, and snap photos of the monks and their adorable cats. —Allie Wist
Rib eye, short ribs, tenderloin, skirt steak, choripan. Smoked at a contemporary parrilla, grilled by an asador at a traditional steakhouse, or served as one step in a tasting menu next to sommelier-selected wine: the meat you’ll find in Buenos Aires is the stuff of every carnivore’s dream.
But if you look beyond the mountain of protein on your plate, you’ll see that Argentina’s cosmopolitan capital is going through a food renaissance. Culinary creativity is flourishing, with impressive tasting menus and northern-hemisphere influences taking Argentina above and beyond its reputation for serving the world’s best beef.
Spend an afternoon people-watching over a café con leche and pastafrola quince tart, sample a 12-step menu at one of the city’s hottest eateries, or sip something other than malbec at a tasting. It’s time to go beyond beef in Buenos Aires.
Where to EatLa Carnicería
Given that meat is traditionally wood- or charcoal-grilled in Argentina, smoked cuts are a relatively new concept. Colombian chef Pedro Peña, however, has mastered the technique. At La Carnicería, which translates to “the butcher shop” and which he opened in November 2014, he smokes a daily special with cherry wood, and makes a wide array of charcuterie, such as blood sausage (morcilla) and tongue.
Thames 2317, Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires
This beef heavyweight is a porteño legend that fortunately lives up to all expectations. Located on a former butcher’s premises, this is a go-to haunt for locals and visitors alike, who order tasty thin skirt steak or chunky rib-eye backed up by piles of French fries and grilled goat’s cheese provoleta. Wine-school trained career waiters guide diners through an excellent list that showcases some of Argentina’s finest vintages.
Guatemala 4699, Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires
When hearty Argentine staples hook up with a former president, the offspring can only be Perón Perón. This tribute eatery, sporting plenty of Evita and Juan Domingo memorabilia, serves up a spectacular array of traditional dishes. Order juicy ossobuco empanadas as a starter before moving onto guiso de lentejas (lentil stew) or a milanesa napolitana (breaded chicken or beef cutlet covered in ham, cheese, and a tomato sauce) as large as your head. Pausing mid-meal to sing the Peronist anthem is part of the fun, or a show of patriotic allegiance, depending on your political outlook.
Carranza 2225, Palermo Hollywood, Buenos Aires
When it’s time to break up with beef, El baqueano should become your new beau. Ranked 18 in the 2014 San Pellegrino Latin America 50 Best Restaurants awards, chef Fernando Rivarola specializes in indigenous, sustainable meats: his curious cuts include yacaré (alligator), rhea, wild boar, and llama. Dive into the monthly seven-course tasting menu, whose standouts include llama carpaccio and viscacha in chile vinegar. Ask about Proyecto Cocina Sin Fronteras, Rivarola’s ad hoc project where he hosts and cooks with regional culinary stars such as Alex Atala and Virgilio Martínez.
Chile 499, Monserrat, Buenos Aires
Closed-door restaurants, or puertas cerradas, offer tasting menus around a communal table in a chef’s home. The trend has spread quickly, but after five years in the business, Cocina Sunae has made the concept its own. Its four-course tasting menu features southeast Asian dishes whose flavors are rare in Buenos Aires: Recent highlights include Thai fish cakes seasoned with lime and lemongrass, and sotanghon, a delicious Filipino pork belly, shrimp, and glass noodle dish baked in a clay pot, but the menu changes every other week. The ginger kamikazes are refreshing yet potent. Reservation only.
Roseti 1474, Chacarita, Buenos Aires
Debate over Buenos Aires’ premium pizza parlor is often heated, but you can save your energy and head directly to Guerrín for a slice or two of muzza. Dishing up the epitome of classic porteño pizza for more than 80 years, the muzza’s key ingredients are tomato sauce, a heavy dose of oregano, green olives, and bubbling mozzarella atop a thick, doughy base. This is legit fast food: Eat it at the bar and you’ll be done in five.
Corrientes 1368, San Nicolás, Buenos Aires
At the most elegant tasting menu restaurant in town, El Bulli-trained Gonzalo Aramburu works his magic on local ingredients by giving them the molecular treatment. Think salmon, celeriac purée, turnip, and citrus foam or quail cooked in black tea leaves and served in its nest; Aramburu’s textures and flavors will give your palate a workout during this classy, 12-course dinner. Go for the wine pairing option, selected by one of Argentina’s most dynamic sommeliers, Agustina de Alba. Can’t get into the 16-seat restaurant? Its sister bistro, Bis, is a more informal affair just across the street.
Salta 1050, San Telmo, Buenos Aires
Pulpería Ña Serapia
Dealing in traditional fare from Argentina’s northwest such as tamales and humita, as well as bean-based stews, this tiny hole in the wall is a great, cheap refueling point. Tables clear quite quickly at this popular bodegón and the hand-sliced beef, boiled egg, and potato empanadas salteñas are worth the wait thanks to their flaky pastry and juicy, dribbly, filling.
Pulpería Ña Serapia
Las Heras 3357, Palermo Botánico, Buenos Aires
Chochán—slang for chancho, or pig—deals exclusively with pork, a refreshing change for the carnivores of Buenos Aires. Here, they take street food up several notches and add a dash of Latin American fusion: think heart anticuchos served atop plantain chips, or a pulled pork sánguche backed up by homemade pickles.
Piedras 672, Monserrat, Buenos Aires
While Peru’s cuisine is considered exotic by many spice-averse Argentines, it’s still Buenos Aires’ most popular foreign cuisine after Spanish and Italian. A slew of high-class Nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian fusion) restaurants such as Osaka, La Rosa Náutica, and Olaya tend to steal the spotlight, but the family-run Chan Chan will keep your bank balance in the black. Besides offering a welcome respite from Argentina’s meat-heavy diet, the tangy sole ceviche hits the spot, with the perfect balance of creamy yet spicy leche de tigre.
Hipólito Yrigoyen 1390, Congreso, Buenos Aires
Where to StayHotel Clásico
Due to open in March 2015, this 32-room (plus a penthouse!) hotel has design on its mind, featuring Argentina’s characteristic touches of nostalgia and playfulness, plus a dash of industrial attitude. A concerted effort has been made to recycle door frames, oak floorboards, and stained glass across the property; guests can even choose their floor color to suit their mood. Thanks to Clásico’s prime Palermo Hollywood location, dozens of eateries are a short walk away.
Costa Rica 5480, Palermo Hollywood, Buenos Aires
With all the lavish service and attention guests expect from Recoleta’s grande dame Alvear Palace, a stay at its sister hotel fortunately reveals a smaller price tag. The Alvear Art’s airy rooms cater to executives, and its central location is conveniently close to lots of shops and sights. Pay a visit to the top-floor swimming pool for some of the city’s most fabulous vistas.
Suipacha 1036, Microcentro, Buenos Aires
An elegant 11-room mansion in upmarket Recoleta, Hub Porteño is total luxury. While personalized experiences—tango classes, polo lessons—devised by hands-on owner Gonzalo Robredo will keep guests occupied in the day, eclectic suites complete with super king-size beds, a Jacuzzi, and a wine cooler might indicate that staying in is the new going out. It’s also home to award-winning restaurant Tarquino.
Rodríguez Peña 1967, Recoleta, Buenos Aires
Verne Cocktail Club
Where to Drink
If the Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea author could choose one place to drink a Negroni, it would doubtless be at this establishment. Barman Federico Cuco and team take pride in originality and new twists on old favorites at Verne Club, a haunt frequented by serious cocktail enthusiasts. Try a Smoked Sidecar, which is best accompanied by a Reform Club, a bacon-topped beast of a gourmet hotdog.
Verne Cocktail Club
Medrano 1475, Palermo, Buenos Aires
The New Brighton
With its lengthy oak bar, copper coffee machine, and stained glass ceiling, The New Brighton has all the trappings of a time-warp tavern. A former tailor, it is one of a dwindling number of government-protected bares notables around Buenos Aires. Pull up a leather-topped stool and order an apértif or a shot of Fernet Branca, Argentina’s adopted national spirit, a bitter made more palatable with a cola mixer.
The New Brighton
Sarmiento 645, Microcentro, Buenos Aires
El boliche de Roberto
Given that the emphasis here is on tango, it might take time to order a bottle of wine and a charcuterie (picada) platter, let alone get a seat, in this tiny space. But a spell is cast once the haunting melodies begin. An authentic spot where singers and musicians take the floor and appreciative spectators line walls, this was allegedly legendary tango pianist Osvaldo Pugliese’s bar of choice.
El boliche de Roberto
Bulnes 331, Almagro, Buenos Aires
Shout Brasas & Drinks
Following its November 2014 launch, this new kid on a downtown block has plenty to holler about. The team behind hit bar Pony Line has branched out, with the right combination of creative bistro food and inspired cocktails. Order the open-faced anchovy sandwich slathered with coriander and chile before tackling the delectable bacon and almond en croute roasted cauliflower. A Niña Bonita, which fuses yerba mate-infused gin, Sauvignon Blanc, cucumber, basil soda, and lime, will refresh and revive you on summer’s hottest evenings.
Shout Brasas & Drinks
Mapiú 981, Retiro, Buenos Aires
The Harrison Speakeasy
Speakeasies are all the rage in Buenos Aires, and this Palermo haunt leads the pack. It’s straight out of the prohibition era: Every last detail, from glassware to the oak bar, replicates the 1920s. Safe in the hands of top bartender Seba García, kick back with Malbec Style, a fruity number fusing Argentina’s red wine of choice with ginger, lemon juice, a berry reduction and Angostura bitters. The Harrison is a member’s only club, but one way in is by dining at Nicky NY Sushi, the legitimate face of Harrison’s, then asking “to see the wine cave.”
The Harrison Speakeasy
Malaba 1764, Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires
What to DoMercado de Liniers
Given that beef in all cuts and sizes is at the center of Argentine cuisine, you’ll want to get to the heart of the matter. Buenos Aires’ only cattle market opens every weekday except Thursday, and is attended by the country’s top beef buyers haggling over the price of vacas (cows) and novillos (heifers). Squeamish visitors will be happy to know that the slaughterhouses are located off-site. Be sure to book your visit ahead of time.
Mercado de Liniers
Lisandro de la Torre 2406, Liniers, Buenos Aires
For an insider’s introduction to the world of steak, take the Parrilla Tour. A knowledgeable local guide will take you around the neighborhood of your choice—Palermo Soho, San Telmo or Las Cañitas—guiding you through three authentic grills where porteños wine and dine. Sample a choripan sausage sandwich, beef empanadas, and of course a vast serving of asado de tiraribs along the way. The fourth and final stop is for helado, delicious Argentine-style gelato.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Mercado de San Telmo
This vast market—which takes up an entire block—opened in 1897 and has the air and graces of a European railway station, thanks to its Italian architect. Today, butchers, fruit and vegetable specialists, and curio dealers work alongside each other. It’s also home to Coffee Town, one of Buenos Aires’ best coffee shops.
Defensa 961, San Telmo
Buenos Aires, Argentina
After you’ve devoured countless empanadas, it’s time to learn how to make them yourself. Chef Manuel and his partner Verónica set up Tierra Negra to host cooking classes in English at their Palermo home, where they use only organic ingredients. They’ll teach you to make a number of Argentica’s most popular foods, like empanadas, flan, and from-scratch dulce de leche. It’s fun and friendly, and the conversation and wine tend to flow readily.
Cabrera and Arevalo, Palermo Hollywood
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Pain et Vin
For a top-notch, boutique wine selection spanning the length of Argentina, Pain et Vin is the go-to store for friendly pours, tips, and tastings—in English—from sommelier and co-owner Eleonora Jezzi. While she is often referred to as vin, her other half Ohad is pain, thanks to the legendary sourdough he bakes in his bespoke clay oven. This vinoteca also stocks a range of leather bottle carriers from Vintium Bags.
Gorriti 5132, Palermo Soho
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Pick Up The Fork & Fuudis
Pick Up The Fork’s bespoke walking tour is tailor-made by food blogger Allie Lazar, who takes serious eaters to some of the city’s hot spots. Fuudis, meanwhile, changes up the pace of classic dining with an evening full of restaurant hopping. Each course is sampled at a different eatery within a particular neighborhood, such as Palermo Botánico or San Telmo.
Pick Up The Fork
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires, Argentina
With 34 million kilos sold in 2013, it’s no wonder that yerba mate is the nation’s most popular hot drink; it’s a ritual shared among friends and family at any time of day. Try the bitter tea for yourself during merienda, or tea time, at La Payuca’s mate bar, when tea comes with sweet treats such as a chocolate-coated, dulce de leche-filled alfajor cookie or honey-coated medialunas (crescent-shaped pastries). A classic savory option is torta frita, a fried dough biscuit. Merienda occurs every afternoon between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Santa Fe 2587, Barrio Norte, Buenos Aires
Fermented grape juice isn’t just presented in a bottle, not in Argentina. The quintessential wine vessel—a white, half-litre, penguin jug—has been a simple yet necessary table artifact since the 1940s, oxygenating and breathing life into cheap and cheerless plonk. After seventy years, however, chic homeware store Bartolomea has revamped the pingüino, which now comes in a delightful pastel rainbow palette and a variety of sizes. Also look out for provoleta dishes, tough ceramics designed for grilling this signature Argentine cheese.
Dorrego 2212, Palermo Hollywood, Buenos Aires
Libros del Pasaje
Named 2011’s world book capital, Buenos Aires is also the birthplace of legendary poet and author Jorge Luis Borges. Find your own inspiration at Libros del Pasaje, a well-stocked bookstore in the heart of Palermo. Its tucked-away café whips up a tasty plate of bacon and eggs and freshly squeezed orange juice. If you can’t break your writer’s block on this terrace, you probably never will.
Thames 1762, Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires Market
The brainchild of food magazine Joy, this pop-up market keeps shoppers on their toes by switching up neighborhoods every month. A weekend-long affair that focuses on organic and sustainable produce, this is the place to pick up a bottle of Malbec from Vinecol, an extra-virgin olive oil from Mendoza, or a baguette by French bakery L’epi.
Avenida Cabildo 2441, C1428AAG, Buenos Aires
In early January, inspired by rock-bottom airfares and encouraged to visit by an expat friend, I flew from New York to Russia, where the holiday season had just begun. After a few icy days in Moscow, eating Georgian khachapuri and drinking vodka as Western Christmas music played in every shop and restaurant, I went north to St. Petersburg and spent three days in the company of a native, checking out the thoughtful food and drink scene and vibrant nightlife of Russia’s cultural capital. Thanks to its proximity (and similarity) to Scandinavia, a young creative community on the rise, and the U.S. dollar currently so strong against the ruble, St. Petersburg makes for an appealing, lower-cost alternative to Copenhagen. Evening bar crawls found us in a number of fun and diverse places, including a tiny circular wine bar, a speakeasy that specializes in gin, a rock 'n' roll karaoke bar, a bar that doubles as a hair salon, and a Soviet-inspired canteen serving ice-cold vodka and warm Russian comfort food. There really is something for everyone in St. Petersburg.
Katya Bokuchava is a native of Georgia and self-taught cook who left home for the US as a teenager and developed her culinary skills at La Marca, La Bella Ferrara, and the kitchen of the Russian & Turkish Baths in New York. She recently opened Bar 8 in a compact rotunda of a storefront in St. Petersburg’s business district, and also owns a stylish nearby restaurant, Mesto, which serves a lively and well-executed menu of Provençal, Georgian, Italian, and British-influenced dishes. Bar 8 offers 15 wines by the glass, and another 15 by the bottle. The list is heavy on Italian and French selections, including a Planeta Chardonnay from Sicily, Cannonau from Sardinian producer Chio, a Chateauneuf-du-Pape from La Bernardine and a Bordeaux from Chateau Carillon. Snacks include Italian cured meats and cheeses, pickled vegetables, olives, and a rich yet piquant green dip of herring, dill, scallions, and sunflower oil, served with toast and pretzels. For those who want more substantial fare without leaving the bar, Bokuchava will happily provide the menu for a local pizza delivery service. Friendly bartenders offer guests the chance to choose music from an 80s-heavy CD selection, and a sign in the window that reads, in English, “If you are racist, sexist, homophobic, or an asshole, don’t come in,” tells you what to need to know about the mood inside.
8 Lenin St.
Open 6 p.m.–2 a.m. daily
Gin Tonic Bar
Through a courtyard and behind an unmarked door, you’ll find a friendly, if self-consciously stylish, drinking scene at Gin Tonic Bar. “We love gin very much,” says owner Evgeny Gorbunov, who opened the faux-speakeasy two years ago with partner Ilya Astafev; the two were inducted into London’s Gin Guild in 2014. You can choose from over 200 varieties of gin from nearly every corner of the globe, including Thai and Colombian selections, mixed with care by a focused (and often English-speaking) bar staff into drinks like the Gangster Negroni (gin, Pedro Ximenez sherry, Campari, and Kisrschwasser) or a pomegranate-infused gin and tonic. On the weekends, resident DJs play funk, hip-hop, and rap for a heavily-local crowd that sways happily on the small dance floor. Hungry drinkers should note that Gin Tonic Bar doesn’t offer so much as a peanut to eat, so stash a bag of chips in your pocket to keep the munchies at bay.
Gin Tonic Bar
64 Liteiny Ave.
Open Sun–Thurs 6 p.m.–2 a.m.; Fri – Sat 6 p.m.–5 a.m.
Gorbunov suggests calling ahead to confirm the hours on the day of your visit.
Poison Karaoke Bar
Anglophone karaoke lovers, tourists of all ages, and Russian fans of American and British rock music converge in the raucous Dumskaya Street nightlife district at Poison. A small, slightly-elevated karaoke stage in the back of the narrow but cheerful space hosts singers who can choose, free of charge, from thousands of songs, from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Prince to Arcade Fire; lyrics appear on TV screens throughout the bar. Guests cram into booths and along the bar to wait their turn while drinking dark Czech beers, apple or cherry ciders, or the signature Poison cocktail, featuring white rum, passionfruit, and grapes. Snacks are limited to a complimentary (and thirst-inducing) spicy peanut mix, but hungry singers can duck out between numbers to grab a kebab from a shop around the corner. Owner Anna-Christin Albers, a German expat, owns two other Poison karaoke bars in St. Petersburg, at 13 Rubinsteina Street and 50/3 Ligovsky Prospekt, which offer a wider variety of classic and original cocktails.
Poison Karaoke Bar
2 Lomonosova St.
Open 6 p.m.–7 a.m. daily; karaoke begins at 9 p.m.
Pif Paf is fun, young, happy and loud. Over a well-chosen soundtrack of synth pop, disco, 80s and 90s hits, punk, funk and R&B, in brightly-colored rooms full of American diner-style accents and striking framed photographs, guests enjoy drinks like the Orangeviy, a tart mix of vodka and buckthorn berries, and a Bloody Mary in which vodka has been replaced with Khrenovuha, a house-distilled spirit flavored with horseradish and garlic. Hungry drinkers can order from a short menu of burgers, including a juicy pork-based Russian version topped with sauerkraut, lard, and salted cucumbers, and a salmon burger, served with cream cheese on a black squid ink bun. Drinkers in need of a new look can book an appointment in the on-site hair salon, which operates until about 10 p.m. most nights. The four owner-partners, longtime friends who work in the worlds of tech, film, and fashion, opened Pif Paf as a place for the city’s creative class to gather, and are considering Berlin for a second outpost.
31 Griboyedov Canal Embankment
Opens at noon daily (kitchen opens at 3 p.m. in winter); closes after the last customer has departed
With its spare, white-tiled interior and high-spirited crowd of students, professors, journalists, filmmakers, and political activists, Khroniki (the name means “chronicles”) is an appealing combination of a highbrow modern Scandinavian bar and a classic Leningrad ryumochnaya. Journalist Peter Birger opened the place in 2013 with partners Gleb Gerasimov, also a journalist, and Anna-Maria Khramchenkova, who manages Khroniki and can often be found behind the bar, engaging customers in Russian and English conversation. To set the mood, guest DJs play an eclectic, upbeat music mix. To drink, there is Russian (and Swedish, Danish, and Finnish) vodka, of course: in shot form; in short drinks like the Severniy, which mixes vodka with Minttu, a Finnish mint liqueur, and cranberries; and in long drinks like the signature Free Ingria, in which vodka joins cloudberry liqueur, apple juice, Angostura bitters, and more cranberries. A handful of local craft beers are also on tap, as is Crimean Port from the venerable house of Massandra. A short, seasonally-rotated menu of drinking snacks includes marinated herring, smoked mackerel, chicken liver pâtés with waffle fries, and a veal tongue sandwich whose creamy herring-based dressing makes it into a kind of handheld vitello tonnato.
26 Nekrasova St.
Open Sun–Thurs 6 p.m.–2 a.m.; Fri–Sat 6 p.m.–4 a.m.
Vodka, borscht, and nostalgia are on offer at Mayak, a cozy, unpretentious wood-paneled ryumochnaya (traditional Soviet-era vodka shot bar) whose low prices and living room vibe appeal to groups of babushkas, young Russian hipsters, soccer fans, and thirsty, in-the-know tourists in equal measure. The vodka, served in a glass flasks, is smooth and cheap (50 rubles per shot), as are the hearty and wholly traditional plates, which include borscht, beef tongue under aspic, and hard-boiled eggs with red caviar. Mayak opened in 1993, but the stoic waitresses in their Soviet-era uniform dresses and hats; the walls’ dark patina; and the busts and portraits of Marx, Lenin, and Dzerzhinksy make it seem decades older in the best way possible.
20 Mayakovskogo St.
Open noon–11 p.m. daily
While for most people the bite of a Sazerac or the brunch-time fluff of a Ramos Gin Fizz epitomize drinking in the Crescent City, my favorite New Orleans-specific drinking tradition is the “set up.”
The set up—called as much because a bartender simply “sets it up” for you—has zero pomp and minimal fuss, a low-key hybrid of sneaky, BYOB-drinking and bottom shelf bottle service. The set up is for people who take both drinking and socializing very seriously, and aren’t afraid to take such important matters into their own hands.
Ordering a set up involves choosing two things: your favorite liquor (which arrives in a half-pint bottle) and a mixer, like a can of Diet Coke or fruit juice. The trifecta is then rounded out with a big plastic bowl filled with ice and cups. Drinkers play bartender, mixing ice, liquor and mixer in their preferred ratio, right from their barstool, until the bottle is dry.
And there’s always a wild card in play: Sometimes, tongs are provided for plopping ice cubes into drinks. Other times, a side of a pickled pig’s ear is offered for mid-set up snacking. If you’re lucky, someone will have a sample sized bottle of a supremely quirky liquor, like Conjure Cognac (a label co-owned by the rapper Ludacris), for you to try.
Don’t worry about where your next drink is coming from—just make it yourself.
The majority of bars participating in this decades-old drinking arrangement are located in either New Orleans’ Seventh Ward or Central City, where gentrification has yet to firmly grab a foothold. These spaces are often also hubs of neighborhood social life and major cultural events, from the Treme Brass Band’s barbecue-fueled weekly gig at the Candlelight Lounge, to second line parades dancing their way to and from Bullet’s Sports Bar. Set-ups encourage drinkers to stay, sip, and celebrate for a while. The set up says, “You don’t have to worry about where your next drink is coming from—just make it yourself.”
“When people drink set ups, they keep the bottle on its side—horizontal—a lot of the time,” said Erica Tome, bartender at Verret’s Lounge in Central City. “Sometimes I try to set it back up for them, but they knock it back down. I guess [they want] to see how much they have left.”
The average set up costs roughly $15, with additional charges for more mixers. The basic mixed drink classics—whiskey and ginger ale, vodka and cranberry juice—anchor the set up cannon, but if you’re feeling courageous you can turn the situation into an opportunity for a little creativity. Verret Lounge’s most popular combination brings together the unlikely bedfellows Crown Royal and Sprite, and my secret set-up pairing is scotch and pineapple juice. It tastes like going on a tropical vacation with the Rat Pack.
Set ups are also curiously popular at senior citizen center socials, mixers at VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Halls, and any event that attracts a crowd that can firmly remember the Reagan era. It’s only a matter of time, though, before this economically priced (and highly boozy) arrangement becomes more popular with a younger set in search of cheap drinks.
“You know why more bars don’t do set ups?” Benny Simmons, owner of the set up stalwart Sandpiper Lounge explained. “It’s because you don’t make much money on it. One person can sip on one set up all night long.”
While some may argue that New Orleans’ TV-famous bars (Candlelight and Bullet’s were both featured on HBO’s Treme) are the best for set-up virgins, my vote goes to The Sandpiper Lounge. Located smack dab in the heart of Central City, the bar’s building is painted a shade of lavender bold enough to make a crocus blush, and technically doesn’t allow anyone under the age of 35. (This seems to be more of a gentle suggestion than a bouncer-enforced rule.) For as dark and sultry as it is on the inside, its exterior is marked by a buzzy, old school neon sign that spans the vertical length of the building with an electric martini glass tippling over into the night. The space oozes effortless cool, with patrons more than eager to loop you into their gossip or help parse through your own. Each time I enter, I imagine that the 1970s hit “Be Thankful For What You Got” by William DeVaughn is soundtracking my arrival. The Sandpiper has the magical ability to make even the most Anne of Green Gables-looking among us (read: me) feel at least momentarily hip.
Throughout the Sandpiper, rough-hewn mosaic tiles line the bar, shaped into craggy butterflies and flourished swirls. In the bar’s far left corner, a (slightly crooked) black-and-white design spells out the name “Lisa” in hunks of tile. Curious about it one afternoon, I bellowed out to Benny.
The entire bar screeched to a halt, their eyes widening. The bartender stopped singing Jill Scott with a gulp, pressed her finger to her lip and hurried over to hush me up.
“Oh girl, Lisa is Benny’s ex-fiancée,” she whispered, leaning in close. “They were together forever then they broke it off. He just didn’t feel like changing it, I guess.”
Change doesn't come easily for the people who love set ups and the bars that continue to sling them, holding on to a practice that makes little fiscal sense because it’s so deeply important to the community. The set up is rooted in both New Orleans’ social fiber and drinking culture, serving as a way to make long afternoon talks extend into the sunset hours—as long as there’s something left in the bottle.
“We tried to get people to maybe do a set up with some fresh herbs or something where they muddle their own, but that’s just not how folks roll,” said Tome.
Perfect in its simplicity, the set up doesn’t need any gussying up. I’ll continue to happily laze away a Sunday afternoon with a set-up—my trifecta of mixer, liquor and ice spread out on the bar—cutting up, playing darts and holding on to a New Orleans tradition just a little bit longer.
Every so often, a car cautiously serpentines down the winding hillside road away from the ancient hamlet of Ofena, in Italy's Abruzzo region. It's not the sort of drive you rush: Every downward curve opens onto yet another vista of superabundant grandeur. The views here in the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park are of such unrelenting picturesqueness it seems only right that the roadside benches are turned away from the landscape, toward Ofena's unprepossessing buildings. The locals sitting there appear relieved to be resting their eyes from the ceaselessly breathtaking Apennine postcard unfurling behind them.
For at least a thousand years, the local tradition of transumanza—the seasonal movement of flocks of sheep and goats from mountains to grazing pastures and back again—has been practiced up and down these rocky slopes. “Abruzzo is transumanza,” baron Luigi Cataldi Madonna tells me, when I meet him at his winery in the valley beneath Ofena. "It's the soul of Abruzzo. Everything comes back to the transumanza: the food we eat, the wine we drink, the lives we lead."
"The panarda is not just a meal," he says, "it's a celebration."Cataldi Madonna is a legendary figure in these parts. A winemaker, a professor of philosophy at the Università dell'Aquila, and a passionate history buff, he makes sure to point out that the road that brought me here is very much like the pathways that shepherds have walked for centuries. Winemaking is the other ancient tradition. Here, in the amphitheater-like valley known as "the oven of Abruzzo," air from the Adriatic Sea blows in over the hills, bringing with it a coating of salinity that seems to impregnate Cataldi Madonna's grapes with oceanic freshness.
Cataldi Madonna is largely responsible for rescuing a previously unheralded grape variety called pecorino that is now in vogue across Italy. (The name derives from the Italian word for "sheep," a nod to the shepherds—and their flocks—who ate the grapes while traveling through the region.) His bright, lemony wines are ideal with food, as I learn when he brings out some pasta cresciuta—puffy disks of fried pizza dough—as well as platters of cheese, homemade cold cuts, offal sausages, salads, and olives. I make an aside about this being a panarda, a traditional feast in the region, but Cataldi Madonna waves off my suggestion.
"The panarda is not just a meal," he says, "it's a celebration. It starts early in the evening and finishes the morning after. There are dozens of dishes—always an odd number, that's very important." According to Cataldi Madonna, soups, lamb dishes, ravioli, and a ton of fava beans are integral to the feast, which honors St. Anthony, the patron saint of farmers and shepherds. "The panarda is a ritual of excess here in the countryside," he says. "And the dishes of the panarda are all dependent on the transumanza."
This place is defined by a still-evident link to the tradition of moving around to find and grow food. The sheep move to eat. The people of Abruzzo eat to celebrate. And I, a visitor in a rental car, plan to drive up and down these hills and honor the precedent they set.
Nobody I knew had ever been to Abruzzo before. When I told Roman friends where I was headed, they said things like, "That's the deep, deep countryside." They couldn't understand the appeal, which seemed surprising, given its proximity to Rome (L'Aquila, the capital, is an hour and a half away by car) and the fact that many Roman recipes, starting with spaghetti alla carbonara and bucatini all'amatriciana, are purportedly from Abruzzo. The existence of a still-hidden region in such an overrun corner of the world clearly merited deeper investigation.
Leaving Rome, my rental car bobbed its way through a sea of Fiats and Alfa Romeos, but after a while I bore right onto the A24 and all the other cars stayed to the left. I breezed along with barely anyone else on the road, past medieval castles perched on rocky hillsides, undulating valleys rolling out to infinity, and Himalayan-high mountains with snowy shoulders.
When I arrive in the port of Pescara, a bustling urban center on the Adriatic's golden coast, my first stop is Taverna 58, a bastion of traditional Abruzzan cooking. The owner is a dapper, white-haired gentleman named Giovanni Marrone, who greets customers with a friendly, reserved demeanor. He assures me that the best way to sample various facets of la tradizione is by getting a tasting menu. He starts by sending out arrosticini, a local specialty of flame-grilled mutton skewers, followed by charcuteries and terrines, all of which pair splendidly with a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo by the legendary winemaker Emidio Pepe. Older vintages of Pepe's wines are the ones more likely to make their way to the U.S., fetching hundreds of dollars per bottle, but one of the joys of coming to Italy is that Pepe sells young vintages of his earthy, bold, untamed wine in abundance here, and at much lower prices.
With the stage set, the main course arrives, Taverna 58's chicken "in porchetta style." The recipe begins with chicken marinated in olive oil, honey, fresh rosemary, salt, and white wine. When it's ready, the chef ties it up like a porchetta, using raffia to wrap it around bamboo rods, and grills it. As good as it is, juicy with crackling skin, the pièce de résistance for me comes at the end of the meal, when Marrone wheels a cart to the table and whips up some fresh zabaglione with marsala—"con grande passione," as he puts it.
The next day, crossing more regi tratturi (centuries-old transumanza pathways), I drive southwest to meet Nunzio Marcelli, president of the Abruzzo Shepherds Association. I've never met a shepherd before, let alone an alpha shepherd president.
I suppose I'd been visualizing a man leaning on a wizened hazelnut crook wearing a long gray cloak, but when Marcelli comes out to greet me, he strolls over in a simple polo shirt and jeans. Even shepherds have Casual Fridays, it seems—although Marcelli assures me that many traditions remain intact here. "Just wait until you try our cheeses," says Marcelli, a bearded, tanned, potato-fingered outdoorsman.
"This wine is at the service of conquering eternity," Emidio declaresAfter we amble around his rustic agriturismo—filled with sheep, goats, chickens, dogs, and children—we join a colleague of Marcelli's bringing a herd of goats down the hill. The shepherd's job is to keep his flocks healthy and protect them from predators (these woods are still home to bears, wolves, and wild boars). Historically, the region was known for wool, but today, sheep and goats are mainly used for culinary purposes, as I learn over dinner with Marcelli and his family. We try juniper-smoked ricottas, goat yogurt pecorinos, and award-winning caciocavallos made with pezzata rossa cow's milk. Marcelli's daughter Viola prepares homemade gnocchi in a saffron-ricotta sauce, and we end with a local gentian root digestivo and Aurum, an orange liqueur produced in Pescara since 1925.
Dinner confirms something I've sensed while traveling throughout Abruzzo. Since so many people harvest their own fruit here and folks like Marcelli age their own cheeses, grow their own vegetables, and make their own pastas and olive oils, I realize that if some form of global economic meltdown were to come, not only would Abruzzans be fine, but life would continue pretty much just as it is.
I forge onward, into the Apennine mountains and over to Vasto, the birthplace of brodetto alla vastese, a celebrated local fish soup that is bursting with Mediterranean seafood and shellfish. A trip up the golden coast is one of the most beautiful drives in all of Italy, especially if it ends at the Emidio Pepe winery.
I arrive in the middle of harvest time, so Pepe himself brings me straight to the vineyards, where his workers are picking dazzling gold bunches of ripe trebbiano grapes. Now 82 years old, Pepe is a chiseled, strong-backed, handsome man who radiates calm and focus. He is famously quiet, but his pretty 22-year-old granddaughter, Chiara, couldn't be more outgoing, and she shows me around as Emidio busies himself in the field.
"We have a lot of biodiversity here,” Chiara says, pointing out the sunflower plantings and fruit trees surrounding us. She draws my attention to the little clumps of wild herbs growing at our feet: parsley, mint, thyme. “We didn't plant these,” she clarifies. “They just showed up here. We often find ‘spontaneous vegetables’ growing in the vineyard, things like swiss chard and fennel." As she speaks, happy little lizards scamper around in the vines and butterflies flit through the honeyed light. Being there immediately makes me understand the slogan on the back of their family's wine bottles: "Con il vino PEPE, hai la ‘VITA’ dentro." It means: "A wine by PEPE has LIFE inside of it." How could their bottles not be full of life when their vineyard feels like a nature preserve?
"These vines are full of fireflies in the evening," Chiara tells me. "That's significant because fireflies are delicate—they avoid anything that has been sprayed with chemicals. We respect nature here."
For dinner, Emidio's wife, Rosa, prepares a number of family specialties. She starts with a tray of grape-studded focaccia; then comes a dish of fried olives (oliva all'ascolana) stuffed with ground beef and pork. “My grandmother says this is one of the three recipes I will need to learn how to make or else I will never get married," Chiara mentions.
Next I sample a classic timbale, in which layers of flat pasta sheets are quickly boiled, then covered with a veal-spinach mixture and tomato sauce with mozzarella, and then stacked. The lasagna-like dish pairs sensationally with Emidio's cerasuolo, as well as with a plate of Rosa's verdure con fagioli, freshly picked borlotti beans with Swiss chard from the garden. The final recipe in the matrimonial trinity is a venerable classic called mazzarelle: it's like dolmas filled with lamb's liver, heart, and lung. Rosa braises them for a few hours in white wine, to an entirely alchemical result.
As we eat, we try some of Emidio's older vintages. His 2001 is leathery, spicy, full of vitality. "This wine is at the service of conquering eternity," Emidio declares, taking a sip. Then we have the 1983. When he vinified it, Emidio considered it such a terrible vintage that he didn't sell it. Yet today, 32 years later, it has blossomed. "The horse that is hard to break wins the race," Emidio says of the bottle.
Around the dining room table are three generations of Pepes, from kids to grandparents. Someone runs into the kitchen singing "That's Amore" (really). At times the conversation breaks into passionate fireworks, with everyone hollering about the economy, or politics, or the proper way of preparing a certain dish. Rosa keeps looking over at me and telling me that I haven't eaten enough, even though I certainly have.
I say goodnight to the Pepes and head to my room at their agriturismo. Before going to bed, I open my window and look out into the night, filling my lungs with the purity of it all. The temperature has dropped but the crickets are still chirping away. Pulsing lights in the distance catch my eye. It takes me a moment to figure out what they are, but then I see—the vineyard is full of fireflies, twinkling away faintly, like stars.
See all the recipes from The Road to Abruzzo »
See our Travel Guide: Abruzzo, for the best places to stay, shop, and eat.
Every year, I visit southeast Asia for three weeks to get inspired by the food. I bring back some of what I find during my travels to Pig and Khao, my Thai- and Filipino-focused Manhattan restaurant. This year, with a new noodle bar concept in the works, I headed to Vietnam for the first time in many years in search of noodle inspiration.
When you think of noodles in Vietnam, the first dish that probably comes to mind is pho. While pho is incredible—I never get tired of eating it—there are tons of other amazing noodle-based dishes to discover, too. Here are the ten best that I came across during this year's trip; any one of them could give pho a run for its money.
1. Mi QuangThe fresh rice noodles used in this dish from Hoi An are similar to fettuccine in size and you can get them in white or yellow—the only difference between the two is the addition of turmeric powder to the batter. There are many different variations but I prefer the one with pork, shrimp, and a broth sweetened by tomatoes. It's garnished with grilled rice crackers, lettuce, and herbs.
2. Bun ChaThere are many different variations of bun cha, but my favorite is one I had in Hanoi. The dish always contains grilled pork, bun noodles (round rice noodles), herbs, and nuoc cham. I like a version with two types of pork: grilled patties and thin grilled slices of pork belly, served in nuoc cham sauce with bun noodles and a side of nam rem (a fried spring roll) and lettuce.
3. Bun Bo HueBun bo hue gets its name from Hue, Vietnam's imperial city. The broth is made from beef bones, pork knuckle, lemongrass, and chiles, and the noodles are thicker and more cylindrical than those used in most other Vietnamese noodle dishes. My favorite version was served with a plate of raw herbs, banana blossoms, bean sprouts, and a side of oil-fried chile-lemongrass paste.
4. Mien Luon NuocThis dish was so good I had to go back and eat it again for breakfast. You can order it two ways: dry, or as a soup. I prefer the soup, which consists of glass noodles, crispy eel, and poached eel served in an eel broth. Herbs, shaved banana blossom, and bean sprouts are served on the side. Be sure to get Chinese donut sticks, an optional side, to dunk in the soup.
5. Banh CuonBanh cuon is a great snack to have any time during the day. The fresh rice noodles are shaped into a circle, stuffed with a pork and mushroom mixture, and then rolled—essentially Vietnamese cannelloni made out of fresh rice noodles. Banh cuon is typically served with nuoc cham, crispy shallots, pork floss (fluffy, dried shredded pork), and cha que (pork paste), but it can be filled with anything you like.
6. Cau LaoI had cau lao the first time I visited Vietnam and was addicted at first bite. The noodles cannot be recreated outside of Hoi An because they are made with the water from the city's ancient Cham wells. The most comparable noodles are udon, although cau lao noodles are made with rice instead of wheat. A broth flavored with five spice and lemongrass is served over the boiled noodles, topped with roasted pork, and garnished with fried noodles, lettuce, bean sprouts, herbs, and a rice cracker.
7. Bun RieuThe base of the broth for this noodle soup dish is made from freshwater paddy crabs, tomatoes, and tamarind, which adds a tart-sweet flavor to the dish. Bun rieu is served with rice noodles, a crab paste with a texture similar to tofu, and blood cubes. Some variations of this dish add annatto seeds, which give the broth a red hue; fried pork or tofu are other common additions. The soup is almost always served with a side of fresh herbs, shaved banana blossoms, and bean sprouts.
8. Bun Bo Nam BoThe first time I ate bun bo nam bo, years ago, it blew my mind. While it's originally from Saigon, the only place I have had it is in Hanoi at a spot called Bun Bo Nam Bo that exclusively serves this one dish. Bun bo nam bo has stir-fried beef with lemongrass and flavored beef stock and is served over bun noodles, known in the U.S. as rice vermicelli noodles. It's brothy but not quite a soup. It's garnished with peanuts, crispy shallots (my favorite!), herbs, bean sprouts, lettuce, pickled carrots, and papaya—there are a lot of amazing textures going on here.
9. Cha CaCha ca comes from Hanoi, where there is actually a street named after it, and the best places to get it are still there. The star of this dish is definitely the turmeric fish, which is cooked with dill and scallions tableside. The bun noodles are served on the side along with nuoc cham and peanuts and are meant to be eaten with the fish. The dill adds a really unique and uncommon flavor that I really love.
10. Bun MocThis noodle soup dish is pork overload, in the best way possible. There are 5 different forms of pork pâté served in the soup which also comes with bun noodles. The different types of pork included: cha lua; pork paste wrapped in banana leaves; cha que, which is a pork paste similar to the first but with the addition of cinnamon powder; and then three kinds of pork meatballs. Bun moc is super hearty—but not heavy—and makes a great breakfast or early lunch. The best version I've had was in Saigon, right next to the Ben Thanh market.
Tacos de Canasta Especiales hides in plain sight. It’s a lime's roll from the main Zócalo in the Centro Histórico of Mexico City, but visitors taken by the gargantuan expanse of the main plaza walk right by it. Look for the line snaking down Avenida Francisco I. Madero, which is closed to traffic, but open to pedestrians. The line moves fast; you have just a couple moments to gauge your hunger.
On offer here are tacos de canasta, or "basket tacos," whose name refers to the wicker baskets in which women used to carry pre-formed tacos to market, a style endemic to Mexico City. At Epeciales the baskets are giant steel contraptions covered with cloth and layered with hundreds of tacos that hold soft fillings: crumbled potato, mashed beans, stewed chicharrón, pork adobado, and green mole. The tacos slowly soften in the baskets, rubbing up against their neighbors, steaming almost to the point of collapse.
The space is nothing more than a corridor, a slim metal counter lined with squirt bottles of hand sanitizer, troughs of avocado salsa, and jalapeños en escabeche; below, a long line of stools are strung together like on a chain gang. There's no point in searching for silverware; there is none. Everyone eats with their hands, posting up at the counters and tearing off pieces of the mushy tacos, scooping up salsa and chips of pickled, spicy carrot with their fingers. It’s a delicious, glorious mess.
Tacos de Canasta Especiales (map)
Avenida Francisco I. Madero, between Palma and Plaza de Constitución