Atlanta's food scene is booming these days, with talented chefs turning out sophisticated urban spins on Southern classics with farm-fresh ingredients. Here, quality counts, and it's evident in shops selling everything from locally sourced seafood to fair-trade coffee.
This robust and iconic Atlanta bakery has two locations: The Intown original, which gobbled up nearly every adjacent storefront as it expanded, and the suburban sequel, which took over a massive franchise food shop. There was some considerable grumbling when owner Alon Balshan moved the bakery operation to the ’burbs and deprived his longtime customers the Sunday-morning scent of fresh bread. But the expansion did allow him to increase his ambition. Gorgeous chocolate truffles, wood-oven pizza, and all-natural house gelato have been hallmarks of the new location. Yet his business is still built on country French bread, cinnamon scones that burst with poppy chunks of candied ginger, and the definitive Midnight Chocolate Cake, which combines dark layers of devil’s food with white chocolate mousse in lieu of icing. The great chocolate chip pecan cookies are now available raw, by the tube, to cook at home.
Each of the three locations of Cacao Atlanta looks like a Paris confectionary shop: marble counters, brass fixtures, frilly signage, and glossy displays of truffles, pâtés de fruit, macaroons, and caramels. But little does this design sensibility show how much work owner Kristen Hard puts into her bean-to-bar chocolate. Working directly with small, family-owned organic farms throughout Latin America as well as co-op partners, Hard hand selects the cacao beans, which she processes at a small factory in Atlanta. To best appreciate her work, try the single-estate, single-varietal “Love Bars.” The 75% cacao Patanemo Love Bar, from a Venezuelan estate, has spice and a caramel mellowness that gives the chocolate incredible length on the palate; you want it to melt forever. Hard uses biodegradable packaging and encourages regular customers to reuse boxes when they return for their fix.
The Cake Hag
Mother-daughter hags Maggie and Katie Sweeney run this hilarious little bakery, where their list of recipes can barely fit into the shop. You can take your chances and luck into a sweet potato crème brûlée cheesecake with caramel topping. But you should call ahead for one of the layer cakes, specifically one soaked in booze; the red wine red velvet competes with the chocolate bourbon fudge. Then there’s a gluten-free Jameson’s Irish whiskey pudding cake. The Sweeneys use unbleached flour and unrefined sugar whenever possible.
A former philosophy graduate student, Mims Bledsoe turned in her texts for a collection of old cookbooks that she consults regularly. Bledsoe considers herself a student of classic American pie baking, and while she’ll feature the occasional innovation, such as watermelon chiffon, she focuses on tradition. Using a flaky, all-butter crust, she prepares varietal apple, lemon meringue, coconut cream, and butterscotch pies. Come autumn, she roasts fresh pumpkin and makes a nearly classic Southern sweet potato pie with brown-sugar streusel. Bledsoe is also a fan of savories, and visitors can usually count on finding a chicken pot pie, a quiche, and an individual meatloaf pot pie. On every second Thursday of the month, guests gather at the shop for “pie happy hour”—a chance to taste 15 or more daily creations. Yes, it sells out quickly.
Pine Street Market
This tiny storefront on a suburban side street, just around the corner from a Salvation Army thrift store, is tidy and a bit dowdy, greeting customers with one plain-seeming refrigerated case and a blackboard. But once you get a gander of what’s inside that case, you realize this is the kind of butcher you’d be thrilled to discover on a road trip in Tuscany. Owner Rusty Bowers has an equally deft touch with fresh sausages and fermented salami. His daily offerings range from snappy, juicy links flavored with roasted poblano peppers and cumin to gorgeous sopressata and Thuringer salami smoked over pecan wood. Bowers may be most famous locally for his terrific thick-cut bacon rubbed with molasses and maple; it caramelizes as it crisps. And his antibiotic-free Berkshire pork is sourced from Georgia’s Gum Creek Farms, where the hogs are raised on pasture free of insecticides and herbicides.
The Spotted Trotter
Kevin Ouzts uses only humanely raised, hormone-free meats for his inventive charcuterie program at this offbeat meat boutique. You’re never quite sure what you’ll find, be it chewy links of the Corsican-style wild boar sausage called fegatelli, an Asian-spiced ground lamb crepinette wrapped in lacy caul fat, or terrific smoked guanciale. He has a canny sense of spicing and draws from an international pantry; his miniature Asian-style terrines are unlike any charcuterie you’ve seen. Many of the jarred goods—such as a bacon-apple butter you’ll want to hoard—are prepared in house.
Every food lover in Atlanta knows this market, which pioneered the revitalization of the West Midtown warehouse district. Some simply walk through it en route to their five-course dinners at Bacchanalia restaurant; others come at lunch for porchetta sandwiches and to shop for gifts and housewares. But cooks know it as the city’s best source for organic grass-fed beef, local pork, line-caught seafood, organic, local produce, and eggs. The cheese counter holds the nation’s best selection of Southern farmstead cheeses, and the house butcher prepares his own salami, pâtés, and terrines. The finocchiona, slick and garlicky, is particularly fine. The bakery offers everything from lavender pound cake to European levain breads to organic soft-serve vanilla ice cream splashed with green olive oil and crunchy salt.
Storico Fresco Pasta
Mike Patrick apprenticed all across Italy to assemble his most idiosyncratic collection of fresh pasta recipes. He has a special interest in the stuffed pastas of Lombardy, such as pi fasacc, filled with herbed taleggio and other cheeses, and folded in an intricate fashion meant to suggest a baby in swaddling. He fills the half-moon casonsei with a hot pink paste of beets and smoked cheese, while the pleated turtej cu la cua are verdant with wild lamb’s quarters, stinging nettle, and Swiss chard. Patrick also makes a full line of fresh dried pastas, including a memorable nutmeg-scented garganelli that will best any factory penne in your cupboard. After selling his pastas at a local farmers market, he opened this store, where customers can nosh on Roman street snacks as they shop, and then return for a pasta class.
This chill doughnut shop has become a cult fixture for Atlantans who follow the city’s artisan food scene. The environment is that of a doughnut ultra-lounge, with soft furniture, dim lighting, old-school R&B, and doughnut-themed books and literature scattered about. Get a French press coffee and try and limit yourself to two (okay, three) doughnuts: a tangerine star, a Heath Bar crunch, and maybe an apple fritter. Or the signature A-Town Cream stuffed with vanilla custard, painted with chocolate glaze, and cut out in a big “A” for the ATL. But go early, as these ultra-small batch treats— prepared by the scant dozen—sell out fast.