Healthy eating for the new year

Georgia Trend Magazine. January 2022.

During the first few days of the new year, many of us strive to change our eating habits. But a few weeks into our resolution, we realize that following a specific diet is not conducive to our lifestyles. We still occasionally need to go out for date nights, office lunches and celebrations with friends and family. Our society comes together over food; we draw comfort and joy through food. So, we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves about eating right all the time. Instead, be more mindful and follow these easy tips that will help you keep your health in shape when dining out. The New York Times’ Michael Pollan’s seven-word manifesto still holds: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Pick healthier restaurants

Raw Hummus Photo By R Thomas

Eating out doesn’t mean your options are limited to smoothie joints, soup cafes and salad bars. Many good restaurants focus on vegan, vegetarian, Mediterranean and Keto-based menus. Look for dishes that include fresh ingredients, whole grains and grilled meats. Longstanding landmark R. Thomas’ Deluxe Grill in Atlanta, offers healthy dining 24 hours a day. Try the raw hummus, cashew cheese, sloppy veggie Joe, quinoa and tempeh Thai bowls.

Make better choices

When dining out at ethnic restaurants, you can choose entrees that include leaner proteins, more vegetables and fewer starches. At a Chinese restaurant, select steamed dumplings instead of egg rolls and plain brown rice instead of fried rice.

Choose soft whole wheat or corn tortillas and ask for sour cream on the side at a Mexican restaurant. And when eating Italian, fill up on a hearty salad and avoid dishes with too much cheese and creamy sauces.

Eating spicy food speeds up metabolism and satisfies cravings. Head to Namaste Savannah Nepali restaurant for the whole red snapper, tandoor chicken and mixed grilled platter.

Pack your bags

Often, it is large portion sizes that throw our diets off, and taking doggie bags back to the office is not always an option. Order the smallest available steaks and seafood, or split an entrée with your fellow diner. You can also ask your server to pack half of your dish in a to-go box when you order.

The National Power Lunch Credit Erin Wilsonpeg

During Athens Restaurant Week in summer, The National offers diners an option to share two-course power lunches and three-course dinners that include a roasted flavorful carrot salad, zaatar roasted chicken breast and sweet corn gelato, among others.

Choose drinks with low sugar

Drinks translate to liquid calories. Try to eliminate regular soda and sweet drinks from your diet. Instead of ice tea, try sparkling flavored water, nonalcoholic beer and herbal tea. Southbound Brewing Company in Savannah has a light lager beer that is a great choice for a low-calorie and low-carbohydrate beer (especially for Keto dieters) that doesn’t sacrifice flavor. Cut back on alcohol to a few times a week. And when selecting an alcoholic beverage, opt for red wine or tequila and avoid the mixers that tend to add more sugar to cocktails.

Skip the desserts

It’s best to skip this section of the menu entirely, but an occasional treat is justified. Order a low-fat dessert that comes in smaller portions and share it with other diners at the table. Atlanta’s LottaFrutta is the perfect spot to go out for a funky pint-sized fresh fruit cup topped with dairy-free creams, honey, granola, fresh lime and spicy chile.

No matter what your new year’s food resolutions are, remember to eat slowly and savor every bite.

~ Written for and published by Georgia Trend Magazine.

French with a Southern Accent

Georgia Trend Magazine. January 2022 print edition.

Located in one of Savannah’s oldest buildings that dates back to the 1890s, St. Neo’s Brasserie is not your typical hotel restaurant. For starters, the interior is a dream come true for decorators and makeover enthusiasts. What was an eyesore of an abandoned building that once housed American Trust and Bank in Savannah’s Historic District is now the ultra-chic Drayton Hotel featuring St. Neo’s, a Southern-inspired seafood restaurant and raw bar.

The restaurant’s backdrop of distressed glass bar and blue velvet walls invites guests to experience nostalgia with a twist of modernity. The décor combines elements of classy French brassieres with fun retro American diners: There are wicker backed chairs, warm globe lights, cozy wood floors and colorful tiles. Inside the dining room, a large mural painted by artist Bob Christian depicts Spanish moss, oak trees and dreamy clouds to remind you of your current surroundings – the Lowcountry.

In summer, the seasonally inspired cocktail menu reimagines agreeable classics with gentler spins. The Tuscan Gaze is a sweeter version of an Old Fashioned, with a hint of grapefruit and Italian amaro. The pucker of kiwi contrasts with coconut liquor and pisco in a drink named Most Beautiful Girl in the Room – a beauty that hits your tastebuds at the right spots. Pear cordial, lemongrass vermouth and a splash of salt bring out a sweet and sour exchange in the John Dorian cocktail, a take on the Appletini. There’s also a full bar and an innovative wine list featuring handpicked biodynamic wine selections – produced without chemicals and using natural materials – from Spain, Italy, France, Austria and the U.S.

The dinner menu is curated daily using sustainably sourced seafood and local ingredients. (St. Neo’s is named after the patron saint of fish, Saint Neot.) It offers a fine selection of sharable seafood tapas and several wholesome entrees. Only the freshest oysters are flown in (today’s came from Massachusetts, the server informs us) and land on a generously portioned raw-bar tower. You can add lobster, shrimp, crudo (raw fish) and crab.

If you bring a group, share a grazing platter of charred rustic homemade sourdough bread with smoked trout and celery salad, salmon mousse, deviled eggs and pickled okra. A side of crisp, beer-battered fried seasonal vegetables with lemon tahini dipping sauce is also good for nibbling.

St. Neo’s version of a jumbo lump crab cake uses spiced lemon chips instead of the usual breading. The fresh and light meat is served inside a beautiful blue crab shell sitting on top of a grilled lemon made to look like a rock.

Crispy thin prosciutto chips reveal two perfectly seared diver scallops, with a sweet apple butter sauce. A light and pleasing dish for all the senses.

The main attraction is a blackened shrimp entrée that hones in on Southern cooking influences. The acidity of heirloom tomatoes contrasts against the sweetness of a moist corn spoonbread with a peppery kick from blackened and grilled South Carolina shrimp.

While the patron saint blessed this kitchen with an abundance of sea creatures, there are locally sourced meat and poultry, too. Filet mignon carpaccio is served with a crispy poached egg, and the ribeye with potatoes, Brussels sprouts and mushrooms is a crowd pleaser. Seasonally inspired desserts change daily. In the fall, an interplay of graham cracker-crusted pumpkin tart with fresh figs and candied pistachios with chili will remind you of the changing weather of the South. There’s also the chef’s selection of petit fours for indecisive diners.

After a flavorful, unpretentious dinner, head down to the speakeasy lounge in the basement of the hotel or upstairs to the rooftop bar for a view of the Savannah River.

This article appears in the January 2022 issue of Georgia Trend.

Christmas Day dining

Georgia Trend Magazine. December 2021.

The holidays are a time to come together with family, create new memories and be grateful for the years past. But it’s easy to get stressed by the thought of planning the perfect meal that meets every dietary need. We leaf through cookbooks and magazines that show beautiful dinner spreads and try to emulate them, before realizing holiday magic is not going to turn us into Martha Stewart.

So give yourself a gift: Check shopping, cooking and cleaning off your list and leave it to the professionals, who can bring joy to your table. Many hotels, resorts and restaurants are offering special Christmas-day menus, buffets and to-go meal kits. Here are a few to consider.

Lunch at Callaway Gardens

Settle down with your loved ones at the Piedmont Dining Room inside The Lodge and Spa at Pine Mountain, for a scrumptious lunch buffet that will satisfy all ages. The menu includes gourmet salads, imported cheeses, chilled seafood bar, carving station, hot entrees and a selection of holiday desserts. There’s even a children’s (free for age 5 and under) table with their own helpings of chicken fingers, tater tots, and macaroni and cheese.

Afterwards, drive through the seven-mile-long Fantasy in Lights Enchanted Forest and take a stroll through the new Callaway Christmas Village. And if you don’t feel like driving home after all the food and fun, you can stay overnight and make it a Christmas getaway.

Buffet in Savannah

If you want to savor the flavors of the Lowcountry, head over to the 700 Drayton restaurant located inside the Mansion on Forsyth Park. The special buffet features a “Savannah Experience” showcasing a southern take on classic Christmas dishes. Chef Daniel Herget prepares fresh food using locally sourced ingredients. Also included are bottomless mimosas and live music. Before dinner, explore the historic Victorian Romanesque mansion, Hidden Carriage Wine Cellar and the extensive art gallery on site.

Bake it at Sea Island

Sea Island, the Golden Isles’ favorite resort, offers several options to dine-in or take home a special Christmas dinner. The Market’s Take-‘n’-Bake menu features customizable family-style a la carte options to bake at home. Pick up seasoned and ready to cook cider-brined whole turkey and herb roasted prime rib, along with all the fixings, such as traditional Sea Island Southern collard greens, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes and Southern mini bacon corn muffins. Don’t forget dessert – gingerbread cheesecake or a chocolate chess pie to enjoy by the fireplace.

Or have the chefs at Sea Island’s Dining and Catering Services do it for you – you can place an order for an artfully prepared Christmas dinner and pick it up between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Christmas Day. Choose from three featured menus, with a minimum order for four guests.

Brunch at The Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta

The opulent Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta has an annual Christmas day brunch featuring individually prepared delicacies as part of live-action cooking presentations. Twelve curated serving stations offer everything from caviar and lobster ravioli to smoked roasted duck with sour cherry glaze and salt-brined prime rib with port wine sauce.

The star attraction is the vast dessert spread hand-crafted by executive pastry Chef Erica Lee. You can get a preview of her tempting yule logs, Christmas tree cupcakes and candy cane cake pops by following her Instagram page.

Happy holiday dining!

~ Written for and published by Georgia Trend Magazine. All rights reserved.

Weekend Getaways From Atlanta

Khabar. Dec 2021 cover story.

During the holidays this winter, many people may not be ready for long distance travel. But short-distance trips are different. There are few hassles, and you don’t have to spend much for a good time with family and friends. These six fun destinations are not far from Atlanta, and they all have a lot to offer for both day trippers and overnighters.

CocerStory_3_12_21.jpg

In March 2020, the world’s borders shut down and the travel industry came to a standstill. All domestic and international trips, conferences and events were indefinitely canceled. I had just ticked off an item on my bucket list—a trip to Antarctica, which had been my 7th continent to travel to—and was about to reach my goal of visiting 100 countries. But as months went by, traveling outside the country started to look less probable.

That’s when I turned to explore more of the South, both for personal and professional reasons. Like many of us who were cooped up at home during the pandemic, I was having restless feet. My husband and I ventured on day trips around Atlanta, gradually exploring farther and staying overnight. This is when I rediscovered Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas—beyond the big cities and touristy destinations.

As we surveyed more, we saw common trends emerging in some of the smaller, previously unknown towns. More Americans were escaping big cities, seeking open spaces, leaner crowds, and friendlier communities. Families were choosing to work and attend virtual school out of their vacation homes, and thus emerged a new wave of entrepreneurs. What were once sleepy desolate towns now had renovated boutique hotels and restaurants helmed by award-winning chefs, and fun festivals to entertain all ages.

If you are seeking a relaxing time, an exciting road trip, or a new place to share with friends and family, these close-to-home destinations are worth a visit.

Chattanooga, Tennessee

CocerStory_14_12_21.jpg

My first trip after businesses reopened, in May 2020, was to Chattanooga on the border of Georgia and Tennessee. I had already seen the well-known attractions— Ruby Falls and Tennessee Aquarium. This time, I wanted to keep the social distance and be outdoors. We stayed at a cozy bed-and-breakfast overlooking the city, called the RiverView Inn, and drove to Lookout Mountain, the highest point in the area, to breathe fresh air.

CocerStory_10_12_21.jpg

The entrance fee to Rock City’s famous geological gardens had been reduced and advance reservations meant that we could walk through the narrow rock formations and suspended bridges without having to rub shoulders with other tourists. It was also refreshing to have the scenic viewpoints all to ourselves— we could freely look across seven states and take as many photos as we wanted with waterfall backdrops without feeling that we were blocking space. The animated characters, along with sound and lights, at the Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village located at Rock City are sure to please little ones, though I was equally excited to relive the storybooks I had read as a child. Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights is put up until January 2nd every year when it features a winter wonderland with one of the world’s tallest Christmas trees, twinkling lights and holiday shopping.

Downtown Chattanooga had also changed since my last visit there. The opento- pedestrians Walnut Street Bridge and waterfront areas were scattered with street artists, live musicians and food trucks to entertain joggers, bikers and walkers. Now surrounding the historic hotel, The Chattanooga Choo Choo, are a number of new bars and restaurants with outdoor seating.

Though there’s a marathon, concert, market or festival taking place practically every weekend, there’s a Holiday Market during the first three weekends in December. At the Chattanooga Convention Center, you will find over 200 local vendors selling unique holiday gifts, crafts and food.

Macon, Georgia

CocerStory_12_12_21.jpg

I had driven past Macon on I-75 South, generally heading to the beaches of Georgia and Florida. But this time around, I made a pitstop to learn about Macon.

Downtown Macon once was one of the most important cities in the South, established by famous artists, socialites and politicians. There are over 6,000 historic buildings across 15 historic districts, each telling a story about ghosts, music, people and culture. A walking tour with Rock Candy Tours oriented me to the first African American-owned Douglass Theatre, Broadway musicals at The Grand Opera House, and the tunes of Macon Symphony Orchestra— all of which are still operational. CocerStory_13_12_21.jpg

Though I wasn’t exposed to Southern rock and soul music before, I enjoyed learning about famous bands such as The Allman Brothers Band, Otis Redding and Little Richard, who all recorded their albums in Macon. Funded by Mercer University, the newly renovated Capricorn Records highlights Macon’s music history and memorabilia in a modern multi-use space.

Another must-see landmark in Macon is the Tubman Museum, the largest museum dedicated to African American history, art and culture in the Southeast, named after the American Civil War activist Harriet Tubman.

The best time to visit Macon is in March, during the annual International Cherry Blossom Festival. Over 350,000 blooming pink and white flowering Yoshino cherry trees make you feel like you traveled to Tokyo. There are also lots of performances, galas and family-friendly events during this time, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Aiken, South Carolina

CocerStory_4_12_21.jpg

Named the best small town in America by Southern Living magazine, Aiken is an elegant destination known for its arts, sporting facilities, nature and equine pursuits. The once “winter colony” of the active and restless privileged Northerners now attracts authors, artists, retirees and horse lovers from all over the country. Even the ruler of the Emirate of Dubai had his horses trained here. Plan your visit to see the spring steeplechase in March, derby matches in May, Christmas crafts markets in November, and Festival of Trees held through the month of December.

CocerStory_2_12_21.jpg

Spring is the best time to bike through one of America’s largest urban oak forests, Hitchcock Woods, and stroll through the scenic Hopeland Gardens. Stay and dine at the historic Willcox Hotel, where the esteemed guest list includes Winston Churchill and Harold Vanderbilt. I, for one, was fully enchanted by the lovely streets lined with magnolia and oak trees, the romantic alleys, and the leisurely pace.

Americus, Georgia

Rarely do you expect to dine next to billionaires and past presidents while on vacation, but in Americus you never know who is sitting around the corner. Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter lives a few miles down the road (in Plains, Georgia) and is often seen dining at Rosemary and Thyme Restaurant, located at the 125-yearold Victorian-style Best Western Plus Windsor Hotel in downtown Americus. The opulent hotel has changed hands several times and undergone millions of dollars in renovations, establishing itself as an iconic model for a downtown that’s being slowly restored.

CocerStory_5_12_21.jpg

The owners, Sharad Patel and his family, have hosted the Carters too. After reopening, Patel named his best oval suite after the most famous local resident—the Carter suite. He has added the Indianspiced cilantro grouper to the menu and will happily create spicy dishes (his signature is lamb) upon request.

Nearby in Plains, you can visit Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm, his former campaign headquarters, and Plains High School. In the evening, watch The Nutcracker ballet at the Rylander Theatre, or simply “porch” with a glass of 13th Colony Southern Bourbon at Floyd’s Pub overlooking Lamar Street. The Windsor often hosts New Year’s eve gala dinners, overnight holiday packages, and murder-mystery dinner theaters.

For a fun ride, board the 1949 vintage cars on the historic SAM Shortline Railroad. This exciting journey stops at Archery, Plains, Americus, Leslie, Georgia Veterans State Park and Cordele. Holiday-themed trains include onboard gifts, hot chocolate and cookies with Santa.


Greenville, South Carolina

CocerStory_11_12_21.jpg

Greenville has lately become one of the fastest growing cities in the South. Having heard highly of the celebrated multi-day food and music festival event, I attended Euphoria Greenville only in its 16th year in September 2021. The annual festival gave me an opportunity to taste a variety of locally made foods and drinks and to meet a number of recently transplanted residents. The small town has attracted big name chefs and creative folks to open New American and eclectic dining establishments, and now there are well over 1000 to choose from! If you’re craving flavors of home during your visit, there are vegetarian, North and South Indian options at Saffron, Handi, India Palace, Swad, and Persis Biryani Indian Grill. Recent accolades for Greenville include “#1 Under-the-Radar Southern Food Destination” by Zagat, the “Next Big Food City of the South” by Esquire, and one of “The South’s Tastiest Towns” by Southern Living.

The revitalized downtown Greenville looks like a miniature version of a walkable big city, with urban parks, boutiques and a variety of restaurants. The Fall Park on the Reedy, with its bridge and waterfall, is small yet scenic. While strolling along the three blocks of Main Street during a weekend, you will come across families (complete with four-legged members) shopping at the morning farmers market, admiring over 100 public art displays, and listening to live music at one of the outdoor venues.

There are a number of branded hotels in downtown Greenville, including The Westin Poinsett, AC Hotel by Marriott, Hyatt Regency. But if you want to experience a Tuscanstyle getaway amidst mountains and vineyards, head to Hotel Domestique in neighboring Travelers Rest. A perfect place to stay, there’s also a 22-mile-long Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail nearby that has won awards for its biking paths.

Cashiers, North Carolina

CocerStory_8_12_21.jpg

One of the most scenic drives of my life happened to be just two hours north of Atlanta! The windy roads on Highways 64 and 107—via Highlands, Cashiers and Sylva— took me through the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, dense forests, striking waterfalls, and along trout-rich Nantahala River. In October- November, the 5,000 feet high western North Carolina mountains are covered in hues of red, orange, yellow and green, making it an ideal place to go “leaf peeping.” My favorite way to enjoy the fall colors was via an easy hiking trail on Whiteside Mountain, though there are plenty of golfing, biking, fishing and boating options as well.

CocerStory_9_12_21.jpg

From the Rhodes Big View Overlook, on a clear sunny evening, I got to see a rare natural phenomenon that takes place only during two weeks in a year (in spring and fall) when the sun’s shadows cast on Cashier Valley create interesting animal shapes—turtle, mouse, dog and, eventually, a “Shadow of the Bear.”

With easy access to Lake Glenville, Gorges State Park and Panthertown Valley (called Yosemite of the East), the mountain town of Cashiers is designed for outdoor enthusiasts. But there are lovely renovated hotels—High Hampton Resort, Hotel Cashiers, The Wells Hotel Cashiers—that make for warm and luxurious basecamps.

Grab a print copy of Khabar Magazine or read it online here.

Go Nuts for Thanksgiving

Georgia Trend. November 2021.

Pecans, peanuts, pistachios, walnuts, macadamia – oh my! Georgia produces a wide variety of nuts. In fact, Georgia leads the way as the nation’s top pecan producer, growing 142 million pounds last year.

Nuts are a good source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, have very low sodium (if unsalted) and are cholesterol free. They are versatile and can be used in a variety of recipes. In a nutshell, you don’t have to thrive on chocolate covered nuts, praline pecans and baked goodies. This Thanksgiving, incorporate healthy and delicious nuts into your holiday recipes.

As you think of dishes to serve for Thanksgiving dinner, consider make-in-advance or ready-made walnut pesto on a crostini with feta cheese.

Larry and Beverly Willson, at one of Georgia’s longest-running nut farms, Sunnyland Farms in Albany, recommend cutting dried Medjool dates or figs in half, stuffing

them with a whole almond and topping with crumbled blue cheese, for a sweet and salty snack. You can also sprinkle on bacon bites and cayenne for an extra kick.

The Spicy-peanut party hummus recipe by Gloria Piantek was the winner of the 2021 National Peanut Month Recipe Contest. And it’s no surprise. The combination of sweet and spicy pepper relish, chipotle peppers, creamy peanut butter and mashed chickpeas, tells your tastebuds that its festive season. You can find more such recipes at the Tifton-based Georgia Peanut Commission’s website.

Instead of traditional olive oil and vinegar salad dressing, toss in pecan oil or peanut dressing. The nutty flavor gives more personality to the greens and your guests will keep guessing your “secret recipe.”

For a twist on traditional sweet potato casserole, bake a side of easy-to-grab sweet potato muffins featuring small pecan pieces. The recipe calls for the exact same ingredients – canned sweet potatoes, butter, cinnamon, milk, eggs, sugar – and some flour.

This holiday season, branch out from the traditional turkey with chef Virginia Wills’s almond crusted trout with pecan brown butter. Dress the fish with roasted almond rice pilaf or Asian cashew slaw. The recipe can be found on the Georgia Pecan Commission website.

Georgia Grown peach pecan cranberry sauce is easy to make and adds color to the thanksgiving table. It is boozy with pecan liquor, festive with cranberries and can be made in the microwave in just a few minutes. Use the leftover sauce to make hand pies for breakfast the next day. Georgia Grown partners with chefs around the state to share creative recipes like this, using the freshest homegrown ingredients.

For dessert, try a peanut ribbon cake recipe dating back to the 1970s. The already-frozen pound cake, layered with sweet, grated chocolate and chopped peanuts, can be assembled and frozen until ready to serve with whipped cream and liqueur. Take a look at the Georgia Peanut Commission’s retro recipe collection and you may discover one of your childhood favorites.

For an after-Thanksgiving treat while you trim the Christmas tree, have the kids help arrange a charcuterie plate with crackers, hard and soft cheeses, sliced salami, roasted mixed nuts and fruit jams. The plate is easy to graze on and takes further advantage of the nutty flavors of the season.

However you decide to go nuts this year, roast them first to release the oils and add more crunch. Store nuts in a zip-lock bag or airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer. The lower the temperature you store the nuts, the longer they will keep.

Happy Holidays!

~ Written for and published by Georgia Trend Magazine. All rights reserved.

Charm Meets Grandeur

Georgia Trend Magazine. November 2021.

Overlooking the colorful downtown, swaying in my rocking chair, sipping a blueberry sour cocktail, I feel I could be in any Southern small town. But this is no ordinary place, building or porch. It is the same spot where global heads of state and accomplished billionaires have wined and dined. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was recently spotted having dinner during her stay, and former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn are regulars.

The historic Best Western Plus Windsor Hotel is an iconic structure dominating an entire block in Americus. The 130-year-old hotel (opened in 1892) has changed hands many times and undergone millions of dollars in renovations to be restored to its original grandeur that guests can enjoy today.

On the second floor is the hotel’s main dining room, Rosemary & Thyme. What used to be a ballroom (older patrons recall spending fun afternoons here) is an affordable fine dining restaurant that opened in 2012. It is a must-stop for visitors and where locals make reservations for special occasions.

With the original tile floors, Victorian period furnishings, large windows and white tablecloths, Rosemary & Thyme recalls the bygone era of old dining rooms. You may feel a bit underdressed walking into this opulent hall, but there’s really no dress code (truly).

The menu is inspired by its Southern roots, favoring classics such as meat and sides. Due to labor shortages and reduced demand because of the pandemic, the menu was revised to include fewer specials that are offered at both the restaurant and Floyd’s Pub next door.

Pick up a copy of the November 2021 print issue or read it online.

Spooky sips and bites

Georgia Trend. October 2021.

Tis’ the season! With pumpkins, turkeys and candy on our minds, the last quarter of the year is all about celebrations over food. Restaurants and bars across the state are getting creative with food and drink items to get customers into the celebratory spirit. Whether you’re tickled by edible ghost candies, mummified meatballs or eyeballs in your drinks (don’t worry, these are made with green olives), trick or treat yourself with these Halloween-themed specials.

Continue reading on Georgia Trend Magazine’s website…

Georgia’s First Black Brewery Hippin’ Hops Crafts Fresh Beer and Seafood

Cuisine Noir. October 2021.

Hippin’ Hops Brewery and Oyster Bar is the first African American-owned brewery in Georgia. Its first location opened this year in May on Glenwood Avenue in the East Lake neighborhood of Atlanta, and two more Hippin’ Hops are scheduled to open later this year, also in Georgia.

Owner Clarence Boston, originally from North Carolina, is a mortician by trade and beer maker by night. He got interested in brewing at an early age. “My grandmother made wine out of fruits she had in her yard, like muscadine, peaches and green apples. She taught me and my brother how to make wine, but my wine always tasted like vinegar. So I decided to make beer instead!” humors Clarence.

Clarence Boston, co-owner of Hippin' Hops Brewery and Oyster Bar
Pictured: Clarence Boston | Photo credit: Hippin Hops

“We opened the brewery during [the] pandemic and are doing extremely well,” he adds. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Boston noticed a rising demand for alcohol. He also saw that microbrewery was a booming business, though there weren’t many African-Americans brewers around. According to Nielsen’s market data, total alcohol sales outside of bars and restaurants surged roughly 24% during the pandemic.

Good Food for Good Brews

This is not the first business that Clarence and his wife and business partner Donnica Boston have started. The serial entrepreneurs own a real estate investment company, funeral homes, crematoriums, bars and restaurants across North Carolina and Georgia.

Hippin' Hops beer
Pictured: Beer by Hippin’ Hops | Photo credit Hippin’ Hops

Hippin’ Hops is designed to look like a beer garden with indoor and outdoor seating, as well as fun games such as cornhole, beer pong and Jenga. Brewed on-site are bold, sweet and bitter stouts, sours, ales, lagers, Belgians and IPAs. “Our goal is to introduce people to craft beer,” says Boston. “We don’t have a particular style of beer. We want everybody to come to our brewery, so we brew to appeal to all cultures.”

All in-house beers are made without additives, sugar and unnatural flavorings. Highlights include Bier Saigon – a fruity and flavorful Belgian-style saison with complex aromas that are perfect for drinking during warm summer months – and Top Five, an IPA brewed with sorrel that is also a bestseller.

Donnica helms the kitchen side of the brewhouse, the menu of which is primarily inspired by her Louisiana roots. With shrimp and grits, alligator po’boy and Cajun shrimp deviled eggs on the menu, the food is as much of a focus here as are the drinks.

Oyster collardfeller at Hippin' Hops Brewery and Oyster Bar
Pictured: Oyster collardfeller | Photo credit: Hippin’ Hops

Clarence takes great pride in their variety of east coast oyster preparations – served raw on the half-shell, oyster Rockefeller with homemade cheese sauce, oyster collardfeller with collard greens and smoked turkey, and smoked gouda oysters with garlic butter sauce. Executive chef Jamarius “J.” Banks, a former contestant on Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay,” runs the kitchen operations.

Hip Hop and Beer

The trendy name Hippin’ Hops came from Clarence’s love for hip hop music. The brewery and restaurant are designed for friends to lounge through the evening with good food and drinks while listening to a live DJ (Thursday-Sunday).

When the Bostons received an overwhelming response from the public for being the first Black-owned brewery in Georgia with its own location, they “didn’t even know” that they were the first. Less than 1% of the nearly 8,500 craft breweries in America are Black-owned, according to the Brewers Association’s 2019 survey. “Perhaps people think there’s too much investment involved in opening a brewery,” Clarence points as a reason for the gap.

Hippin Hop Brewery and Oyster Bar crew
Pictured: Clarence Boston and Hippin’ Hop team | Photo credit: Hippin’ Hop

His advice to anyone looking to open a brewery is to start small and not to get many investors involved. Also, he recommends hiring expert chefs, managers and brewmasters so that all aspects of the business run smoothly even when you are away. “Most of all, don’t just talk about it, go ahead and do it.”

Hippin Hops Brewery and Oyster Bar is located at 1308 Glenwood Ave. SE in Atlanta.  Go to the website for hours, upcoming events and menu.  You can also follow along on Facebook and Instagram.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir. All rights reserved.

Small Towns In The South For The Best Fall Colors

AAA The Extra Mile. September 2021.

Milder temperatures coupled with southern hospitality make the South the perfect place to visit during the fall. Moreover, leaves change colors later in the year in the southeastern U.S., so you can enjoy a drive through the scenic mountains and valleys well until mid-to-late November. Base your getaway in some of these charming small towns, from where you can access most pristine Appalachian trails, high waterfalls, and hidden wineries.

Continue reading on the AAA Club Alliance Website…

Eat Where Georgia Leaders Dine

Georgia Trend Magazine. Sept 2021.

Whether it is a childhood memory, a family reunion or a first date relived, we all have a special place for a specific dish or a restaurant. This month, I spoke to four elected officials from Georgia about their favorite food memories.

Rep. Kasey Carpenter, (R-Dalton) is a second-generation restaurant owner. When he is not eating comfort foods like crispy fried chicken tenders at his restaurants – Oakwood Café and Cherokee Brewing + Pizza – the University of Georgia grad heads to award-winning chef and author Hugh Acheson’s Five and Ten in Athens. “It takes me back to my time in college where my wife and I would go out on dates,” says Carpenter. “Now that we have four kids, we go back to Athens for a couple’s getaway. The seasonal menu is great, but my favorite is the whole fish [snapper or seabass, depending on the catch], accompanied by a stellar wine selection,” says Carpenter.

~ Continue reading on Georgia Trend Magazine.