A New Old Discovery

Petite Auberge, Atlanta

There is a bittersweet feeling when you find something wonderful that has been available to you for a very long time. After all, think of the years you weren’t taking advantage of the treasure. I had this experience last Friday night. After a week out of town on business, I wanted to go out for dinner. I did not want a big production and I did not want to spend a bunch of money. I decided to try Petite Auberge, a classical French restaurant that has been a staple on the Atlanta scene for more than thirty years. I had eyed the menu online before and was impressed by the options and the prices. The fact that it is less than twenty minutes from my house sealed the deal.

We arrived promptly at nine for our reservation and were cheerfully led to our table. I had a small amount of trepidation as I glanced around the room and discovered that we were about twenty years distant from any other patron in the restaurant. That is in both directions. The only people less than retirement age were the grandchildren of one of the couples. There was a piano player pumping out standards.

Our waiter, Sammy, stopped by promptly to greet us. Sammy blended perfectly with the somewhat dated environment and the older patrons. In fact, Sammy has been a fixture at Petite Aurberge since its inception more than 32 years ago.

The wine list was impressive in a regular haunt kind of way; lots of affordable options rounded out by some more impressive ( and expensive) selections. We chose a white Bordeaux for $25.
Our appetizers started out with a vichyssoise for me and a crab and shrimp cake for my date. The vichyssoise was an ample portion served in a glass nested in a silver container of ice. It was both rich and delicately flavored. The crab cake was nicely executed as well. It was made with very little binding and served on mixed greens and some rémoulade on the side.

As we dined, we observed other tables having their desserts prepared table side, à la 1973. Baked Alaska and Crepes were the choices of the grandchildren at the nearby table.

Sammy came by to clear our appetizer dishes and my wine glass was magically refilled. My date’s pork chop with peppercorn gravy and black and tan pasta with tomato concassé arrived as a cart rolled up next to our table carrying my bouillabaisse. The server plated up my seafood stew and served it with toasted French bread and rouille.

In short, everything was nicely prepared. The bouillabaisse contained lobster, shrimp, mussels, salmon, and whitefish. Each individual ingredient was perfectly cooked, which is not always the case. Julienne strips of carrots and fennel provided color, texture and a sweet flavor to the dish.

Our meal was topped off with crepes served with hazelnut crème and chocolate sauce. A glass of Frangelico perfectly complemented our dessert.

The sad fact that I have lived in Atlanta since 1994 and have not been eating here regularly is overshadowed by my excitement with my discovery. Items such as Bavarian pork roast with a beer and caraway sauce, Bavarian meat platter, mustard crusted lamb chops, and classic escargots, all beckon my return. The menu is also chock full of the expected classics such as beef wellington and chicken cordon bleu.

Petite Auberge proves that some things are classic for a reason.

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A Burger Blast from the Past

Red Robin BurgersA bit over twenty years ago, when I was an assistant manager at Friendly’s Restaurant in Orlando Florida, I had a watering hole located very near my restaurant. That watering hole was a chain called Red Robin. All I remember was I drank there when I was twenty-one years old with friends, many female, who may have been less than twenty-one years old. Apparently, Red Robin had been reported for serving under age patrons. They were fined. We continued to patronize Red Robin. They were fined again, this time more than the first. We continued to imbibe at the neighborhood establishment. Then they were closed. It was rumored that they were closed due to repeated violations of the law. Although I did not serve any underage person alcohol, I felt as though I contributed to the problem.

I had not seen a Red Robin for the ensuing two decades. Then they opened one up on Scenic Highway in Lawrenceville. So my friend of twenty two years and I went there for dinner. I do not recall a lot from twenty one years ago, but I am pretty sure that my watering hole did not look like a Chucky Cheese. I am equally certain that there was not a large costumed bird walking around scaring people. The bird seemed to be blind. An employee was leading this freakish creature around by the wing. I do remember there being very good looking young girls back then, and this did not change. The change was the fact that I was not a dirty old man when I leered at them twenty one years ago. The place was also full of families, teenagers and even the elderly on oxygen.

They proclaim to have the best burgers. We ordered our burgers from our friendly waitress after she gave us a brief tour of the menu including suggestions. She asked us: “you want that with pink or without?” I love that. It is a rare establishment that correctly cooks a medium rare burger. These folks make no assertion that they will do that. They will bring you a burger with or without pink. My friend ordered their Royal Red Robin, a burger topped with a fried egg, bacon, lettuce and tomato. I ordered the Santa Fe, a burger with roasted poblano, guacamole, fried tortilla strips, and chipotle mayonnaise. Both were delivered pink, as ordered. They also came with a bottomless portion French fries. Two large Blue Moon beers accompanied our burgers. Everything was very tasty. The service was friendly and efficient.
Although the experience was very different from two decades ago, it was an enjoyable meal. And they still didn’t card me or my friend.

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Crab and Tasso Stuffed Pork Chops

Crab and Tasso Stuffed Pork Chops

I became enamored with the food of the low country while working on Fripp Island, South Carolina. There are some similarities with cajun food, both have a heavy African influence mixed with a melange of other cultures. Serve over puree of yucca and celery root with bourbon glazed roasted carrots.

6 pork center loin chops — about 8 to 10 ounces each


  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 lemons — thinly sliced
  • 6 sprigs thyme
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 6 sprigs parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup table salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red onion — diced
  • 1/4 cup celery — diced
  • 1 clove garlic — minced
  • 1 jalapeno — seeded and diced
  • 1/4 cup tasso ham — diced
  • 8 oz crab meat — picked clean
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

For the Brine:

Put everything in a stockpot and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Refrigerate until cold.

Place pork chops in brine and allow to brine for two hours in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, make the stuffing.

Heat the oil in a saute pan until shimmering. Add onion, celery, pepper, and garlic. Saute until softened, but not browned, about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients. Toss to mix and season with salt and pepper. Place in the refrigerator until needed.

Remove the pork chops from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the brine.

Slice a pocket into each chop. Fill each pocket with the stuffing.

Preheat a grill or grillpan. Grill the chops, about 5-8 minutes per side, until cooked through.

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Long Island Wine Country

Long Island Wine Country

It had been a long time since I visited Long Island. By a long time, I mean decades. I have a picture of me with my family on the ferry from Bridgeport, Connecticut to Port Jefferson, Long Island that was taken in the seventies. A number of years ago I read an article about how far Long Island wines had come. The article specifically mentioned Wolffer Estates, located on the South Fork of the island. Coincidentally I spotted a bottle of Wolffer Estates wine in a local store about a week later. I purchased it, took it home, and quickly opened it. I could not have been more disappointed. It was no better than our local swill from Chateau Elan in North Georgia. Don’t get me wrong, Georgia wine has come a long, long, way and many are quite good, not just good for Georgia. But Chateau Elan is not one of those wineries that made that journey.

As the years passed and I witnessed the vast improvement of so many non traditional wine area such as North Georgia, and I continued to read good press about Long Island, my desire to return there increased. So I made plans to go to the North Fork of Long Island, where the greatest concentration of wineries is located, over Columbus Day weekend. As I flew to New York, I happened across an article in latest copy of Food & Wine. The article was a basic primer on American red wines complete with examples of examples of particular grapes and the premier regions from which they come. To my delight, Long Island Merlots were mentioned. The universe and I seemed to be in the same groove.

The Friday before Columbus we boarded the Port Jeff ferry with our car. A little over an hour later we were driving towards the North Fork. A “Welcome to Long Island Wine Country” sign greeted us a short while later. I was impressed by the map I downloaded of the Long Island wine country by the large number of wineries packed into that little peninsula. It was much more impressive in person. The wineries were nearly stacked on more top of each other, across the street from each other, one after the next. The signs were clear and gave plenty of notice as we approached each new winery. Interspersed with the wineries were farms, farm stands, pumpkin patches and signs offering fresh cider. The day was about seventy degrees and sunny, really rounding out the beauty of this picturesque corner of New England.

We visited three wineries and sampled many wines. Across the board, the wines were good, with only a handful of “whatever” wines and none that were really bad.

Pellegrini Vineyards
Pellegrini Vineyards

At Pellegrini Vineyards we had the opportunity to contrast and compare three different incarnations of Chardonnay, three different merlots, a Bordeaux blend, and a gewürztraminer. All were good and people were very nice. The woman behind the counter was kind enough to make dining recommendations and get us addresses and phone numbers.

We took the recommendation and went to the restaurant Soundview for lunch. We sat on the outside deck right on the sound. The day was nice but a bit on the windy side. The seafood was fresh, the food was hot, and I had a glass of wine from a fourth winery, a Paumonak Chardonnay that had a good balance of fruit, oak, and acidity.

Duckwalk Vineyards
Duckwalk Vineyards

We were heading to our planned stops at Bedell Cellars and Castello di Borgese, but decided to pop into Duckwalk Vineyards. The Merlot from Duckwalk vineyards was very good. The chardonnays ran the gamut from oaky and buttery to sharp and crisp to tropical and fruity. Duckwalk’s basic chardonnay was on special that day for $15.00 for a magnum. It was full of fruit and floral notesI was having a bunch of people for dinner at my sister’s house the following day so I picked up one of those. They also had a range of other wines we tasted including cabernet franc, sauvignon blanc, gamay, even a vidal blanc ice wine and a blueberry port. They offered a small square of dark chocolate with the blueberry port. What a treat!

Pindar WineryOur $4.00 tasting fee included five wines plus, much to our delight, a complimentary tasting at the Pindar winery just down the road. So for our combined $8.00, my brother-in-law and I got to taste a total of 22 wines (they threw in a couple of bonus wines including the ice wine and blueberry port).

Overall, the thing that impressed me the most was not only the quality of the wines, but the overall terrior that was evident. The reds had a decided earthiness to them, no fruit bombs here. My biggest disappointment was that I have a rule of traveling light so I only purchased what could I use on my weekend in Connecticut. Everywhere I visited I case discounts, up to 25% in the case of Pindar. I would definitely recommend this as a day trip, or longer. It could take days to work your way through this area.

We completed our day by picking up some pumpkins, beets, apples, cider, and more for the festivities the following day.

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