“When in doubt, go with the BBQ joint that has 'brothers' in the name.”
This witticism came from one of my fellow foodies on a recent jaunt through historic Roswell with Atlanta Culinary Tours.
A brief and interesting history of the Roswell area - which, in case you didn't know was formerly Cherokee land - included the dramatic story of the Roswell Mill workers. Following the history lesson we set off for a tour of four local restaurants and one tasting boutique.
Our guide, Erin Parks set the tone with a quote from Epicurus, “Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.” With her extensive background of leading European tours, Parks has gained an understanding for when to speak up and when to let the surroundings do the talking.
Our first stop was at Rice where Chef Kris Boonruang welcomed us as family. Our arrival coincided with the New Year celebrations of Thailand. Chef Kris was happy to share his thoughts on the influences of Thai food – Chinese techniques with Indian ingredients – as he provided tastes of larb, Thai-style sushi, and finally, rice pudding.
In addition to original art on the walls, Chef Kris and his family live “sustainably,” growing vegetables and creating clever displays from recycled magazines and bits of poetry.
He spoke on the importance of being true to yourself, declaring, “If you are a hamster, be a hamster, don’t try to be an elephant.”
Rice has remained true to its heritage, providing outstanding Thai food for more than ten years.
Our next stop was Table & Main, a newcomer to Canton Street and the Roswell restaurant scene. General manager Ryan Pernice told the story of how music inspired the feel of the restaurant and how the local seasons inspire the menu. Executive Chef Ted Lahey presented “meatloaf meatballs” which were mouth-watering. An appreciative hush fell over the group as we solemnly chewed a little bit of heaven. Pernice took us through the restaurant and pointed out how materials have been repurposed.
The former home was built in 1910 and extensive renovations have made the restaurant both open and cozy. The background music is hand-picked, often by request, and makes it feel like a visit to your cousin’s house – if your cousin had a degree in restaurant management from Cornell and a chef trained in Culinary Arts from Johnson and Wales University in Charleston.
Our visit to Table & Main concluded on the porch with a scoop of bourbon butter pecan ice cream from High Road Craft Ice Cream. It's an ice cream that may cause you to rethink the direction your life is taking. It's that good.
Continuing our walk up Canton Street, we passed jasmine and honeysuckle in bloom, noticing the ongoing upgrades of the neighborhood. Canton Street has changed dramatically over the past ten years, but private residences remain and are mixed in with professional offices and an active blacksmith shop.
Hoyt Williams, owner and executive chef at Artisan Foods Bakery & Café welcomed us with a platter piled high with fresh beignets. A shot of chicory in a sugar-rimmed glass enhanced the feeling of celebrating something otherwise ordinary.
Memories of New Orleans filled the air as the tour group reminisced. Whispered one tour member: “These are better than the beignets I had at Café du Monde a few weeks ago…” Enough said.
The Artisan Foods café is sunny and inviting, with a charming porch, and a fabulous art gallery next door. This reminds us that Canton Street is more than just food – unique shops make for a great stroll around the neighborhood.
Departing from the café, we walked down Green Street and showed appreciation for Swallow at the Hollow and Greenwood’s restaurant and garden. They weren't officially on the tour, but owner Bill Greenwood is a well-respected pioneer in the Roswell food scene and worth a walk by.
Stop number four was another new-comer, Oli and Ve (pronounced “Ollie and Vee”), a tasting boutique of premium olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Co-owners Suzanne and Deborah opened the shop in March 2012 and have received a warm reception from the community.
Once inside the shop you will see three tasting rooms – color-coded to a selection sheet that helps to make sense of the whirl of oils and vinegars. In addition to the expected – spices for making a dipping oil and marinated mushrooms – is the unexpected.
Ever tasted peach infused vinegar? Give it a try – it is unlike any vinegar I’ve ever tasted. Try blood orange infused olive oil in your brownies as a substitute for vegetable oil. The staff is helpful and knowledgeable as they pair Persian Lime extra virgin olive oil with coconut flavored balsamic vinegar in a small tasting cup and advise on the correct slurping technique.
All products are available by the bottle – making this the perfect place to stock up on teacher’s gifts, hostess gifts and something new and novel for Mother’s Day, or for the inspired home chef.
Our final stop on the tour was The Fickle Pickle, led by Culinary Institute of America Chef Andy Badgett, since 2003. Badgett says he didn’t even like pickles until he saw a recipe in an old cookbook and tried it. Now the Fickle Pickle is known for their inventive sandwiches and their fried pickles – all made from scratch.
We sampled Caribbean clam chowder – exotic tasting with touches of saffron, coconut and star anise. A fried green tomato sandwich with tomato jam was just exquisitely good. Feeling the need to spoil us, Badgett chatted us up, talking about the history of the restaurant culture in Roswell while his assistants handed out bites of carrot cake cookie and chocolate ginger cookie.
Clearly there is a sense of camaraderie amongst the chefs of Canton Street, as each asked us about the others and referred to each other’s accomplishments.
Sitting on the porch of the Fickle Pickle, we digested the day and compared notes. Our tour guide finished the tour with a wonderful almond-scented cookie from Douceur de France – just up the road, but a little too far for a walking tour.
Atlanta Culinary Tours offers tours of several Atlanta neighborhoods, including Decatur and Inman Park. The Roswell tour is highly recommended for both natives, transplants and folks from around the greater metro area. Roswell locals will get a behind the scenes peek at their old favorites and meet up-and-coming restaurateurs. Visitors to Roswell will see what the fuss is all about.
Tips? Wear comfortable shoes and come hungry.