Monday, December 28, 2009


I often find myself sentimentalizing about various aspects of L.A., such as Glenoaks Boulevard or TV Café, which no one in their right mind should give a damn about. One place, though, that I have zero affection for and which actually physically sickens me is Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, where every third person is carrying a yoga mat. Here is a sort of bitter high school type poem, which might be scrawled on notebook paper during detention, about the insidiousness of Montana Avenue:

Aromatherapeutic quaint
afternoon latte sipping
organic kitchenware pit of hell
burn boutique burn
Williams-Sonoma face explosion
dog pillow emporium
for plastic surgery victims
eating Tuscan wood-fired
chicken alfredo death burgers
beauty salon where the souls of the dead
rise and ravage the creative hairstyles
of the pilates Nazis
holistic whore with spectacular
collage art on display
your novelty dog and cat sweaters
don’t fit
aren’t cute.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Listening to Georgia Public Radio the other day, my wife caught a story which was a list of safe suggestions for Thanksgiving, which can get so out of control I guess. One of these suggestions was not to fry the turkey in a pot of oil. I had never heard of or imagined this idea of fried turkey. While normal turkey is fairly disgusting and frying it couldn't make it any worse, it seems like an all-around cockamamie idea to fry something as large as a turkey. But I live in the South now and I guess I should try and get used to the idea of small mammals, fairly large birds and even medium-sized humanoids being deep-fried. Happy Thanksgiving, my Bejesus-lovin', gravy-simmering, Jew-frying neighbors.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Over the decades, I've been to all types of themed clubs: '60s underground garage rock, '70s disco, the obligatory '80s new wave, '20s speakeasy, Brit-pop, goth, industrial (lame), soul and hip-hop. But I do not recall ever attending a '60s psychedelic-themed club. I'm very much into the British whimsical style of psychedelia that the likes of Donovan and Syd Barrett mastered, anything about gnomes or butterflies (if you can write songs about those subjects, then you are a great songwriter), though I've never been so crazy for the generally American version that's more about wanky guitars.

Anyhow, I was excited about The Fringe Factory, Atlanta's monthly club that was previously held at the Highland Ballroom (where we checked out the Peachtree Soul Club last week), but which has recently moved to a much larger space, the Spring4th Center in Midtown. Upon arrival last night, I was immediately impressed with the attention to detail in the club's decoration: the little mushroom statues (I saw a guy try to put a drink on one), the beaded curtain style door in the space and time machine chill lounge (where there was an Asian gal DJ playing some out-there, mostly ambient music), the 45s strung together in the Peacock Lounge, the kaleidoscopic art on the walls and the '60s movies playing in several rooms. There were only a couple of bearded fellows in attendance who looked as if they had actually experienced the '60s, but in general the crowd skewed pretty old, near my age (38), and it was not so dominated by hipsters. A decent amount of people were dressed up. My tie-dye and various velour shirts no longer fit. The smoking jacket didn't really make sense. My blue velvet jacket is a little too warm for a club. So, the wife (who only wears black and purple) and I were dressed as if it were any odd night out.

In the main room, the music blasting was obscure psych and I couldn't name even one of the bands they played. Psychedelic music doesn't necessarily lend itself to dancing, except for that spacey hippy dance one can really only do in an ironic fashion. So the main room was more of a band room, while the Peacock Lounge around back was where the majority of the dancing was going on to a '60s soul soundtrack. I wasn't nuts about either of the two main stage acts, the New Orleans organ/puppet show, Quintron and Miss Pussycat, whom I saw over a decade ago play in the LAX Theme Building's Encounter Bar in L.A., or the Electric Cycles, a local garage band with floppy hair and suits. But in the Peacock Lounge, there were two terrific sets by Spencer Garn's Psychedelic Organ. This local gentleman can play the organ and he and his all-instrumental band grooved frenetically for two sets, including a late night one that packed a small enthusiastic crowd 'til 2:30 am. What was with the one couple dirty dancing? They were so wild that people had to clear out somewhat when the girl flipped around with her heels in the air. I thought it neat that this club went to 4 am, though I didn't last to that hour. I haven't checked out Atlanta's nightlife scene extensively, but compared to elsewhere, I'd say it's very much lively and groovy with plenty of gigantic, fairly unique club spaces and no shortage of swell ideas and themes. And drinks are so cheap, $5 for a cocktail in many places, as if it was 1992.

Friday, November 6, 2009


There is such a plethora of churches in Atlanta, the South and actually the whole length and width of this silly country, thank the lord someone turned one of them into a godless concert venue. I had heard talk of the club Tabernacle, but had just walked by the huge brick edifice of this converted church for the first time a few days before the brutal concert lineup that had turned me into a hyperactive, shrieking schoolgirl: Mastodon, Converge and the almighty Dethklok.

When I arrived at the packed and very sold-out (scalper tickets were $80), all-ages concert, I was blown away by the humongousness of Tabernacle (its capacity is 2600 smelly people). It has two separate balcony floors, a very large basement that could be a venue itself, a crowded outside smoking area and numerous rooms filled with assorted antiques, stained glass and what looked to be leftover fake outsider art from when the venue was a House of Blues briefly in the '90s. The very large main room has a beautiful chandelier and a neat, painted ceiling (I'm going to guess it's not original, but it could be) partially obscured by concert lighting. An awesome venue, Tabernacle is owned by the largest concert company in the world, Live Nation, who book Wembley Arena in London and the like.

I had seen Converge in their earlier years, when they were associated with the mostly East Coast metalcore scene (I don't even think that term is in use anymore). They have since matured into a nuanced extreme metal band and I very much dig their latest and perhaps finest record, Axe to Fall, which came out a few weeks ago. I think the parts of the capacity crowd not familiar with Converge, which would be most of the crowd, took a while to get used to singer Jacob Bannon, the spastic, somewhat awkward, Napoleon-sized fella with the receding hairline, who does not look very metal. Also, the guitar was way too low in the mix for the first few songs. But by the end of their shredding set, which bent from gloom to screeching din to massive mosh chords, folks were very much into it. Converge has taken the aesthetic of New England straight-edge-sounding hardcore to the outer limits.

Mastodon is one of Atlanta's preeminent bands and I had never quite made it to see them before. I have always dug where they were coming from, their mega-themed albums conceived on subjects like Herman Melville's Moby Dick and their new album, Crack the Skye, which has a Tsarist Russian theme. It's maybe more the concepts and originality that I admired than the actual music. (I have always been a sucker for any metal with even the slightest literary or historic reference.) So, more so than the other bands, I was truly floored by their show, which was accompanied by some mesmerizing video imagery of evil men in beards, dueling Chinese dragons, giant, Satanic-looking buckheads and lots of burning devil creatures. The band itself is bearded and coiffed like a heavy metal version of Black Oak Arkansas, as Southern backwoods metal looking as you can get. These burly fellas play some highfalutin music that is both psychedelic and gargantuan, no easy task, and manage to live up to all their hype.

Dethklok is of course the most successful band in the history of music, the twelfth largest economy in the world, just above Belgium. The animated deth metal band is the creation of Brendon Small, who previously did the brilliant animated Home Movies on Adult Swim for five seasons before coming up with the ludicrous original concept of Metalocalpyse about a dunderheaded death metal band that has become a cultural and economic force. Though the show was scheduled in the wee hours and episodes were generally eleven minutes long, Metalocalpyse struck a chord in the almost humorless universe of metal, making fun of minutia of the genre well beyond This is Spinal Tap. Rather than try to replicate the characters on the show and turn them into life-size versions onstage, which would have been not all that easy to pull off and perhaps turned out like Bear Country Jamboree, the live show is made up of subtly humorous videos, with a lot of similar imagery to Mastodon's videos or any metal videos you might see on Headbangers Ball, only with the violence and irony quotient turned way up. Brendon and his band, who look not at all like a death metal band, sounded utterly authentic aided by a fanatical audience, who shouted along to the lyrics, an almost unheard of happening at death metal concerts, and bought a lot of merch. While Mastodon's set was nearly as lengthy as Moby Dick, Dethklok kept it short and to the point, pulverizing my brain into a piece of lifeless putty.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Aside from being a great city for getting laid if you are a gay black man and a town with its fair share of potholes, independent coffeehouses and middle-aged women who smoke, Atlanta is, for whatever reason, an exceptionally fantastic city for buying food. Markets tend to be enormous, prices are reasonable and you can easily find fresh Vietnamese noodles or Manischewitz Egg & Onion matzos, if that's what you are looking for.

The best market I've ever been to and no secret to Atlantans who flock there is Your Dekalb Farmers Market (3000 E Ponce De Leon Ave, 404-377-6400) in Decatur, a massive, Costco-sized international market, which can get uncomfortably crowded on weekends. Besides a fine selection of imported cheeses, fancy crackers, Indian microwavable meals and wacky bananas, this bloated warehouse of yummy stuff produces much of the high-quality food it sells. The bakery is particularly scrumptious: red velvet cake, authentic New York rye bread, pecan-filled cookies, every type of croissant one could hanker for, hearty German breads and sugary muffins up the wazoo. There's also any type of spice you can imagine and not the weak, overpriced, not at all fragrant variety that you find at Kroger, but very reasonably priced plastic canisters of I imagine mostly imported spices of every sort. The produce section, which dominates Your Dekalb Farmers Market, is impressive in that there are three or four rows of assorted apples alone. Don't miss the salsa bar next to the deli and the crowded cafeteria with all sorts of international dishes that don't really go together. Remember to remove the baked potato from your plate before weighing it! It has its own separate price.

Your Dekalb Farmers Market (the signs say no picture taking, but I was not deterred)

Your Dekalb Farmers Market is also an odd place. You might not notice it the first time you go there, but go there every other week and you will start to be very aware of it. They do not accept credit cards. There are signs (rules) around the store that make you think the place may be owned by someone's paranoid grandpa. The weirdest of these rules is that when you buy bottles of water, the checkout person will give you a piece of tape to stick across the waters to prove that you have paid for them and are not trying to skip out with free water. Also, when checking out, don't put bags back in your cart until you've unloaded everything, unless the checkout person runs out of space and says it's OK to do that. It's not that it's oppressive at all, just weird. The majority or perhaps all of the employees are foreign and they all have name tags that state their first language, which is almost always a language I have never heard of. I believe most of them are from Africa or the Indian subcontinent. If you can't find something in the store, you're usually best off looking for it on your own as exemplified by the time I asked a couple of employees where I could find tortillas. I actually knew where the tortillas were. I wanted to ask if they had fresh rather than frozen tortillas hidden somewhere. "Tortugas?" "Tontullas?" Do you mean tomatoes?" they asked me confused. "No, tortillas" I repeated. They brought me over to another guy. "Is it a vegetable?" he asked. "Torullas?" He in turn brought me to another fellow. We were all laughing at this point. I described tortillas to the fourth employee as "like Mexican bread," after he asked me if it was a fruit. "Aaaaah," he said and pointed me toward the bakery, where there are no tortillas. This is what I imagine it would be like to ask for tortillas in Botswana.

(Update: The other day I was at Your Dekalb Farmers Market and someone approached an employee and asked "Where is the broccoli?" His response in an African accent "Boobley?")

Durians at Buford Highway Farmer’s Market

Another exceptional market in the Atlanta area with a completely different stock of international foods is the Buford Highway Farmer’s Market (5600 Buford Highway) in Doraville. Reflecting the neighborhood, the emphasis in this market is Asian and Mexican. There's also an incredible Eastern European section, which is like nothing I have ever seen in any market in this country. Many of the packages are in Cyrillic script with no explanation of what's inside. One refrigerator has a selection of caviar, while another one is filled with Latvian cheesecake kid snacks in many, not very tempting varieties (the one I bought was not edible). Nearby, there is expensive Eastern European goat cheese, all sorts of high quality chocolate with hazelnuts and the like and red pepper spreads. This market may have the wildest produce section I have seen anywhere, just all the odd Asian greens alone. Next to the produce is a panaderia that makes its own tortillas. They have an incredible selection of Mexican cheese and in the front of the market there's a taqueria that also serves boba drinks (though far from the best I've had). The most impressive part of the market is the Asian section, with aisles devoted to Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese and Korean food. Next to this, there's a large Korean deli that makes sushi, kimchi and those little fish things with eyes. On the weekend, there are a lot of samples to be had and not the usual ones (Mexican cheese, Chinese dumplings, Asian juice, crispy wafer thingies). With wood floors and piped-in classical music, this is really not your average Asian or Mexican market.

Taqueria/Boba Stand/Oven Fresh Cakes

refrigerated cheesecake treats from Latvia

A ways down Buford Highway, there is the not so different and similarly named Atlanta’s Farmer’s Market (4166 Buford Hwy NE). While a fine market in its own right (also emphasizing Asian and Mexican products), it really doesn't compare to the humongous and more varied Buford Highway Farmer’s Market. They do have an exceptional selection of bottled and canned drinks from all over the world. There is also a boba counter and a deli where you can pick up fresh Vietnamese dishes. This place has the seafood smell common to Asian markets (doesn't bother me), as does the 99 Ranch Market (5150 Buford Hwy NE # B120), part of a large national chain, down the street. The 99 Ranch Market in San Gabriel, California, is my favorite market in the L.A. area. This much smaller one is fine, but the main reason to wander in there is that it's part of one of the better Asian mini malls in the area, which has all sorts of great places to eat. I recommend the Little Malaysia restaurant (5150 Buford Hwy NE #A110, 770-455-3211).

Along with being the best place to dine in the Atlanta area, Buford Highway has many other ethnic markets worth checking out, many of which I have not explored. There are at least a couple of good Vietnamese markets including Viet Tofu (4897 Buford Hwy), which is more of a deli and has all sorts of yummy, cheaply-priced, pre-made dishes and a báhn mì counter, as well as several fine Mexican markets.

One thing that irks me about all of the farmer's markets, as well as the big chains in Atlanta, is that they only offer non-biodegradable plastic bags. Being a Jew from the Westside, I am used to hearing "paper or plastic," though I know that must be infinitely annoying for grocery baggers to say. Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and most health food stores do offer paper bags for tree-hugging Jews like myself.

Before moving to Atlanta, when my wife and I lived out in the sticks (Acworth, Georgia) for eight months, my favorite market was Harry's Farmers Market (70 Powers Ferry Rd SE) in Marietta. There's also one that I haven't been to out in Alpharetta. Several years before I started going there, it was acquired by Whole Foods Market. I believe it was originally owned by the brother of the guy who owns Your Dekalb Farmers Market. This place is airplane-hangar-sized and laid out somewhat like an Ikea. It's a long walk from the produce section to the deli. Like all Whole Foods Markets, the emphasis is high-quality, natural (whatever that means) products. In particular, Harry's has an excellent European section, a fine bakery and a massive frozen foods section with an expansive variety of frozen vegetarian and vegan selections. (I'm a vegetarian, so you won't find many comments in this article about the meat or fish departments). Though, until recently, the main draw, for me at least, was the gigantic selection of free samples available every day (different varieties of hummus, all sorts of salsa, fruit, exotic cheeses, pieces of freshly baked bread). I'll admit that once I went through the whole store sampling and didn't buy anything. I also witnessed others, kids and the like, doing the same. More often, though, I came to sample, but purchased this and that or ended up with a full grocery cart. Anyhow, last time I went there, the samples had almost completely disappeared. At the same time, they had raised their prices, which were pretty expensive to begin with, and surprise, there were not many people there. Good recession move, Whole Foods!

Harry's Farmers Market (Here, the guy said "no pictures." I guess they didn't want me to steal their secret orange recipe.)

Aside from several Whole Foods Markets, with the one in the mall on Ponce de Leon being the most popular one (excellent pizza), Atlanta also has several independent health food stores. By far the funkiest one in town is Sevananda (467 Moreland Avenue NE), where it seems that every other employee or customer has dreadlocks. Sevananda, which is a co-op, is cheaper than Whole Foods and holds many similar brands. They have a lot of good pre-made lunch stuff and the usual giant vitamins and natural health products section ubiquitous in all independent health food stores. This or the Whole Foods on Ponce are probably the best health food stores in Atlanta.

Being an Angeleno, my nipples hardened when Trader Joe's arrived in Atlanta a few years ago. It is swell to have a Trader Joe's down the street I live on, but I must admit I go there not so often anymore. The store in Midtown plays some decent new wave mixes and employees often sing along. They are really into trying to make the store fun. Though, I don't know why a Trader Joe's in the South carries several types of unsweetened, bottled tea, but no sweet tea, when they once sold excellent sweet tea that came in a milk-shaped carton. Surely, that's a minor quibble. When I'm in L.A. I go to Trader Joe's all the time. Here, though, there really are a lot of great markets with more reasonably-priced and much better cheese, higher quality bread and larger vegetarian meat sections. Really, though, Trader Joe's is still an awesome chain. I don't mean to dis.

Here's a very clever video someone made about Trader Joe's:

The most common market chains in Atlanta (which I do mean to dis) are Kroger (owned by the same company that owns Ralphs in L.A.) and Publix, both of which feature an uninspired selection of overpriced, generic food. Publix is maybe slightly more expensive, while Kroger sells more crap that's just overpriced. Their otherwise excellent health food section is mitigated by the way everything is marked up nonsensically. Whole Foods may be more expensive than both Kroger and Publix (though if so, not by much), but Whole Foods doesn't sell stinky frozen dinners or factory-made bread for $4. One positive about Kroger is that several stores are open 24 hours. Recently, though, during the late hours, when they used to have one checkstand open, they closed it in favor of having all customers ring up their own foods. Maybe I'm old school, but I always feel like they should be paying me to find the bar codes on each thing I buy.

Much worse than Kroger is Ingles Market, which is found in the suburbs of Atlanta. This is the place to find iceberg lettuce, mayonnaise, rotting cottage cheese, bread that tastes like plastic and canned beans. (In a future piece, I will be exploring, via photos, rural, mostly independent or small chain markets in the South such as Food Lion or Food Tiger.)

I really can't imagine that there's anywhere that has a better selection of markets than Atlanta, even with L.A.'s diversity, it doesn't come close.

Oops, did I forget Piggly Wiggly?