Sunday, October 31, 2010
Even more depressing than voting in California, which has had plenty of right wing kooks in power such as Pete Wilson or debased professional politicians like Gray Davis, is voting in Georgia, where it's too often a choice between one good ol' boy or another. While I still find it hard to believe that Arnold Schwarzenegger is governor of California (if Danny DeVito had been elected governor that would have been less weird and embarrassing), in Georgia governors and senators are these big, chunky, pink-cheeked manimals, often with wide ties and occasionally a flappy gray moustache. "Why would I vote for that guy?" I ask myself. "How is it possible that that walrus and I would see eye to eye on anything?"
Our current governor is Sonny Perdue, the ass-backwards mofo I just described. This year the election for governor pits Nathan Deal, the guy I described above, and Roy Barnes, a former governor and also the guy I described above (he looks like the Pappy O'Daniel character in O Brother, Where Art Thou?). In 2006, running against Sonny Perdue was Mark Taylor, that same paunchy fart bag I described above. One of Georgia's Senators is Saxby Chambliss, same fucker as I mentioned, just a crazier name. This year, the other Senator, Johnny Isakson, is cruising to reelection. He's not as beefy as some of the other guys, but he's the exact same guy. You may wonder are these politicians Democrats or Republicans? The ones who win are Republicans, but it hardly matters as the Republicans skew toward the hard right, while the Democrats are spongy Republicans. The only other choice on the ballot is the Libertarian Party, who are trying to eliminate the income tax in favor of Wall Street controlling the country (a very timely idea).
More locally, Atlanta has plenty of black people running for and holding public office, quite a few women and there's even a stray gay or lesbian who makes it as a State Representative from Atlanta. Of course, some are fine, while others are not that great like normal politicians. I'm glad that I can occasionally vote for someone that I don't despise and someone who doesn't remind me of bacon.
But otherwise voting in Georgia harkens back to the state's inglorious past. The recent Voter ID law helps to exclude anyone who might not have a driver's license or other suitable State ID with them, such as a teenager voting for the first time, a blind person, a religious sect or some other unlucky non-ID-holding person who might not vote Republican.
For elections in California, registered voters receive a sample ballot and a thick booklet from the State with information on every candidate and initiative. In Georgia, registered voters receive nothing in the mail from the State. This also seems to me to be an example of Georgia discouraging voting among the poor or minorities who might not have easy Internet access, though I don't know how it works in most states. I do know that states in the South such as Georgia have a long history of discouraging or banning minorities from voting and it would be nice if they genuinely tried to turn things around and actually encouraged people to vote. Though, that appears unlikely if the state is run by a squad of good ol' boys, who spill Coors beer on their dress shirts and smell like roasted hams.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
This is a compendium of overheard conspiracy theories and random nonsense distilled into one long rant from a guy wearing a baseball cap with a beard talking to some lady who rarely interjects a word in a wholesome family restaurant in Georgia.
"When the African bees first arrived, they were dangerous. But now they're lethal and control large parts of Northern Oklahoma. The government, or should I say Obama, trained them to kill under order of the CIA. It was written about in the Muslim Bible. Of course, you know that Obama is secretly a Muslim and wasn't even born in America. It's been provin'. He may not have been directly responsible for 9-11, but the Jews, Israel in particular, and Muslims got together with their security forces and executed this crazy plan to scare the bejesus out of America, so we can't fly on planes no more with firearms. The Jews own the banks and the Muslims own the oil. They are all in cahoots with the Democrats and Obama, who've made government bigger than ever with his healthcare reforms. Do you know that taxes next year are gonna be bigger than they ever was in Communist Russia or under Clinton? We are all going to be paying taxes out of our eyeballs and all the money will go to the banks, who will funnel it to the Muslims, who will perpetrate another 9-11 that's ten times larger and nastier than the last one. That's why I got involved in the Tea Party. They know what's what."
Friday, October 22, 2010
When I first moved to Atlanta a few years ago, the pizza scene was already formidable, with several Italian chefs opening semi-fancy establishments focusing on serious, thoughtful pizza. But in the last few years, pizza flipping in Atlanta has gotten competitive, with one owner insulting another and a new pizzeria of note to check out every few months. Now, I'd say unequivocally Atlanta has the most scrumptious and nuanced pizza I have ever eaten, better than the pizza I've encountered in Italy or anywhere else.
Before venturing into my description of each place, I will let you know my credentials and taste. I have eaten more than my fair share of pizza, at least several hundred times in Italy in most regions of the country. Contrary to the general consensus among pizzaphiles, some of the least convincing pizza I've ever had was in Naples or in Neapolitan-owned pizzerias in Italy. That signature overly chewy crust with small dollops of mozzarella doesn't do it for me. More often, pizza in Northern and Central Italy has an excessively thin crust and in my opinion, not much flavor. In Italy, I usually prefer Pizza al taglio (pizza to go by the slice), which is usually square shaped with a thicker crust and is sometimes more inspired, for whatever reason, than the pizza you'll find in a pizzeria.
My taste generally hones closer to an American concept of pizza, where the cheese, sauce and toppings are as important as the crust. Pizza should be cheesy. Los Angeles possesses one of the greatest pizzerias in Casa Bianca Pizza Pie in Eagle Rock, a checkered table cloth, old school Italian-American, family-style pizzeria, where you can wait an hour or more to land a table. Their pizza is perhaps my favorite with its oddly-cut slices, charred crust and tomato sauce intensive flavor. They do an excellent whole wheat crust. I also love Zelo, which serves a very unique, deep dish pizza made with a corn crust, in the far out L.A. suburb of Arcadia. The New York style chain Lamonica's serves fine, slightly greasy pizza that I have been eating since I was a pimpled teenager in L.A. On the one occasion that I went to Pizzeria Mozza, a fairly new, well-hyped Los Angeles restaurant serving kind of original, but not very satisfying pizza to an industry crowd, I thought their wild mushroom pizza relied almost entirely on its heavy mushroom flavor and was really a mess. I think most would agree that L.A. is not one of the most stellar cities for pizza. There are quite a few very good New York style spots in L.A., but just a handful of pizzerias that make one want to tap dance. I am not a connoisseur of New York, Chicago or New Haven pizza, thought that is something I hope to be someday. I should also mention I am a vegetarian, so pepperoni, prosciutto and Canadian bacon do not figure into my resume.
The grooviest pizza in Atlanta is no secret. Antico Pizza Napoletana (1093 Hemphill Ave. Atlanta 30318) has been written about in high-falutin publications. It is a fairly small space and on each of the three evenings I've been there it was uncomfortably crammed with people. The set up is you order first at the counter and then if you are eating there, you may receive your pizza in the large kitchen, where most of the tables are located. The pizzaioli there like to blast loud Euro dance music, opera or corny Italian-American standards. A few of the tables are actually tall cooking tables, which they seem to slowly be in the process of replacing. You sit on stools and all the tables are communal. Napkins are rolls of coarse brown paper that you might find in a high school bathroom and the pizza is messy. You will go through that coarse roll. It is one of the most uncomfortable places I have ever eaten in, but well worth it. At Antico, the crust really is something special, a delicious chewy thing, charred black in parts, much like a real Neapolitan pizza, but better than any I have ever had. Twice we have had the Pomodorini pizza, which comes with cherry Vesuvian tomatoes (the best cherry tomatoes I've ever eaten), plentiful garlic, bufala mozzarella and basil. The toppings are somewhat drippy, but everything coalesces perfectly. Three pieces in the first time and I was ready to declare it one of the best pizzas I've ever had. We've also ordered the Verdura, which comes with broccoli rabe, mushrooms, pomodorini and garlic. The broccoli rabe is a perfect topping, which I have never had on a pizza before, and the Verdura pizza is as good if not better than the Pomodorini. It has generally been recommended to eat the Antico's pizza on the spot or soon after leaving, as it apparently doesn't travel well. But despite its success, Antico seems like a place that will never be comfortable to eat in. If they haven't replaced the napkins yet, are they ever going to? I've heard it's more relaxed at times during the day.
Before Antico came along, Fritti (N. Highland Ave. NE Atlanta 30307) ruled the Atlanta pizza scene. It's a restaurant that is really the opposite of Antico. Fritti is an expensive, white tablecloth, somewhat frou-frou restaurant with a nifty wine list and attentive waiters. The menu includes several excellent salads and fried, fairly authentic Italian appetizers (from which the name of the restaurant, Fritti, is derived). The pizza menu is lengthy and experimental. My favorite is the Pizza Robiola e Pesto, a sauce-less white pizza with sweet Robiola goat cheese (normally never used but perfect for pizza), glops of arugula pesto and sundried tomatoes. This is not a pizza you would ever find in Italy, though the chef/owner, Riccardo Ullio, is an authentic Italian. I'm also crazy about the Pizza Funghi di Bosco, which comes with a generous amount of Crimini and Portobello mushrooms and a dash of truffle oil.
The Sorrentina at Fritti
The owner of Varsano's (2171 Peachtree Rd. NE Atlanta 30309), Jeffrey Varsano, opened his restaurant in Buckhead after slamming Fritti on his Web site, calling their pizza "pathetic tasteless cardboard." Varsano's is clearly not on the level of Fritti and not in the same universe as Antico, but it is another excellent, serious pizzeria. The knockout for me at Varsano's is the Carmelized Onion Pizza, which comes with sweet onions and sharp Emmenthaler cheese, a white pizza with a strong sweet flavor that is entirely original. We also ordered Nana's House Special, mozzarella with tomato sauce and a secret blend of herbs, which was very good, though straightforward. However, the restaurant lacks any ambiance and the typical Italian-American mix of music (Sinatra, "Volare," "That's Amore") was grating on the ears.
For a while, Baraonda Caffè Italiano (710 Peachtree St. NE Atlanta 30308) was my second or third favorite pizzeria in Atlanta. It has a great location down the street from the Fox Theatre. It's loud and a bit clubby with an extensive Italian menu (unlike Antico, Fritti and Varsano's, Baraonda serves pasta), as well as a cocktail menu. But after eating at all the other places I've mentioned, Baraonda dropped several notches on my list. They serve genuine, Italian thin crust pizza, but the last time we were there I thought they overdid it with the olive oil, kind of an obvious no-no. Antico has really turned the whole idea of pizza on its head. Everything else tastes slightly less good now.
To me, pizza shouldn't necessarily come with silverware or wine. Atlanta is home to some truly incredible grubby pizza places too. The best of them is Rosa's Pizza (62 Broad St. NW Atlanta 30303) downtown, which serves up the best New York style slices I've ever had. Mind you that I haven't really explored New York style pizza in New York, though like many Americans I've had hundreds of New York style slices everywhere and Rosa's blows them all away. If you arrive around lunchtime (they are open until 6 pm), don't be intimidated by the long line in a tiny confined, hallway-like space. That line moves rapidly as you yell your order to the guy who puts on the toppings. One of those guys is a somewhat charismatic fellow who replied "yeccch" one time when I ordered feta cheese as a topping. He was right. It didn't melt properly and really has no place on a New York style slice. The special is two slices with a topping and a drink for $6. Not bad. The pizza doesn't look like much before it goes in the oven, but it comes out seared and delicious. My garlic pizza was really heavy on the garlic. On one occasion, it looked like eight cloves had been heaped onto my two slices and the garlic was so overwhelmingly strong that I don't think most people would have been able to eat it. Still, it was good. Rosa's doesn't use much cheese or grease. It's just delicious, flavorful, crunchy perfection.
Rosa's on Broad St.
Another lauded New York style place is Pizza Fortunato (5350 United Dr SE Smyrna, 30082), which is in a minimall in an out-of-the-way corner of the not very convenient suburb of Smyrna. We went there because the local weekly, Creative Loafing, declared it the best pizza of 2009. The slices are huge and inundated with a very yummy red sauce. I was really impressed the first time we went there, but less so on our second trip. The dollops of bufala mozzarella were definitely not generous. However, the caprese and fried ravioli appetizer were excellent. If you unfortunately live in Smyrna (or Smyrna Queerna as I immaturely call it), this would be the place to go.
Camelli’s Gourmet Pizza Joint (699 Ponce de Leon Atlanta 30308) won't deliver to my house, even though I'm about 20 minutes away, because I'm just off their delivery map. Their loss and mine because it's again above average pizza and ridiculously dirt cheap. Two small, but good-sized pizzas with multiple toppings are $15.
I guess I should mention at least one crappy place too, though in my research they were few and far between. Savage Pizza (superhero themed) in Little Five Points is pretty disgusting, overly greasy and left me feeling awful afterward.
Nancy's Chicago Deep Dish Pizza
Of all the varied pizza choices in Atlanta, the pizza that I've most often eaten here is from the Chicago chain, Nancy's Pizza, which has a small eat-in spot in Buckhead (3167 Peachtree Rd. Atlanta) and delivers to my house from Midtown, (265 Ponce de Leon Atlanta). Nancy's makes Chicago-style stuffed pizza with layers of thick cheese and tomato sauce. The crust is subtle with a little crunch, just perfect. We always order it without toppings as it doesn't need anything extra. Nancy’s thin crust pizza, which is like kiddie pizza, is also exceptional. Both pizzas go particularly well with Nancy's yummy sweet tea, which you can buy by the liter for $3.
Atlanta's pizza renaissance is something to experience, making the city a worthy destination for pizza alone.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
I have never had any passionate feelings in regard to popsicles. But over the summer, in Los Angeles, at the first swap meet that they held in the Dodger Stadium parking lot on a uncomfortably hot day, I sampled a lime mojito flavored popsicle from an overrun vendor that was the only thing enjoyable about the swap meet. Then the other night at Flux, a yearly art event in the Castleberry Hill area of Atlanta, there was a couple of tall fellows selling sexy-flavored popsicles (chocolate with sea salt, Arnold Palmer, plum pomegranate) on the street. I bought a raspberry lime one that was exceptionally thrilling beyond all expectations. The next day one of the guys (brothers I've since read) had his King of Pops cart at the intersection of North Highland and North (where you can often find him) and everyone we could see in all directions was savoring a popsicle. There was one lady sitting with her dog who was the only person around without a popsicle. But her husband quickly showed up baring popsicles and then only the dog was without. Atlanta has a slowly emerging street food scene. There is a Korean taco truck, inspired by the Kogi trucks in L.A., which I have not yet checked out. I used to yelp "Hooray!" when I saw a taco truck on Buford Highway, but have since noticed that it is always parked in the same place and may or may not be mobile. I used to eat everyday from a taco truck at school in ninth grade. It was parked on school property. Later, I was enthralled with the large variety of street food in Bangkok. The food truck scene may have gotten a bit out of hand in Los Angeles (an $11 sandwich isn't my idea of street food), but the idea of quick fresh food, especially tacos and burritos, the sort of stuff I grew up eating, is so very appealing in the leisurely-paced culinary landscape of Atlanta.