Dine out or eat in? This is the perpetual question when getting together with friends or family. The former has the benefit of being, well, easy. No dirty dishes to clean, no grocery trips, no thinking ahead. And, when you choose your restaurant wisely, eating out has the added benefit of delivering culinary experiences that can be hard to replicate at home. On the other hand, eating in offers you the opportunity to entertain in the comfort of your own home, to save a few bucks, and, more importantly, impress the pants off your guests.
The four-course meal that follows combines the deliciousness of some of Atlanta's best restaurant experiences with the pride and joy that comes from making a meal for others in your own kitchen. To start, a bowl of honey-drizzled fried goat cheese balls inspired by Ecco. Next, you'll find a version of the Spence's way-too-good-to-be-healthy kale Caesar salad. For the main course, we chose a lemony roast chicken in broth in the style of Gio's Chicken Amalfitano. Finally, for dessert, we channeled the refreshing, fruity goodness of a King of Pops tangerine basil ice pop.
I can't promise that your home-cooked meal will be an exact replica of these restaurant masterpieces. But when you see the happy faces of your friends or family as they devour the goodness you prepared with your own two hands, I think you'll find the experience equally satisfying.
The recipes that follow are my home hacks — simplified shortcuts I devised based on a quick chat with each chef. I'm not a professional chef, but I do consider myself a fairly accomplished home cook. And while I personally try to shop at local farmers markets, and frequently obsess over intricate recipes from cookbooks by famous chefs, I tried to avoid overcomplicated techniques and hard-to-find ingredients to keep this experiment relatively simple.
But, hey, if you want to make your own croutons from two-day-old baguettes or infuse your olive oil with lemon essence, go for it. You may need to borrow a tool or two — a meat thermometer and an oil thermometer, perhaps. But aside from grocery shopping, the most planning ahead you'll need to do is for the pops because, well, freezing takes time. All recipes will serve four people, so dial up or down accordingly.
To complement these classic Atlanta dishes, you'll also find suggested Georgia wine and beer pairings for each course brought to you by celebrated sommelier and all-around-drank-guru Steven Grubbs of Empire State South. We'll admit, finding Georgia wines around town can be tricky, but most local wine and package stores are happy to special order wines by request, even if it's only a bottle or two. Try Mac's Beer and Wine (21 Peachtree Place, 404-872-4897), Ansley Wine Merchants (1544 Piedmont Road, 404-876-6790), and 3 Parks Wine (880 Glenwood Ave., 678-349-7070). Bigger stores such as Green's and Tower should have you covered, too.
HELPFUL HINT: If you're preparing this entire meal, be sure to start the pops the night before. The chicken can be rubbed/marinated earlier in the day, and the Caesar dressing for the salad can be made in advance, as well. You'll be cutting it close, but you can fully cook and serve the fried goat cheese while the chicken and potatoes are in the oven. Better yet, serve the goat cheese as an appetizer, then enjoy some of the Georgia wine or beer that Grubbs has suggested while you cook the chicken and potatoes.