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Smackdown Winner: Holeman & Finch
Holeman & Finch takes the prize with a charcuterie plate that is simply without fault, and delightfully Southern to boot. It is a plate that manages to be elegant and down-home, delicate and powerful, inviting and intoxicating. It is simply most excellent among a field of many excellent contenders.
Runners-up: Empire State South, Pura Vida
Not far behind, and I mean just a hair behind our winner, are two more great choices for charcuterie in Atlanta. The plates at both of these contenders brilliantly evoke the ethos of their respective restaurants. Empire State South shows a firm willingness to take risks and expand upon the traditional Southern charcuterie plate. Pura Vida's charcuterie is bold and uniquely influenced by Hector Santiago's Puerto Rican heritage and playful Latin cuisine.
Second runner-up: Abattoir
At Abattoir, where the name itself almost demands a good charcuterie program, it's a unique artistry with spice and fruit that transports you beyond the basic notion of sliced meat on the plate. We loved the country pâté, and the head cheese was a paragon of nuance and flavor, although one judge found it a tad salty.
Heading up the rear: Local Three
Now we must address the contender who fell well short of the rest. Local Three's charcuterie is frequently the subject of rave reviews from that restaurant's devoted fans. The Polish sausage certainly warrants praise, and the violet mustard is a small but smart key element to the plate. But when the competition is this tough, faults in texture or flavor are very tough to overcome, and Local Three fell short in several respects — a bland ham, an unappealing terrine, a greasy messy cotechino.
Atlanta is fortunate to have such a strong burgeoning charcuterie scene, from these restaurants that invest heavily in their programs to chefs that are trying out one or two things at a time. A year or two from now, we may have a whole slew of new competitors fighting for the crown of best charcuterie plate. Until then, we can all reap the rewards of having so many chefs in town who care about charcuterie and proudly wear the "made in house" badge.