A travelogue about what I did on my first trip to a new city since 2019.
The invitation came from the Smithsonian and I’m very flattered by the attention of public institutions: That’s how I ended up in Atlanta for a weekend in early June. Okay, and I also hadn’t traveled to any new places since 2019. It’s an obvious perk of this job, to get to go places I never thought I’d go, that I would’ve never thought to put on a list if I had one. (I don’t, and am perhaps too content to go wherever life decides to send me.) Atlanta certainly fell under the rubric of “will likely never visit,” which is not me talking down about the city; it’s just me being realistic. For the reason of novelty and for the reason that Atlanta certainly defied expectations, I am very happy that I’m a person who goes wherever—’cause why not?
The invitation was about joining a panel titled “Feast of Reason” at the lovely Atlanta History Center, where there was a whole day of historically minded festivities and a beautiful chalk painting of Sylvia Rivera, among others, curated by Made By Us to kick off their Civic Season, an effort to get younger people more engaged in history, ideally with an eye toward the complications that entails. (Of course, I was not happy about the presence of Mars Inc. chocolate, but I too am recognizing the complications that existence entails.)
There were a lot of great food options from local businesses, including the delicious vegan tacos of Calaveritas. My fellow panelists included Vanessa García Polanco, who works in policy with the National Young Farmers Coalition; Brain Yazzie, an indigenous chef focused on native foods based in Minneapolis; Abiodun Henderson of Gangstas to Growers; and fellow writer Carlos Olaechea. It was a diverse group, each with different expertise, experience, hometowns, and concerns.
I’m not sure I said anything worthwhile during this event, though I was wearing a Batsheva x Laura Ashley dress that signified seriousness to me. (It’s also important to me to lean into feminine frivolity, as it rankles male academics and I always want to rankle them.) I felt pretty terrible the entire weekend, as the pollen there infested my sinuses and the allergies I can usually temper exploded into a full-blown upper respiratory episode, thus I spent the hour-long conversation simply hoping I could get through each of my replies without sneezing or coughing and sending everyone running. (I don’t know how I keep traveling without catching COVID, but I do—knock on wood. I obviously wear a mask in airports and on planes, though, so consider that a revolutionary public health tip.)
Per usual, the best part of going to a new place was hearing from all the people who live there about where they like to go and building my Google Maps list. (Find the map for Montreal here; San Juan and New York City forthcoming.) That’s my strategy for visiting a new place: Ask, field the answers, build a map, research, and figure out my non-negotiables—the places I must go. Everything else is based on checking the map wherever we end up.
I always want to eat, obviously, but I also need to go to the town’s big art museum. In Atlanta, that was the High Museum of Art, which did not disappoint. Their permanent collection turned me onto the still-lifes of Blas de Ledesma, and they have a 1984 Basquiat piece I’d not seen before. Across the street is the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA), which had an exhibition on eco-friendly design around the world titled “Full Circle: Design Without End” that introduced me to the concept, via Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, “hedonistic sustainability”:
The Hedonistic Sustainability concept also emanated from the foundation of pragmatic utopianism. The hedonistic preposition seems to contradict with the main idea, which is sustainability. This concept can be expressed using the term "extravagant while saving." This concept is against sustainability, which denotes that living sustainably is a sacrifice (investment) for the greater good. Ingels and BIG are active in defining urban scenarios, bringing concepts related to society, economy, and ecology to create synergies between sustainability, community needs, and spectacular design.
We stayed at the Wylie Hotel, which was lovely, and it was very close to the Ponce City Market. I had received mixed reviews on this massive food hall and mall, but I did want to check out La Rayia’s Bodega, an Afro-Boricua and vegan spot, which makes excellent juices including a pineapple, turmeric, and ginger one that soothed my rough sinuses. There’s also El Super Pan, a Latin stall that serves a smoked tofu Cubano. All in all, the vegan and vegetarian options in Atlanta are abundant and good, which was really cool to find out and experience.
The non-negotiable dinners for which I made reservations weeks in advance were both wildly good and quite different. On Friday, it was Little Bear, which might seem predictably hip, with its cheeky wine tasting notes and lack of stemmed glassware, but it is not to be missed. The four-course prix fixe for a quite reasonable $45 gave us a taste of different menu dishes made vegetarian, like the most fabulous and fresh salad in Chinese hot mustard dressing and an incredible sweet and sour cauliflower. After dinner, we headed back toward the hotel but stopped off at a big divey bar called The Local where we had some beers and I sang along to all the songs they played, leading to me spending the rest of the weekend with “Sheela-Na-Gig” stuck in my head.
Saturday was for Lazy Betty, which was decidedly more fancy (with the prices and stemmed wine glasses to match). We did their six-course vegetarian tasting menu and definitely got blitzed by the great wine pairing, but the food was really fabulous: an onion tart with roasted onion mousse, char siu eggplant, grilled king trumpet mushrooms with roasted mushroom demi-glace, a white chocolate mousse with cherry gel. It was all those fine dining things—the foams, the gels, the tiny servings, etc.—but not stuffy; we ate outside in the strip mall parking lot with a train passing by and were just delighted by everything, as was everyone around us. Certainly a special occasion spot, and our special occasion was that we had no idea whether we’d ever come back to Atlanta again.
By Sunday after the panel, I had completely lost steam thanks to my sinus issues and ordered some Chinese delivery that hit the spot and comforted me when I needed it to. Mixed vegetables in garlic sauce with white rice, plus egg rolls: my preferred sick food.
It was invigorating to get to travel somewhere new again, and gave my brain the recharge it needed even if it did clog up my skull.
When we arrived back, my new glasses were ready after weeks of waiting and not doing much work owing to eye strain issues, and now my sinuses are healed: I’m back to full power, with new inspiration—and thank God, because I have a lot to get done!
There won’t be a new recipe this Friday because I’d planned to take this week off—consider this a bonus piece! But you can always: See the recipe index for all past recipes available to paid subscribers.
For Bon Appétit, I wrote about why Eleven Madison Park’s transition to a vegan menu hasn’t been as seamless as its previous rise to glory.
THIRSTING FOR LITERATURE and so I’ve begun Tove Ditlevsen’s The Copenhagen Trilogy.
The usuals: marinara, lo mein with mushrooms and steamed bok choy, fried okra. Above, salad from Little Bear.