Have you been wondering what Twitter can do for you? 2 weeks ago I posted some comment or question about my trip to Atlanta and was instantly followed by several Atlanta tourist accounts. I had no interest in permanently following any of them, seeing as I am not in Atlanta that often, but I did check them out, which is where I discovered that TLC was featuring Atlanta’s Highland Bakery on a show called “Best Food Ever.” I immediately emailed my friend and hostess, asking her if we could check the place out, especially because I am a sucker for Southern brunch.
This is a 3 tiered review, because as it happens I ate brunch at the restaurant, I ordered baked goodies for my drive home, and I bought a bag of their milled on site cornmeal, which I turned into cornbread tonight.
First, the restaurant. I ordered sweet potato pancakes with brown sugar syrup, and while they were over the top sweet, I have to say I rather enjoyed them. I wish the sausage had been a little either spicier or sweeter, but it was good. The kids got ricotta pancakes with a blueberry compote, which was also excellent. My friend thought that their grits were the best she’d ever eaten in a restaurant–and she is a Southerner. The only drawback? We sweated through the whole meal. Highland Bakery if you are reading out there just know I would not return because it is no fun to eat hot food while you are sweltering. When I returned the next day to order from the baked goods counter it was just as hot, and I was advised to email the bakery, implying to me that it was not a freak occurrence. My friend also agreed she would not eat at the restaurant if it was frequently that hot.
The baked goods? Well, I am going to continue with the theme and say it is one thing to wait in a busy Father’s Day madhouse for baked goods–it is another thing to do it dripping sweat. I was hoping the heat had been a fluke but it was still present the second day. I got croissants, a blueberry muffin, a sweet potato biscuit and some mini lemon cupcakes. I was told the mini lemon cupcakes would be fine at room temperature, but the frosting melted and we were not too impressed with the cake. The croissants were decent. My daughter adored the blueberry muffin, and I was entranced with the sweet potato biscuit–leading me to believe that Highland Bakery’s true specialty is Southern and American homestyle baked goods. Which is fine by me. I’d cheerfully return on a less crowded weekday morning for those biscuits.
CD Dragonwagon, in her book The Cornbread Gospels, maintains that cornmeal, even in the freezer, loses its flavor quickly and should be eaten immediately. As a Northerner who likes Northern cornbread (rich, sweet) I have never noticed this to be true. I did wonder if it was why I did not like Southern (i.e., not sweet) style cornbread, so when I saw that the bakery also sold their freshly milled grains (whole wheat flour, grits, cornmeal), I grabbed a bag of the cornmeal and resolved to use it the next day (Monday, the day of this writing).
The cornmeal is white, which is traditional in the South and new to me, and it had the most wonderful quality of rustic grittiness in a fine milled cornmeal. What I mean is, it straddled the worlds of a coarse grind and a fine grind, which is really nice for cornbread. I made a CD Dragonwagon recipe that she in turn got from a North Carolinian–it is not the most basic cornbread, but it has very little sugar. It baked up almost creamy, which I am not used to. In texture it bears no resemblance to my regular cornbread. Which is not a bad thing, just different–not sure if it was the recipe or the cornmeal. John discovered he liked the cornbread without the sugar; I confess I drizzled mine with honey (don’t hate me, my Southern friends!). I would definitely make this cornbread again, because of the texture, and serve with honey. And I have more of that cornmeal left so I will try another recipe to see what made the big difference, the cornmeal or the recipe. The cornmeal itself had a decided corn flavor, which I like.
I guess my final thoughts on the Bakery are that I hope they read this review and fix their heating and cooling. Food: thumb’s up; atmosphere/comfort: thumb’s down. (Edited next day to add that I received a very nice email from the owner, who has assured me she is aware of the problem and is working to fix it. Maybe that TLC feature sent loads of extra people there, who knows; she definitely indicated their current AC was just not adequate for the increased volume of people.)
vegetable oil cooking spray
1 cup stone ground white cornmeal
1/2 cup unbleached AP flour
1 1/4 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 1/2 t sugar
2 T butter
1 cup milk
1 cup buttermilk
2 T mild vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Spray a 10 inch cast iron skillet with oil and set aside. Be sure all ingredients are ready to go on the counter as you will need to move quickly with this recipe.
Whisk together all of the dry ingredients (including the sugar) and set aside.
Add the butter to the skillet and place it in the oven. Begin working quickly as you do not want the butter to burn.
Whisk together the wet ingredients and then pour them into the dry ingredients. Fold the batter together quickly but gently–use as little strokes as possible. The batter will be lumpy–or at least mine was, just make sure it is moistened.
Remove the hot skillet and tilt it to move the butter all over the bottom. Pour the batter into the skillet and return it to the oven. Bake until the cornbread is barely browned, 23-30 minutes. Serve, hot, in wedges.