Cakes and Ale–NOT to be mistaken with Steak & Ale–is my favorite restaurant in Decatur, GA, and probably in all of Atlanta. It’s located in downtown Decatur (Atlanta’s sister city) and owners Billy and Kristin Allin use a lot of produce from their own garden. But all is not virtue–they also have a deep fryer. The name of the restaurant comes from a Shakespeare quote, something about how one is allowed to eat cakes and ale and still be a good person. I am mangling the quote, perhaps, which reminds me of a time in high school when my friend’s mom said to her daughter (my friend) “Me doth think thou protest too much,” and my friend’s father seconded the notion, saying, “Me doth think, me doth think, hell, me doth think the same damn thing!”
But where was I? Oh yeah. Cakes & Ale. Last night I went there with Alan and my parents, to toast the release of A Soft Place to Land. We did so with a bottle of J sparkling wine, which was crisp and dry and bubbly, and ate lots of appetizers, including trout dip and arancini. The trout dip looks like tuna salad, but its flavor is smoky and intense, a little sharp even, but mellowed by creme freche, mayo, and fresh grapefruit juice. Billy mixes some fresh herbs in there too, which tempers the smoky crab. And then the arancini, which is Italian for orange, or something like that. (Perhaps little orange balls?) This is metaphoric. There is no orange in an arancini. Instead it’s a ball of risotto, stuffed with mozzarella cheese, deep fried, and rolled in fennel pollen which gives it an almost citrusy finish. They are crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, but with just a little chewy give from the risotto, and then there is melty cheese in the center. Can you imagine how perfect one tastes with a glass of sparkling wine?
Back to “me doth think the same damn thing,” I overheard an older southern man at ye olde neighborhood bookstore, buying a second-hand country cookbook. He said to the clerk, “Might be some of my grandmama’s recipes in there,” and I thought about how important that must be, when you are older and your grandmoms are gone (I say this like it is far away from me, all but one of my grandparents are gone) to have links to who they were, and who you were, as a child. After the clerk rang up the older southern man he said, “I thank you,” real casual. Isn’t that nice? The almost Shakespearean language of the old-time rural South?