Eating in Atlanta (After Paris)

(Published on, February, 2009)

First there’s the indisputable pleasure of spending the holidays in Paris –  the famously grey but luminous sky, the aggressive cold but also restaurants from which you emerge feeling warm and content; the markets and museums, the pleasure of simply walking in this most beautiful of cities.  And there’s nothing quite like welcoming the New Year with a few thousand other souls under the Eiffel tower with its shimmy of sparkling stars. And if you say you’re going to Paris for the holidays, everyone forgives you for not being in Sacramento or Little Rock.

But then there’s the flight home – the cramped seats, the slew of movies, the food, which is best to refuse and replace with your own stash of Paris goodies.  Once landed, customized and declared fit to re-enter, there is, for us anyway, the inevitable four-hour layover in Atlanta. This time, however, we were armed with a plan to make those hours pass less painfully than usual, for coming through Atlanta ten days earlier we had noticed a restaurant that we wanted to visit.

One Flew South is in the international terminal on Concourse E, typically the quietest terminal in most large airports. It’s easy to pass by it, which we did first time around. Like others, we came up the escalator and headed straight for the circular wine bar that stands directly in your path. It wasn’t until a salad and a glass of wine later when we turned around to leave that we noticed a rather calm looking restaurant tucked behind a wall of slatted pine boards. After taking a look inside and checking out the menu, we made a plan to pass a few hours at One Flew South on our return. 

“Yes, we know it’s easy to miss,” said the manager, Jerry Slater, “but we’re planning to do something about that.”  They’ve probably done something by now, which is good, because you don’t want to miss it. Not only is the food lovely, there’s a great bar, a clear ability with cocktails, real sushi, and for that long flight out, food to go with you.  This is a combo that could vastly improve one’s flights to faraway places, especially if you’re in coach, and sweeten one’s return, as it did ours.

While “international food with a Southern twist” as described by our waiter, aren’t necessarily words that make my heart sing (though they did in the end), others did.  Such as the Gafas Ray Ban outlet note saying that vegetables are purchased from farms (one I know, actually) within 100 miles of Atlanta, that the fish is fresh and as local as it can be, the coffee is even fairer than fair trade, that in many cases, ingredients are referenced to particular fisheries, dairies and farms – such as Enton’s bacon and Sweet Grass Dairy goat cheese.  Signs of provenance are ones I like to find in any case, but to find them in an airport – well, that’s no less than extraordinary.

We couldn’t really muster sufficient appetite for a braised pork sandwich, or breast of duck and porcini ravioli after sitting for more than eight hours. My husband, a Southerner, went for pan-roasted red snapper on a stylish round of crab-studded grits with collards and a leek cream, while I went for the salmon “hot pot style” – roasted salmon set on round of not grits, but chewy unagi rice, a broth of white miso in fish stock with a bit of cream generously surrounding rice and fish.  Both dishes were delicious and a pleasure to eat. They were just right – nourishing, invigorating and ample enough, as in not too much, food – not unlike portions in Paris, in fact. And I have to say that miso broth definitely pushed me out of my sullen airplane/airport mode into a more life-affirming mood.

“How is it you’re doing this – offering good food in an airport” I asked Jerry?

Not without difficulty, he might have answered.  He talked about how much more insurance they have to pay to be able to bring their own truck filled with farm foods into the airport, than the big corporate food trucks pay. He explained that building the restaurant required special tooling of the venting systems so that no would-be terrorist could slip through them into the kitchen.  Because the chef and cooks actually cook and need to use real knives, they had to agree to have the knives tethered to the boards so that they couldn’t be stolen, an awkward looking arrangement I thought when I visited the kitchen. (One might suppose from this that other eateries rely on using only pre-cut and pre-sliced ingredients in their kitchens.) I hadn’t noticed when we were eating because it was so normal, but the cutlery included metal knives, not plastic ones, which always makes me feel like a child trying to eat like a grown-up. When is the last time you used a metal knife in an airport? For the privilege of being able to cut your food like an adult, TSA counts the knives every week to make sure that none are missing.

There are a lot of extra hoops to jump through that the same restaurant, located outside an airport, would not have to consider. Clearly getting through them required persistence and a strong commitment to the vision on part of One Flew South’s team. But despite these challenges, the group managed to build an elegant space for travelers who wish to step away from the crush of bodies, Headline News, and the endless Ray Ban outlet reminders to control one’s bags, to enjoy a truly good meal in a calm and even beautiful spot. The long dining room mixes Georgia native heart pine with a delicate pink marble, also from Georgia, with chrome and plush, white leather seats. Facing a large mural of a green Georgia forest is a long sushi bar. There’s a smaller back bar for cocktails, and, of course, an ample seating area The slatted wood exterior wall removes one, though not quite entirely, from the airport hallways so you’re not likely to forget that you have a flight to catch, which, I can imagine, might be easy to do.

A good chunk of our layover passed so quickly and so pleasantly that it was only with reluctance that we peeled ourselves from those comfortable seats and made our way to the far more crowded Concourse B. But the next time I fly through Atlanta I know exactly where I’ll head for the inevitable layover, and even be glad for it.

I really hope that One Flew South succeeds beyond all hopes, for isn’t it what we’d like to see in all airports? —A good restaurant that maintains a real connection to local foods which, as a center for coming and goings, practically defies any idea of locale   One Flew South is an unexpectedly fine place to eat and wait out a layover. I just wish there were one in my airport, for that matter. I wonder if they would consider One Flew Southwest for their next venue? Surely white miso and red chile have a chance as partners, don’t they?


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