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Top romantic restaurants in Atlanta

You know when they talk about D-Day from WWII?  Well for an ill-prepared guy, last minute planning for Valentine’s Day is not V-Day…it’s more like D-Day.  The good news is that there are no shortage of remarkably romantic destinations in the ATL so with a little planning you can hit the jack pot.  Now heads up:  this Valentine’s Day is going to be a little tricky because even now with really a couple of weeks to go and given that it falls on a Friday, reservations at top spots are not exactly plentiful.  I say if you’re a guy and you contract up front with your significant other that you are going to do Valentine’s Day on the day before or the day after, it still should be worth points.  Or if the prime time is taken, snag the early res and hit a movie afterwards.  What I am certain is that if you wait until the last minute it will feel like you are storming the beaches of Normandy so don't wait!  So this is a cheat sheet of places to take your sweetheart around V-Day so get busy!

First let’s start with a nod to tried-and-true romatic traditions from the old guard: 

Bacchanalia—this is still my undisputed heavy weight champion restaurant in the city for romance and all the people who submit surveys that go into the  Zagat guide agree—it’s #1.  Chef Anne Quatrano is in my opinion the godmother of Atlanta cooking and the experience you get here is near flawless every time.  It’s elegant, sophisticated and knee-bucklingly delicious.  Also right below Bacchanalia is their sister restaurant, Quionnes, rocks for romance so if you can’t get into one, try the other.

There is just something about Italian food that inspires amore, no?  Sotto Sotto in Inman Park does it as well as anyone in town and there is something about the rustic Italian cooking, warm space and neighborhoody ambiance that always equated to romance for me and many others.  If you haven’t tried them before get over there.

Another tried and true big gun of the romantic scene is Aria in Buckhead. The dining room is a work of art as is the food.  Dinner there is almost hypnotic in a good way.  Top scores for food, wine and ambience there.

A lot of loyalists braced themselves when chef Kevin Gillespie left Woodfire Grill over on Cheshire Bridge to open his own space but new executive chef Tyler Williams has stepped into Kevin’s large, tattooed shoes and won’s top new chef award last year.  I was there the other night and it was firing on all cylinders.  I had the wood roasted stuffed rainbow trout with creamed kale and a—get this—gold fish cracker porridge.  Chef Tyler’s menu is full great twists like that and you will love the mix of intimacy and energy there.

And finally from the old guard, one of my favorite little hidden gems—McKinnon’s Louisiane in Buckhead.  Now McKinnon’s is real old school.  It has been open since 1972 and very little has changed.  It’s a little Love Boat, a little JR Ewing and a little Miami Vice decor-wise but I promise you it’s like falling into into a wonderful time warp with great service.  Aziz Mehram has been running it since 1979 and he is a classic Mr. Roark-type host serving New Orleans classics along the lines of Gallatoires if you are familiar with that.  

Now on to the new and and heart throbbing:  

One of the sexiest new places I have been recently is called Ink and Elm.  It’s over in the Emory Village and it’s dazzling.  Local architects Ai3 have done another marvelous job on the atmosphere.  They have a fantastic bar with a roaring fireplace behind it, a wicked drink menu and they do a great job with oysters—which of course is an aphrodisiac.

Here’s a little well-kept secret:  Tantra.  Tantra is on Peachtree St. in Buckhead next to the Imperial Fez and it’s one of the sultriest dining spaces in town.  The cuisine is from the spice route so there are influences from Perisan to Indian to the Mediterranean and lots of places in between.  The flavors are seductive and as tantra is a hindu tradition of romantic love you take my word for it this place is perfect for couples.

And finally the day it snowed was the day I picked to try Ford Fry’s newest creation St. Cecilia and I can tell you that he’s completed his incredible trifecta in less than 18 months with The Optimist, King + Duke and now St. Cecilia. This new concept takes over the vacated Bluepointe space across from Phipps.  It’s was always a stunning dining room with 50-foot ceilings but Fry’s team has transfomed it into a soothing setting to eat spectacular northern Italian cuisine.  I was particularly blown away by their pastas—I had a pansotti stuffed with roasted beets and ricotta chesse as well as a ravioli stuffed with apples and mascarpone and topped with fresh lobster that were simply transcendent.  Grab a bite there and go see a movie in the deluxe seats at Phipps.  Perfecto!

It’s Fall ya’ll and I smell funnel cakes!

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As if I needed the calendar to tell me that last week marked the first day of Fall.  What gave it was away was the roar of the crowds at local High School football games, the leaves on my maple tree starting to turn from bright green to yellow, and of course the sweet smell of yeast and dough hitting the hot oil of a deep fryer when serving up  Funnel Cakes  at all the fall fairs!  Oh yes ya’ll Fall is here!  And there is more fun than you can shake a corn dog stick at.  Whether you like apple and pumpkin picking, country fairs, or exploring the mountain leaves, you’ll have enough choices to make everyone in your caravan happy!

Apples, Pumpkins, and Corn- Oh My:  Since fall is all about celebrating the harvest, you certainly can’t ring in this season without spending a little time with the bounty!    North Georgia is brimming with farms full of fall’s harvest.  Did you know that Ellijay is the apple capital of Georgia?  So you know that they take their apple picking seriously! Hillcrest Orchards hosts the Apple Picking Jubilee throughout October.  Not only do they have every type of apple imaginable for picking, but they have plenty of activities too like train rides, a petting zoo, live music, kid’s rides, and what else, pig races!  Not far from the apples, you will find Burt’s Pumpkin Patch  and Buck’s Corn Maze.   Both are up near Amicolola Falls.  Next to first day of school photos, I can honestly say that Burt’s is easily the most popular photo op currently trending on social media!  Propping kids up on one of Burt’s huge pumpkins is a rite of passage!  Not to mention running around picking out a pumpkin, and going on the hayride is fun too!.  If you still need more fun with produce, check out Bucks corn maze which is approximately a 12 acre field of corn that has 4 miles of maze cut into it.  They also offer hay rides, and on Saturday’s, when the farm is open till 9, they offer the Haunted Maze. Check websites for times and pricing.  Don’t want to actually pick your produce? All of these farms have general stores where you can “shop” for favorites items including a funnel cake!

Fair Play—Where else do you get to see blue ribbon livestock, a bearded woman, a giant stuffed gorilla, and a nationally known country singer all while eating a  turkey leg, and of course, a funnel cake?    Why the country fair of course!  Oh yes, fill up the car, turn on your favorite music cause we’re road trippin’ to the fair! I just love these short trips to small towns around North Georgia.  Some of the must see fairs are Cumming Country Fair  happening 10/3-10/13 and the Georgia State Fair at the Atlanta Motor Speedway 10/25-11/3.  Although both of these fairs boast fun rides, carnival games, and fair food, the Cumming Country Fair will also be offering a Miss Cumming Beauty Pageant, bull riding, and a performance by Country singer Kelly Pickler.   The Georgia Sate Fair will be hosting an array of attractions from “Freak Show Deluxe” to Grizzly and Sea Lion acts and don’t forget the Rhinestone Roper…Yeah C’mon!!.  If you are more into taking in the natural surrounding and enjoying local food, beer, and crafts, check out 43rd annual  Octoberfest in Helen Georgia for beer, brats, bands and Lederhosen!    Or celebrate the discovery of gold 185 years at the  Gold Rush Days in Dahlonega, Georgia 10/19-10/20 . Points of interest are a parade, children's activities,  gold panning contest, and hog calling all with a black drop of Dahlonega’s spectacular fall colors. 

Leaf it up to you- If heading up to the North Georgia Mountains makes you think of cameo, a banjo, and a jar of moonshine then think again.  Some of the best fall colors will be on display this side of the Appalachian Trail.  You don’t have to go far either.  Just a short 40 minute drive from the city will land you at Red Top Mountain.    But take the time to head further north because the views are spectacular.  If you travel north of Dahlonega you will hit the beginning of the Appalachian Trail at Neel’s Gap-  From there you can take in the views off of the landing behind the general store or travel one of the trails to Blood Mountain.  Vogel State Park is in Blairsville just a short 2 hour drive from Atlanta.  There is a short lake loop or a longer 4-mile Bear Hair Gap Trail that makes a nice day trip, offering great mountain color and a birds-eye view of the park’s lake.  If mountain biking is more your speed, consider taking on the 7.5 mile bike trail of Unicoi State Park in addition to shorter foot trails.   Check out this Leaf Watch Guide provided by the Georgia State Parks for more details directions and suggested trails.       After a long hike, considering a little down time with a visit to one of the many North Georgia wineries. Get a complete of nearby wineries. 

Georgia never looks better than she does in the fall.  All dressed up in gold from the autumn sun and swaying her leaves to mountain music.  All I can say is don’t miss the chance to take in all that North Georgia has to offer and experience, the best part of the season,  a little Southern hospitality!

All Hail to the Pigskin Gods

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In the south, football is not just a pastime, it’s a religion.  Just like any religion it comes complete with colorful pageantry, deep rooted rituals, annual pilgrimages and, in the final minutes of a close game, plenty of praying!  Anyone who’s trekked to the annual Georgia Florida game knows what I’m talking about.    But no matter what team you are cheering for we, can all agree that the best part of this pastime is tailgating.  Here are the “10 Commandments” of good tailgating and a couple of recipes that you’ll want to add to you pre-game ritual.

  1. Thou Shall Arrive Early-  History has proven that it  ALWAYS takes longer to get to the game than you think it will.  I can’t tell you how many of my early tailgating parties were spent stressed out in gridlock trying to get to a parking space!  As a good rule of thumb it’s best to arrive 4 hours early and prepare to eat 2 hours before the game
  2. Then there was Fire….And it was good-  Is it me, or does the grill just make a tailgate? The grill harkens back to our tribal instincts….  All dressed up in our colors, sitting around a fire, and getting ready for battle!  The key to a good grilling tailgate is to prep early.  Pre make patties of hamburgers and store them with a sheet of wax paper between rows in plastic container.  Pre cut the “fixins’ like lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and cheese.  If your tailgate is a little more high-falutin, think about marinating steak and chicken skewers the night before. Since the fire’s hot, why not grill some crowd pleasing sides too like Mexican corn or Cajun vegetable.  Get recipes here. 
  3. Thou shall stock a cooler for everyone- Just like any watering hole, good times just seem to be centered around the cooler.  Try to have something for everyone in your crew AND for those  long lost friends that will inevitably stop by!  The college roommate that always ate the last cookie and left the bag will be the first friend to stop by your tailgate looking for a beer!  Try to think of the kids too and have plenty of water.  Now, a well packed cooler is a science and here are some tips and a helpful diagram- Start with a clean cooler.  Put bottles and cans on the bottom and cover with a layer of ice.  Pack foods in individual contains and cover with ice.  Any loose bags go on top.  Pack the cooler full so no warm air gets in.    With your well packed cooler, you have enough room for drinks to make everyone happy.    
  4.  Thou shall honor the team colors-  Oh yes, this is the glue that holds your entire tailgate together!   No matter what goofy side dish your mother in law brought, if it’s placed on a platter of your favorite team’s color or logo, you can bet the folks will dig in.  There are some really fun ways to sport your team colors that will have everyone cheering.   Download one of these FREE college football printables!  They are super cute, and come complete with invitations, banners, cupcake wrappers & toppers.  And did I tell you they were FREE??   Top your table off with Jello Shots and a cake in the exact color of your team.  Download icing formulas here so your UGA red doesn’t come out a crimson tide    Don’t have the creative itch?  Not to worry- pick up an inexpensive team party pack.  You’ll find everything you need from your car magnet to team tumblers here and they can be shipped to your door before game time!  
  5. Thou shall mark your territory-  Make it easy for friends to find you by attaching a unique flag or large balloon to  your car or tent.  This will make your tailgate stand out in the sea of team colored tents !
  6. Thou Shall expect the unexpected-  Whatever can happen will.  Wouldn’t hurt to throw a couple of ponchos and umbrellas in the car along with a first aid kit and some extra ice
  7. Thou shall be entertained-  Bring yard games like corn hole and ladder toss!  This is a great way to keep kids large and small happy.  Of course don’t forget the TV so you can watch all the pre-game action.  Here’s a list of dozens of fun games-  many don’t even need equipment 
  8. Thou shall be courteous and make friends-    A friend of my team is a friend indeed!  Nothing better than bonding over your team and sharing fond memories!  Be considerate of your neighbors….Who knows, you might need to borrow a cup of ice before the party’s over.
  9. Thou shall be clean- Consider packing medium plastic bins with all the plates utensils and food.  It’s an easy way to keep organize and tidy.  Bring lots of garbage bags too.  One quick clean up idea is to turn a case of beer into a cooler-  Remove the beer from the box.  Place a large garbage bag inside the box fill with bottles of beer and cover with ice.  Once the beer is gone, toss the box in the garbage. Done!
  10. Thou shall Stay late-  Ifyou did your tailgate right, you won’t want the party to end.  Whether you are celebrating a team win or mourning heartbreaking loss, why not keep the party going and wait for the crowds to leave.  If you packed enough ice there’s no reason for the party to be over.  And hey, that’s more time to practice #8, make new friends!     

OMG It’s a GNO!

In case you haven’t heard, there is a new phenomenon among women and their circle of friends.  It’s called a Girls Night Out or GNO and it’s definitely not your mother’s bridge night!  Anywhere you hear the sound of a cork being popped or the splash of wine hitting a wine glass, you can best bet there are women gathering to celebrate spending time with their girlfriends away from the pressures of everyday life.

The 30-40 something crowd has taken the GNO to a new level.  These are independent women who relish their time apart from significant others, husbands, and their kids.  These women are fun, full of life, and sassy-  No ordinary dinner and drinks will do.  Oh no, these women have taken the Girls Night Out to a whole new level.  Here are some ideas that are extremely fun, easy to do, and won’t break the bank!


  • Shop and Swap:  Like the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.  Now a days, the saying should be “mothers with a necessity for bags, invented a swap.”  This may be the greatest thing that came out of the recent recession.     The idea of a purse swapping party is that everyone brings a purse that they no longer want and swaps it out for another purse. One woman's junk is another woman's treasure.  Make a list of about 15 of your friends that you think would like to be a part of the swap, and maybe more importantly, might have a good purse sitting in her closet!  Try to encourage the women to bring a purse that they still would carry but just might be tired of.  Once a bunch of your “besties” has signed on to come, you can plan a fun menu.  Try a signature drink like a skinny lime punch-    -  You won’t be at a loss for entertainment as you watch your otherwise subdued friends act like a pack of lioness circling their prey when they lay eyes on a slightly used Tory Burch bag!  By the way, this swap idea can be used for all sorts of things-  Try gently worn clothes or shoes, or even beauty products.  


  • Paint Nite:  If you haven’t put paint on paper since the age you used a finger instead of a paint brush, then Paint Nite is a perfect idea for a Girls Night Out .  The idea behind Paint Nite is to take two popular pastimes, artistic painting and drinking cocktails and puts it in a fun social setting at local bars and restaurants.  And don’t worry if you’re not a Picasso or a Van Gogh because Paint Nite invites a local artist to offer step-by-step instructions.  Between sipping a Cosmo and giggling with your girlfriends you will have taken a blank canvas and created a completed picture that you can hang on a wall at home.  Paint Nite is happening in a variety of neighborhoods bars and restaurants all over town.  Check them out here.


  •  It’s my Party and I’ll Wine if I Want To:   So we already know that where ever women gather, the wine is sure to follow.  But here is a fun twist on a Girls night Out with wine.  Host a blind wine tasting party.  It’s not only fun to taste a variety of wines but you might be shocked to find out that the favorite wine of the evening was under $10!  Score!  So the concept is to use a theme for the selected wine like from the same region or price point or variety.  Since many of us are not wine connoisseurs, my friend kept it easy by having us all choose a wine with an animal in the name.   Ask your guests to bring two bottles.  One for tasting and one to be used as part of the grand prize.  Then put all of the tasting bottles in brown bags and number them.  Print out score cards based on look, smell, taste, finish and ask the girls to rate the wine on each category from 1-10.  The wine with the highest score wins the party and the person who brought it gets to go home with the grand prize….The one extra bottle of wine that each guest brought.  Since all the ladies will have their hands full with a glass of wine, try offering some easy finger foods so no one goes hungry. Get some easy ideas here

Women have always enjoyed spending time with one another in small groups.  Maybe it’s in our DNA from ancient days when we were gatherers.   The modern knitting bee is now the Girls Night Out and I for one am much happier that female bonding has taken a turn.  I could never knit anyway and I’d much rather laugh with my girlfriends while eying a handbag!

Hidden Gems - Outdoors on a Budget

Summer in Atlanta can only mean one thing.  It’s time to get out doors.  If you are like most people in “these parts” then you probably aren’t from here and the idea of spending long amounts of time outside might bring to mind a scene from “Deliverance”  But as a native of Atlanta, I have found some great ways to explore our fabulous southern surroundings for less than the cost of large sweet tea!

  • The Swimming Hole:  There are a ton of natural swimming holes all around Atlanta and the surrounding areas.  One that is easy to get to and is pretty popular is Vickery Creek at Old Roswell Mill Park.   Vickery Creek is part of the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area park, and it is a tributary of the Chattahoochee River.  Vickery Creeks’ popularity comes from the small waterfall that runs over a historic dam and the 19th century cotton mill.  Enter the park through a trellis at the Old Mill and take a path to stunning lookouts, a picnic area, relics of the mill’s hydropower equipment and the dam. Enjoy the sounds of the waterfall, the warm sun, the shallow millpond for cooling off and large flat rocks for sunbathing. In addition there are  miles of hiking trails.  Want more? Visit 
  • Pickin’ and Grinin’:  Summer time just conjures of the imagine of blackberries sliding down the side of a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Just crack open any summertime issue of Southern Living and you will see what I mean!  Blackberries are plentiful and easy to pick. Last weekend while spending some time in Lawrenceville,  I found a wild thorny thicket bursting with the berries and managed to pick a pint.  Blackberries grow wild all around Georgia but if you need help find a spot, check out the map of where to pick berries from Concrete Jungle.  This website is great for showing where fruits are  growing naturally in  Atlanta and  to show places to pick blueberries., blackberries, peaches and plums just to name a few.   
  •  It’s the Wheel Thing:  Everyone knows that traffic in Atlanta can be epic.  Take a road less traveled and find a bike trail.  Over the past 20 years Atlanta has done a great job of growing the number of trails and bike paths throughout the 16 county Atlanta metropolitan area. This has really helped to take biking off busy streets and into more protected areas.  The Silver Comet Trail ( begins 13 miles west of Atlanta in Smyrna and runs more than 61 miles westward to the Alabama border.  Another popular trail runs through the city beginning at the Carter Center and runs more than 19 miles to Stone Mountain.  Peachtree City has a 90-mile path system that not only accommodates bicyclists but also golf cards and walkers.  Check out The Path Foundation for path and trail details. 

Try something different this summer and step into the wonderful world happening outdoors all around Atlanta.  You will not only find some hidden gems but you will also make memories that will last a lifetime. 


Paddling the Etowah River in Dawsonville, GA

Just a few miles east of the Outlet Mall extravaganza in Dawsonville, Ga, awaits a serene 9 mile section of the Etowah River that flows through the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area owned by the City of Atlanta.

Like on many north Georgia rivers, Great Blue Herons, wild turkeys, and Kingfishers are frequently spotted as well as deer, Wood Ducks, Red-tail Hawks, and occasionally otters and beavers. Anglers have also reported excellent fishing for River Catfish, Red Eyed Bass, and Bream.


Quick Facts:

  • The Etowah River runs for 164 miles beginning northwest of Dahlonega, Ga and eventually flowing into Lake Allatoona.  
  • A popular day trip (approx. 4 hours) is a 9 mile run that travels through the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area. You can split this trip up by opting for primitive camping in the forest.
  • Put-in:  From Atlanta, take GA 400 North to the North GA Premium Outlet Mall in Dawsonville. Turn left onto Dawson Forest Road. Drive 4 Miles to Highway 9 and turn right. The put in is 1/5 mile ahead on the left. Parking is free and the park offers a nice boat ramp, restroom facilities and picnic table.
  • Take-Out: On Highway 9, drive South 1.6 miles. Turn right on A.T. Moore Road, go about 1 mile and take slight right on Kelly Bridge Road. Continue for 6 miles until you cross the bridge over the Etowah and park in field on the right. There is a very nice boat ramp making the take-out easy. This is private property and requires a $3 fee per person – envelopes available at the gate.

**Download map and helpful information brochure from DawsonCounty.Org


Visit the Georgia Forest Commission website for more info about camping.


Appalachian Outfitters – Rents canoes, kayaks and sit-on-tops. Please call 706.867.7116 or 800.426.7116 to make a reservation.

The Outside World - Retail and rental equipment available. Phone: 706-265-4500


Often the locals will refer to the “radiation caves” located along the river. In the 1950’s this area was owned by the U.S. government who had a secret nuclear facility on the property. You can still see the remaining bridge abutments and hot cell building.  Read more about the history and urban legends.

This Youtube video includes pictures and maps of the facility.


Things to do: Chestatee River

Whether you enjoy paddling, tubing or fishing – many recreational options await you less than an hour from Atlanta.

The Chestatee River in Dahlonega, GA is a favorite for first-time or seasoned paddlers. If boating isn’t your thing you can always take a tube float or try some fishing. The river features some beautiful scenery, fun Class I & II rapids and is teaming with wildlife. Blue herons, wild turkeys, and kingfishers are frequently spotted as well as ospreys, otters and occasionally beavers.

Quick Facts:

  • The Chestatee River is a major tributary of the Chattahoochee River, which begins at the confluence of Dicks Creek and Frogtown Creek in northern Lumpkin County and continues for 50 miles where it eventually spills into Lake Lanier.
  • A popular day trip (approx. 3 hours) is a 6 mile run that travels around a mountain with put-ins and take-out located along Highway 19/60.  From Atlanta, travel north on Georgia 400 until it ends in Dahlonega then turn right on Highway 19/60. map
  • Take-Out: Located on Highway 19/60 about ¼ mile north of Georgia 400. This is a new facility offering plenty of free parking, complete with bathroom and changing areas.
  • Put-in: Highway 19/60 about 3 miles north of the take-out. Parking information listed under the outfitter listings.Alternate Put-in @ Highway 52: From the put-in head north on Hwy 60 then east on Highway 52. The road for the put-in is located on the right before the bridge. This adds another four miles to the trip if you take out just north of Georgia 400. Putting your crafts in the river could prove a little challenging due to the very steep incline. After you put in, you will paddle through residential areas and a golf course – be wary of flying golf balls.


Chestatee River Adventures – Catamarans (aka angler kayaks) $25. Tube rentals $5. Shuttle service for your personal craft - $5. Parking is also available for $5 – please call 770-540-9950 for more information. Appalachian Outfitters – Tube rental $6, kayaks and canoe rentals - $28-$48. Shuttle Service $10. Please call 706.867.7116 or 800.426.7116.


Want More Adventure? Class II+ rapid action happens in the upper section of the Chestatee near Turners Corner – to learn more visit American Whitewater

Cheers! States with the biggest beer drinkers

24 sensational sand sculptures

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