Food Trucks at Work Picnic Make for Pleasant Wednesday

As the saying goes, there are no free lunches, but at least I didn’t have to pack one for Wednesday. As a small gesture of thanks for the long hours and anxiety recently visited upon my workplace, NTT Data Consulting, Inc. was kind enough to arrange for two food trucks to come by our Preston Highway location in Louisville and feed the peckish staff.

There’s nothing like a big dose of comfort food to calm nerves and ground one to endure the back side of a long week. On tap for the main course was The Kentucky Taco Company, while Sweet-N-Savory Lou provided dessert options.

After a brief town hall celebrating the wonderfulness of our staff’s efforts to achieve certain stated goals, down to the side parking lot I went at 11:15 with my allotted blue and yellow tickets in hand. Two tacos were allowed and I quickly made that call.

Fried chicken is always welcomed, but offer it soaked in buttermilk and hot sauce before frying, nestled on a bed of Mac+Beer Cheese, topped with pickles and smoked ranch tomatillo sauce, all wrapped together in a warm flour tortilla, and I’m your huckleberry.

An obvious second selection was the shredded BBQ Chicken Taco, served over coleslaw, topped with pickles & smoked ranch tomatillo sauce. Another popular offering was the Sloppy Joe Taco, and there was the vegan-friendly BBQ Sweet Potato Taco.

Even though we were deployed in waves to descend upon the purveyors, it was a robust 45 minutes standing on asphalt out in the July sun to get through the line to place an order and pick that sucker up before retreating back inside climate control. I’m happy to report that no one melted.

A couple of us put a solid strategy into play. After placing our entrée orders we visited the dessert cart. At Sweet-N-Savory Lou there were options such as a strawberry and banana smoothie, or various flavors of chilled gelato to choose from, both appealing selections on such a hot day. But the crepes sold themselves at first sight.

Each paper-thin circular pancake was freshly prepared, with a choice of sliced strawberries or bananas to go in the middle, and a drizzle of either white chocolate or Nutella. I had to go with the banana & Nutella. It rocked!

With dessert in hand, it was a mere five minutes later my number was called at The Kentucky Taco Company for pick-up. I must say both tacos were hefty. The BBQ Chicken Taco had a distinct weight when picked up. There was no getting gypped with this baby. The barbecue sauce could have used a slight bit more pop perhaps, but it mixed beautifully with the smoked ranch tomatillo sauce.

The Fried Chicken Taco might not have tipped the scale equally, but it had a denseness. The chicken and tomatillo sauce mixed sublimely with the Mac+Beer Cheese. This meal also came with a side, so I felt obliged to get a serving of the standout Mac+Beer Cheese. It was serious stuff.

All was tasty. Staying awake after such a lunch turned out to be the biggest challenge for the remainder of the afternoon. Many thanks to The Kentucky Taco Company and Sweet-N-Savory Lou for coming to our location, and to NTT for hooking up its stressed out employees.

The Kentucky Taco Company | Twitter or Instagram @KyTaco | 405.459.8226

Sweet-N-Savory Lou | Twitter or Instagram @SweetNSavoryLou | 502.609.7072

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2017 Forecastle Music Festival Offers Variety

If you dig music and are looking for a weekend out of the house, snag a ticket to the Forecastle Festival in Louisville. Some 60 alt-rock, hip-hop and EDM bands are playing over three days at Waterfront Park on the banks of the Ohio River.

Tickets remain available. General admission 3-day passes are running $189.50; single day tickets are $79.50; and 3-day VIP passes are $424.50. That is face value, and at this point the costs are at the peak tier-level pricing. If you are a possible last-second attendee, like myself, do not pay the full ticket amount, unless cost is no issue and convenience is the top priority.

I’m interested but only at a specific price point. Investigate the secondary ticket market on Craigslist or similar sites for discounted admission. A quick peruse revealed plenty of general admission 3-day passes for $100-$150. Those prices will drop later in the afternoon as folks want to make their way in for headline acts this evening.

The fastest and cheapest way to score tickets is to go hangout by either of the main entrances. Have the max amount of cash you’re willing to pay in hand, and there will be plenty of folks trying to enter who either bought an extra ticket or had a friend flake out at the last-minute. They want to go in and are now motivated to move that ticket for a fraction of its face value.

Forecastle is big business in Louisville. An estimated $20 million is expected to be pumped into the local economy this weekend, which is impressive considering it’s not that large an event. It usually draws 60,000 people over three days, which is about the size of a single football game crowd.

With some 65 percent of festivalgoers traveling from out-of-town, hotels, restaurants and drinking establishments, especially in the downtown area, will be packed all weekend.

It will be interesting to see the attendance figures for 2017 Forecastle. Many festivals this year are seeing a lag in attendance figures that industry observers have characterized as “festival fatigue,” resulting from a oversaturation of the genre with duplicative events and overlapping talent.

Make no mistake, Forecastle is no Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, or Coachella. It can’t offer that level of star power, but it’s the biggest musical event in Kentucky, and because crowd size and talent costs are kept lower, Forecastle is amenity-laden and the organizers take kind care of attendees.

For high schoolers and college cool kids Forecastle is a proverbial no-brainer. It’s summer, the sun is shining, music is playing, liquor is abundant, and there are hotties of both sexes scantily clad everywhere. Forecastle is a party and a hook-up waiting to happen.

For those 30 and up additional variables must be considered. There is a big chunk of Forecastle attendance that is above 30, that has discretionary cash to afford higher-priced tickets, but they have competing interests for their weekend attention.

The 2017 lineup is not an immediate eye-catching affair. There are moments of gratuitous excitement, like Bowling Green (KY) natives Cage the Elephant on Friday at 7:45PM on the Mast Stage. That will be a hot, high energy set. There’s also Odesza, Run the Jewels, GRiZ, and Waka Flocka Flame, but it’s spotty across all three days.

I’m particularly interested in the Saturday night headliner, LCD Soundsystem. Never had a chance to see them and love how they cook up their layered sound with actual instruments into a frenzied dance scene. Other notable acts Saturday are Kentucky’s Sturgill Simpson, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Ages and Ages, Phantogram and Vince Staples.

Attending Sunday is always rough, as the heat eventually starts to take a toll, there’s never enough sleep, and the Monday workday will come early. That does not help possible attendance for Weezer, who will close out the Fest. I was unimpressed by their performance at Voodoo Fest in New Orleans, finding them pretentious and sophomoric. You be the judge.

I would put my money on Spoon delivering a memorable set. Also watch out for PJ Harvey, Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires, Foxygen and STRFKR.

What I will say about this lineup, and this holds true at every Forecastle to their credit, the talent managers do an excellent job of selecting the early and mid-level bands. Inevitably there will be acts you’ve never heard of that deliver mind blowing sets. Do a little homework beforehand checking out the bands and open yourself to unexpected experiences. It will serve you well.

For the uninitiated, Forecastle is a visual treat. There are plenty of folks wearing themed costumes, and giant puppets are regularly traipsing across the grounds. There’s plenty of native Kentucky spirit to sample in the Bourbon Lodge, and feel free to channel your inner Hunter S. Thompson at the Gonzo Bar. If the heat gets too much take a dip in the canal waterways, or get super freaky between sets at Party Cove.

For those still desiring tuneage after the stages have gone dark Friday and Saturday night check out the Forecastle late shows at Headliners, Mercury Ballroom and aboard the Belle of Louisville. They all start around midnight.

Party safe and happy sailing!

FORECASTLE FESTIVAL | July 14-16 | Waterfront Park | Louisville, KY

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Fried Chicken & Hot Water Cornbread at Shirley Mae’s Café

I’ve been trying to visit Shirley Mae’s Café for a while now. The fried chicken from this legendary soul food purveyor is routinely ranked as one of the top in the nation. But I’m mostly over in Louisville for work, and since Shirley Mae’s is only open Thursday-Sunday, our schedules have never quite jived for me to sample the comfort cooking from this notable establishment.

Finally I made a commitment to venture over for a Friday lunch. Located in Louisville’s historic Smoketown neighborhood, Shirley Mae’s can be found inside a clay-brick building that dates to 1880 on the corner of S. Clay & Lampton Streets.

Nestled in the heart of the oldest African-American community in Louisville, this former residence housed a grocery store beginning in 1910, before it became the J & H Food Bar in 1946. This remained one of the premier bars for minorities in Louisville, attracting celebrities and sports figures like Redd Foxx, Della Reese, Quincy Jones, Cassius Clay and Joe Louis, until its conversion to Shirley Mae’s Café in 1988.

The smell of pork ribs on the sidewalk grill may be the first thing to grab your attention. It’s fired up rain or shine to slow-cook slabs over a hickory soaked flame.

Inside is more functional than fancy. This is a down home kind of place, and has that lived in look with its mismatched tables, chairs, and booths. Cookbooks and magazines sit behind the bar, with framed photographs of famous guests like Morgan Freeman and Whoopi Goldberg hanging above, while University of Louisville memorabilia is tucked about throughout.

Shirley Mae Beard in her cafe’s kitchen doing her thang.

It’s no museum but does reflect the passage of time and has a history to it. It has a soul. Don’t worry about pretense, none is required. This simply is the genuine article. Shirley Mae Beard, along with Chef Theresa, her daughter, prep and craft every menu item fresh from scratch each day their doors are open.

“I don’t like anything artificial. The way I cook takes some time, but cooking is a waste of time if you don’t do it right,” said Shirley Mae.

My buddy Thomas and I took seats at the time-worn bar. I was afraid we might be limited to sweet tea and soft drinks, but no ma’am. Continuing its roots as a bar, Shirley Mae’s is full service. Domestic beers are $2 and imports are $3, including Bourbon Barrel Stout, a local favorite.

There’s wine and wine coolers. Take your pick of liquor for mixed drinks: lower shelf is $5 and premium is $7.  I love that Shirley Mae’s offers Kool-Aid, grape or cherry, which is perfect to mix with the available Moonshine.

I went with a chilled Colt 45, channeling the Billy Dee Williams/Lando Calrissian flavor, as I looked over the menu.

These are true Southern classics: Fried Chicken Wings; Fried Fish; Meatloaf; Smothered Pork Chops; Ham Hock; Pig Foot (or Trotters); Barbecued Spare Ribs; and Shirley Mae’s one of a kind Chitterlings.

Only available on Sunday is the Chick’n & Dress’n Special (Baked Chick’n and Cornbread Dress’n for $13). There’s also a “Blue Sunday” Happy Hour, 8PM-11PM.

What you seriously don’t want to miss out on is the Hot Water Cornbread. That stuff is dope! The best move is to embrace the Lunch Special – choose a meat, two sides, and two pieces of Hot Water Cornbread for $10. It’s available ’til 3:30.

I ordered the giant Fried Chicken Wings (comes with four full wings), Fresh Turnip Greens (pork), and Real Potato Salad. It was all sick good. The wings were seasoned, moist, and pan-fried to a golden crispy perfection; the greens were cooked down with just the right tartness to be offset by the pork juices; and the potato salad was creamy and robust (which isn’t easy to find in these parts). I was so pleased I ordered another round of the wings and Hot Water Cornbread to-go.

Drop by this quaint restaurant on South Clay Street and sample any of Ms. Beard’s heavenly creations. Do save room for her jaw dropping blackberry cobbler, and share a conversation with the warm folks who put in the time and work to make Shirley Mae’s Café a living piece of history.

SHIRLEY MAE’S CAFÉ | 802 S. Clay Street | Louisville, KY | 502.589.5295

Hours: Thursday-Saturday 11AM – 9PM; Sunday 11AM – 11PM | CASH ONLY

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A Creole Casserole to Tame the July 4 Masses

I trust everyone had a pleasant July 4. It was a bit of an odd duck, being it fell on a Tuesday. It just felt bizarro going from the weekend, to working Monday, to off Tuesday, and then back at it come Wednesday. Weather was an issue in Central Kentucky. It was overcast and rained through the morning before giving way to clearing skies in the early evening.

My crew headed to a family gathering in Simpsonville. About 20 of us drove over from Frankfort and Louisville for a pool party of sorts and barbecue. What you had to keep in mind is that it could storm the whole time and the outside patio and pool would not be available to spread out the herd. That’s a lot of folks, a lot of kids, and a bunch of cats & dogs all cooped up indoors for the day.

My thinking was this situation called for a stronger beverage than beer or wine. An alcohol infused punch could work, something sweet and fuzzy – with as much liquor as the mixers could hide.

Being I reside in Kentucky, I find it best to stick to bourbon-based beverages whenever possible. Maker’s Mark, out of Loretto, KY, has a sunset cocktail that will knock your socks off.

Take a tall glass and fill with ice. If it’s slightly crushed or comes in small pieces that’s even better.

Pour 2 ounces of Maker’s Mark Kentucky bourbon over the ice.

Take plain orange juice, no extra calcium or pulp, preferably Tropicana or Minute Maid, and add 4 ounces juice to the glass.

Top with an ounce or two of club soda. Canada Dry or Schweppes is preferred.

Finish it with a couple dashes of Angostura Bitters. If you don’t make Old Fashioned or Manhattan cocktails, bitters might not be in your everyday arsenal. They are easy to get, any Kroger or similar supermarket stocks this item for like $7.

Pour assembled ingredients into a cocktail shaker and deliver it back to its original glass.

There you have a Maker’s Sunset. But wait, this was the Fourth of July. Shouldn’t there be some rockets red glare? I tasted my concoction and thought on this day it could use a little something extra, so I added a capful of Rose’s red grenadine.

Now my glass was all kinds of festive with its orange and red colors. To make a potent pitcher of this calming elixir dispense 10 ounces of Maker’s Mark; 20 ounces of orange juice; 10 ounces of soda; a good 10 or so dashes of bitters; and 1-2 ounces of Rose’s Grenadine Syrup (red).

This sufficed in getting my patriotic juices flowing. Next was to do some cooking. We were grilling dogs and brats with the usual side dishes, so I wanted something heavy as a co-main course.

I pulled the base for this Crawfish Creole Casserole recipe off the back of a Boudreaux’s Crawfish Tail Meat package. Walmart sells 12 ounce frozen packages for $7.98. I thought it made a solid base to cook from, that sounded tasty and required a bit less chopping and prep work.

I needed to do some shopping beforehand:

12 Ounces Crawfish Tail Meat (thawed); 1 1/2 Cups Instant Rice (uncooked); 1 Sweet Onion (chopped); 1/2 Green Pepper (chopped); One 10.5 Ounce Can Tomato Soup; One 8 Ounce Can Tomatoes (diced); 2 Tbsp Cooking Oil; 1 Tsp Worcestershire Sauce; 1 Tsp Frank’s Red Hot Sauce.

Combine all ingredients and place in a casserole dish. Cover and bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes. Serves four.

Wham-Bam that was the recipe. I understood the gist but was unclear how some of this would turn out yet…

First, I got the crawfish tails from Walmart. I grabbed Uncle Ben’s rice. I prefer a Vidalia onion when available, which July is a great time to find them at the grocery. Use a sweet onion otherwise. One green pepper. One standard can of Campbell’s condensed soup. Have olive oil if possible instead of vegetable oil. Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce. I like using Frank’s Red Hot Original sauce to add heat to this kind of dish, but Tabasco, Crystal, Louisiana or Texas Pete will get the job done. Lastly I snagged a 14.5 ounce can of Hunt’s Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes.

Part of what I love about Creole and Cajun cooking, aside from the deliciousness, is the latitude within the recipes to tweak measurements and personalize a dish to individual preferences, or accommodate, say a 14.5 ounce can of tomatoes instead of 8 ounces.

The more flavor that can be added the better, because it will need to stand up against all the rice and be able to project satisfaction into each mouthful. With this idea in mind I made a few other modifications that I think took this dish to the next level.

We have two legs of the Holy Trinity already included, onions and green peppers, might as well add 2 stalks of fresh celery (chopped).

What goes great with crawfish? Sausage! Find 1 pound of Cajun sausage. I used Conecuh. They do a Cajun and a smoked sausage, either will work. PicPac in S. Frankfort stocks this brand. Andouille sausage from behind Kroger’s meat counter would be a solid alternative. Johnsonville and Aidells do a Cajun-style andouille that is acceptable and can be found near the hot dogs in Kroger.

You will need 3 Tbls of a good Creole Seasoning, something not too salty. I make my own with the following: 5 Tbls Smoked Paprika; 1 Tbls Ground Black Pepper; 1 Tbls White Pepper; 1 Tbls Cayenne Pepper; 1 Tbls Dried Thyme; 2 Tbls Garlic Powder; 1 Tbls Dried Oregano; 1 Tsp Salt; 1 Tsp Chile Powder; and 1 Tsp Onion Powder.

Butter makes everything better, so let’s drop in half a stick; 2 1/2 Cups Chicken Basics Chicken Stock; and 2-3 Tbls Holland House Cooking Sherry.

My questions as I pulled this together were whether there would be sufficient liquid to bring the instant rice to life? Do I add the condensed soup straight out of the can or turn it into soup first by mixing in water?

I found out after this was in the oven that there was NOT enough liquid involved to make this all go. I triaged that by adding stock to the pan after it was assembled in the oven. By cranking up the temp and cooking it longer I managed to produce a finished product that was outstanding, but there was anxiety for a moment when the rice and vegetables were a tad crunchy to serve.

From here on out I will give the steps necessary to make this dish successfully.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. You are going to need a large mixing bowl to combine the ingredients together and a big baking pan, like a lasagne dish or Dutch oven to fold the casserole into from the bowl.

Several folks helped chop vegetables, as I was making a double batch of this casserole to feed my crew. Add 2 tbsp of olive oil to a cast iron skillet or other large, deep sided pan, and half a stick of butter; get that melted and hot; slice and quarter the sausage, then sautée in a skillet till browned (this will expose all the juices from the meat); spoon out the cooked sausage with a slotted spoon, leaving in the skillet the oil, butter & debris (those charred bits of critter are intense flavor crystals).

Place the chopped onions, green peppers and celery into the skillet with a 1/4 cup of chicken stock; let that simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes or so until the vegetables begin to soften and the liquid mostly evaporates; dump sausage back in skillet with vegetables, stirring together and simmer for a couple minutes, then remove from heat.

Open the crawfish and thoroughly rinse the tail meat in a colander (can’t emphasize this enough). Get all the packing liquid gone and rinse the tails extensively to be sure they are free of debris.

Now combine everything. In a large bowl, put 1 tbls of olive oil in the bowl so that it lightly covers the bottom; measure out the rice and line the bottom of the bowl with it; crack open the soup and pour over the rice (do not add water); drain the tomatoes and spoon into the bowl; dump the 12 ounces of thawed and rinsed crawfish tails on top; take your skillet and with a mixing spoon or soft spatula, fold the sautéed sausage, onions, green peppers, and celery, along with all the juices, into the bowl; sprinkle 3 tbls of Creole seasoning evenly over the mixture; next 1-2 tsp Worcestershire sauce; and the desired amount of Frank’s Red Hot sauce, I use 2-3 tbls.

Mix this all together in the bowl so the rice is integrated with all the other ingredients; spoon into a baking pan; measure 1 3/4 cups of chicken stock and stir into the ingredients in the baking dish; cover with aluminum foil and place into the oven.

Bake at least 35 mins; make sure the liquid is boiling, turn the heat up if it’s not; add the Sherry after 10 minutes and give a quick stir; at 20 minutes give it another stir; if the rice still seems dry, it will not hurt to add additional chicken stock in 1/4 cup increments; extend the cooking time to allow any additional liquid added to be absorbed.

That’s it. Congratulations you have cooked up one rich and flavorful Crawfish & Andouille Sausage Creole Casserole. It goes wonderfully with beer, sweet tea, or a crisp chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Bon Appetit!

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Atlanta’s Vortex Satisfies Hungriest Appetite 

The morning after the Radiohead concert was a slow-moving affair. Before my feet hit the floor I did a systems check; no headache, cognitive thought was functioning, and my parts & pieces were intact. I must be living right.

Sunday was a travel day. Atlanta had been beyond a gracious host, but time to shake the cobwebs, gather our debris, catch a shower, and get mobile before missing the late checkout deadline.

When you gotta get moving after an ambitious night out, I find the best way to guard against fatigue and a delayed onset hangover is to indulge in breakfast cocktails. It’s important to get your hops levels re-elevated and evened out.

While it’s sad to be departing Atlanta, travel days do have their positives when executed properly. My idea was to saddle up and rampage through a few notable establishments for a parting fix of Atlanta love.

Maia and I needed a plan, and in order to make that plan it would require a Bloody Mary.

My thought was to seek out inspiration at The Highlander. Open since 1992, it had a solid rep as a rock-n-roll dive bar, and seemed a sympathetic location to get our bearings straight as Radiohead’s music still rang from our ears.

Oddly, we found this devilish location tucked away quietly in a rather unremarkable Midtown strip-mall. Cheerful flower boxes hung welcomingly from the railings outlining the front patio, contrasting the black glassed front door and windows covered in a vast array of counterculture stickers. Inside the walls were hung with goth portraits, emblazoned skate boards, shadow box deities and one prominent psychedelic rendering of Edgar Allen Poe. Much, if not all of it, was for sale.

Our gaunt waitress was pale in complexion, with long straight jet black hair and lots of tattoos. She could tell what we were up to the night before and asked curiously about the Radiohead show. Having seen them previously, she was into discussing details about the set.

We took in the menu. The Highlander is known to have a solid kitchen that serves out of the ordinary comfort food, like Jamaican jerk chili, jalapeño corn fritters and oxtail soup. We easily could have dined here but I was looking for something else.

As I began searching through scraps of paper where I had written down local restaurants to possibly try, out came a tall and in-charge Absolute Bloody Mary, full of olives, peppers and celery. It was a vegetarian meal with a buzz.

With my vital signs starting to stabilize, I began serious strategizing of where to go next. Atlanta has world-renowned traffic and we didn’t want to go venturing across the city only to be sitting in our car. God bless the Google that provided destination distances and restaurant reviews.

We were in Atlanta, so serious barbecue was a legit option. A mere 12 minutes down the road from The Highlander was Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q. Texas twin brothers Jonathan and Justin Fox opened their Atlanta restaurant in 2007, after hosting backyard barbecues that grew to crowds of more than 250 guests. Here they smoke their hearty Lone Star-style barbecue over hickory daily.

Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q is regarded as a national and international destination for barbecue lovers. It’s a big dog in the Atlanta region. These boys move 10,000 pounds of pork and brisket each week.

We arrived on this Sunday to find an expansive parking lot overflowing. Fox Bros. is a melting pot of different folks crossing paths in mutual love for the consumption of smoked pig and cow. It was brimming with energy, as all knew this would be a taste treat.

That being said we opted not to stick around. Sounds crazy I know, but parking was a pain and there was a wait for seating. In our slightly damaged condition we were not feeling the hassle or the crowd.

Don’t get me wrong, I did visit the carry-out window to secure a double order of the fatty cut brisket.  I may be particular but I’m not getting this close to a joint with a reputation like Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q and not give it a try. That would be crazy. The smoke infusion was super yummy, and the fatty brisket was beyond decadent.

Back to the Google I went, but this time I needed a sure winner. We had a six-hour drive to get started soon.

I credit our waitress, Christine, from Friday night at Noble Fin with helping to make this selection. She suggested visiting the Little 5 Points neighborhood to get a dose of local weirdness. I took notice of a Midtown cheeseburger joint, The Vortex, that happened to have a Little 5 Points’ outpost not five minutes down the road from Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q.

The different atmosphere of Little 5 Points (L5P) was immediate. It had a funky lo-fi feel, very hippy & trippy. As I heard it described, your five senses will be stimulated by the texture of L5P. Murals cover many building walls and windows, giving the neighborhood a vibrant landscape. Don’t look for chain stores here, they’ve been provided limited access to preserve the community’s character.

I fully appreciated that the marijuana dispensary in L5P shared a storefront with an Atlanta Police substation.

The Vortex is a well-known hangout spot, and impossible to miss – just look for the 20-foot giant laughing skull. It is an Atlanta landmark.

Inside is full of strangeness, up the walls and across the ceiling. The original Vortex bar was opened in 1992 in a cramped Midtown location by the three Benoit siblings, followed by the L5P location four years later. What started as a bar that wanted to feed their friends quality cheeseburgers has turned into a reliable establishment that is a frequent winner of “Best Cheeseburger” in Atlanta.

The Vortex is first and foremost a full on bar and only serves those 21 and over. Vortex also enforces an “Official Idiot-Free Zone.” The owners are big on wanting to maintain a fun place to drink and work. They do not tolerate poor behavior from rude or demanding customers. Clearly they have a sense of humor, but violators do get tossed. Check the House Rules or “Idiot Barometer” if you have questions.

They don’t play around with their booze selection. Hundreds of beers are on the menu, along with a substantial selection of bourbon, whiskey, and Atlanta’s largest offering of single-malt scotch. Atlanta magazine was impressed enough to give The Vortex its “Best Overall Liquor Selection in Atlanta” award.

I went with a Maker’s Mark & Coke to get things started. It was a little Kentucky to go with the soft drink of choice when in The Real Thing’s hometown. Picking up the oversized menu it was quickly apparent everything The Vortex offered was substantial and aimed to please. It’s comfort food on steroids.

The soft drinks come in “big-ass 32-ounce tumblers,” why, “because this is motherfuckin’ America,” or so the menu says. The sandwiches come king sized and are unique concoctions.

Take the trademarked Hot Southern Mess: A fried chicken breast topped with a fried egg, all covered with white sausage gravy, and served on Texas Toast. “It’s so damn good you’ll wanna slap yo’ mama.”

Priced at a reasonable $10.95, my immediate thought was this sandwich could lead to a coronary, but just wait, the owners have that concept cornered.

I was no joke hungry, and informed my server I wanted a bacon double cheeseburger. He paused, giving me a once over, and then asked, “you sure about that?”

The burgers at The Vortex come in big, juicy half-pound patties of premium ground sirloin. I did not need a pound of meat, and revised my order down to The Plain ‘Ol Original Vortex Burger, for $8.25, adding bacon & cheddar cheese.

Now about that coronary. Past the Signature Burgers, Non-Beef Options, and Old School Diner Burgers on the menu come the Coronary Bypass Burgers. I don’t know what consumes these monstrosities but it must be large and have the stomach of a goat.

Take the entry-level (single) Coronary Bypass Burger. Instead of hamburger buns, two grilled bacon cheese sandwiches anchor the top and bottom ends of this beast. Included are four slices of white bread, a 8-oz. ground sirloin patty, 10 slices of American cheese, one fried egg, nine strips of bacon, with 4 ounces of mayo. This is served with 10 ounces of spuds topped with 6 ounces of Cheesy-Cheese Goo, sprinkled with bacon bits. Estimated calories (w/side): 3,707, for $19.95.

There are double, triple and Quadruple Coronary Bypass Burger offerings, with the latter topping out at 9,606 calories, and costing a weighty $79.95, which is nothing compared to the medical bills this behemoth must visit upon its victims.

Meanwhile my measly half-pound bacon cheeseburger arrived cooked to a medium rare perfection, all pink and bloody. It was a hefty sandwich, dense and substantial in my hands, like true ground steak should feel. The succulent texture was rich and exploded with the flavor of beef seared over an open flame.

One bite and I became a Vortex believer. Sure this place has lots of attitude and swagger, but it can back it up with its bar service, knowledgable staff, and what I regard as arguably the best bacon cheeseburger I’ve had the pleasure of sampling.

The next time you’re in Atlanta, make a pit stop at the giant skull in Midtown or L5P. The Vortex is still family owned, and still fiercely independent. Be sure to bring an appetite and do remember to play nicely with others.

THE VORTEX | 438 Moreland Avenue NE | Atlanta, GA | 404.688.1828

FOX BROS. BAR-B-Q | 1238 DeKalb Ave NE | Atlanta, GA | 404.577.4030

THE HIGHLANDER | 931 Monroe Drive | Atlanta, GA | 404.872.0060

 

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Radiohead Rock Atlanta

Finally it was Radiohead Day. We arrived in Atlanta Friday night – dined impeccably at Noble Fin that evening, and Saturday at the Atlanta Breakfast Club, taken in whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium, but those were merely fringe benefits of making this 400-mile journey south. We were here to see Radiohead play a sold out concert at Philips Arena Saturday evening.

I was psyched by the new disc, A Moon Shaped Pool. It was more direct and up than the previous King of Limbs, and less ambient. This new tour opened in America, but only 11 shows would be played in the states, with the predominance of the dates overseas. Atlanta was my closest opportunity.

I last saw Radiohead in 2012 at Riverbend in Cincinnati on the King of Limbs tour. These boys don’t get out often, and the last few times I’ve seen them it has been outdoors. This would be a stand-alone show under a roof, allowing all the energy to stay contained.

Tickets for Atlanta went on sale Inauguration Day in January. I was off work, home watching the awfulness in Washington, DC unfold and monitoring Ticketmaster. I felt obligated to salvage a sense of civility by scoring tickets, in the midst of the despair witnessed by Trump ascending to the White House. This was no easy feat, as Philips Arena sold out instantly. I quickly turned to the brisk secondary market on Stub Hub, and was able to secure respectable lower bowl seats at a premium.

Radiohead is not a new band but they set themselves apart from others in that they remain in a calculated state of flux. Like their music, the band itself is divergent. Members are constantly shifting and shaping with the times, using technology and skill to develop a different sound and invent a new dynamic.

Most bands are one trick ponies. They are what they are, and they play the same sound till the creativity is gone and greatest hits shows are all that’s left. Whereas Radiohead creates its own energy force through reinvention, keeping the sound fresh and the interests of the musicians thriving.

Formed in 1985, casual observers know Radiohead for Creep, their 1992 debut single, and its inclusion on the subsequent first disc, Pablo Honey (1993). Creep became one of the definitive anthems of the fledgling 1990s alternative rock movement. Their reputation solidified with The Bends, its impressive sophomore release that saw the band pull away from grunge, and produce the epic, Fake Plastic Trees. But it was the third release, OK Computer, from 1997, that established Radiohead as international rock stars.

It’s easy to say Radiohead is the current generation’s Pink Floyd. They are different animals, but the social commentary is present in both, along with the trippedelic aspects. When a band like either of these hits the road I treat it like a happening. It’s a celebration to get the opportunity to be in a room with these boys. Watching them work these massive layered tunes up live is breathtaking. As a fan of psychedelic music, anytime I can venture through the mind’s eye of Thom Yorke (lead vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards) and witness the brilliance of their audio & visual effects play out, I’m there with bells on.

Trust my buzz was fully engaged. It was an all-day affair, pre-gaming since waking with breakfast drinks. Things were going to get psychedelic, so I chose to sport a necklace of blue LED light-up dolphins. I arbitrarily purchased them that afternoon at the Georgia Aquarium. You never know when you might need light in a dark space, said anyone who has walked the moors at night.

Philips Arena is situated across from the Georgia Dome and is home to the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. It is sleek, modern and full of flavor. Maia and I walked around for a minute seeking Kentucky bourbon to mix with that fabulous Atlanta soda pop, Coca-Cola. None could be found. Only Crown Royal. Finally Maker’s Mark was spotted and two double Maker’s & Coke’s were ours at $20 a pop.

If the stage was at 12 o’clock, our seats were at 5 o’clock, perfect to take in all the visuals and stage antics. Yorke welcomed fans with Daydreaming off the new disc. The band played it straight with a solitary light on them for half the song before a sea of white pinspot rays pierced the darkness like a disco ball.

Three straight songs led off from the new disc before a jump to light speed came with Airbag from OK Computer, followed by the single My Iron Lung from The Bends. Joining Airbag was Paranoid Android, Subterranean Homesick Alien, and Karma Police – all massive tunes from OK Computer, which is being celebrated on this tour to mark its 20th anniversary.

Other highlights included: Street Spirit (Fade Out); Idioteque; the tour debut of House of Cards from In Rainbows, marking the first playing of it since 2012; Burn the Witch; and You and Whose Army. Atlanta made for the perfect backdrop to such a monster rock-n-roll show, and the knowledgeable crowd, many traveling from Nashville and Birmingham, responded with tremendous energy throughout.

RADIOHEAD SETLIST | ATLANTA | 04.01.17

Yorke’s spastic dance moves were unveiled 12 songs into the set with Myxomatosis (Judge, Jury & Executioner) off Hail to the Thief. Seemingly overtaken by trance, Yorke’s body began to gyrate and undulate in vertical waves moving him back and forth across the stage, as he punched holes in the air.

RADIOHEAD | YOU AND WHOSE ARMY | ATLANTA | 04.01.17

This English alternative rock band formed in 1985 while attending school together in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. Twenty five years and nine albums later Yorke, Jonny Greenwood (lead guitar, keyboards, other instruments), Ed O’Brien (guitars, backing vocals), Colin Greenwood (bass), and Phil Selway (drums, percussion, backing vocals) continue to impress.

Radiohead, like the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd are different every time out of the box. They teach listeners the value of patience. Hold on tight, the journey to the crescendos will be winding, but some of the best stuff happens in these in-between moments.

Radiohead put its mellifluous brilliance on full display in Atlanta. It’s hallmark of ethereal diffusion was perfected with the band’s innovative musicianship, curated special effects, and simmering intensity throughout a 25 song set and three encores.

RADIOHEAD | KARMA POLICE | ATLANTA | 04.01.17

Outside a confluence of enthusiasm hit the Atlanta streets. My blue dolphin lights were blazing away, and had a Pied Piper effect as followers joined us marching to Centennial Olympic Park. Passing the CNN studios how could I not climb on the iconic red letters out front. I was informed the police frown on such behavior so we made it quick.

A block down, glowing like a beacon in the night was Skyview Atlanta. This was another take on the giant urban Farris Wheel. It was a big sucker, with crazy lighting. All the trippers spilled from Philips Arena to this spot in search of thrills. It just happened to also be prom night. Tux-clad seniors escorted their taffeta-challenged dates into enclosed viewing pods with wide-eyed Radiohead attendees. Bet those were some fun conversations.

Maia and I continued to walk deeper into the peace of Olympic Park. The lights diminished and sounds faded. Only water sliding over rocks accompanied us. Yet Radiohead lifted my spirit into the clear Atlanta night, reminding me that we would all be Okay.

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Chris Cornell of Soundgarden Found Dead in Detroit Hotel

One of the grand architects of the grunge movement and premier shapeshifters of the 1990s was lost on May 18, 2017, when Chris Cornell died. He was best known as the lead singer for avant-garde Seattle ragers Soundgarden, who along with Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Nirvana were vanguards of the alternative “grunge” rock movement that shattered the deplorable headlock hair metal bands had on popular music entering the 1990s.

SOUNDGARDEN | OUTSHINED (1991)

Formed in 1984, Soundgarden achieved its biggest success with the 1994 album Superunknown, which debuted at number one on the “Billboard 200” and yielded the Grammy Award-winning singles Black Hole Sun and Spoonman. The band broke up in 1997 due to internal strife over its creative direction.

SOUNDGARDEN | SPOONMAN (1994)

In 2000, after Zack de la Rocha left as vocalist of Rage Against the Machine, the remaining members Tom Morello (lead guitar), Tim Commerford (bass/backing vocals), and Brad Wilk (drums) decided to remain together and sought a replacement. After trying out several  prominent possibilities, there was no denying the instant chemistry that came when Chris Cornell stepped to the microphone with the remaining Rage members. This resulted in the formation of the rock supergroup Audioslave.

Through six years Audioslave released three albums and received three Grammy nominations. They also became the first American rock band to perform an open-air concert in Cuba.

AUDIOSLAVE | COCHISE (2002)

Audioslave

I had the privilege of catching Audioslave at one of its tour warmup shows on March 7, 2003. It was a Friday night in Philadelphia at the Electric Factory. Myself and two buddies drove up from DC after Audioslave’s self-titled disc had dropped and curiosity was at a premium for the volatility that would be on display when combining Rage with Soundgarden.

Both these bands were use to playing before massive crowds of spectators. Turning them loose inside a 2,500 person venue was almost unfair. They exploded onto the stage with “Set It Off.” I vividly recall Chris Cornell stalking the stage. His intense eyes were piercing, as he scanned the crowd looking at them like prey. Many in attendance were not familiar with the new disc yet, but were fans of Rage and Soundgarden. None was disappointed as tunes from all were played. It was a sharp, tight set, full of energy as these titans of the rock world knew they were about to unleash a powerful musical presence, and they were amped to be in front of a crowd performing the new songs. It was one of the best shows I’ve seen in terms of presence and sheer energy.

Audioslave disbanded in 2007. This corresponded with Rage Against the Machine getting back together in 2007 for a reunion tour. Soundgarden regrouped in 2010 and released a new disc in 2012, King Animal. Soundgarden was playing together up until Cornell’s death.

On May 18, 2017, Cornell was found dead with a band around his neck in his hotel room at the MGM Grand in Detroit, after performing a show with Soundgarden. From the outset, the investigation into Cornell’s death was described as a possible suicide. Subsequently, the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office determined the cause of death as suicide by hanging. However, Cornell’s widow questioned whether he would deliberately end his own life, and said that the drug Ativan, which her husband was taking, might have led him to commit suicide. Cornell had a long history of substance abuse.

Cornell will be remembered for his extensive songwriting and nearly four-octave vocal range. His ability to maintain pitch and control while delivering his brand of powerful vocal belting is what set him apart. The man could shred.

Soundgarden

Cornell was voted “Rock’s Greatest Singer” by readers of Guitar World, ranked 4th in the list of “Heavy Metal’s All-Time Top 100 Vocalists” by Hit Parader, 9th in the list of “Best Lead Singers of All Time” by Rolling Stone, and 12th in MTV’s “22 Greatest Voices in Music.”

According to Nielsen Music, across his entire catalog (Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog and solo career), Cornell sold 14,865,000 albums, 8,808,000 digital downloads, and had 300,091,000 on-demand audio streams.

Admittedly Superunknown is the most accessible Soundgarden disc, but press play on Badmotorfinger to feel the full power of Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd, and drummer Matt Cameron.

Cornell was a seeker and a story-teller, translating his experiences and mental anguish into a coiled fist of vocals, ready to punch to the face. His angry growl will be missed.

CHOIR! CHOIR! CHOIR! TRIBUTE TO CHRIS CORNELL | BLACK HOLE SUN

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