Miller Union Kicks Off 2012 Atlanta Food and Wine Festival

It’s not so steamy in Hot-lanta right now, which makes eating and drinking at this year’s food and wine festival much easier. To kick of the weekend’s merriment, last night I went to the popular, sold-out dinner at Miller Union in Westside where three award-winning chefs tapped into their childhood memories and created a six-course feast of pure, heirloom deliciousness.

When we reached the packed space nestled into what used to be the Miller Union Stockyards, the mustached bartender handed us a happy cocktail made of fresh strawberries, gin, and sparkling wine. At this point, I had eaten only the tiny bags of pretzels Delta dished out on the plane and the bubbles in the drink electrified my head, no matter how many tiny, herb butter-laced radishes I kept popping into my mouth. After much shuffling around the tight bar and the admiring of toe-peeking shoes, we sat down at a large, farm-style table.

The owners of Miller Union, chef Steven Satterfield and Neal McCarthy, opened the restaurant as a way to serve food that nurtures solid partnerships between their chefs and farmers. While they run a weekly heritage dinner, tonight’s feast featured not only Satterfield, but also Sean Brock of Husk in Charleston, Frank Stitt of Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Alabama. Each dish the chefs constructed reached back to their heritage as Southern men—as well as Southern cooks.

First up, the tattooed Brock served pokeweed fritters with killed lettuce and onions. The concept behind this dish stems from Brock’s mother and her love of picking pokeweed on the side of the road, which she would then clean, chop up, and fry into fritters with cornmeal. The killed salad incorporates fresh greens that get delightfully wilted by hot bacon grease, a technique that makes me rethink the whole hot salad notion. They paired this with a lovely round Chateau des Annibals Rose Cinsault, a cool wine that complimented the bold green of the pokeweed and richness of the salad.

The next course of Carolina rice, fresh English peas, slivers of Benton’s ham, and clams came from Satterfield and played to his love of heirloom rice. The combination sang together well especially when chased with a glass of smooth Henry Natter Sauvignon Blanc Sancerre Loire. Plate number three was Brock again and this time, he took his mother’s tomato gravy and laid next to the best black-eyed peas I have ever had. He topped this mixture with a piece of delicately fried catfish, which, according to the chef, you catch by placing chicken liver in pantyhose and dropping it in the water. Um, yum?

That’s not all, next we had Miller Union’s Justin Burdett’s version of chicken and dumplings, which consisted of a meat terrine and tiny little bites of dough that came with a spicy Alain Gras Pinot Noir. Next, the 1995 Rocche dei Manzoni “S Stefano” Nebbiolo Barolo Piedmont that came with our last course stunned the table and paired lovingly with Frank Stitt’s spring lamb. This dish came beautifully executed with fresh mint, adding an herbal quality that cut the opulence of the meat. Finally, they let us eat cake, and a damn good, one too. Strawberries are in season so Miller Union’s pastry chef Pamela Moxley made a tantalizing strawberry layer cake that brightened with a dollop of lemon curd. I downed that with a glass of pink Moscato and waddled back to the 20th floor of my hotel, full and knowing that that’s just the beginning of the festival.