Celebrating 33 with a Staycation

When Craig asked what I wanted for my birthday this year, I asked for an experience instead of tangible gifts. He happily agreed to my idea of doing an overnight staycation in Atlanta, so he booked a room at the Intercontinental Buckhead, and I got to planning. (Of course I wanted to plan my own birthday outing, right?)

My amazing mom kept Leighton for the day and night so we could have a fun little mid-week getaway all to ourselves. We started the staycation off with a walk on the Beltline and took a break for lunch at Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall — somewhere that we’d yet to make it to, but that has been on my list for quite a while. It did not disappoint! We shared the fried pickles (the basket included fried red peppers, which were our favorite) and a couple beers along with our sandwiches. He had the Torta Cubano and I had the Spatchock Chicken Melt – both were super filling and tasty. The decor inside is like a campfire mixed with a lodge with a big screened porch and tons of outdoor seating to enjoy the Beltline. I can’t wait to go back!

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We wandered around Krog St Market (and may have made a stop by Little Tart Bakeshop) and then walked the Beltline back to Ponce City Market to kill some time until Skyline Park (the Coney Island-style rooftop park) opened for the afternoon.
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Skee-ball is one of my favorite games ever — it totally makes me feel like a kid again! So we of course got a few rounds in, and it was so nice being there on a weekday because we practically had the place to ourselves. We won a little plush duckie for Leighton, which was so fitting, as she just started saying “dut” (for her rubber ducks) this week!
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We also rode the Heege Tower, which is so not scary like it looks, and it gives an even better, 360 degree view of the Atlanta skyline.
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Another perk of being there on a rather empty day… we beat the bartender there, so the manager treated us to samples of a few of their most popular drinks! They included 2 frozen options, which were yummy and so refreshing on such a hot day.
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We finished up with a friendly game of putt putt… I can’t even remember the last time I played this game. It was a little tricky, so that’s what I’ll blame my loss on…. 🙂
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Ah…. so nice to check into a hotel (or house/wherever we’re staying) and not have to haul half of our house in with us! Our room had the prettiest view of so, so many trees and Stone Mountain in the distance! We spent a little late afternoon time at the pool, helped ourselves to the complimentary lounge bar and snacks, and came back to the room to find a birthday cake and balloons from the hotel! Nicely done.
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We capped off the most amazing day with a wonderful birthday dinner at Aria in Buckhead. The atmosphere is dark and romantic, and the food was delightful. I loved my beef short ribs, and Craig loved his scallop dish. Even though I’d already had the best peanut butter cookie at the hotel earlier (and a couple bites of that birthday cake), I couldn’t resist the warm caramel and chocolate cake for dessert.
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Despite originally wanting to sleep in on this staycation, I ended up booking a tour with Bicycle Tours of Atlanta for the next morning, and I am so glad I did! Waking up early was not welcomed, but once we got going on our bike tour with the owner, Robyn, I think we were both happy we decided not to be totally lazy instead. 🙂 We rode for 3 hours and covered about 8 miles on part of the Beltline and through the neighborhoods of Inman Park, Candler Park, Old Fourth Ward, Little 5 Points, and more. It was such a cool way to see the city!

Robyn was kind enough to offer a discount code for my blog readers! Use code: MELISSA to receive 15% off any future tour booked by Labor Day (9/5/16). I’m going to share more photos and tidbits we learned in a dedicated post, so check that out soon!
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We had the best 24 hour staycation. It was just what I wanted and just what we needed. A little relaxation, a lot of fun adventures, and some solid time for just the two of us. Best of all, we didn’t even have to go far to do that! Our city is filled with so much to do, and I have a new appreciation for the greatness that is the “staycation.” Before it was even over, we decided this needs to become a regular thing. A big thank you to Craig for treating me to an amazing birthday gift of adventure, great food, and time together!

a very merry christmas

I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas/Hanukkah/anything else you may celebrate! We had a really wonderful week off work visiting Craig’s family and several of our friends in Nashville and then heading back home to Atlanta to spend some time with my family. I just love this time of year — especially the lights, music, food, and fun. For me, it’s a season of giving, spending time with those you love, and being thankful for our great, many blessings.  Here’s a recap of our holiday week…. it’s hard to believe it’s already over and that we’re focusing on the coming new year!
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Early Christmas dinner at Craig’s grandparents’ house with his little sister and his brother’s girlfriend… and Coco who was not interested in smiling for a photo.
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The lights in the Cottonwood neighborhood in Franklin put the Atlanta neighborhoods to shame. So many festive houses!
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Happy Hour @ Urban Grub with one of my besties
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Christmas with the Sims family in ATL (notice Riley is much better than Coco is at posing for photos…) 
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Yep — this was my Christmas night dinner! 
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One of my favorite Christmas traditions is hosting a big dinner at our house every year for our family and my SIL’s parents who live in town. It’s so fun getting together with them, and we just love the chance to host everyone. My dad always fries a turkey, and this year, Coco got a prime spot for carving. 
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As part of dessert, we served some of the icewine I brought back from Napa (which is actually made in Canada). It’s super sweet, but it was fun to share. 
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Here’s looking forward to what 2015 has to bring!!

restaurant review:: Delia’s Chicken Sausage Stand

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Last weekend, Craig and I were in search of a good lunch spot to enjoy the beautiful fall weather. We didn’t want any of the same old places we usually frequent, but we did want something cheap-ish, somewhere interesting or new, and somewhere to sit outside. As we were driving somewhat aimlessly toward the Westside, Craig suggested Delia’s Chicken Sausage Stand, which we’d driven by recently. I have heard great things about the East Atlanta location, and I believe this 2nd installment is fairly new. I love that they have a decent amount of parking (especially for a pretty small restaurant), and that they used an empty shipping container for outdoor seating on top of the restaurant.  It was the perfect day for dining outside, and the food was yummy and different…. all focused on chicken sausage, of course.

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So many chicken choices…. even a couple that include grilled Krispy Kreme donuts!
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I chose the Southern Sanchez Sliders (chorizo chicken sausage, pimiento cheese, sweet pickles) on really soft rolls with a side of Wedgies (and cheese sauce). YUM! I ate all of my sliders, but I couldn’t finish off the tasty fries. 
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Craig went with a “Slinger” — the Gunn Slinger, to be exact. (Chorizo chicken sausage, guacamole, salsa, fresh jalapenos, and “comeback” sauce.) His only complaint (if you can call it that) was that he would have preferred pickled jalapenos.
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Because the menu is so focused, I doubt we’ll be back often — but when we do visit again, we know it’ll be good.

weekend recap

Last weekend, my parents made the trek up from FL to help move my brother and sister in law into their first home. When we weren’t moving boxes and arranging/putting together furniture, we were eating. Seems to be a common theme when they’re here, which is fine by me. Both Lauren’s family and ours met up for dinner at THERE in Town Brookhaven, which is a great shopping/dining/entertainment center near their new neighborhood in north east Atlanta. As much as I love getting photos of everything we do, this is a rare one to have us all together.

Also, THERE has the most amazing grit cake on their menu. Just FYI.

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After dinner, we got the grand tour of their new home! It was bare on Friday night, and by Sunday afternoon, almost everything was in place and ready for a party. Aren’t they just the cutest little homeowners?
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I love the chalkboard paint on the pantry door in the kitchen!
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My favorite part of their house is the gigantic deck and backyard. I have a feeling we’ll be spending many evenings here.
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And in true fashion, my dad couldn’t wait to mow that lawn. Forget the house tour!
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Congrats on your first home, guys! I look forward to spending lots of time visiting your new cute abode.

restaurant review:: Bone Garden Cantina

As part of our summer bucket list, we’ve been trying new restaurants around Atlanta each month. We recently checked out Bone Garden Cantina for a date night. As they say on their website, this is authentic Mexican food… not your local combo meal restaurant. (And they actually reference the nearest Taco Bell location on the menu in case that’s what you’re actually after.) It’s a small place that’s very out of the way on the Westside. You’d never know it was there, if not for the giant skeleton mariachi member posted out by the entrance to the building complex. The decor is “day of the dead”… lots of skeletons and great Mexican art everywhere. They have lots of funny rules on the menu (similar to the Vortex in Atlanta), and I would recommend reading them for a good laugh. Hopefully you wouldn’t do any of the things they tell you not to anyway.

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Because it was Friday, we started off with the Texas Margarita (made with a splash of OJ) and the Spicy Hombre (spicy mix of Milagro Silver Tequila, habenero-infused tequila and ginger liqueur, with fresh lemon juice and homemade serrano pepper syrup).  Mine was the huge one on the left.

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I’m a sucker for cheese dip, and theirs did not disappoint. We chose the best of all worlds with the Three Amigos — Cheese Dip, Guacamole and Salsa Fresca. We demolished the guac in about 5 minutes and tried our best on the other 2 dips. That’s the problem with Mexican food… I always, always fill up on chips and dip before I even get to the main course. 
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For dinner, I chose 2 different enchiladas (looove me some good enchiladas!). They were the Desebrado de Res (slow-cooked brisket topped with salsa de tomate, chihuahua cheese and sour cream) and the POCO CHIHUAHUA (melted chihuahua cheese topped with guajillo ranchero sauce, queso fresco and sour cream). Both were delicious, but I especially loved the brisket. Craig got 2 tacos — the BARBACOA de chivo (slow-braised GOAT topped with avocado, cilantro, onion and salsa verde) and the Chili de Arbol (roasted pork topped with a VERY spicy chile de arbol sauce, fresh cilantro and diced onions). We also got sides of refried black beans (delish!) and rice (ok). I wish we’d gotten the Elote (grilled corn on the cob covered with mayo, queso fresco and chili powder), so that’ll definitely happen next time.

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I can’t wait to go back to Bone Garden soon! I think it’s quickly jumped to the top of my list for local Mexican restaurants. If you’re in Atlanta, what’s your favorite Mexican spot in town?

restaurant review:: Kevin Rathbun Steak

Kevin Rathbun Steak. I sometimes forget about this fab restaurant because it’s in a sort of off-the-beaten path location in the Inman Park area, which is across town from us. We have been visiting KRS every so often for years now, and I’ve always been impressed with our experience. Recently, we dined there while my parents were in town, and all 6 of us agreed that it was one of the best meals we’ve had in quite a while. I also love the ambiance in the restaurant… dark, lots of wood, and really neat stained glass accents at the bar.

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I don’t have photos of the starters and main dishes, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. From start to finish, everything was delicious.  We love some appetizers, so we tried the Eggplant Fries, Grilled Thick Cut Bacon, and Lobster Fritters. The Eggplant Fries were definitely the surprise hit of the table — plump, crispy, flavorful, and covered with powdered sugar for good measure. The Bacon was  quite different — the sauce included molasses and sriracha, which made for an interesting flavor combo. And who doesn’t love fried lobster?

For the main course, most of us had various steaks. My steak came out a little less cooked than I’d have liked, but restaurants almost never cook it to my liking (except Hal’s — they’e got it down). The Caesar salad was big enough to share (2 of us did).  We also shared several sides among the table, including Creamed Spinach, Jalapeno Creamed Corn, Cheddar Grits, and Parmesan Fries. They were all fantastic.

On to dessert — not sure how we had one bit of room left! We shared the Espresso Bon-Bons, Berry Tart, and I think a Bread Pudding, although I have to confess that I can’t quite remember what it was, even with the photo below. But either way, all three were so good that we contemplated ordering a second round. Talk about gluttons for punishment, right?

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Had to sneak in a photo of a couple of my beautiful dining partners::
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I can’t wait to go back to Kevin Rathbun — just hope it’s on someone else’s dime, because I’d likely break the bank ordering one of everything on the menu.

restaurant review:: Del Frisco’s Grille

For Father’s Day brunch, we decided to try Del Frisco’s Grille in Buckhead. We’d heard great things about the dinner menu, and as soon as we saw the brunch options, we were sold.

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Such a hard decision. We’ll definitely be back soon for dinner.
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Of course we’d need 3 starters for brunch… from the top:: Grit Cakes with buffalo sauce and blue cheese, Philly Cheesesteak Egg Rolls, and Fried Pimiento Cheese Balls. I think the unanimous favorite were the egg rolls, but I’d order them all again.

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The Grille Benedit with a crab cake instead of ham:: my SIL ordered this and loved it. The presentation was great (as it was with all of the dishes), and cheddar biscuits were to die for. I’d order it just for those.

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Half of our table ordered the Chicken & Waffles with Hickory Smoked Bacon. Something about miniature food really appeals to me. Everything was really good, but I wish the waffles had been a tad thinner and crispier. It was served with a spicy maple syrup that was apparently quite spicy… I opted for the regular version.
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It would have been wrong to not try the Nutella Bread Pudding…and the Adult Milkshake (not pictured). Both were a fabulous way to end the meal.
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Some of my favorite dining partners::
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restaurant review:: Bocado

I’ve been hearing about the “incredible double stack cheeseburger” from Bocado for months now. My brother, who is quite the chef,  has claimed that it is probably the best burger in Atlanta. So naturally, I was dying to try it. We headed over to the Westside for lunch last week, and I now see what all the fuss was about…

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Simple syrup for iced tea. Good.
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Two patties, melty cheese, sesame seed bun, and pickles — simple, but so, so, so good. The fries were great, and you can order them with seasoning if you like.  That’s a side of housemade ranch for dipping, too.
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Bottom line — I will be back. Soon. You need to go.

restaurant review:: The Optimist

Last weekend, my parents came into town for Father’s Day weekend. Per usual when they visit, we book reservations to eat our way around Atlanta. What can I say — I get my love of food honestly, I guess. My brother had really been wanting to try The Optimist, the new seafood hot spot on the Westside, so we made reservations for the night they arrived.

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The restaurant is appealing as soon as you walk up — 3 mini putting greens, oyster shells as “mulch” along the walkways, and giant bright blue adirondack chairs to use when there is a wait. Guests enter at the oyster bar, where the wood fired oven is the focal point — complete with a mural of a giant octopus encircling the oven’s opening. I was told that the restaurant was designed by the same team responsible for JCT Kitchen’s decor, and it’s obvious with the metal pendant lights, rustic wooden tables, whitewashed walls, and a cool bar that’s the main attraction in the room.

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We started out with some fun cocktails, like the 5-Gallon Carboy (Redemption rye, strawberries, lemon, All-spice Dram, Allagash White ale) and the Scurvy Scoundrel (Deep Eddy vodka, house made grapefruit cordial, lime), and a large amount of appetizers…par for the course with our family. Oysters, mussels, shrimp, rolls with sea salt, and “beignet style” corn milk hushpuppies were brought to the table just as a HUGE storm rolled in. Dark clouds, thunder, crazy lightning, and tons of rain are no big deal right? Wrong. Not 10 minutes after ordering our dinner, every light in the building went out. Luckily, we were on the edge of the restaurant near some floor-to-ceiling windows, so we had a bit of light on our table. Those in the center of the restaurant (near the soon-to-be very smoky kitchen) did not fare so well. We had such high hopes for our dinner, so we held strong for a while… until it was apparent that the lights weren’t coming on any time soon — there or anywhere within a several block radius.

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I obviously can’t speak to how the entrees were since we never got them, but we’d ordered the duckfat poached swordfish, cornmeal crusted skate wing, and black grouper, among other things. I’m sure it would have been excellent. They also have some really enticing desserts — the Savannah Beignets with bourbon praline and fired pecans being my #1 choice. Ah well… now we have a really good excuse to try it again soon — hopefully next time sans power outage.

A Few of My Favorite Things (28) – Father’s Day edition

[Outfit of the week — I wore this for a newspaper interview I was asked to do with our Stella & Dot CEO/Founder, Jessica Herrin, and one of our Atlanta Senior Directors:: Neon citron skinnies (Old Navy) // Navy tank (Old Navy) // Kelly green cardigan (J. Crew outlet) // Stella & Dot Fiona Bib Necklace // Eden Studs // Secret Garden Ring // Renegade Bracelet // Christina Link Bracelet]
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[came home to a surprise — colorful new pretties to spruce up our mailbox]
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[dinner and a power outage at The Optimist…which led to dinner #2 at Verde]
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[starting father’s day wknd with a walk in the park]
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[convincing grandpa to hand over his cereal]
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[day trip to lake lanier with the family]
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[dinner at kevin rathbun steak] 
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[father’s day brunch at del frisco’s grille]
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Happy belated Father’s Day to my dad, father in law, our grandpas, and all you dads out there! This week was a great one. It started out with being invited to take part in an interview for the Atlanta paper with Stella & Dot‘s CEO/Founder Jessica Herrin and one of my Stylist friends Anna, who is a Senior Director in Atlanta. Talk about a huge honor and a fun way to start the week! I am so excited to see my name in print alongside those two rockstars.

And in honor of Father’s Day, my parents came up from FL to visit for several days. We had quite a busy time! The first couple days were filled with dinner at The Optimist, Atlanta food truck park, and Kevin Rathbun Steak, tickets to the Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat puppet show, lunch at Bocado (my new favorite spot for an amazing burger), and a day out on the boat at Lake Lanier. We started Sunday off with a most delicious brunch at Del Frisco’s Grille in Buckhead, and then we drove around looking at houses that my brother and his wife are considering buying. It’s so fun to see them making their home owner dreams come true! The weekend ended perfectly — BBQ dinner at my brother’s inlaws’ house reminiscing about their wedding and celebrating our wonderful dads. We are truly blessed with amazing men to call our dads!