In the Old World, when a butcher killed an animal, every part was used for something. During tough times, necessity drove invention, but many dishes endured through times of prosperity as well. For instance, blood sausage is common all over Europe, as is kopfkase, otherwise unappetizingly known as headcheese. And in Asia, everything from oxtails to tripe is used to make everyday soups and stews.
When the settlers first landed on the Americas, they were overwhelmed by this country’s abundance, and over time, the hardships that drove them from their homelands became faded memories. Wild game and plentiful crops allowed cooks to use only the best parts, tossing aside the intestines, liver, stomach, brains and other unsavory cuts. We became accustomed to waste.
Fast forward to the 21st century when our country’s economic uncertainty forced us to tighten our financial belts. We started clipping coupons and recycling more. Meanwhile, there was a renewed interest in utilizing every part of the animal in restaurants nationwide. April Bloomfield opened The Spotted Pig in New York, butchering humanely raised animals the old-fashioned way, cooking with every part from the snout to the tail. We, as a nation, began reconnecting with lost cultural traditions. Thriftiness became cool.
Diners in Atlanta can sample a variety of offal (as opposed to awful) dishes from chicken hearts to lamb brains. Here are a few local restaurants that have embraced this new trend/old tradition:
Chef Linton Hopkins doesn’t waste anything when he butchers a calf. Along with his now-famous H & F bread, expect to find everything from veal brains to veal sweetbreads at this trendsetting restaurant in Buckhead.
The name literally means “slaughterhouse” in French and this Westside restaurant lives up to its name. Chef Tyler Williams butchers ducks, pigs, and calves, using every part in a dish or for his menu of house-cured charcuterie. Enjoy a crunchy, crackley starter of chicharrones made from pig skins, or a rich bowl of tripe French onion soup.
Chef Ryan Smith re-imagines Southern cuisine with masterful pairings like sweetbreads with Carolina Gold rice gnocchi at this Midtown restaurant owned by Top Chef judge and acclaimed Athens, GA chef Hugh Acheson. Liver, prepared in a variety of ways, is a common find on this seasonal menu.
Pho Dai Loi
One of the most popular Vietnamese restaurants on Buford Highway, it’s easy to accidently ingest innards here, especially in a big bowl of pho. Tripe can look deceptively like glass noodles.
Chef Zeb Stevenson was the mastermind behind Atlanta’s recent blood dinner. With the help of three equally daring chefs, including Ryan Smith, Stevenson created a multi-course meal featuring dishes made with blood. At Livingston, his winter menu includes a nose-to-tail lamb dish.
Known for their succulent steaks and stellar service, this Johns Creek restaurant also serves a decadent seared foie gras, the liver of a goose.
Chef and owner Robert Phalen serves startling starters like pig head rillettes and fried shrimp heads at One Eared Stag in Inman Park. At his Mexican joint, Holy Taco in East Atlanta, he cleverly stuffs corn tortillas with buttermilk fried chicken hearts and roasted beef tongue.
Ever the showman, chef Richard Blais brings his kitchen theatrics to The Spence in Midtown, offering daring dishes like his pairing of bone marrow with tuna tartare. Foie gras can usually be found on his menu, currently offered seared with candied quince.
Photo Credit: Pat Bain