Monday, December 17, 2018

Association of Food Bloggers Panelist

I was recently invited to be panelist on a #BloggersByte program, hosted by the Association of Food Bloggers, for bloggers, future bloggers and social media influencers. The program was at General Assembly at Ponce City Market. It was totally awesome! 

I didn't realize I had so much to share about blogging, so as I was listening to myself share insights with people who are considering becoming bloggers and those who have just started was as fascinating as it was fun. 

I am grateful to Malika Bowling, co-founder of the Association of Food Bloggers and author of the food, lifestyle and travel blog Roamilicious, for the invitation!

Enjoy this highlights video of the program...



Now, go check out Ponce City Market and all this fantastic destination has to offer. And go hungry...the dining destinations are fantastic!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Dreams do come true...I'm going to be an AUTHOR!

Big News!!! I'm going to be an author! An AUTHOR!!!

A few days ago I executed a contract with Emons Publishing, in Cologne, Germany, to author a tourism book about Atlanta! This is a dream come true for me, one I've dreamed of for most of my life. 


Travis Swann Taylor | Author "111 Places Atlanta"
Travis Swann Taylor | Author "111 Places Atlanta"

Emons has books about cities all over the world and they've contracted with me--yes, me!--to author their tourism book about Atlanta! It's a perfect pairing, if I say so myself!

Okay, the photo above is the 'author photo' that will appear in the book (already submitted). Yes, it's slightly Photoshopped, but I left plenty of wrinkles so that it's authentic and I seem to always be a little sunburned in the warmer months. And by time the book comes out, I'll be that slender again. Just sayin' 

Oh, and I'm the photographer for the book!!! Another dream come true! I'm so fortunate to be an author and photographer of a book! I'll officially be a paid author and a professional photographer! Yes, they're paying me to write the book and I'll receive royalties! And hopefully the book will be translated into other languages, for which I'll receive additional royalties.

This series of books is written for locals (and experienced travelers) and is about places that even locals may not know about, or places that have stories that locals may not know about. It's about places that have unique stories or that are fascinating in some way that make them interesting to one who enjoys wanderlusting.

I've had friends ask, "Why are you spending so much time blogging when you're not even making money for it?THIS is exactly why. 

After a certain point, I knew my blog would lead to something more and becoming an author is the best thing I could have imagined happening as a result of blogging. Looking back, I learned more about Atlanta after blogging for one year than I had in the 15 years I lived here before moving back in 2010. 

In the beginning, the blog was an exercise to reacquaint myself with a changed Atlanta (I lived here 15 years, moved to DC for 9 and moved back in 2010). I was only going to blog for 1 year, but I was having so much fun I kept on doing it. Then it became part of who I am. And then I started meeting people who read my blog! I was hooked!


Virginia Willis, Travis Swann Taylor, Nathalie Dupree at The Cook's Warehouse
Virginia Willis, Travis Swann Taylor, Nathalie Dupree at The Cook's Warehouse

I owe ton of gratitude to celebrity chef and cookbook author Virginia Willis. It was last November when at a cooking class at The Cook's Warehouse with Virginia Willis and Nathalie Dupree (I've been a fan of Virginia's for years, but this was the first time I met Nathalie) that this opportunity was presented to me. 

Emons had approached Chef Virginia about writing the book, but she did not have the time to write it, but she knew me and my blog "wanderlust ATLANTA" so she recommended me to Emons as the perfect candidate to write the book they wanted. Very soon after I virtually met Karen--the Editor in Chief for North America--and have worked with her (she's so AWESOME!) for more than 10 months to get to the point of the contract.

You'll also see me using my full name--Travis Swann Taylor--because there's already a Travis S. Taylor in the area. He works in aerospace, as I did when I lived in DC, and he's a science-fiction author--I've been a sci-fi fan since watching Star Trek reruns when I was a kid. I very much admire the other Travis, thus the distinction of name for my book.


111 Places | 111 Places in Atlanta That You Must Not Miss
111 Places | 111 Places in Atlanta That You Must Not Miss

The book title will be "111 Places in Atlanta That You Must Not Miss". It'll be in Emons' series of books that's written for "locals and experienced travelers". The series covers cities all over the world and they've tapped me for Atlanta!!! I'm so excited!

The next step for the publisher is to approve the book cover, which I've requested to have a phoenix--Atlanta has risen from the ashes more than once--and to be in the colors of the flag of the City of Atlanta. We'll see.

The book will also include places outside of City of Atlanta, within Metro Atlanta. I don't know yet just how far-reaching to book will go, but it will include a lot of places that even locals don't know about and aspects of known places that even locals don't know about. 

My blogging journey has always been to encourage locals to explore their own backyards, so this is such a perfect match!

Please follow my social media channels during this journey:

Facebook, | Twitter | Instagram LinkedIn

And follow 111 Places, especially if you're a traveler...or in my world, someone who enjoys the art of wanderlust, particularly in Atlanta.

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

I want to thank my dear, dear friend Shelley Pedersen who passed away earlier this year. She lived with pancreatic cancer for more than two years...an incredibly brave woman! Shelley was the friend and colleague who introduced me to Les Dames d'Escoffier International - Atlanta Chapter to photograph their event marking Julia Child's 100th birthday at the Academy of Medicine in Midtown. After that, I was the Chapter's photographer for 4.5 years. A wonderful experience! I miss Shelley so much!

I also want to thank my friend Barry Holland who has been with me for the greatest majority of my blogging experiences. He's also the one who made my soon-to-be author photo! He's one of those friends who doesn't judge, is totally supportive, and encourages one to chase their dreams until they come true. Thank you, Barry!

I am so incredibly excited to share with everyone that I'm going to be an author! I have very aggressive deadlines now through next November, then the book goes to print and we'll have the launch parties in spring 2020, a number of which I'm already planning! 

Thank you, thank you, to all who have been fans and have supported "wanderlust ATLANTA" over the years. I'm so excited to bring you my very first book! 

Please ask any questions you may have.

Thank you, thank you!!!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Grecian Gyro took me back to Greece!

Many of you know that I lived in Greece for more than two years, when I was 19-21, and speak of that time as some of the greatest fun I've ever had—who's not having the time of their life at 19, right? But I was doing that in Greece!

I jumped at the opportunity to interview owner and president of Grecian Gyro restaurants, George N. Koulouris, about the family business and their sixth and newest location, this one in Snellville, Georgia, just east of Atlanta, which opened this summer.


George N. Koulouris, Owner, Grecian Gyro | Photo: Christopher Watkins
George N. Koulouris, Owner, Grecian Gyro | Photo: Christopher Watkins

Founder Nick Koulouris, father of George and Pano, opened the first Grecian Gyro restaurant in 1982 with the dream of sharing a taste of his culture from Kalamata, Greece, in a fast, convenient, and friendly format. The menu at Grecian Gyro is comprised of classic Greek and Mediterranean specialties including handcrafted gyros and plates, fresh Greek salads, Grecian potatoes, spanakopita, hummus, and more.

Now, let's get to the interview...

wanderlust ATLANTAPlease share with us a little about you. Where were you born and raised? How did you get into restaurants? What do you like most about being Greek?

GeorgeI am an Atlanta native, born and raised in this city. I attended Tucker High School and Oglethorpe University. My dad, Nick Koulouris, opened the first Grecian Gyro location in 1982 when I was 2 years old, so in essence I was raised in the restaurant. We say that I’ve worked there since I was old enough to hold a spatula. My dad’s favorite story to tell is about how I would walk behind him and steal the tomatoes as he added them to the salads in the morning. 

I worked in event marketing and my brother, Pano, worked in sales. In 2007, Pano found a closed down KFC in Tucker and convinced me to quit my day job and join him in a hair-brained scheme to expand the family restaurant.

What I’ve always appreciated most about being Greek is the culture. The Greeks call it 'kefi', a feeling of joy and passion. Family gatherings, whether it’s a holiday, a birthday, or a weekend cookout are always a party, with music, great food, and a lot of fun.


Hummus | Grecian Gyro | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Hummus | Grecian Gyro | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I almost always have hummus and olives in the fridge at home. I'd never had hummus before I went to Greece, but now it's a dish I love and will always enjoy...when it's good, that is. At Grecian Gyro it's great! 

Mind the olive on this dish (and others). It's not pitted, but that means it retains its incredible flavor! I love pepperoncini peppers, too, and often have a jar of them in the fridge, as well. I've never made traditional hummus and now I don't have to! 

I've now visited two locations of Grecian Gyro (can hardly wait to go again!) and the food quality and taste is consistently excellent. They use the freshest ingredients and produce, everything is chopped and prepared in-house, sauces are made from scratch, and many ingredients are locally sourced.

wanderlust ATLANTAWhat's the most popular dish on your menu and why do you think that is?

GeorgeOur most popular dish by far is our classic gyro and Grecian potatoes. I think they are most popular because they are the signature flavors of Grecian Gyro. 

My dad, Nick, created his own gyro sauce and spice blend and that magical combination has been the cornerstone of Grecian Gyro for the past 35+ years. Over the years this sauce has inspired a food trend in the city, and now Atlanta offers a style of gyro found nowhere else in the world.


Dolmades | Grecian Gyro | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Dolmades | Grecian Gyro | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

A single order of dolmades—stuffed grape leaves—is generous! And delicious. Wanting to sample a number of items, I ordered two appetizers—the hummus and the dolmades—and a Gyro Plate—the entrees on the plates can come open-faced or wrapped. People who know me know that I can put away the groceries (eat a lot!), but the portions are so generous here that this order was enough for three meals!

There are number of beverage options available. I opted for the iced tea. It's self-serve, so soda and tea refills are complimentary. Their tea is offered in two varieties—Unsweetened and "Southern Style", which if you're not Southern, that means "sweet tea". We do love our sweet tea!

The restaurant staff was hospitable, courteous, and super-polite. They didn't know I was coming, so it was totally genuine. It's clean, tidy, and the posted health score is 100. I also noticed that they have multiple ServSafe certifications. You can dine here with confidence!

wanderlust ATLANTAWhat has been your proudest moment in one of your restaurants?

GeorgeLast year we opened the Tucker location for Thanksgiving and offered a free lunch to anyone in the neighborhood in need of a warm meal. I had several members of my team sacrifice time with their families to volunteer for that shift. 

Several people told us that was all they were going to eat that day. That is one of the greatest experiences since opening the restaurants. 

I think the proudest day for Grecian Gyro had to have been when we won "Atlanta’s Best Gyro" for the first time from Atlanta Magazine in the 90s. I’ll never forget the beaming pride my dad felt when his little 'hole-in-the-wall' restaurant received that accolade. It was truly a moment in which a young immigrant realized the American dream.


Grecian Potatoes, Greek Salad | Grecian Gyro | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Grecian Potatoes, Greek Salad | Grecian Gyro | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I used to think I could eat potatoes every day, but now I know I could...if they were the Grecian potatoes at Grecian Gyro! I've never had potatoes quite like these. I dipped them in the house-made sauce for an extra punch...I could LIVE on these potatoes!

You don't usually expect too much from a cafe salad, but the Greek Salad at Grecian Gyro totally delivers! When I lived in Greece, I almost always had an Islander Salad—the same Greek Salad we all know, but that one doesn't come with lettuce. The feta vinaigrette on Grecian Gyro's Greek Salad is amazing! And the freshness of the ingredients is stellar! Don't skip the Greek Salad people!!! 

wanderlust ATLANTAWhat stories do you want your customers to tell after dining at Grecian Gyro?

GeorgeI always love when Grecian Gyro goes beyond just being another restaurant and becomes a part of someone’s life story. We have customers who came to Grecian Gyro on a first date in the 80s and now their adult children are still regulars.

We have customers who always celebrate birthdays or special occasions at one of our restaurants. One couple got engaged on our patio and celebrate every Valentine’s Day at Grecian Gyro. One grandmother told me she loves to bring all her new grandchildren to the restaurant once they’re old enough to enjoy hummus. 

But, one of my favorite recent stories is about the couple that lied to their family about coming to the restaurant for dinner, but instead went to the airport and eloped. When they returned from their wedding they came to Grecian Gyro as part of their celebration (so it wouldn’t be a total lie).


Gyro | Grecian Gyro | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Gyro | Grecian Gyro | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Greek music in the air, as I was sitting there enjoying my gyro, I was transported back to the cafes I ate in when living in Greece. The coming and going of other customers felt like I was dining alfresco in Plaka—the area where all the tourists go shopping for souvenirs, fine jewelry and to dine in the best cafes. The flavors at Grecian Gyro are the most authentic I've had since living in Greece decades ago, and believe me, I've had many gyros since then.

The gyro pictured below was the one that I had on my first visit, at the Tucker location, which I drowned in their house-made sauce immediately after I tasted it! When I lived in Greece, I'd almost always order extra tzatziki--love the stuff! The sauce at Grecian Gyro is different, but wholly delicious and just as addictive as any sauce I've ever had. I wonder...do they offer jars of this for sale? The hummus and olives in my fridge would certainly welcome the good company. 

wanderlust ATLANTAI hope to visit Greece again soon. What city or site—other than the typical tourist destinations—is a must-visit?

GeorgeLast year I visited Greece and came across a gem of a town I’d never heard of before, MonemvasiaThe entire town is hidden on the backside of a small island off the east coast of Peloponnesus by walls that remain from the medieval period. 

The hike to the top of the mountain to visit the Byzantine church that still stands is tough, but well worth the incredible view (especially at sunset). There is a beauty and energy like none other. 

And the restaurants on the island boast some hyper-localized cuisine unavailable anywhere else, with dishes influenced by the town's Venetian and Ottoman eras.


Gyro | Grecian Gyro | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Gyro | Grecian Gyro | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

You've heard stories about European's hospitality, even to perfect strangers. I experienced that first-hand when I lived there. My first Christmas there, a new friend invited me into his home and the family treated me like an honored guest, sharing their Christmas morning with me—they made me feel "at home" while nearly six thousands miles from where I grew up. I'll always remember their hospitality and generosity.

Admirably, the Koulouris family’s philosophy is that good business starts with valuing culture, community, and team spirit. Each restaurant prioritizes contributions to its local community through ongoing efforts like sponsoring school teams, offering free holiday meals for those in need, and collecting supplies for humanitarian efforts. When you dine here, you're not only enjoying amazing food, you're supporting the local community!

What a joy it was to be transported back to my late teens, early twenties when dining at Grecian Gyro. I do hope to return to Greece for a visit soon. In the meantime, I'll be hanging out at Grecian Gyro!

Remember, "Once a Week, Go Greek"! Go to Grecian Gyro!

Friday, October 26, 2018

The new 'Fox Theatre Ghost Tour' has Personality!

The brand new Fox Theatre Ghost Tour goes beyond the docent-led history tour and brings a number of personalities to "life", some from years before the Fox was even built!


Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Tour-takers begin their evening in the Spanish Room, accessible through the Arcade on Peachtree Street. Many of us enjoyed snacks and beer and wine—cash bar, standard rates—before our tour began.

There are multiple tours each evening they're offered, one every 15 minutes, and each one leaves precisely on-time...don't be late! Each group has a tour guide and a wrangler—the person who keeps everyone together and moving along.

Our tour guide Gwen was awesome, as was our cheerful wrangler, Jill. Our tour began in the Lobby where Gwen shared some housekeeping points and regaled some of the history of the Fox Theatre. Whether you're a local, new to Atlanta or are just visiting, I believe you'll find the storied history of the Fox Theatre fascinating and mesmerizing.

Our first stop was a visit to the Ladies Lounge—quite opulent! Then over to the Men's Lounge where we met none other than movie-mogul "Mr. William Fox" himself! He enthusiastically shared a bit of his own story and how he came to acquire the Fox Theatre. 


Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | Hospital | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | Hospital | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Did you know that the Fox Theatre has a hospital? That was our next stop, where we met Nurse Ruth. In her period nurse uniform, and in character, Nurse Ruth explained how the hospital worked from from the Theatre's opening day in 1929 until nurses were replaced by EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians), but not before a theatre guest gave birth in this very room!


Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | Celebrity Autographs | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Next we were off to the star's dressing rooms! We passed through a stairwell that has a timeline, with photos, chronicling the Fox's history pre-1929 to present day.

In one of the dressing rooms we got to see dresser drawers that have autographs of celebrities who have graced the stage of the Fox throughout the years. 


Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | "Anna Ragan" | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | "Anna Ragan" | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Then we were off to another dressing room where we learned about "The Cockroaches"—Atlantans purchased tickets to that concert without knowing anything about the band. It turned out to be a be one of the most famous bands in history! 

In that dressing room we met "Anna Ragan", a former owner of the home that once stood on the land where the present-day Fox Theatre stands. According to Ghosts of Atlanta: Phantoms of the Phoenix City, it's believed that Anna died in the house and now her ghost is seen by entertainers from time to time in Dressing Room 42. Perhaps she wanted to be an entertainer herself.


Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | "Coal Room" | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | "Coal Room" | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

On our way to the boiler room, we walked under the Fox Theatre stage! And we got to see the mechanics that raise and lower different parts of the stage. Not to worry, it's sealed with magnetic doors when in operation.

Once in the sub-basement we met "Roosevelt", the gentleman who in the early years practically lived at the Fox during winter to keep the boilers heating. If the fire went out, the theatre would be too cold for guests the next day, so it had to be continually stoked. 

In the photo above, I'm looking up at the walls and roof of the coal room, still covered in soot. Creepy!

"Roosevelt" was the liveliest ghost we met! There was more jumping, scooting away, and slight screams during this part of the tour...down in the sub-basement. Bwah-ha-ha!


Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | "Target Practice" | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | "Target Practice" | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

He pointed out this mysterious "target" painted on one of the walls in the sub-basement. No one knows what it was for, why anyone would be shooting in the basement, or what the three 4s are. Lots of speculation, but no one knows. Scary!


Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | "Ghost Light Ghost" | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | "Ghost Light Ghost" | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

From there we went onto the stage of the Fox Theatre, the first time on that stage for many of the tour-takers. We were greeting by an unnamed ghost, so I've dubbed him the Ghost Light Ghost.

Earlier on the tour, one of the tour-takers was explaining to another what a ghost light is. She didn't believe him. When we got to the stage the Ghost Light Ghost explained what a ghost light is and offered many possible reasons for why there's always one on a vacant stage. 


Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | on the stage | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | on the stage | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

We were then invited to take photos of the dramatically lit Auditorium and make selfies on the stage. 

Unless you have a future career on Broadway or in Rock-n-Roll, take advantage of this opportunity to make a bunch of photos on the stage where 1932 New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave the commencement speech for Oglethorpe University; where Elvis Presley and Madonna have performed for sold-out crowds; and where Prince gave his last concert. 


Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | Rick McGee & Mighty Mo | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | Rick McGee & Mighty Mo | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

While on the stage we were treated to a surprise mini-concert! 

Organist Rick McGee told us about Mighty Mo (the famous organ) and then played a number of tracks from Star Wars, including Vader's March and that little ditty from Mos Eisley Cantina!

He stayed after and answered questions. Super nice guy and you can tell that he loves what he does.


Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Fox Theatre Ghost Tour 2018 | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
For the record, I took some creative liberty in the coloring of the very first photo in this post, but the lighting and colors in the other photos are real! 

Last I heard, almost all of this year's tours are sold out with some tickets remaining for Halloween Night...what a fun Halloween outing this will be!

If you don't make this year's ghost tour, do check out the other Fox Theatre Tours!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Scarecrows in the Garden 2018

Scarecrows in the Garden, at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, is one of my favorite autumn events. The cleverness alone will make you love that you visited.


Scarecrows in the Garden | "The Greatest Crowman" | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Scarecrows in the Garden | "The Greatest Crowman" | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

I've not yet seen The Greatest Showman, but I immediately recognized the cleverness of "The Greatest Crowman"...isn't this wonderful?! I think Hugh Jackman himself would be impressed.

The exhibition is open Tuesday – Sunday, 9am through 7pm and it's open late on Thursday evenings, through 9pm for Fest-of-Ale.

(NOTE: The Garden is closed on Mondays, except for some Monday holidays and Holiday Lights.)


Scarecrows in the Garden | "Indiana Bones" | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Scarecrows in the Garden | "Indiana Bones" | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

I'm a huge fan of the Indiana Jones franchise, so to see something this clever—"Indiana Bones"—for Scarecrows in the Garden was pure awesomeness! Of course, I don't think Harrison Ford does or ever did have a "straw belly"...then again, Indiana did imbibe the amber liquors, right?


Scarecrows in the Garden | "The Turnerverse" | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Scarecrows in the Garden | "The Turnerverse" | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

I don't get most of the references in this one, but I still think it's brilliantly done and the kooky owls are hilarious! 

If you're going on a Thursday evening during Fest-of-Ale, be sure to head straight to the two-acre Children's Garden where you'll find a great many of the scarecrows in the exhibition. I say go there first because, historically, they close the Children's Garden at dusk.


Scarecrows in the Garden | "Midtown Mayhem" | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Scarecrows in the Garden | "Midtown Mayhem" | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

If you've ever seen Godzilla (1954) (2014) or King Kong (1933) (2017), you'll appreciation "Midtown Mayhem", created by a Midtown apartment building team.

There's a LOT going on in the Garden in October, so you'll get to see much more than these awesome scarecrows. Imaginary Worlds: Once Upon a Time is on display through Sunday, October 28, the same day that Scarecrows in the Garden closes.


Scarecrows in the Garden | "The Candy Horns" | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Scarecrows in the Garden | "The Candy Horns" | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

"The Candy Horns" took 1st Place! I'm not sure in which category, though...there are two: professional (a team with anyone who is paid for professional design services) and nonprofessional (families, individuals, clubs, etc.).

If you have little ones, mark you calendars and make sure they have their costumes by Sunday, October 28...the Garden will be hosting its annual Goblins in the Garden!

From 10am through 4pm your kids can walk the Goblin’s Runway, enjoy some fall themed art activities, listen to a storyteller, and enjoy TRAIN and PONY rides! And for you adult goblins, there will be a cash bar...there's something for everyone! 


Scarecrows in the Garden | "The Huntress" | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Scarecrows in the Garden | "The Huntress" | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

"THE HUNTRESS - Thrift Shop Style" is delightfully brilliant! Look at her...she's on a mission!

She's got the right idea. There's so much to see at the Atlanta Botanical Garden! I try to visit all 30 acres every time I go. Because we have such a long growing season in Atlanta, the Garden never looks the same meaning there's always something new to see! 


Scarecrows in the Garden | "Indecisive Imagination" | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Scarecrows in the Garden | "Indecisive Imagination" | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

I love the scarecrows with bright colors! "Indecisive Imagination" totally embraces vivid colors and yet is so serene at the same time.

I usually go early October to see the scarecrows so that I have time to see them again, but it's been a busy month. There's so much going on in town! On this recent visit, I went with my friend Gordon, a friend of 30 years and he's a Certified Master Gardener. It was fun visiting with someone who knows so much of the flora we were seeing!

We were pondering which sculpture the Garden will keep after the two-year run of Imaginary Worlds (the Garden is wonderful about keeping a piece of art/artifact after its special exhibitions—that's how we got Earth Goddess!). We tossed around a few ideas and landed on the Phoenix overlooking Longleaf Restaurant.

As we walked down the Promenade, we noticed that the Phoenix's exterior plant material had been removed—as has Earth Goddess's in preparation for her transformation into Ice Goddess for Garden Lights, Holiday Nights. We ventured up to Alston Overlook—the highest point in the Garden and where the Phoenix is located—and sure enough, there's a sign with a rendering of what the Phoenix will look like during Garden Lights, Holiday Nights! Exciting!!!


Scarecrows in the Garden | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Scarecrows in the Garden | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

Didn't catch the name or creator of this bright purple dinosaur with yellow wings, but it took 3rd Place, so that says something...I like it a lot! A festive dinosaur...what's not to like?!

They say 'membership has its privileges', and it does. I've been a member for many, many years and it's probably the membership I use most, because it's such a lovely place to visit AND because of the vast amount of programs and exhibitions...there's always something to do at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Become a member and find out for yourself! You'll get to see Scarecrows in the Garden, and other exhibitions free! #notsponsored


Scarecrows in the Garden | "Skel-ELTON JOHN" | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Scarecrows in the Garden | "Skel-ELTON JOHN" | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

I had the honor of meeting Sir Elton John many, many moons ago at a party where he played for a modest group of guests. Delightful, charming, and incredibly talented! It was so exciting to meet him and I was impressed by how humble he was. I can only imagine the number of ways he's been immortalized, now including at Scarecrows in the Garden playing piano!

If you love the scarecrows here, head up to this Garden's annex and see Scarecrows in the Gainesville Garden!


Scarecrows in the Garden | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Scarecrows in the Garden | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

Be sure to read the "scroll" at the base of this one...there's some Shakespeare in the mix. I love its title: "If the Phoenix Bird can fly, then so can I". I was there at dusk, so if you see her in daylight, she'll be even more brilliantly colorful!

There you go...a sampling of the approximately 100 scarecrows in this years Scarecrows in the Garden at the always beautiful Atlanta Botanical Garden. Go enjoy them through Sunday, October 28!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch

Today, Caroll Spinney who has acted the roles of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since 1969, announced his retirement from Sesame Street. Fortunately for Atlantans and visitors to Atlanta, we can visit them anytime we want at the Center for Puppetry Arts!


Big Bird | Caroll Spinney | Center for Puppetry Arts | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Big Bird | Caroll Spinney | Center for Puppetry Arts | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I watched more than my share of Sesame Street when I was a kid and I'll always be a fan. Of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. I didn't know Caroll Spinney as a kid, but did get to know him better at Dragon Con in Atlanta. He was a featured guest more than once. The memories he's given me through these two endearing characters are countless.


Oscar the Grouch | Caroll Spinney | Center for Puppetry Arts | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Oscar the Grouch | Caroll Spinney | Center for Puppetry Arts | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

My friend Alison—we volunteered at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History together for three years—shared with me earlier that Oscar was one of her favorites. I've invited her to Atlanta to see him "in-person" at the Center for Puppetry Arts. Come on down, Alison....let's have a rotten day!

The Jim Henson Collection, where Oscar is on display, is phenomenal. All of your favorite Muppets are there, from Kermit the Frog to Miss Piggy to Pigs in Space to Bert and Ernie, and yes, even Elmo

If you want a FULL Muppets experience, go see the screening of "The Muppet Christmas Carol" on Saturday, December 8, but get there early...your tickets for the film includes museum entry! You get to experience the Worlds of Puppetry Museum—including The Jim Henson Collection—before the movie!

A personal "Thank you!" to Caroll Spinney and Sesame Street for all the wonderful memories.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

INTERVIEW: Chef Hugh Acheson & The National

I met Chef Hugh Acheson years ago and was a fan even before that. He's devilishly handsome, intelligent, charming, seemingly a little mischievous, but in a fun way, and even a little quirky...that's to say he's unique among chefs of such an exalted caliber. Okay, okay, maybe I am a super-fan. He's really just a totally cool, laid back, fun human being.

I have the honor of sharing with you an interview with Chef Hugh in conjunction with a visit to one of his restaurants in Athens, The National.


Hugh Acheson | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Hugh Acheson | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

My visit to The National was with my friend Wayne, the State Parks aficionado I've mentioned before. Our single-day excursions are typically multi-adventures. On this particular day we started at The National, then went to Watson Mill Bridge State Park and then to see the mysterious Georgia Guidestones.

Hugh's interview answers are brief, but insightful and hilarious, much like his Instagram posts. If you're not following Chef Hugh on Instagram, you totally must!

I'm going to pepper this story with interview questions. Let's get started...

wanderlust ATLANTA: I've been a Chef Hugh Acheson fan for years. Please share with my readers who you are.

Chef Hugh: I am a chef from Canada who has lived in Athens, Georgia, for more than 20 years. I write cookbooks and run restaurants.


Hugh Acheson's The National (Athens) | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Hugh Acheson's The National (Athens) | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

We selected The National because Hugh's other Athens restaurant, 5&10, isn't open for lunch on Saturdays, but it's his flagship restaurant, so I definitely want to return for a weeknight dinner or Sunday Brunch.

The National is absolutely lovely. The attention to detail and the nuanced touches make for a place where you feel welcome and somewhere you want to be. Opened in 2007, it's a small—yet spacious—bistro with a Mediterranean influence. Executive Chef Peter Dale prepares a menu that nods to Northern African and Spanish cuisines.

wanderlust ATLANTA: You once shared with an audience—that I was in—a little bit about how you use your sketchbook to develop recipes. Will you tell us a little about that process, please?

Chef Hugh: I like to doodle and take notes. To me, nothing replaces pen and paper. I draw plates and dishes that I am working on, take notes on places I travel to, and make lists of things to look into and research. It is just the way I catalog life.


Hugh Acheson's The National (Athens) | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Hugh Acheson's The National (Athens) | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

Quite refreshing, this restaurant offers an array of house-made sodas, refreshers and shrubs, the kind you're not going to find anywhere else. Wayne had their house-made Lemonade, and you can see that they're sustainability-minded using metal straws instead of plastic. Kudos! 

I had a Sauvignon Blanc that was quite refreshing, light and crisp, just the way I like them. The beverage menu is impressive and varied, but not so long that you're doubly parched by time you peruse the choices.

wanderlust ATLANTA: I recently dined at The National with a friend. We enjoyed multiple courses and LOVED everything! The menu is ever-new, so what's a can't-miss experience here?

Chef Hugh: The National's hummus with ground lamb is a pretty special and comforting plate of food. And all of their drinks are pretty amazing.


Hugh Acheson's The National (Athens) | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Hugh Acheson's The National (Athens) | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

Okay, next time I go to The National, I'm definitely trying the Hummus with Lamb. I lived in Greece for more than two years and fell eternally in love with Mediterranean cuisine. All of it. Especially hummus, calamari and tzatziki!

We enjoyed a couple of appetizers, starting with the Marinated Olives—told you I love Mediterranean! They were delicious and poor Wayne hardly had any. I devoured, minding my manners of course, most of them.

wanderlust ATLANTAWhat do you do for fun on the rare occasion when you're totally disconnected and disengaged from work? If that ever happens. #cheflife

Chef Hugh: I hang out with my kids and watch Wheel of Fortune. No joke.


Hugh Acheson's The National (Athens) | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Hugh Acheson's The National (Athens) | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
We also enjoyed an appetizer they were calling Rosalynn Carter Cheese Ring. It's akin to pimento cheese, but not. It's topped with strawberry jam and pecans and is offered with toasts on the side. Quite good, definitely a unique experience in taste and texture. I love such adventures, especially when they're good!

wanderlust ATLANTA: You are, without question, a celebrity chef. What advice would you give an ambitious culinarian who wants to achieve celebrity status?

Chef Hugh: The term celebrity is something I avoid. I am just trying to be me.


Hugh Acheson's The National (Athens) | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Hugh Acheson's The National (Athens) | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

Wayne had the soup of the day which I got to taste. It was a Cucumber Gazpacho! I love cold soups (hot soups, too) and this one is a star! It had radish, sumac, and olive oil and it was delicious...perfect before our day of 90°-plus outdoor adventures!

I love to cook and came very close to going to culinary school, but I didn't want to give up my nights and weekends. That was decades ago. Today I revel in the delights of what today's ultra creative chefs put on their menus. 

I started collecting autographed books in 2002, but only ones when I'm there to get the autograph myself. The first was Leonard Nimoy's first photography book. From there I was hooked. Not too long after that I got Alton Brown to autograph his book Good Eats, based on his crazy-popular TV show of the same name. 

Since then, my autographed cookbook collection has grown extensively and includes Chef -Hugh Acheson's The Broad Fork. That one if highly focused on fresh vegetables and be sure to check out his other cookbooks.

wanderlust ATLANTA: What's your favorite food from childhood and why? Did you eat your veggies?

Chef Hugh: I was a strange kid who didn't like mac & cheese and hamburgers. I loved vegetables. Still do.


Hugh Acheson's The National (Athens) | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Hugh Acheson's The National (Athens) | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

Wayne had the Impossible Burger, billed as "the meatiest veggie burger around". With its shaved Vidalia onion and pomegranate ketchup, it sounds amazing! And who doesn't love a brioche bun?! 

The fries, which we both enjoyed with our entrees, are so amazing, you'll be at least halfway through them before you remember that you have other items on your plate! 

So many restaurants ignore humans' love of french fries and under-deliver—there are way too many places that do that, what a miss—but The National, Chef Peter in particular, should be in the French Fry Hall of Fame! I don't think there is one, but these fries should at the very least be immortalized in the French Fry Museum!

wanderlust ATLANTA: What's your favorite kitchen gadget and why?

Chef Hugh: A serving spoon. It is my spatula, my scoop, my ladle. It is the OG multi-tool.


Hugh Acheson's The National (Athens) | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Hugh Acheson's The National (Athens) | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

I opted for the Hancock Hoagie, presumably named for the restaurant's street, and was delighted with my choice! It's billed as "a little messy, but totally worth it." And it was! This "creation" has curry-rubbed chicken breast, lettuce, tomato, sweet and tangy curry sauce, and Italian dressing. I could bath in this stuff! Not at the restaurant—minding my manners, remember—it's that delicious!

One thing that stood out for me, and that makes me love this restaurant, is that it uses a lot of spices that perhaps not everyone has in their cupboard, but they're spices that everyone could find at their local markets. If you like a dish you enjoyed at The National, it's something you could try to recreate at home, but I for one will want to return for the real thing.

wanderlust ATLANTA: You autographed a copy of your cookbook The Broad Fork for me about a year ago and I'm loving it! What was unique about writing that book compared to others you've written?

Chef HughThe Broad Fork was meant show to cooking methods for pretty much all vegetables. It was meant to answer the age old question, "What do you do with kohlrabi?". It was fun to write.


Hugh Acheson's The National (Athens) | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Hugh Acheson's The National (Athens) | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

When you walk into The National, directly in front of you is the bar—a handsomely and uniquely appointed bar. The dining room is to your right. So, you can come in for drinks or come in for dinner or come in early and enjoy drinks before you have dinner. Mix it up, have some fun!

I love the travel theme decor. There are postcards from all over the world taped up behind the bar and there's a vintage lunch box with a flight crew standing in front of an airplane with "The National" painted on its fuselage. The lunchbox has no connection to the restaurant which makes it even more fun.

When I travel, I want to explore the local scene and cuisine. If I'm in a new city—or even my own for that matter—I'm not going to go to a chain that I can find anywhere, I'm going to ask around and check out the most talked about place in town or that only-the-locals-know place. That practice promises an adventure every time! Eat local and save the chains for when you're home...that's just my personal advice.

wanderlust ATLANTAYou travel a lot...a LOT! From a chef's perspective, what are the best and worst things about traveling. Favorite destination?

Chef Hugh: Traveling is critical to understanding the world. It can be exhausting sometimes, but you just need to remember to drink a lot of water and pack smartly. Going through cobblestone streets in Lisbon with a roller hard suitcase is silly. Get a backpack. But do go to Lisbon. It is stunning.


Hugh Acheson's The National (Athens) | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Hugh Acheson's The National (Athens) | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

While you're in Athens, explore this fantastic city known for its music scene, sports and awesome restaurants.There's lots to do here!

When you get back to Atlanta, check out Chef Hugh's other restaurants, Spiller Park (2015) at Ponce City Market and Toco Hills; named for his grandfather, Achie's (2018) at the Omni Hotel at Battery Atlanta; and the most talked about Empire State South (2010) in the heart of Midtown.

wanderlust ATLANTA: What's next for Chef Hugh Acheson? 

Chef Hugh: Lots. Food is an endless topic to explore.

I'd like to offer a huge wanderlust ATLANTA "Thank you!" to Chef Hugh, the staff at The National and to PR firm Baltz & Company for arranging the interview. This was not a sponsored post nor a sponsored restaurant visit. All opinions are my own. 

Now, go experience the bliss of Chef Hugh Acheson's restaurants!