5&10 and 26

First and foremost I must wish one of my partners in crime a happy birthday! Twenty-five years ago today a sweet, naive, beautiful, sophisticated newborn baby was born in Memphis, Tennessee. I'm so,so glad our paths crossed. Happy Birthday, Katie!

Now, Katie and I are almost birthday twins(ies). And last weekend my husband and I celebrated my 26th birthday with an amazing dinner at 5&10 in Athens, GA. Chef Hugh Acheson is known for, among other things, his unibrow, his affectionate but biting wit as a judge on Bravo's Top Chef and his modern take on traditional Southern cuisine- all things that have made me eager to dine at his restaurants for quite some time now. Acheson won the James Beard award for Best Chef Southeast for his work at 5&10 last year, and this year 5&10 is nominated for its outstanding wine program. He's also the owner of The National in Athens and Empire State South in Atlanta.


My dining experience began with a bottle of champagne at our table and a first course- a perfect Caesar salad with Nueske bacon. I know, I know- a Caesar salad. There were so many beautiful looking first courses, but I have several unfortunate (but not life-stopping!) food allergies- nuts, mostly- that drove me towards that delicious Caesar salad. I am also a bit of a purist and don't like requesting that nuts be left off a dish. It just wouldn't be the dish it was supposed to be without that ingredient. Besides, did I mention it was perfect? I could and would eat it every day.

In between our first and second courses, the executive chef, Kyle, came out to our table to introduce himself and brought additional appetizers- foraged mushrooms with a fried quail egg on top of a slice of brioche with balsamic. Delightful. As it turns out, Kyle works with my husband's boss (hence the awesome, totally lucky, I'll-claim-it-as-a-birthday-miracle special treatment) at which point I couldn't help but think..

[you doooo? you know the ownerrrr?]
I digress. What I enjoyed most about 5&10 was that it was down to earth and inviting while still being creative and surprising. Obviously this is important and intentional- the decor, the service, the menu- all make you feel at home and excited to be there. If I could sum it up in a word it would be accessible... Understated. Classic. Delicious. Cozy. Unpretentious... You know what? Why do we impose so many rules on ourselves?  I'll use as many words as I'd like. Scrumptralescent.

I digress again. Acheson's desire to make good, updated Southern cuisine prominent and accessible extends beyond his restaurants and into his cookbook and to online magazines, where he gladly shares recipes for some of his menu's staple entrees like his Frogmore Stew, a take on the traditional low country boil. This is what I chose for my entree at 5&10 and I was delighted to later find this recipe on Food and Wine's website. I happily recreated it last night...

[ingredients, obviously]
I halved the recipe and my only substitutions were cherry tomatoes for plum (ahem- Dekalb Farmer's Market) and vegetable stock for fish stock. This was the biggest difference I noticed in taste- the absence of that briney, sea fishiness. However, fish stock and I don't mix thaaaaaaaat well. Vegetable stock it is.

[stewing away, almost done]
My re-creation and what I was served at 5&10 were very similar but not identical. As I mentioned earlier, mine was missing that extra flavor from the fish stock, but they were both extremely bright with a big hit of acidity from the tomatoes and the fresh lemons that simmer in the stew for the last five minutes. Neither had the strong cajun flavor I was expecting from a low country boil. The version I was served at 5&10 was served in a 'tomato and leek broth,' and what I made last night definitely had the consistency of a stew rather than a broth. I would love to make this again in the summer when corn is in season and sweeter- I think that would make a huge difference. All in all, it was pretty close and the recipe was not only easy to follow, but only took about 30 minutes. It doesn't get much better than that.

[Frogmore Stew]
Until next time...

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