For anyone who has dined in Decatur and thought “I’m glad everyone doesn’t know how great the cuisine is here,” the jig is up.
The treasures of Decatur’s dining scene now have a bright spotlight shining on them, thanks to Southern Living magazine. The publication selected Decatur as one of the “South’s Tastiest Towns” and has featured it in its April issue. The magazine showcases Decatur’s tastemakers and chefs and recommends the perfect eating day in town.
The magazine launched its first Tastiest Towns competition “to celebrate the many distinct hometown flavors that define today’s Southern cuisine.” Southern Living chose the top 10 and let consumers decide the winner. According to the publication, more than a half-million votes were cast.
While Lafayette, La., took home the top award, Decatur is honored for its “laid-back spots” writes Senior Editor Paula Disbrowe. Other cities that made the cut are: Baltimore, Md.; Birmingham, Ala.; Charleston, S.C.; Charlottesville, Va.; Houston, Texas; Louisville, Ky.; New Orleans, La., and Raleigh, N.C. Each town is profiled in the current issue.
Asked what distinguishes Decatur, Disbrowe shared in an e-mail, “Two things—the first is that it’s a suburb, a progressive little community outside Atlanta, a culinary powerhouse in its own right, and yet Decatur has established its own distinct identity. The second factor is that it’s unabashedly laid back and welcoming—folks there have sophisticated tastes and they want to eat very well (as in good local and/or sustainable ingredients) but they want to enjoy the food in a laid back setting. They don’t need a flashy or pretentious shrine to fine dining—they are happy to have a great burger or pizza with a killer bottle of wine.”
Disbrowe, who is based in Austin, Texas, said she hasn’t visited Decatur, however, through industry events she’s become a fan of locals such as Billy Allin for his “culinary sensibilities.” And Disbrowe heard rave reviews from Southern Living staffers who have dined in Decatur.
The magazine specifically cited Decatur’s Cakes & Ale, Farm Burger, Brick Store Pub, No. 246 and Your DeKalb Farmers Market as being part of the city’s culinary standouts.
“We are very proud of Decatur,” said Cakes & Ale co-owner Kristin Allin, who along with husband chef Billy are featured in a photograph in the magazine. “Living here, loving Decatur. It’s a very innovative place.”
Allin said they are honored to be recognized by Southern Living.
“We are just enjoying it. Our friends and guests get calls from all around the South. It creates a feeling of pride for people who live here,” she said.
Four-year-old Cakes & Ale moved to its current location on the Decatur Square in August and added a bakery. Allin said the response to the addition has been “very positive” and a new pastry chef, Eric Wolitzky, from New York joined them in March.
“We are attracting this type of talent,” said Kristin Allin of Wolitzky who has competed on the TV show Top Chef: Just Desserts.
Disbrowe also explained that the significance of a community’s restaurants’ quality and variety is “immeasurable. Quality on all levels (from casual to fine dining) shows that chefs and restauranteurs respect the integrity and expectation of their audience. If you’re not going to give 110 percent to your own neighbors, then who else? Quality also tends to indicate a shared sensibility for good (and even sustainable) living, which ultimately means a great lifestyle. A fancy way of saying it makes people happy! Variety of restaurants often reflects the diverse palette of people that create a community, and when a broad spectrum of bellies can be filled by diverse flavors (and some variation of their mother’s cooking), then everyone is more fortified.”
Linda Harris, Decatur’s assistant director of community and economic development, described the recognition as “awesome.”
“We are very excited about this. It’s quite an honor,” said Harris.
She pointed out that Decatur is the smallest of the 10 cities on the list, yet it received more than 10,000 votes. “And we only have 20,000 people in the city,” she said.
“I think it acknowledges what we have become. The folks that live here and come to the restaurants know it. Just having that acknowledgement is a real plus.”
Harris said Decatur plans to mention its culinary distinction in all its marketing materials and via social media for the remainder of the year.
Leonardo McClarty, president of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged that Decatur’s Tastiest Town designation is positive for the city and the county, however, this “best-kept secret” is now out.
“I think it’s definitely something that’s really great for the city of Decatur and also great for DeKalb County as well,” said McClarty. “As people start making their travel arrangements, I hope it will lend itself to people patronizing the restaurants in the city of Decatur, whether they are passing through or staying on the outskirts.”
Southern Living editors chose the Top 10 “Tastiest Towns in the South” based on the following criteria:
• Food as a cultural identity
• Growth of a culinary-minded community
• Diverse cuisine at a variety of price point
• Local, sustainable food practices
• Hot chefs on the rise
• Abundance of buzz-worthy food events
To see what Southern Living had to say about Decatur, visit www.southernliving.com/tasty.