Keeping It In The Family

In researching the history of the ice cream cone, I came across the remarkable story of two brothers who’ve been credited with creating the hamburger, a peanuts-and-popcorn snack à la Cracker Jack and the ice cream cone.

While many have said each was their idea, corroborating sources suggest brothers Frank and Charles Menches could make a rightful claim. That’s because the Menches brothers were traveling concessionaires who started working the fair circuit in the late 19th century. Back in 1885, Frank and Charles were selling ground pork sandwiches. But when they arrived in upstate New York for the Erie County Town Fair, the local butcher was unable to provide the meat they needed. As an alternative, he offered up ground beef, something that was rarely used at the time.

Having no other option, the Menches brothers bought five pounds of ground beef and returned to their stand where they proceeded to fry up some patties on their gasoline stove. Finding the beef to be a bland substitute for their usual pork patty, the brothers chose to season it with coffee and brown sugar. Yet despite its unusual flavor, this new creation became a surprise hit with the locals.

Of course, Frank and Charles didn’t limit themselves to sandwiches. By 1893, they’d moved on to the World’s Fair in Chicago. This time they were selling caramel-coated peanuts and popcorn, complete with a prize in the box. While their “Gee Wiz” sounds similar to Cracker Jack, Frito Lay contends the creators were different people — who were also coincidentally in Chicago for the fair.

That wasn’t the first time multiple parties at a World’s Fair said they were the legitimate creators of something edible. At the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, the Menches brothers were two of many who supposedly invented the ice cream cone. As the Menches family tells it, Charles was attempting to make waffle cups, but was having a hard time forming them without a mold. He then saw Frank using a sailor’s fid, a conical device meant to splice tent ropes. Inspired, Charles started using the fid to roll up his waffles as soon as they came off the griddle — giving birth to the ice cream cone.

By all accounts, the cone was a huge hit and as news of it spread demand soared. So much so that many companies were rushing to produce equipment that made ice cream cones. Even the Menches brothers got caught up in the craze, returning to their native Akron to open the Premium Ice Cream Cone and Candy Company.

Whether the Menches were the true originators of all three — or just had the same ideas at the same time as others — I was impressed that they came up with so many iconic foods. It’s quite amazing to be responsible for a first, much less three.

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Pimento Cheese “Fry Bread” at JCT Kitchen

This isn’t so much an appetizer as it is a combination of my weaknesses: bread, cheese and frying. Available only at lunch, it all starts with thin slices of brioche that’ve been dipped in a tempura batter and fried to a golden hue. These crunchy wedges are then paired with a sizeable dollop of a soft but sharp pimento cheese — one that’s made with goat cheese, light on heat and dressed with a little oil. As far as vices go, it’s as addictive as a pack of cigarettes (and only slightly healthier). JCT Kitchen, 1198 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta, GA (404) 355-2252 • jctkitchen.com

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The “Liger” of Desserts

Cheesecake bread pudding with blueberry sauce, South City Kitchen (Vinings), Atlanta, GA

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Two-Meat Platter at Heirloom Market BBQ

Hard smoke. It’s an expression I didn’t use before I dined at Heirloom Market. Because Heirloom uses a combination of four woods to cook their meats, it imparts a flavor unlike any other I’ve tasted. With their slabs of juicy brisket and wide array of house-made sausages, the food here harkens back to the owner’s Texas roots. But saying this discounts his Korean-born wife’s contributions, which include galbi (short ribs) and kimchi (pickled vegetables). So, for a number of reasons, it’s easier to say Heirloom serves its own unique brand of BBQ. A word of warning: this closet-sized restaurant will always have a line out the door and it’s all but guaranteed to run out of food early (there were no ribs on my first visit). It’s also impossible to leave here without getting heavily perfumed by smoke. I’m not complaining though. If Calvin Klein bottled the scent, I’d probably spritz myself with it twice daily. Heirloom Market BBQ, 2243 Akers Mills Road, Atlanta, GA (770) 612-2502 • heirloommarketbbq.com

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The New Combo Meal

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Behind the counter at Pita Republic, Atlanta, GA

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Show Me Your Titles

Drunken tourists aren’t the only thing you’ll find in the French Quarter. If you head down sleepy Toulouse Street, you might stumble upon the whimsically named Kitchen Witch, just as I did one afternoon.

Despite what you might think, Kitchen Witch isn’t one of the many occult shops you’ll see around town. It’s simply a store filled floor-to-ceiling with new and used cookbooks that represent every imaginable cuisine. French and Italian, you got it. Cajun and Creole, you bet. Micronesian, most likely. Heck, they even sell essential spices for $5 a jar and jugs of local tap water for $20 a gallon (because apparently you can’t make a good roux without it). 

While smaller than your average Waldenbooks, I spent close to an hour browsing Kitchen Witch’s shelves and thumbing through my finds. Ultimately, I ended up leaving not with a cookbook, but with Sara Roahen’s wonderful “Gumbo Tales.” As I ate my way through New Orleans’ old standards, her book gave me terrific insight into how these dishes came about.

So should you find yourself in the Quarter — and don’t feel like giving into its temptations — why not pop into Kitchen Witch? After all, no one’s ever woken up with a regrettable tattoo because they binged in a bookstore. Though if this could happen anywhere, it’d most certainly happen in New Orleans.

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Cold Comfort

Growing up, one of the sweetest parts of summer (literally) were impromptu visits from the ice cream man. When my friends and I heard the gentle tinkling of music that announced his arrival, we’d drop everything and run down to the sidewalk for Bomb Pops and Push-Ups.

As an adult, I’ve done the same thanks to Twitter. Knowing the location of Atlanta’s roving King Of Pops has sent me dashing out of my office in search of paletas, those Latin-inspired popsicles. So when I was in Nashville this past weekend and withering from the heat, I set out in search of local fave Las Paletas.

Unlike the pushcart King of Pops, Las Paletas has a fixed location in the gentrifying 12South neighborhood. Also unlike King Of Pops, the options were staggering. While King Of Pops only has five or so flavors on any given day, Las Paletas has almost 20! It was hard choosing just one, but I finally settled on a Strawberry Blueberry paleta. It was unbelievably fruity and sweetly tart, as it was made with pulped berries instead of juice.

Truth be told, I probably would’ve grabbed another pop if my first hadn’t melted faster than I could eat it. But that’s what made Las Paletas perfect for a steamy Sunday. Just like those treats I enjoyed as I was a kid, they provided a brief, yet frosty reprieve from summer’s sizzle.

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