Spots that deserve to be all puffed up with pride

In baking, leaveners — the thing that makes baked goods go boom — come in three forms: chemical, physical and biological. Chemical? Easy — baking powder and baking soda. Biological? Why, yeast and sours, mai oui! The trick — and technique — comes with getting physical. That's when air or steam, folded, whipped or beaten into a baked good, makes that genoise or eclair get puffier than a peacock. Here's to praising all thing puffy.

BLT STEAK Four stars
45 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd. N.W., Atlanta. 404-577-7601,

Sure, the steaks here are big, beautiful babies just waiting to be cut into. But the secret's been out for a while now — I'd go just for the big-as-your-head popovers that come prior to the meal. Omigod good.

Puff factor: 10

772 N. Highland Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 404-872-1003,

Funky pastel cupcakes smile up at you from the counter; oversized communal pine tables make for interesting breakfast conversation with tablemates. A blackboard tells of goodies to start the day and lunchtime noshes, while the environs offer old-fashioned candies. Peek past those cupcakes to puffytown: huge — no, gi-nor-mous — cream puffs, filled with pastry cream and dipped in chocolate. The menu changes often, though, so if it's puff you seek, call ahead.

Puff factor: 9

various metro locations,

The best Latin bakery in the area (my favorite location is on Buford Highway) mixes up postres with lots of puff: Ojos del toro (ojo means eye; toro means bull) are special treats of soft pound cake surrounded by a ring of sugary puff pastry (it looks like — you guessed it — a bull's eye).

Puff factor: 8.5

H & F BREAD CO. (not rated)
2255 Peachtree Road N.E., Suite H, Atlanta. 404-355-8877,

Croissants, when made well, are the kind of puffy doodad that can change your life. (At least for the 30 seconds it takes you to eat one. Did I say 30? I meant 15.) Well-made croissants, when stuffed with feisty, peppery house-made pimento cheese, may prevent you from being able to operate heavy machinery or make rational decisions. No trouble. There's a cozy spot at the window of this sister bakery to Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch Public House.

Puff factor: 9.5.

1545 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-870-0640,

Want melt-in-your-mouth smoothness plus puffy, sweet lightness from something other than toothpaste? Found it: the melt-away meringues filled or piped into pretty stars at Joli Kobe's new Midtown location. Move over, Paris, Atlanta has obviously arrived.

Puff factor: 7.