Collard greens are surely one of the quintessential foods of the South. If a restaurant wants to project Southern bona fides, chances are they serve some form of this hearty, leafy green. A slow simmer with ham hock or salt pork shows collard greens at their simple best, but collards can be quite versatile — and chefs around Atlanta show them off in dishes that draw inspiration from around the world.
Let’s start with a Mexican twist at the Blaxican (5260 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Peachtree Corners. 404-606-3737, blaxicanfood.com), where a collard green quesadilla perfectly captures this food truck-turned-restaurant’s south of the border meets soul food philosophy. The greens earn a meaty aroma from time spent in the pot with smoked turkey, then are simply stuffed with a sprinkling of Monterey Jack cheese between two tortillas crisped on the griddle. A side of signature “Mexsoul” sauce (think: tangy ranch shakes hands with hot sauce) is there for the dipping, but a dash of one of the many hot pepper sauces on offer works well, too.
Collards segue seamlessly into most Asian cuisines, showing up in place of cabbage or bok choy on fusiony menus. Collard green kimchi is a natural, and Ba Bellies (6025 Peachtree Parkway, Peachtree Corners. 770-710-0565, babellies.com) makes it a star component in a lunchtime bulgogi bowl. The collard kimchi comes nestled alongside pickled Asian pear, bean sprouts and marinated ribeye over jasmine rice. If you fear spice or fermented funk, however, stay away (and thank you for leaving more kimchi for the rest of us).
You can argue the true ethnicity of the collard green spring rolls at Negril Village (30 North Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-464-7159, negrilvillageatl.com). Are they Chinese? Or Chinese-Jamaican? Or American-Chinese on vacation in Jamaica with a Southern accent? No matter, these spring rolls are delightfully deep-fried. The tender greens play nicely with the crunchy exterior, and all it takes is a touch of the sweet soy chili sauce served on the side to amp up the flavor.
For many, the pot liquor from a batch of collards simmering on the stove steals the show from the greens themselves. At Richards’ Southern Fried (Krog Street Market, 99 Krog St. NE, Atlanta. 678-732-9594, richardssouthernfried.com), chef Todd Richards seizes on that idea by making a bowl of “collard pho” that is all about that broth. At first, the dish may come across as fairly traditional greens swimming in pot liquor, but a chicken bone broth, discs of pickled jalapeno, plentiful sliced scallion and half a hard-boiled egg provide a vaguely Vietnamese sensibility. (No, there are no noodles to be found here, but check out BoccaLupo’s ramen with collard-pork brodo in our ramen roundup.)
Moving on to the Mediterranean, at Scout (321 W. Hill St., Oakhurst. 404-496-6863, scoutoakhurst.com), the collard greens get a decidedly and wonderfully Italian spin in the form of ricotta and collard fritters over a smoked tomato marinara. The greens here are finely chopped, whipped with ricotta, rolled into golf ball-sized rounds, then lightly fried for a pleasant crunch and a remarkably fluffy interior. If you didn’t know better, you might guess that these fritters were made from chard or even kale; clearly, collards adapt easily to an Italian ambiance.
At Twisted Soul, (1133 Huff Road NW, Atlanta. 404-350-5500, twistedsoulcookhouseandpours.com), chef Deborah VanTrece prepares collards that arrive like neatly wrapped little packages of green, each a gift for your taste buds. It’s tempting to point to Greek dolmas or Lebanese warak arish as the closest culinary parallels, if only those stuffed grape leaves were grape leaves all the way through. VanTrece was simply looking for a more elegant way to present her collard greens, and, by delicately wrapping up layers of collard leaves into pretty bundles, she achieves something perfectly familiar yet intriguingly exotic at the same time. These collard rolls come as a standard side with VanTrece’s fried chicken, but, if you ask nicely, they’ll bring you a plate of the collard rolls with a shot glass of warm pot liquor for dipping. It’s Southern heaven.
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