Feature | Re-discovering the Sweet Auburn Curb Market

The Sweet Auburn Curb Market is one of Atlanta’s best-kept secrets and has been serving the downtown community since 1918.

Barriga llena, corazón contenta–Happy stomach, warm heart

The creator of Arepa Mia, Lisbet Hernandez, was an immigrant hoping to share her cuisine with those who weren’t familiar with it. Hernandez moved to the United States from Caracas, Venezuela in 1998. After trying out New Orleans and North Carolina, she finally settled in Atlanta in 2003.

Prior to stating Arepa Mia, Hernandez worked as a chef, specializing in Italian food. She became familiar with the market because of an Italian sandwich that was in business there at the time.

In 2011, Hernandez took a chance on a friend’s advice and began serving arepas at The Curb Market’s Open Picnic. “I would make them at home and bring them every Friday,” Hernandez said. After a year and a half and countless sold-out days, Hernandez decided to buy a stall just beside the doors where she got her start.

Arepa Mia’s signature dish is the arepa, a staple in Venezuela culture and cuisine. Arepas are cornmeal cakes that are cooked on a griddle. They are then cut in half filled with shredded meat, onions, peppers, cheese, black beans and other ingredients–not with sour cream or guacamole. As it says on Arepa Mia’s wall, it is to be eaten like a burger. Additionally, Arepa Mia serves traditional empanadas, cachapas and the Venezuelan national dish pabellon: shredded beef, black beans, fried sweet plantain and Venezuelan white cheese.

The most unexpected thing about Arepa Mia for Hernandez has been the positive feedback from the Venezuelan community. Customers have brought their Venezuelan family members straight from the airport to have Arepa Mia. “[I think it surprises] every Venezuelan to see a little Venezuela outside our own country because we never really immigrate… It’s a great compliment. I feel very humble for that,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez has always felt that the market was home and has no plans to change professions anytime soon. “I love to teach people about my culture and my cuisine. They love to learn and they are curious.”

Should Hernandez ever choose to expand, the original Arepa Mia would remain. “This is my beginning. I don’t want my beginning to go.”

Joy. Comfort. Warmth.

The Sweet Auburn Bakery opened shop in the Curb Market around five years ago with the mission of being a neighborhood bakery. Owner Nathan Johnson had a vision of good, consistent products served at a place with an intimate feel for customers.

The bakery is unlike others around Atlanta in that is focuses on classic bakery finds: cookies, brownies, bread and cupcakes. There’s no emphasis on finding the next big food trend. Johnson chose the Sweet Auburn Bakery because he enjoyed being about to create something people enjoy. “There’s something very visceral, very immediate about seeing somebody get excited over cookies and baked goods,” he said.”

Sweet Auburn Bakery pastry chef and Georgia State alum Mark Bishop went to the bakery from the Four Seasons. “It doesn’t matter to me if it’s a $19 cheesecake or a $20 layer cake or a $400 wedding cake. I still think ou should use the same measuring stick and have the same standards in your product,” Bishop said.

He recommends the key lime cheesecake and key lime tart. But the menu also houses generously-sized cupcakes of various flavors. Regardless of which dessert customers choose, everything is made in-house from fresh ingredients. “I make everything from scratch…and that’s what I love about it because I’m very passionate about making things from scratch.”

What many people might not know about the Sweet Auburn Bakery is that they also serve coffee. The bakery acquired Café Campesino from a stand that was previously in the market. According to assistant manager and coffee expert Amanda Smoker, the unique South American and Indonesian blends are best enjoyed either alone or with one of the bakery’s various cheesecakes or danishes. The danishes bring out the subtle flavors of the coffee “because there are so many different levels of flavor in our danish[es],” Smoker said.

The consensus at the Sweet Auburn Bakery is that the pumpkin cheesecake is currently the best thing offered. Everyone at the bakery is committed to creating an experience to show customers they are valued, and a “moment to enjoy,” in Johnson’s words.

Authentic African and Caribbean cuisine

The owner of AfroDish Ralph Sarpong came to Atlanta from the West African country of Ghana. A Georgia State alum with a degree in finance, Sarpong recalled the earlier days of his business. Getting started 16 years ago was only a challenge because African and Caribbean cuisine had not yet been brought to the area. “With time it started getting a little better… It wasn’t that bad.”

Sarpong shares the business with his wife and their son. The only time AfroDish faced hardship was during the recession. The economic climate had a negative impact on the flow of customers to the market as a whole.

AfroDish’s menu is composed of a mix of traditional West African dishes, including seasoned jollof rice, goat and oxtail stews and egusi, a spinach stew. Additionally, Caribbean favorites such as jerk chicken, curry chicken and fried plantains are served.

Sarpong said there is no single dish that is customers’ favorite. “Now when we cook, it’s not enough,” Sarpong said. “I sell out of everything every day.

Men die for it, women cry for it

The majority of the shops and stalls in the Sweet Auburn Curb Market exist only within the market. However, Grindhouse Killer Burgers found second, third and fourth homes after getting started in the market.

Head cook Carl Johnson has been working at Grindhouse since its humble beginning on Edgewood Avenue in 2009. Johnson, a “Grady baby,” was born and raised in Atlanta. Though he’s never received a formal culinary education, Johnson has 30 years of cooking experience under his belt. This experience is present in the food that Johnson serves from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Monday through Saturday.

Although Johnson also has a position at the Grindhouse on Piedmont Avenue, the Sweet Auburn Market is home. “Over there, there’s a wall between you [and customers]. Over here, we’ve got a window,” Johnson said. Johnson maintains that his burger is better than what can be found at any other Grindhouse because of the experience provides. “I talk to you through your whole meal. It creates a sense of friendship and camaraderie, he said.”

Everything on the Grindhouse menu is good, but Johnson recommends a specific meal. “I’m a Coke drinker, so of course, Coke. I’m a barbecue dude so [the] Cowboy [burger]. And, of course, onion rings, because it’s my recipe.” The turkey burger is also his own recipe at the Sweet Auburn location.

What really makes the market special for Johnson is the people. “The best thing is the different people. I like my customers. I like seeing different people all the time.”

*This article originally appeared in the Arts & Living section of The Signal on Nov. 12, 2013.*

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Food Review | 10th & Piedmont deserves a second visit

Grade: A-
Verdict: 10th & Piedmont has a casual-yet-posh atmosphere and great food, but will leave you wanting more.

When you walk into 10th & Piedmont at dinnertime, you’re immediately struck by the chic, calm ambiance and contemporary interior design. The recently revamped menu features a variety of food from shrimp and scallop nachos, to filet mignon, to a classic burger, hinting that everyone is guaranteed to find something they enjoy.

The bocadillo, a sandwich composed of shredded pork, arugula, asiago cheese and tomato marmalade, is cut into four, making it perfect for sharing. What makes this dish stand out, though, is the kick of wholegrain mustard.

Also perfect for sharing is the restaurant’s take on chicken and waffles. Instead of Belgian waffles with a side of fried chicken, 10th & Piedmont serves up battered chicken on a skewer that looks like a corn dog. The “waffle” outer is crispy and sweet, and the chicken inside has a smoky flavor that feels like a serious meal. The pseudo-corn dogs come with three dipping options to be mixed and matched as desired: syrup, powdered sugar and hot sauce.

10th & Piedmont challenges expectations once again with its play on shrimp and grits. The “shrimp on grits” consists of seared juicy shrimp presented on a cake made of grits. The outside of the cake is firm, but the inside is the smooth Southern grits everyone knows and loves.

The wild mushroom ravioli was a crowd-pleaser, even to me, who is not the biggest fan of mushrooms. The ravioli is filled with spinach and mushrooms and sits in a generous helping of cream sauce with multiple types of wild mushrooms on top. The dish was definitely created with mushroom-lovers in mind.

The icing on the proverbial cake came as a chocolate soufflé with crème anglaise. Made fresh-to-order in 17 minutes, the soufflé can be enjoyed with the cream either poured into the piping hot interior or as a dip for each individual bite. The richness of the chocolate is balanced nicely by the lightness of the cream.

The food is served quickly and employees are genuinely attentive to customers’ needs, which makes up for the dim lighting. However, the portions aren’t as hefty as what’s expected from your neighborhood sit-down place. The majority of the prices won’t break a student’s bank and there’s no lack of flavor here. At the end of the day, 10th & Piedmont is a great choice for a more mature chill night out with friends.

*This review originally appeared in the Arts & Living section of The Signal on Nov. 12, 2013.*

When ‘hello’ becomes harassment

Many people are unaware that what they’ve faced or what they’ve done is a form of street harassment. Almost every woman or member of the LGBTQIQA community has a drawerful of street harassment stories. Let me be clear about what I mean when I say “street harassment:” I don’t mean a single smile or “hello” directed at a stranger (this is the South, after all). I mean going out of your way to make sure someone is aware of your presence and that you are paying attention to them.

Street harassment is always unwarranted and unwanted, regardless of someone’s attire or what time of day it is. Here’s one of my personal accounts:

Last summer, I was walking home from a hair appointment and decided to stop at Burger King. I was leaving the parking lot, maybe two blocks away from home (a big deal in the ‘burbs). A man in a white car pulled up beside me to see how I was doing and asking for my name and number. I said “No, thank you” and sped up. Five hundred feet later, the same man pulled up, closer this time, trying to convince me to give him my number because that was supposedly “all [he] wanted.” I ignored him and practically ran into the yard of a nearby house, where I knew he wouldn’t be able to follow me. In that moment, I thought, which of these houses can I find safety in? What if no one’s home? What if he gets out of his car? How can I defend myself?

That is street harassment.

Although this incident was not physical, street harassment can go that far. It can be as simple as requesting that someone “give you a smile” or commenting on someone’s body for them to hear you. It can be as extreme as making a physical pass at someone or touching yourself when an “attractive” person is in your vicinity.

If someone continues to speak to you or approach you after you’ve made it clear that you are uninterested, that’s harassment. If someone calls a slur out at you, that’s street harassment. If you call someone an expletive after they’ve denied your out-of-the-blue pass at them, that’s harassment. If someone grabs you to tell you how great you look today, that’s harassment. If you tell someone how great of a time you can show them in the bedroom or elsewhere, that’s harassment. If you comment on someone’s perceived sexual preference or gender identity (i.e. “Is that a girl or a boy?”), that’s harassment.

Be aware of what street harassment is so that you’re not a part of it and can help stop it. When you ask a woman to smile and she refuses to or ignores you, don’t call her a bitch. You might be the fifth person that day to make her feel uncomfortable when she’s just trying to get where she’s going. And even if you’re not, no one is required to comply with the requests made of them by people on the street. Street harassment is not a compliment; it’s an invasion of someone’s privacy.

*This article originally appeared in the Opinions section of The Signal on Nov. 5, 2013.*

The downside to positive discrimination: One school faces the possibility of taking steps back in the war against racism

In 2006, Michigan voters passed ballot initiative Proposal 2, which barred the (currently) 77 percent white University of Michigan Law School from using an applicant’s race in their admissions decisions. Since Proposal 2 passed, admission of African-American students has dropped 40 percent. The school is now making waves as it goes to the U.S. Supreme Court in defense of a clause that allowed the admissions office to factor race into their decisions. 

Should the Supreme Court uphold the constitutionality of the proposal, the University of Michigan Law School will likely continue to admit fewer and fewer students of color each year, and this is a problem. 

According to worldwide news outlet Al Jazeera America: Of the 315 students admitted to the University’s law school this semester, just 14 were black and around 42 were Asian. Mean- while, the school is located less than an hour outside of the predominantly black city of Detroit. 

This may seem like a case in which affirmative action, or what Oxford Dictionaries refers to as “positive discrimination,” is acting as “reverse discrimination:” the belief that policies designed to aid minorities put the majority (i.e. white people) at a disadvantage. However, the demographics of the school and its area must be taken into account. 

Regardless, this is a complicated matter. I think everyone can agree that all students should be given equal opportunities for education. And while the creation of a quota-type system for students of color helped diversify the school, the method is questionable. 

As sad as it is to see such a dramatic decline in a single demographic, it can’t really be called a fair system. Based on the proposal, it seems that this was less affirmative action and more a case in which minority students were admitted with lesser credentials simply because of perceived race-based discrimination and disadvantages. 

Under these circumstances, the Court could reasonably rule to continue the ban on race consideration because of the advantage it appears to give students of color or disadvantage it gives to other races. Upholding the proposal would also 

open the door for others to challenge similar systems around the country. 

At some institutions, such as Georgia State, which has no issues attracting students from varied backgrounds, provisions are unnecessary. But others, such as Historically Black Colleges/ Universities and predominantly white institutions, could garner more diversity by factoring in race. 

Even though a quota system appears to be unfair to some, minority students will ultimately suffer if they’re not in a comfortable environment. Any student would. Beyond socioeconomic status, students don’t tend to gravitate toward schools where they feel that they will be alone. 

We want to see others who look like us and may, therefore, share common interests with us. A system that takes race into account guarantees that students will not be alone. In an environment where we are alone, our voices are stifled. We’re inclined to refrain from emphasizing our differences, resulting in assimilation rather than diversification.

*This article originally appeared in the Opinions section of The Signal on Oct. 22, 2013.*

Homecoming: Why students shouldn’t have to care

Homecoming is one of America’s grand traditions. It’s as American as apple pie or baseball. The majority of high school freshmen look forward to homecoming – their first real, big, formal dance. But that feeling doesn’t seem to translate to college freshmen here. 

At Georgia State, homecoming isn’t the biggest on-campus event of the year for the majority of students. Most students don’t go to the Royal Ball or the homecoming football game, and the majority wouldn’t even recognize what some might see as an “elitist” minority without their sashes on. Homecoming isn’t on every student’s radar.

The reality is Georgia State is not like other Southern schools that become fully immersed in homecoming spirit each year.

We’re a city campus in the most urban way. Schools like Georgia, Alabama and Auburn can stop everything and focus on homecoming largely because the layout of their campus allows it.

A full-fledged parade around their campuses doesn’t mean stopping metropolitan traffic and disrupting the business of companies in the area. And when we do stop traffic, it’s to parade golf carts, not fully decorated pick-up trucks. 

Unlike in Atlanta, the schools in these cities are the main attractions, so they have that unified campus feel. Georgia State is also an essential, integral part of the downtown community, unlike other schools that are offset from the rest of the city, like Georgia Tech.

Despite how many new residential facilities have popped up on campus in recent years, Georgia State is still primarily a commuter school with a great number of nontraditional students. A good portion of our student body works during the year to support people other than themselves.

In addition, the majority of our student body doesn’t have the extra time or energy to put a spotlight on a week’s worth of festivities, especially during a week that’s often filled with midterms, exams and papers.

As shown by the annually sold-out Royal Ball, there is a percentage of students who care enough about homecoming to get dressed up and join the fun. However, students who don’t make homecoming a priority shouldn’t feel guilty.

Not attending homecoming events doesn’t automatically point to a lack of school spirit; even if it did, college is ultimately about getting an academic education, not a social one. Though it’s important to further develop social skills in college, our courses and degrees are in academic fields of study. Those students who do go to homecoming events shouldn’t guilt others into attending or consider themselves more prideful in their school.

Despite the large student body disengagement, however, homecoming is growing with each incoming freshman class, as suggested by the Royal Ball’s move from the Student Center to popular downtown venues, and we should welcome this growth. Students who wish to uphold tradition and those who do not wish to should embrace our school’s uniqueness and omit judgement.

*This article originally appeared in the Opinions section of The Signal on Oct. 8, 2013.*