stuffed cheez-it pizza for the win

earlier this week my older brother kyle sent kari and me a link to a story about pizza hut’s new stuffed cheez-it pizza with the comment “another marketing campaign tailor made for kels!”  well, it couldn’t be more true.  after rapid-reading the article, i fired back the message “i know what i’m having for dinner on tuesday!”  so, when tuesday night did roll around, phillip and i parked in the exclusive pizza hut parking spots to give into the hype.

we enthusiastically ordered the pepperoni stuffed cheez-it pizza and were thankful the cashier was kind and did not laugh too much at the unusual amount of excitement we were showing.  i mean, just look at this face!  cheez-its and pizza – what more could we want?!

phillip and i patiently waited in those bright red chairs, our expectations nearly through the roof.  we had just finished a tornado class at orangetheory and were eager to undo our workout.  about ten minutes later, our order was up, and i squeaked when i saw how cute the box was.  i guess sometimes in life it’s good that simple things can excite us so much.  🙂

we sat down and opened the box to reveal four fresh, piping hot cheez-it pockets.  don’t they look just like the crackers themselves?  the answer is “yes.”

the cheez-its were honestly a little smaller than i expected them to be, and a single order like this is really more of a snack or a side item probably meant to be ordered with something else.  these pictures give you an idea of the scale/size.

phillip and i each started with a bite of just the square, no marinara dipping sauce quite yet.  we chomped, we chewed, we thoughtfully savored, and in the end we decided that pizza hut had truly capture the cheez-it essence.  it isn’t too much cheez-it, it isn’t too much pizza.  it’s an excellent combination of the two.  the edges were crispy but not burned, and bites closer to the center were warm and gooey.

although quite delicious on their own, they are even better with a dollop of the marinara sauce.  it really completes the bite and brings everything together.  as we finished up, we were extremely tempted to order more, as i easily could have eaten a whole box on my own.  somehow we refrained, which was difficult seeing as how i do not know how i’ve been living up until now without these stuffed cheez-it pizza bites in my life.  the good news is that i can definitely have them again.  the bad news it they’re only around for a limited time, so you better hurry and order yourself some before we beat you to it!

the impossible whopper

as many of you know, i am a sucker for a good marketing campaign, especially when it comes to food.  i mean, i tried the pizza hut p’zone because of a good commercial they were running, and although not the topic of this post, i’ll save you the trouble now and encourage you not to order the p’zone.  it was bad the first time it came out and is still bad on this re-release.  too much dough and not enough filling!

anyway, i digress slightly.  this post is about the impossible whopper by burger king.  i kid you not when i tell you that, as i am typing, a commercial for the impossible whopper just aired.  it’s like it was fate.  because i did not want to miss out on the alternative-patty craze that seems to be gripping the nation, i asked phillip to stop at burger king on his way home from work last week and pick up a couple of impossible whoppers for us to try now that they are available nationwide.

we unpacked our bag of grub, snapped a few photos, and then started chomping away.

i’ll cut straight to the chase and keep it real with you all.  the look of an impossible whopper is just like that of a regular whopper.  a complete bite (bun, patty, toppings, and all) really tastes just like a burger.  i broke off a little hunk of the patty itself to see how it tasted on its own, and it wasn’t too bad.  it definitely had that flame-grilled taste on the outside, but a plant-based patty just doesn’t have that juicy, savory element that a meat patty has when perfectly cooked.  some things just cannot be recreated.

i’d say if you are interested in the impossible whopper, go get yourself one.  i’m not certain i’ll have it again, but it was fun to give something new a try, and i think it’s pretty cool that a big, popular chain like burger king has a trendy, meatless option for customers who crave it.  up next on my list of things to try include the beyond meat patty this week in our blue apron meal kit and then, if i like that, maybe the beyond meatball marina sub at subway.

doughnut dollies – atlanta, ga

hi, readers!  phillip davis back at it as a guest blogger on my lovely wife’s website.  it is with great pleasure that i yes, introduce you all to another unique doughnut spot that we visited yesterday for a breakfast treat called doughnut dollies!  i love the more traditional spelling of the word doughnut, so i will keep this consistent across the remainder of the blog.

it was a lovely sunday morning down here in atlanta, and kelsey and i were en-route to orangetheory fitness (otf for short) to get our workout groove on.  now, if you haven’t heard of or tried otf, it is a 60 minute high-intensity interval training cardio-based workout that seeks to get folks to experience epoc (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption).  essentially, the workout gets you out of breath and recovers you during the duration of the class so that your body burns more calories during and approximately 36 hours after the 1-hour workout.  kudos to our coaches, taylor, mike, obi, draya, and kat, for pushing us on a weekly basis.  i highly recommend trying a class if you haven’t already (hint hint, you can try your 1st class for FREE)!  ok, so i got carried away there, but had to mention otf since kelsey and i definitely have the “otf bug.”

anyway, we were on the way to otf when kelsey, out of the corner of her eye, saw a pretty unique logo to our right with what looked to be no other than an american red cross on it that had the words “doughnut dollies” above the iconic symbol.  now, i am sure that she saw the red cross instantly because she donates blood on a regular basis.  i, for one, initially thought the building was some kind of medical center, so i believed it wasn’t anything food-related until she told me, “oh, phillip!?  there’s a new doughnut place over there!”  without hesitation, i got the car to a complete stop at the red traffic light, turned to look at the logo, then told kelsey, “oh, we’re definitely going there after our workout!”

cool logo stamped on carry-out box!

once our 1-hour otf strength workout came to a close (thanks for a good class, obi), we got in the car and drove roughly 1 minute away off howell mill road to go see what the cute, little doughnut shop was all about.  we entered the cafe, which by the way, was clean and tidy, and noticed the incredibly large doughnuts staring right in front of our faces inside the clear glass counter.  now, the howell mill location is doughnut dollies’ 2nd location in georgia, and silly enough, this particular store was celebrating its 1 month anniversary since they opened last month in june.  what a fun way to celebrate a very special occasion by trying and enjoying some doughnuts ourselves!  time was on our side, for sure.

kelsey and i looked at the different types of doughnuts (the store calls them tiers, or levels, since they have a variety of basic and specialty doughnuts that customers can order) and decided to order a strawberry doughnut and a smores doughnut.  at first glance, we felt the tiers were a little confusing since they had 4 different price levels depending on what kind of doughnut you order, and the doughnuts were not clearly sorted by tier in the glass window display.  we got over this pretty quickly and selected our doughnut choices shortly thereafter.  we also noticed that the store served jittery joe’s coffee, so naturally, we decided to order 1 small coffee with cream and sugar to split (i didn’t want to get over-caffeinated).

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Coming to America – Day 2

June 20th

Our mission today was to travel to Cheswick, PA to find Deer Creek Cemetery and the graves of our Grandfather George and Uncle Felix.  We had breakfast at the hotel and set off with an overcast sky.  The scenery was beautiful, so green and so different from the Los Angeles area!  We found the very old cemetery and set out looking for the graves.  Gary had looked up the information, and we knew which sections they were in, or so we thought.  We all got a lot of steps in as we went back and forth, row after row looking at gravestones.

deer creek cemetery.

I personally find old cemeteries very interesting and can wander for hours looking at the headstones and wondering who these people were, what their lives were like, etc.  A lot of the people buried here were born in the mid- to late 1800s.

Kyle and Clark found George Despot’s headstone (1888-1941), and we gathered around.  He died of black lung from working in the coal mines.  It was emotional for Gary and I, remembering our mother had told us and knowing that she had been here when he was buried.

It started lightly raining as we looked for Felix’s grave.  Back and forth, up and down we went in the grass.  We couldn’t find the grave, but our shoes sure got wet!  We finally went to the office, and the groundskeeper looked it up right away, so we followed him in his vehicle to the correct section.  We found Felix’s headstone (1916-1947), who died of a burst appendix, and that of this daughter Judith.  We thought of the stories our mother had told us of her big brother.

Our mother had a younger brother who also came to America; his name was Albert, or Uncle Al as we all called him.  He joined the Navy and ended up settling in San Pedro, CA to work as a fisherman.  After our mother’s dad and brother Felix passed away, she moved out to Long Beach, CA to be near her brother Al.  Our next stop was in memory of him.  We climbed into the van and headed to Oakmont Country Club where Uncle Al had worked as a caddie when he was a kid.  Gary fondly remembers Uncle Al telling stories of working at Oakmont.  A little history for those who don’t follow golf:  the course at Oakmont Country Club, designed in 1903, is one of the most difficult in North America.  It has hosted more combined USGA and PGA championships than any other course in the United States.  We arrived at the guard shack and explained that we just wanted to go to the pro shop and pick up a few souvenirs because Uncle Al had worked here many, many years ago.  The gentleman gave us the once over (being sure we were properly dressed because golf courses can have dress codes) and said we could go in.  What we could see of the golf course was absolutely beautiful as well as the buildings.  We picked up some gifts to take back home and set off.

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Coming to America – Day 1

Hello, my name is Aunt Cindy, and I am Kelsey’s aunt from California.  I am honored and a little scared to be a guest writer on her blog.  I recently flew to Pittsburgh from Los Angeles to meet up with my brother Gary (Kelsey’s dad and a former guest blogger) and my nephews Kyle and Clark for what I have named the “Coming to America” tour.

Our mother Goldie Despot came to America from the then Yugoslavia (now Croatia).  Her father Grgo (George) and Uncle Stipan (Steve) had arrived in America and were working in coal mines outside of Pittsburgh.  George sent for his children one-by-one; my mom Goldie was 11 and traveled by herself on a ship to New York.  She stayed on Ellis Island for several days and was then put on a train to Pittsburgh where her father was to pick her up.  My mother lived at different times with her father in Harmarville and uncle and aunt in Brownsville.  She grew up in these areas, went to school, and learned to speak English without an accent.  She eventually moved to California, married, and had my brothers and me.

My mother took us three kids on a train to Pittsburgh in 1965.  We all have memories of that great adventure.  My mother kept in contact with a few of her friends and cousins in Brownsville, but since she passed in 2001, no one has been in contact with them.  Gary decided he wanted to go back and visit and found a few relatives, so the new adventure began.

Wednesday, June 19th – Arrived in Pittsburgh

Gary and Kelsey drove to Pittsburgh from Atlanta and picked Kyle, Clark, and I up at the airport.  Here are a few photos of Gary and Kelsey’s driving adventure.

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We left the airport in the rented minivan and, thanks to the Neuwirths (friends of the Alabama Andrich family), we were ready to video this awesome sight as we came out of the tunnel into Pittsburgh.

After we checked into our hotel, the Springhill Suites Pittsburgh North Shore, we enjoyed tasty appetizers of crackers with three different flavors of easy cheese and whiskey shots in the boys’ room.

We set out to find something to eat and walked in the light rain to Mullen’s.  We ordered beers and other things to drink.  I spotted a Black and Tan on the menu.  I love a Black and Tan and this one was made with Yuengling Beer, which we on the west coast cannot get.  It was delicious!  Looking at the menu, the Pittsburgh Wrap caught my eye.  The menu said it was the #1 best seller, and I have to agree!  I loved it.  Grilled steak tossed with cheese sauce, coleslaw, and French fries.  My plan was to share it, but only a small portion went to Kelsey for a taste – I ate everything!  I never had French fries on a sandwich but have to say these French fries were not the usual boring fires.  I don’t know what they did, but they were delicious.

Kelsey went with the pierogis (which are filled dumplings of Central and Eastern European origin, made by wrapping unleavened dough around a savory or sweet filling and cooked in boiling water or pan-fried).  Kelsey and I were both looking forward to these, as they are not common in Atlanta or the South Bay area of Los Angeles.  Unfortunately, they were pretty firm without enough butter and, ultimately, very disappointing.  Clark had the chicken wings and enjoyed them very much.

After dinner we were all pretty worn out, so we walked back in the rain to our hotel for a good night’s rest.

national burger day!

last tuesday was national burger day, so after a grueling workout at orangetheory fitness, phillip and i decided it was only right that we join in the celebration.  i pulled up yelp, in search of a burger joint we had not yet tried.  as i scrolled through pages of results, i stumbled upon a burger place that is not only off buford highway (some of atlanta’s best restaurants are off buford highway) but is also inside a chevron gas station!  i asked phillip just how adventurous he was feeling that night, and he kindly obliged my curiosity, especially when i told him this spot has four stars.  so, we pulled out of the lot, drove about ten minutes north, and were ready to give burger baby a chance.

like many of the reviews state, two things are definitely true.  first, you most certainly will miss this place if you are not looking for it.  second, once you do know what you are looking for, things are going to look a little curious.  the signs are a bit beat up and nothing really looks official, but if you can get past that, you’ll find in the left back corner of the store the burger baby counter.  even before we ordered, i immediately knew this adventure and meal would be dedicated to anthony bourdain.  i’m most certain this is the type of place he would want us to try on such an occasion.

as we perused the menus, loads of fresh, delectable “wangs” were being dressed for some customers in front of us.  if i hadn’t come there with the mission of celebrating national burger day, i may have walked out of there with a basket of wings.  guess we’ll just have to come back another time!

it was our turn to order, so we asked the lovely patrice for some help in navigating the menu.  she made a few recommendations, and we ultimately decided on two orders of sliders (four sliders total), one with muenster and the other with swiss, and some french fries.  patrice was kind enough to hook us up with a side cup of parmesan garlic sauce for dipping, a creation she has self-named “patrice’s parm fries.”  spoiler alert – they did not disappoint.

all the burgers and fries are made fresh to order, so while we waited we jammed along to some “wild thoughts” by rihanna along with the lion king on the tv in the background.  doesn’t get much better than that!

along with the sweet tunes, here are other things you need to know about burger baby.  they do accept credit cards, something i mention because sometimes with smaller places that is not the case.  also, there is nowhere to sit and eat here.  there are a couple stools, but those are more for when you’re waiting.  so, definitely plan to eat this in your car (while it’s still hot!) or enjoy it elsewhere.

it wasn’t too long before patrice called out our name for food.  we thanked her for her friendly suggestions and wisher her luck at her birthday dinner later that week.  what can i say?  i can chat it up with just about anyone.  🙂

thumbs up, patrice!

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emerald city bagels

one day in the not so recent past, i had been craving a good bagel.  now, when we lived in buckhead, there were plenty of places around where we could go (and did go) for bagels.  however, we all know that feeling when the same old is the same old and we want to try something new.  as such i searched the internet far and wide for bagels in atlanta and emerald city bagels caught my eye most.  and what do you know?  it’s a pleasant twenty minute walk from our house in east atlanta!

phillip excited about his post-otf bagel.

this darling mother-daughter bagel shop is a charming combination of big city atmosphere and just the right amount of whimsy.  it isn’t too fussy, keeping the focus on what’s most important – those delicious bagels!

without a big line of customers behind us, we walked up to the counter and informed the cashier justin that it was our first time at emerald city and we wanted some recommendations.  thankfully he was also in a chipper mood, so he gladly took some time to give us the lay of the land and also make some personal suggestions.  we didn’t waste any time ordering two coffees, a rosemary sea salt bagel with fig cream cheese, and an everything bagel sandwich with egg, cheese, and pork roll.  yes, go ahead and be jealous.  🙂  with our hot coffees and toasty bagels, we grabbed a couple of seats at the counter inside and got to work.

we’ll start with phillip’s bagel breakfast sandwich with its perfectly cooked egg that oozed out just the right amount.  each bite was super savory between the rich egg and cheese and salty bagel and pork roll.  before i knew it, phillip had scarfed down almost the whole thing!  i somehow snuck a bite of it before it was entirely devoured.

it was time to try the rosemary sea salt bagel with fig cream cheese.  oh.  my.  word.  first, let’s drool for a moment about this incredible cream cheese to bagel ratio.  i mean, i’m definitely on team the-more-cream-cheese-the-better, and this place does it up right.  next, let’s talk about taste.  the fig cream cheese was incredible!  and this is coming from someone who actually likes figs.  they weren’t too much or too little; they were just right.  as for the bagel itself, it was a touch too salty for me and not enough rosemary at all.  don’t get me wrong, i still ate that bagel like it was the last bagel i would ever eat, but if i hadn’t known, i’d think it was just a sea salt bagel with all the big salt flakes everywhere.

likely to no one’s surprise, phillip and i have been back to emerald city bagels each weekend since moving to east atlanta.  and, to ensure we deliver the most to our loyal readers, here’s a list of all the bagel-spread combinations we have enjoyed so far and our ranking of each.

phillip’s rankings:

  1. inverted grilled cheese on rosemary sea salt
  2. everything bagel with egg, cheese, and pork roll
  3. rosemary sea salt bagel with toasted almond and fig cream cheese
  4. plain bagel with garlic herb cream cheese
  5. garlic bagel with plain whipped cream cheese
  6. sea salt olive oil bagel with veggie cream cheese
  7. cinnamon sugar bagel with peanut butter

kelsey’s rankings:

  1. rosemary sea salt bagel with toasted almond and fig cream cheese
  2. inverted grilled cheese on rosemary sea salt
  3. everything bagel with egg, cheese, and pork roll
  4. plain bagel with garlic herb cream cheese
  5. cinnamon sugar bagel with peanut butter
  6. sea salt olive oil bagel with veggie cream cheese
  7. garlic bagel with plain whipped cream cheese

so, if you’re ever in the mood for a killer bagel and some decent company, make the trek south of i-20 and phillip and i will drop whatever we are doing and meet you at emerald city.  after all, there’s a whole world of bagel-spread pairings we have yet to try, and we’d love to try them with you!

rumor has it

that chipotle now has queso.  actually, it’s not really a rumor.  they’ve been promoting it for about a month now on tv and here in atlanta they’ve even put up big ‘ole billboard advertisements.

earlier this week i’d so conveniently forgotten my packed lunch at home in the refrigerator, so i ended up needing to go out for a bite to eat.  i wanted something quick and satisfying and figured chipotle would be a solid choice, especially since it’s very close to our office.  i ordered my chicken bowl like always and then decided i’d take a chance and try a cup of the queso with some chips.  i hadn’t heard the best reviews about it on social media but we all know how social media can be, so i thought i’d go out on a limb and find out for myself.

i ripped into the chips, opened the queso, took a dip, and had my first bite.  first things first, the spices they used in the queso were actually very tasty.  it was flavorful and had the slightest kick, probably due to the chipotle chili and jalapeno.  i took a couple more tastes and thought, “well, this isn’t as bad as people were making it sound.”

but then as i made my way to the bottom of the queso cup, a funny taste started to linger in my mouth.  something tasted off about the cheese and then the texture started to bother me as well.  the queso was very, very thick and actually not very smooth at all.  i guess “gloopy” would be a good word to use to describe it.  as for the cheese, i realized the issue after looking at the ingredient listing online:  they use cheddar cheese – ick!  now, don’t get me wrong, i love cheddar cheese, i love all cheese!  i haven’t yet met a cheese i don’t drool over, but cheddar cheese seems like the completely wrong choice for a queso.  maybe that’s because here in the south we’re used to a nice mild, white, smooth cheese in our queso or maybe it’s just because cheddar cheese really isn’t a good idea at all.  regardless, after finishing the queso (because i hate to waste) i swiftly scarfed down my chicken bowl to get the bad tastes out of my mouth.

now, with all this being said, i advise you try chipotle’s queso at your own risk.  and, if you do insist on giving it a taste, i will say this:  try just a cup of the stuff.  i truly don’t think it’d be wise to drizzle this stuff all over your tacos or burrito or bowl and ruin your entire meal.  you have been warned!

nam phuong – atlanta, ga

earlier in august i had picked up the local periodical creative loafing and was flipping through the pages when i came upon a story that highlighted and reviewed the best 12 wing joints in atlanta.  coined “the ultimate wing smackdown“, writers and contributors took recommendations from creative loafing loyalists to taste, savor, and ultimately decide which restaurant in the city boasts the best chicken wings.  with five criteria (including flavor, exterior texture, interior texture, value, and overall appearance) by which to evaluate, the judges trekked far and wide to, in the end, crown nam phuong the chicken wing king.

in a mostly unassuming building off buford highway, nam phuong is a spacious sit-down restaurant that, on the tuesday night we went, was quite busy with a very diverse crowd.  now, before i go on to review these chicken wings, let me say this:  buford highway is like the yellow brick road of authentic food in atlanta.  with restaurants that span cuisines from all over the world, the real foodies in this city know that la buford is the place to be, and nam phuong is a perfect fit for this reputable strip.

our group of seven was quickly seated and our water glasses were brought soon thereafter.  as i flipped among the menu’s pages, my eyes wandered around the tables near us, interested to see what other diners had ordered.  big, white ceramic bowls with steam rising out of them were most of what i saw, and even though a big helping of pho sounded tasty, i knew i would have to make a return trip for that.  this visit was for chicken wings and chicken wings only!  at least as far as i was concerned.

matt, anthony, janine, grant, eric, and claire all opted for the pho, which came out quickly and piping hot.  on a cold winter’s day, i could easily picture myself coming back here for a savory bowl of that stuff, but i waited patiently as my wings took a little longer to come out.  i took that as a good sign, hoping it meant they were being cooked to order.  🙂

thankfully i was able to keep my drooling under control once the waiter served me.  the wings were hot and covered in some kind of delicious fish sauce, and alongside was a heap of white rice and some sliced vegetables.  for about nine bucks, it looked like this “appetizer” was going to be more than enough to fill me up!

as the rest of the group happily slurped up spoonfuls of noodles and chicken and broth, i got down and dirty with my wings.  the wings were cooked in such a way that the skin was crispy but also a little tacky with the sauce that had obviously been brushed on at the right moment in the grilling process.  the sauce itself was sweet but also had a little zing at the end of each bite, so it was good i had the rice to help offset the spice.  the chicken itself was very juicy and not dry at all, and i greedily ate every single one of them!

if you’re a wing lover in any regard, i highly recommend you swing by nam phuong to give their wings a try.  this dish is a great value for what you get, the service is fast and friendly, and supporting a local joint just makes you feel good!  so, if you’ve got a hankering for something familiar but also something new, then this place is the spot for you.

hattie b’s hot chicken – birmingham, al

this past weekend, phillip and i made a swift drive west to visit my parents in birmingham for a couple of days.  it was a belated birthday celebration for my father as well as an early valentine’s day gathering for all four of us.

my mom was occupied at the school for a show choir event all day saturday, so phillip and i helped my dad run errands around town and then take kramer for a lovely afternoon walk over at heardmont park.  this place brings back countless memories of my brothers during the baseball days, and my father and i reminisced as we strolled from field to field.

the day crept into the evening, and i’d say all four of us had worked up quite an appetite for dinner.  so, we all hopped in phillip’s mazda and my dad navigated us to downtown birmingham where we joined the crowd in line at hattie b’s for some hot chicken.

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future son-in-law with his future father-in-law. 🙂

we waited in line for about ten minutes, but it wasn’t so bad since that gave us time to look over the menu.  now, mom and dad have been here before, and both testified that the medium sauce made their heads sweat.  per their recommendation, i then knew that the mild would be the way to go.  in addition to choosing your heat level, you also have several chicken choices.  from breasts to wings to tenders, surely there’s something on this menu that can satisfy.

at seven o’clock on a saturday night, you can probably imagine how busy this place already was.  so, when a table opened up, i sprinted to claim it for us.  as i settled in and took a look around, it was clear by the simple atmosphere and the line out the door that tasty eating was awaiting us.

mom, dad, and phillip arrived with our number and our drinks and we chatted as we waited on our food.  i’m going to guess that they try to make everything fresh to order, because we had plenty of time to discuss wedding plans.  oh, did i mention phillip and i are engaged?  well, if you didn’t know before, you’re in the know now!  🙂  more on all that fun to come later.

in the end, the food was certainly worth the wait.  between the sides and the chicken, there was hardly anything left on our plates!  the pimento cheese mac’n’cheese was creamy with a little kick, the collard greens were well-cooked (and i’d recommend throwing some hot sauce on them to spice things up), and i heard the potato salad, fries, and coleslaw were also delicious.

my mild tenders were, first of all, humongous.  i actually needed help finishing them!  although delicious when dipped in either the honey mustard or bleu cheese, a bite on its own was quite flavorful.  i’m glad i went with the mild because although the heat may not be in-your-face at first, you definitely start feeling it after two or three tenders.  phillip also had the mild tenders and didn’t leave a single bite uneaten.  mom said her southern chicken tenders were wonderful and dad could not get enough of the mild wings he ordered.

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i’d say if i find myself back at hattie b’s (which i’m sure i will) i think i’ll go for the wings.  the tenders are awesome if that’s what you’re in the mood for, but the wings really looked like they might be this restaurant’s specialty.  i also don’t doubt i’d try the potato salad (it looked awesome on my mom’s plate) and i would certainly get an order of the banana pudding.  my mom says it is heavenly, and i don’t think i’ll forgive myself if i forget to get it next time.