Our 2019 Road Trip, Part 25: Dining with Dragons

Yami Yami line!

Food courts: America’s unsung heroes in times when we need convenience most..

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover 2½ months ago:

For years we’ve been telling friends in other states that we’d one day do Atlanta’s Dragon Con, one of the largest conventions in America that isn’t in California or New York. We’ve been in Atlanta, but we hadn’t really done Atlanta. Hence this year’s vacation, in which we’re aiming for a double proficiency in Atlanta tourism and over-the-top Dragon Con goodness…

After fifteen entries dedicated to our Dragon Con experience, there’s one aspect we’ve left unmentioned till now. In the numerous conventions Anne and I have attended over the years, one of our biggest struggles has been finding palatable food sources on location. Regardless of our excitement levels, we learned from Wizard World Chicago 1999 that we can’t simply eat a modest breakfast, then walk miles and miles for the next twelve hours while fasting. There must be lunch.

Food quality varies from one convention center to the next. Best of Show goes to Cincinnati’s Duke Energy Convention Center, which has permanent booths for local restaurants such as LaRosa’s Pizza and Tom & Chee’s. The Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville has several stands across a variety of cuisines, in addition to downtown places outside that include a Smashburger. Chicago’s McCormick Place has two food courts as well as a number of stands inside their exhibit halls (among them a grade-A fast-food BBQ joint), but nearly everything shuts down by 5 p.m. and will watch you starve if you’re hanging around for after-hours activities. The less said about the school cafeteria food at the Donald E. Stephens Center in Rosemont, the better.

Dragon Con is spread out across multiple hotels and venues, all of which contain and/or are surrounded by high-end eateries for the discerning, well-dressed traveler or businessperson. A few will serve convention attendees as long as what little they’re wearing satisfies local health codes. But most geeks aren’t in town to blow all their disposable income on grub; they’re here to buy geek stuff, shower the stars of their favorite geek shows and films with cash, and acquire new prizes to bolster their hobbies and personal collections. Cheap food is their lifeblood. Cheap food that doesn’t suck is like the rarest ambrosia.

Great minds in Atlanta realized this long ago. Thus we were overjoyed to discover one of Dragon Con’s best secret weapons: Peachtree Center, a food court with numerous options, an okay amount of seating, and convenient connections to the network of buildings participating in the weekend extravaganza. Most of their restaurants normally close early, but they’re open much longer hours on D*C weekend to partake in some of that sweet geek cash.

Our guide on the Thursday afternoon tour for D*C newbies made a point of showing us the best way to get directly to Peachtree Center without having to leave any building or otherwise touch fresh air. Make your way over to the Marriott Marquis Atlanta hotel, strategically snuggled between the Hilton Atlanta Downtown and the Hyatt Regency Atlanta (which popped up in a Jeopardy! tournament this past Friday as part of a Daily Double that cost James Holzhauer a five-figure sum). Make your way to the Atrium Level, which in an ordinary mortal building would be called “the fourth floor”. Head west out of the main promenade; try not to get trapped in the bar area among dozens of motionless, clustered, obstructive drinkers as we accidentally did on Saturday afternoon. Once you’re standing on a glaring patch of tacky striped carpet and begin to see elevators, take a sharp left toward a seemingly plain hallway. You should pass a bizarre cardboard standee of a Fed Ex delivery guy that people have drawn all over. He’s a silent, defaced sentry pointing toward a hamster tunnel that leads southwest, whereupon presto — you’re in Peachtree Center and ready to dine. If the vandalized Fed Ex guy isn’t there anymore, complain to the nearest manager. It doesn’t matter what they manage. Find a manager of anything and demand justice for Feddy the Fed Ex guy.

I realize a food court may seem an oddly quotidian thing to honor when one is blogging about their travels, but we like to show our appreciation to those businesses, organizations, and structures that were there for us in a time of need or want, filling an experiential gap where there easily could’ve been a deficit and possibly some vexatious tribulation if not for their divinely placed presence in our path. Anyone who’s followed MCC long enough knows I’m not doing this to be cool, make no pretense at being a classy professional or an eminently Instagrammable “social media influencer” (*ptui*), and have no capacity for fitting in with cliques or doing what bloggers keep insisting one is “supposed” to do in order to win at blogging, or at least to perpetuate a paper-thin veneer thereof. Hence our all-star salute to a pretty awesome food court that did us a solid by existing and, in at least one instance, by totally rocking.

Following the same format as our mealtime roundup for Days Two through Four of our road trip, the itinerary for Days Five through Seven worked out like so:

THURSDAY THE 29TH -– BREAKFAST: The underwhelming Rising Roll Bakery a block southeast of our hotel, as previously covered with implied sighs.

THURSDAY THE 29TH –- LUNCH: Before our D*C newbie tour, we wandered around the area till we found a staircase that took us to the second (?) floor. We wandered past several options before settling on Beni’s Cubano. Their primary business is fine dining in Marietta, but they have a fast-casual satellite outpost at Peachtree Center that reminds me of a wonderful little place back in Indy called Taste of Havana. Anne went for the chicken-and-cheese empanadas, while I tried the Milagro — a pork sandwich with grilled onions and peppers, cilantro, pickled jalapenos, and garlic aioli. I didn’t photograph them because they looked deceptively ordinary, despite the spices and fresh ingredients tucked away in uncommon combinations.

Beni's Cubano!

You can see a few of the thousands of fans already in Atlanta and communing before the big event.

plantains!

My side order of sweet plantains. More now, please. Can someone mail me some?

beer boxes!

Anne and I found one (1) open table next to CVS, where we had a non-scenic view of D*C weekender fuel.

THURSDAY THE 29TH –- DINNER: After our long morning walk and the even longer newbie tour, we trudged directly back to the hotel and exercised the backup option we’d kept in our pocket in case of extreme exhaustion: the Quiznos next door. To us this was technically still a treat because we are cursed. Whenever we step food inside a Quiznos, they’re dead within a year. For years we went to one in Speedway owned by a charming Muslim couple. The curse killed it. There used to be a lousy Quiznos out in Avon where, instead of “hi”, the manager once greeted us with a shout of “WE’RE OUT OF QUARTERS.” The curse killed it. Rosemont used to have a decent Quiznos up the street from Wizard World Chicago. The curse killed it. There was a dingy Quiznos in downtown Cincinnati that came in handy on the occasion of our first Cincinnati Comic Expo. The curse killed it.

The Atlanta Quiznos we hit features a couple of photos on the front counter with the owner standing next to Congressman John Lewis and some other guy we didn’t recognize. They seemed nice. Food and service were fine. Apologies in advance for whatever befalls them in 2020 because of the curse.

FRIDAY THE 30TH -– BREAKFAST: Using the knowledge gleaned from the newbie tour, we found our way to Peachtree Center’s west entrance on Peachtree Street Northwest, one of 6,000 streets in Atlanta with the word “Peachtree” in its name. We took the escalator below ground level, which was higher up on the west end, as downtown sloped steeply to the east, and grabbed a bite from the first counter we saw with a dedicated breakfast assortment. Great Wraps is a chain originating out of Atlanta with sixteen locations there alone, but with franchises in several random states, including a plethora in Texas. Mostly harmless.

Great Wraps!

Because bacon-egg-cheese sandwiches are tough to screw up.

FRIDAY THE 30TH –- LUNCH: Folks love buffets. Folks love buying stuff by the pound. Folks love Asian food. Yami Yami combines all three loves into a melange à trois. Walk down the line, grab all the sushi and sashimi you want, pick your scoops of meat on rice for your main course(s), add still more sides till your eyes burst, and pay for your accumulation according to its weigh-in. The line moved quickly and the food stayed fresh. When you absolutely, positively need calories in quantity after hours of walking and standing in lines and walking and taking cosplay photos, accept no substitutes.

Yami Yami!

The line began here and continued into our lead photo.

Yami Yami haul!

My modest results, better and cheaper than Panda Express.

FRIDAY THE 30TH -– DINNER: Encore dinner at Pittypat’s Porch, which I will never, ever stop mentioning. Thanks to our Thursday morning reconnaissance, I figured out it was just down the street from Artists Alley at AmericasMart Building 2 and made a perfect resting point when Friday at D*C wore us too far down to go on.

SATURDAY THE 31ST -– BREAKFAST: Leftover Pittypat’s fried chicken plus Belgian waffles from our hotel’s free breakfast bar. That dynamic duo kept us going for a good while.

SATURDAY THE 31ST –- LUNCH: Cookies from a Peacnhtree Center cookie stand. End of menu. Because in moments of weakness, even con veterans like us can get too excitable and forget important lessons such as the one I was just mentioning above about the pitfalls of starving oneself during a con. Sometimes you have to force yourself to take breaks from fun for the sake of nutrition. Yummy cookies, though.

SATURDAY THE 31ST -– DINNER: On a strong recommendation from one of our longtime internet message-board colleagues (an experienced D*C attendee and moderator) we made our best food-based decision of the entire con and tried Aviva by Kameel. It was the summation of every positive adjective I’ve ever used to describe A-plus food. Kameel is no mere faceless figurehead like Bob Evans or that acid-tongued Wendy; he’s an Israeli immigrant who opened Aviva in 2012 and is frequently there working himself, not merely delegating. He was there earlier in the weekend on one of our many passes by, but I didn’t see him there that evening. Nonetheless, we couldn’t believe complex cuisine like his was allowed in a food court. Simply put, we got the hype.

rosemary chicken!

For Anne, the rosemary chicken in “secret spices” and a side of…I think she had the eggplant ratatouille?

chicken shawarma!

Mine mine MINE: chicken shawarma with a side of quinoa made with sauteed zucchini and squash, plus a side of tahini. Come for the Avengers references, stay for the Turkish spices.

We capped that off with desserts to go — two boxes of baklava, one regular and one pistachio. 12/10, will have to do Dragon Con someday just to eat at Aviva again.

…and here, once and for all, endeth our Dragon Con 2019 coverage. Unless I come back in future years looking for clipfest material.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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