One bite of a golden, flakey and fluffy buttermilk biscuit and you might start humming “Grandma’s Hands,” the 1971 best-selling Bill Withers tune. It could be the theme song for an Atlanta baker’s lifelong celebration of Black bakers and made-from-scratch biscuit lessons from her grandmothers.
“It always brings me joy. The people who impacted my life made biscuits. The fond memories of that and the feeling it gave me stuck with me. I just try to provide the same feelings,” says Erika Council, founder of Bomb Biscuit Co. and chef/owner of Bomb Biscuits Atlanta.
Council delivers feelings of love and a warm hug as the owner of Bomb Biscuits Atlanta and author of the newly released cookbook, “Still We Rise: A Love Letter to the Southern Biscuit with Over 70 Sweet and Savory Recipes.” She decided early on to learn the secrets of biscuit making from her grandmothers and the gifted Black cooks she knew.
“I said when I get older, everybody will want to come to my house and eat. I’m going to have the best food. All the church ladies who cook the best will talk about me like that. I’m going to get it right one way or another,” Council recalls.
The Bomb Biscuit Co. founder is the granddaughter of the legendary southern cook Mildred Council, who opened Mama Dip’s Kitchen in 1976. Erika’s aunties still run the famous restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. But her maternal grandmother, Geraldine Dortch, sampled the first biscuits Council tried to make when she was eight or nine.
“It’s another one of those fond memories. The biscuits were terrible. I remember my grandmother eating them and teaching me what I did wrong. All the while, I was thinking, I don’t know how she’s eating these nasty biscuits,” the Atlanta restaurateur recounts.
The “burned pan of dough rocks” had so much butter that they set off the smoke alarm in her grandmother’s kitchen. But Grandma Dortch encouraged her granddaughter to keep trying until she got it right. Council had it down by the time she reached high school.
She shares why she still works on upping her biscuit mastery skills. “I’m always trying to elevate them just because I like biscuits. I’ve been doing that for a while, adding different items and ingredients to make them a little different than your average buttermilk biscuits just to set them apart.”
While biscuit making has been one of the baker’s passions since childhood, she pursued a career outside the kitchen, as her maternal grandmother did. Grandma Dortch held an advanced education degree from New York’s Columbia University. “She was big on teaching you everything about the history of African American experiences,” says the Bomb Biscuits owner.
Council became a computer scientist like her mother and worked in the field for about 15 years. She admits she never intended to get into the food business, not after spending a lot of time in with her family at Mama Dip’s restaurant in North Carolina. “I saw how hard the business was, especially for African Americans. I didn’t want to struggle. I wanted a job where I could make decent money and take care of my family.”
The Rise of Bomb Biscuit Co.
Her attitude changed in 2016 when Council started hosting intimate Sunday suppers. Guests raved so much about her food the then biscuit maker and successful food blogger decided to accept pitmaster Bryan Furman’s invitation to make breakfast for his restaurant’s customers. The Bomb Biscuit Co. was launched in 2017.
Her wildly popular biscuits and breakfast sandwiches led to more pop-ups and a biscuit box delivery service during the COVID-19 pandemic. So, did her growing reputation as the “biscuit Jedi” finally change her mind about opening a restaurant? Council laughs in response. “I wasn’t convinced and still might not be. I think what convinced me was whether I would give it a try or not and build off the momentum from doing the deliveries and the pop-ups.”
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Two years ago, Council moved into her first brick-and-mortar space. The stall at Irwin Street Market was 350 square feet. “I grew out of that in six months. We moved across the hall to a larger space. It was like 800 square feet. We kind of grew out of that, too,” she says.
Last September, Bomb Biscuits Atlanta relocated to a stand-alone restaurant space at 668 Highland Avenue NE in Atlanta’s historic Fourth Ward area. The neighborhood is known as the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr.
“That is definitely a part of Atlanta with a very rich African American history,” adds the chef and restaurateur. “It’s got the King Center. My restaurant is located on the Freedom Park Trail. If you sit on the back patio deck, there is a plaque where you can read about the Civil Rights Movement.”
However, the neighborhood is no longer the metropolis for Black-owned businesses as it once was. Still, Bomb Biscuits Atlanta’s owner is proud to continue the spirit of entrepreneurship Mama Dip and other family members handed down. The bakery, open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, is among local food critics’ favorite places for breakfast.
Eater Atlanta raves about Council’s bakery in its articles, “Start the Day with Breakfast from These Atlanta Restaurants” and “20 Biscuits You Shouldn’t Skip in Atlanta.” A recent Infatuation.com review says, “Whatever the time, the buttermilk biscuits will be light and flaky, and the meats (especially the lemon pepper-sprinkled chicken) will be amazing.”
Chef Council acknowledges the popularity of her fried chicken biscuits with a regular or hot honey butter sauce. “We make all the sauces in-house, which are super popular. We have chicken and waffles, cinnamon rolls and pancakes. Those are popular too, but nothing beats the chicken biscuits.”
The restaurant’s menu offers a variety of Council’s biscuit creations, from the cheddar chive jalapeno to the black pepper bacon and her favorite chocolate chip biscuit. “The chocolate chip one was my daughter’s idea, so it’s very special to me,” she says.
Still We Rise
All the tradition, expertise and creativity folded into Council’s biscuit making are now available in her “Still We Rise” cookbook, released in July. The stories and recipes express the restaurant owner and food writer’s love for the Black people who inspired her kitchen adventures. “Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from Black chefs, home cooks and the church ladies. When it came to writing the book, I wanted to talk about some of my favorite cookbooks and all that got me to this point.”
Council’s passion for collecting cookbooks by Black authors can be traced to a high school graduation gift from Grandma Dortch. She gave her “Cleora’s Kitchens: The Memoir of a Cook & Eight Decades of Great American Food,” published in 1985 and still available. Amazon and other book websites also have Mildred Council’s “Mama Dip’s Kitchen Cookbook” and “Mama Dip’s Family Cookbook.” Both sold out minutes after being introduced on QVC in 1999 and 2004.
“I never heard enough about the African American experiences at food events. They always wanted to talk about the White women who made biscuits and breads,” Council maintains. So, she started the Southern Soufflé blog in 2012 and began writing about baking, Black food culture and race relations. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Food & Wine, Sauver, Essence and other noteworthy publications.
The Bomb Biscuit Co. founder studied many Black southern chefs over the years. Her first cookbook gave the chef a new platform for applauding the achievements of her grandmothers and noteworthy Black cookbook authors such as Norma Jean and Carole Darden, Sallie Ann Robinson, Freda DeKnight and Lena Richard.
The “Still We Rise” cookbook features 70 recipes for biscuits, biscuit sandwiches and more. Home cooks can try out Council’s all-purpose biscuit mix or the apple butter, jams and pimento cheese her grandmothers also served with their biscuits. A glossary of ingredients, techniques and tools provides readers all the information they need to master the magic of making biscuits.
“There’s lots of different ways to make biscuits. There are easy ways. There are more complicated ways, but you can do it,” adds the restaurateur. “I want them to know it is okay if you don’t have the fanciest ingredients. You can still make a good biscuit.”
The cookbook’s step-by-step guide teaches readers the joy of combining all-purpose flour, liquids and leavening into buttermilk, Angel, sour cream and other biscuits served at Bomb Biscuits Atlanta. Council also offers advice for avoiding common mistakes. “Over mixing is the most common. You don’t want to over-mix once you add the buttermilk and bring all the ingredients together. You want it just barely coming together before you turn it out on the surface.”
Chef Council often shaves the butter into the biscuit flour mixture with a grater or mandolin. She suggests this tip to keep the fat from getting too warm after using a grater, a pastry cutter or your fingers to combine it with the flour. “Just throw the bowl in the freezer for about 30 minutes after you cut the butter in there, and you’ll be fine.”
In June, Still We Rise made Food & Wine’s list of “11 Best New Summer Cookbooks, According to F&W Editors.” The charm of Council’s storytelling about her life and Black food culture may be one of the reasons the book is generating buzz.
One story involves the baker’s reaction to a former suitor she calls Hershey Bar. A quote from the book details what he said and her response after making him some gorgeous biscuits. “Dinner rolls, biscuits, buns. They’re all the same, aren’t they? I’m not a fan of any of them, really,” he murmured. “I haven’t seen that dude in decades, but my beloved buttermilk biscuits have always been with me in times of triumph and trouble.”
Spreading Love Like Butter
Bomb Biscuits Atlanta’s chef and owner dedicated the ” Still We Rise” cookbook to her son Charlie, daughter Kamaya and husband Charles, who helps out at the restaurant on weekends. They are witnessing her baking triumphs as she “spreads love like butter” with her biscuit making. “We’ll have nationwide shipping again in September. All the popular biscuits like the cheddar jalapeno, black pepper bacon and chocolate chip will be available online.”
Council would like to see her creations on supermarket shelves someday. But for someone who never thought she would own a food business, the restaurateur is satisfied with being a bomb biscuit maker, paying tribute to great Black chefs and cooks, and sharing her grandmothers’ lessons on love, family and biscuits. A quote from the introduction in “Still We Rise” sums it up. “Everything in life takes patience and persistence, and sometimes a fire extinguisher.”
Follow Erika Council on Instagram @bombbiscuitatl.