Out to lunch ... with Anthony Rodriguez

Editor's Note: "Out To Lunch" is a periodic feature that allows readers a chance to learn about the people behind the titles in Gwinnett County through a lunchtime conversation with a member of the GDP staff. The subject picks the place, we pick up the tab and then share the conversations that occur during the meal.

On an overcast Tuesday afternoon, the Aurora Theatre's Producing Artistic Director Anthony Rodriguez walks across the Lawrenceville square for some lunch at one of his favorite locally owned eateries, Local Republic. He not only likes the food there, but the owner, Ben Bailey, as well.

"The one and only year I taught high school, Ben was one of my students," Rodriguez said of his short stint teaching at Shiloh High School.

The casually dressed thespian walks through the small, artsy restaurant filled with business men and women and finds a quiet table outside. With every chair available, Rodriguez picks a spot close to the road and Mexican heather shrubs growing in several pots on the patio.


Local Republic

2 Waters $0

1 Turkey Swiss club $9

2 Cups of soup $3

1 Duck, duck burger $12

Tax $1.44

Total $25.44

As the waitress rambles off the specials of the day, only one stands out for Rodriguez: the duck, duck burger -- ground duck meat with duck bacon topped with a rosemary cherry aioli. No lettuce, tomato or onion. Just meat and bun.

"I haven't had breakfast this morning," he said. "And that duck thing sounds ridiculous."

And with that, it's ordered "however the cook thinks it should be cooked" along with a cup of the spicy, squash soup.

Rodriguez is known in Gwinnett County as one of the leaders at the Aurora, but he has been in theater for a long time. When he was in elementary school, he played a pea in a pod.

"I didn't really like that role. I would have preferred to be some sort of stand alone vegetable," he said jokingly.

He's also been a part of a puppet tour in Saudi Arabia and performed as a joust in the Renaissance Festival with the facial scar to prove it. Theater and a cast of roles aside, there is more to Rodriguez -- much more.

"As you know, I have a pension for tequila. I like to collect them," he said about his collection of 30 bottles. "I drink them too, and it's more than most restaurants carry.

"What I love about tequila is the variety of tastes it has."

At his Duluth home he shares with his better half Ann-Carol Pence, he has many of the traditional flavors, blancos, reposados and anejos. Tucked away in his stash, Rodriguez dabbles in the "alternate agave plant extracts," like mescals -- and no, it doesn't contain mescaline.

"There are two things that is in our house that I really like and that's bourbon and tequila," he said with a laugh. "What really fascinates me is that everyone has a tequila story, and it's never a good one -- generally because people are drinking bad tequila."

The artistic director doesn't share any specific tequila stories, but says he was a hit at parties when he attended the University of Georgia.

"I got so many compliments for dancing on a coffee table in college that a friend and I brought the coffee table to every party that year," he said with a smile. "It was a very sturdy coffee table."

The proud Georgia Bulldog fan still roots for his alma mater -- well, at least when he has the time.

"My schedule is just not good," he said. "But I have all of the Dish networks set up to watch the games on the TV, my phone and my iPad, plus I follow my sports app updates."

Besides parties and football, Rodriguez made lifelong friends at school, including the Food Network's Alton Brown.

"I was best friends with Alton Brown in college, like best, best friends," he said. "I was at his first wedding, he was at my first wedding."

But the two have grown apart over the years due to grueling schedules.

"We try to make lunch plans, but it never works," he said. "I also asked him over to the house for dinner once. What was I thinking?"

That's right, Rodriguez loves to cook as well with his favorite tool of the kitchen, an eight-inch Shun chef's knife.

"I cook a lot when I have time. Last night I cooked everything in the world because we've got a busy time coming up," he said. "I made a baked Greek chicken with olives, shallots and lemons. For dinner, I made a pork tenderloin with mustard dijon sauce. I also made a Crock Pot veggie soup so that I'll have a bunch to bring to the theater and have something light before the show. I don't want to think about something else than the task at hand."

Food isn't just for pleasure. Rodriguez, an avid runner, needs to eat to stay in shape. On Nov. 4, he'll be running in the ING New York City Marathon.

"I've been training for 16 weeks total. I stay in shape, but I don't stay in that kind of shape," he said. "I've already knocked out some 20-milers."

On Oct. 7, he ran a "practice" half marathon -- the Atlanta 13.1 -- and finished in 2 hours and 19 minutes.

With his busy schedule, Rodriguez somehow is planning ahead for his next big birthday.

"My plan is to lose my mind next year because I will be turn 50 in 2014," he said. "So my plan is to run the Goofy Challenge (at Walt Disney World in Orlando), so I will run a half marathon one day, then the next day run a full (marathon)."

Let the countdown begin.