Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Original Pancake House

The Original Pancake House is on the corner of Cheshire Bridge Road and La Vista.  It's part of a small chain with only a few locations in each city. One of their secrets is the enzymes they put in their pancakes, which give them a special tang.  I'm not sure exactly what these enzymes are, but they seem to be related to sourdough.

Since it's strawberry season somewhere in the world, I decided on the strawberry pancakes.  They didn't disappoint.  The strawberries were fresh and in large pieces.  The pancakes were served with whipped cream, butter, and strawberry syrup in addition to the usual pancake syrup. The pancakes are thick and rich.

On a recent visit, my mom and I shared the baked apple pancake, a childhood favorite.  It takes forever to prepare because it is huge, thick, and rich.  The two of us together couldn't eat more than half of it.  It was wonderful.  And this is the sort of dish that is both hard to find and something you are unlikely to make for yourself.  (Do you really want to get up an hour early on Sunday to put your pancake in the oven?)

Original Pancake House on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Eating around Georgia Tech: Marlow's Tavern

Marlow's Tavern is in one of the new apartment towers near the Midtown MARTA station.  That may not seem like Georgia Tech territory, but you can hear the steam whistle from there (on the street, if not inside) and you can easily get there on the Tech Trolley.  The theme is upscale bar food.  I was tempted to order the burger, which seems to be their canonical dish, but I went for the salmon instead.  They did a very nice job, including an excellent crust on the top.  It came with a very good potato pancake, slightly different in form than what you would see in a deli but still an outstanding complement. Marlow's Tavern on Urbanspoon

Waffle House


My view of Waffle House has changed considerably.  I used to consider it to be too low-end.  Now, I think their waffles are pretty good.  It's hard to beat a waffle fresh off the griddle.  My change of mind probably has something to do with moving to Atlanta, the home of Waffle House.  There are a few highway exits in Georgia that don't have a Waffle House, but not many.

Here's my latest idea for a taste treat.  Order two waffles, one with pecans and the other with strawberries.  Stack one on top of the other and enjoy.   I enjoy this with the lite version of the waffle to lessen my guilt.

Ray's on the RIver

Last night was my first time at Ray's, the occasion being a dinner for our distinguished guest Janak Patel.  Don't confuse this with the Hawaiian Ray's.  Ray's on the River is a local destination restaurant on the north side of town.  It's actually on the Chattahoochee River, unlike some restaurants I've been to who misappropriate bodies of water for their names.

I must admit that I was a little skeptical at first.  The restaurant publicized its three course dinner, which included steak with root beer sauce.  I consider such things to be stunt cooking, particularly in the South, where the standard for soft drink-based sauces is Coca-Cola.

Our Maytag potato chips were well executed.  My wedge salad was a little disappointing.  The dressing was thin.  While this is a valid choice, I prefer the decadence of a thick dressing for this dish.

My steak, however, was excellent.  I had the filet mignon, which had just a touch of crust on the edge to add flavor.  The Yukon gold mashed potatoes were flawlessly smooth.
Ray's on the River on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Desta Ethiopian Kitchen

Although I don't see much mention of it, Atlanta seems to have a very large Ethiopian population.  One piece of evidence is the amazing variety of Ethiopian restaurants.  They're all over town, but the corner of Clairmont and Briarcliff alone has four of them.  This intersection is at the Clairmont exit of I-85, so it's very easy to reach if you have a hankering for Ethiopian cuisine.

Today's lunch was at Desta Ethiopian Kitchen, located at that very intersection.  The decor is modern---tables and chairs rather than the traditional pillows, jazz playing on the sound system.  Desta is open all day, from breakfast through late-night drinks.

I started off with a house salad.  It looked like a typical salad, but the dressing was a light oil and lemon with a good dose of salt, which was a welcome variation.

My main course was the veggie combo.  The presentation was striking---six dishes on a white rectangular plate.  The dish had three sets of hot and cold dishes. The hot items were served on traditional Ethiopian bread while the cold dishes were not.  The hot/cold alternation was particularly striking given the hot peppers used in Ethiopian food.  The dishes were hot but not overwhelmingly so.  The hottest one was a half of a pepper stuffed with tomato bits.  That got my attention but it wasn't too much.

Desta Ethiopian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 23, 2009

donut mania

One of the side effects of the economic downturn has been some great sales.  Over the weekend, I found an automatic donut maker on sale at a deep discount.  This fulfilled a lifelong dream.  I had long considered larger units, such as the Donut Robot, but I thought them impractical.  Not only are they expensive, but they are hard to clean and generally require a professional kitchen.  This unit is designed for home use and promised to have tractable maintenance, although donut-making and messes go together like donuts and chocolate icing.

The unit presents itself as a donut maker.  At one point in the manual it refers to mini-donuts.  Micro-mini-donuts would be more accurate.  They're about an inch and a half in diameter with a little tiny hole in the middle.  But they taste great when they come fresh out of the machine.  Plus the process is fascinating to watch in a Homer-esque way.  The machine squeezes out a round halo of dough which it lets sit in oil.  It then very carefully flips it over and lets it float down the river of oil until it reaches a platform that gently lifts the donut  and deposits it in a tray.

Throughput is a problem.  We only get about 2 donuts per minute at the moment.  Given the tiny size of the donuts, that's a long wait for a meal.  This dough may have been too thick, resulting in overly small donuts.  The fundamental throughput problem, though, needs to be solved by parallelism.  We hope to build a multiprocessor with several donut machines that can produce the volume of donuts required to keep crowds of students happy.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Eating around Georgia Tech: West Egg Cafe

I had lunch today at the West Egg Cafe with my colleague Saibal Mukhopadhyay.  This was my first lunch there; I've had breakfast there several times.  I'm a sucker for their chocolate chip pancakes.  I know that's not very imaginative on my part, but I'm a sucker for chocolate in the morning.

Today I had the veggie bean burger, which was very well spiced.  It was softer than the average veggie burger, which I found appealing.  It also came on a whole wheat bun, perhaps thanks to the vegetarian/health vibe, but I appreciated the touch.  I also treated myself to a red velvet cupcake.  The cupcake itself was good, but it didn't have a cream cheese icing.  The icing was a handmade but simple sugar icing.  Even if they didn't want to go for the cream cheese, I think that a more buttery icing would be called for.

West Egg Cafe is in White Provisions, which is one of the new developments on the west side.  It's a very nice location and they have plenty of parking, in contrast to some of the restaurants in this area.  We'll see how this part of town develops.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Decatur: Maddy's Rib & Blues Joint

Maddy's BBQ is embedded deep in suburban Decatur.  The decor emphasizes music.  Their favorite musician seems to be Ray Charles, the father of soul.  They seem to have live music regularly; unfortunately I haven't made it to any concerts.  Their location and decor emphasize that BBQ is now a culinary subcategory.  It's come a long way.  Barbeque is food for poor people, made with the lesser cuts of meat, cooked slowly to make them tender.  Twenty years ago, many of the BBQ places I went to were local places where most of the clientele were not like me, either racially or socioeconomically.  It's harder to find that sort of place these days.

When my half rack of ribs came, I had a flashback to 5th Street.  Their sauces look nearly identical and are served in the same type of paper cup.  The sauce gives the meat the same light red tint.  But there are differences.  The meat at Maddy's falls off the bone.  (Although I must say that the middle ribs were more attached.  I'm disappointed that the cooking wasn't more consistent.)  Very tender and tasty.  The cole slaw was good but not memorable.  The staff was very courteous and friendly.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Everybody's Pizza

Everybody's Pizza is across the street from Emory University.  It was founded in 1971 and has a seventies college feel.  But it isn't musty or dated---you don't feel like you are eating in a museum.  It's just pleasantly funky.  They played a Big Bird song while I was there.  What's no to like?

The pizza is college-style as well, as contrasted to the Italian neighborhood style that is (or should be) the goal of a New York style pizzeria.  I think that the cheese is the ingredient that most leads me to this feeling.  In a New York pizza, the cheese would be central (even if it came from a low-grade Mob supplier), while in more suburban pizzas, the cheese is seen as one in a medley of ingredients that form the topping.  (I think that cheese-centrism should be the essence of pizza.  Remember that the modern pizza was created by adding cheese to traditional tomato sauce-covered bread.)  I think the biggest fault of this pizza is the crust, which I found to be just a little tough.  Once again, the college/suburban style pizza has a slightly thicker version of thin crust, as compared to the very thin New York crust.  But the ingredients were fresh, the sauce was pretty tasty, and it came very quickly.

A small note---a sign in the entrance quotes several positive reviews.  One of them is from the Piedmont Airlines inflight magazine.  Unfortunately, Piedmont became USAir in 1979.  Time for an update?
Everybody's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Eating around Georgia Tech: Bottoms Up

Bottoms Up Cafe is a brand new establishment on Tech Parkway.  The style is diner but with a modern update.  Their most interesting breakfast item is their buckwheat waffle.  Buckwheat is hard to find but very tasty.  They charge separately for their maple syrup; I think it's worth the money.  Today, I had challah french toast with strawberries.  The bread was thick and rich.  This is strawberry season somewhere in the world so the fruit was fresh, firm, and tasty. 

You can almost get the Georgia Tech WiFi network from inside the restaurant; perhaps it works better from a window seat.

Ray's Original New York

This is another installment of our exploration of Atlanta pizza.  Ray's Original New York is a local chain that targets the steady stream of refugees from the Tri-State Area who now inhabit Atlanta.  Ray's is one of the most widely known names in New York pizza, but not for the reasons that a non-resident might suspect.  New York City is home to perhaps a dozen variations of the Ray's name---Original Ray's, Famous Ray's, Famous Original Ray's, etc.---all of them unrelated.  This drama has played itself out in Atlanta.  The Ray's in Tech Square, for example, seems to have no relationship to the Ray's in the northern suburbs.

As with my review of Nancy's, I caution you that the slice is not the most accurate judge of the pizza.  I considered my slice to be quite presentable:  good crust, not too thick; pepperoni was not the most uniquely spiced I've had but quite fine; mushrooms were fresh, not canned.  My salad was OK but pretty generic and not very Italian.  Overall, I consider the experience to be a good substitute for jumping on a plane.

I must say, however, that Atlanta restaurants still fail to understand the slice concept.  In both Italy and New York, pizza restaurants display their pizzas.  You look, you point, you take.  In Atlanta, the slice seems to be more of an abstract concept.  This mindset was exemplified by a now-defunct restaurant named Slices.  I walked in to see a hip, trendy space with absolutely no trace of a slice of pizza.  I asked the young lady at the counter whether they in fact served slices without any irony.  She looked at me as if I had asked a very dumb question.  After I specified my slice, she disappeared and a few minutes later came back with it.  It seems that toppings had been added on to my request, keiretsu style. 

Monday, March 16, 2009

Jimmy Carter Blvd.: Happy Valley

Jimmy Carter Boulevard is, like Buford Highway, a living museum of cultural variety.  I've eaten at Chinese restaurants and BBQ joints within a few minutes of each other on this road.  Happy Valley is near the intersection of Jimmy Carter and I-85. Like many Chinese restaurants around Atlanta, this one seems to be run by Vietnamese purveyors; this sort of thing bothers some of my Chinese friends but not me.  Seafood is a specialty of Happy Valley but I've haven't yet tried some of their more interesting specialites. They have a large number of fish tanks in the restaurant's entrance but I usually end up succumbing to the dim sum. The regular dishes are well execyted, The peas in my mapo tofu were full of chlorophyll flavor; the peas in such a dish would have be easy for the cooks to skimp on. Happy Valley Seafood on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Eating around Georgia Tech: 5th Street Ribs n Blues

5th Street Ribs n Blues is one of the restaurants on Tech Square.  It serves a fairly classic barbeque menu---pork and chicken in the form of whole animals and chopped meat.  Today, purely for research purposes, I had a half rack of pork ribs.  One of the key controversies in barbeque is doneness---al dente or fall-off-the-bone.  5th Street goes for the al dente style---it takes just a little effort to tease off the meat.  Their sauce is not overly sweet and easy to take.  I have learned the hard way that BBQ is not the cleanest takeout meal.  All that sauce has to go somewhere.  When the meat is wrapped in paper, somewhere becomes everywhere.  But barbeque is not a meal for the fastidious.

Ambience is blues and sports.  They have good blues playing over the speaker plus plenty of monitors tuned into sports events.

One sign of authenticity---they're closed on Sunday.  Everyone knows you can't get decent BBQ on Sunday.
5th St. Ribs 'n Blues on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Panahar

The strip mall on Buford Highway where Pandahar is located is eclectic even by Atlanta standards: Ethiopian, Salvadorean, South American, Ryan's Steak House, bowling alley. We went there at the recommendation of my colleage Yorai Wardi. It's too bad that we didn't take his advice sooner.

I have less experience with Bangladeshi food than with Indian food. The basic style of Bangladeshi food seems reminiscent of north Indian cooking but with some special dishes. Egg dishes seem particularly popular.

What sets Pandahar apart is their spices. Two dishes that one normally doesn't pay much attention to were wonderfully spiced. The lentil soup was rich and delicately spicy. The iced tea was also spiced---a wonderful intersection of American Southern and Bangladeshi cuisines.

Lunch was a buffet that is ridiculously cheap given the quality of the food. They also push nan---they come out regularly to the tables and hand out hot, fresh slices. Luckily, they cut them into small pieces so you don't have to feel too guilty.

The owner is one of the most charming hosts that I've met in this city. He is very outgoing without being pushy and makes everyone feel very welcome.

Panahar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Peach pie

It's getting to be that time of year again.  You can't talk about Georgia food without mentioning peaches.  Here is my peach pie recipe.  Before we dive in, two comments.  First, this recipe uses no added sugar.  Feel free to add to your taste, but I continue to believe that good fruit doesn't need extra sugar. Second, you'll notice that the crust contains lard.  For those raised on the artificiality of modern grocery store food, this may seem repulsive.  But I understand that lard is in some respects healthier than butter and I find it hard to believe that it's worse for you than shortening.  You can find lard/manteca in any grocery store that caters to a Hispanic clientele, which in this day and age is just about all of them.

Pie:
6-8 peaches
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ginger
2 pie crusts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray deep dish pie pan with non-stick coating and place bottom pie crust.  Dust the inside of the crust with flour.  Add sliced peaches in layers, coating with flour and spices on each layer, but using all the flour before reaching the top. Add top crust and make 6-8 vent holes in top.  Optionally add a crust protector around the edge. Cook at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then turn down to 350 and cook for another 30-35 minutes.

Two pie crusts:
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (chilled)
6 tablespoons lard (chilled)
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 tsp salt

Cut butter and lard into small pieces.  Mix ingredients and cut together.  Divide into two balls. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. Should use within 24 hours for best results.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Is Atlanta an Italian-free zone?

This is the first in a series of blogs on one of the dark secrets of the Atlanta food scene---the entire Atlanta metro area has been declared an Italian-free zone.  I'm not sure how it's done---dragnets at the state border, perhaps---but passable Italian food is as scarce in this town as ice cubes on the sidewalk in August.  The truly horrific situation is in the pizza domain.  Atlantans seem to think that pizza is bread with cheese and meat piled on, sort of like a red sandwich.  But other varieties of Italian food are equally hard to find.

I should explain that I'm primarily talking about Italian-American food, which is a distinct species from the food one eats in Italy.  Italian-American food is heavier and heartier, rich in both meat and carbs.  Red sauce is known as gravy.  Pizza comes in several styles, but in America it's a meal, while in Italy it is a snack.

There are a few bright spots and I'll devote the remainder of this entry to one of them.  Bambinelli's is near Northlake Mall.  It is run by a family that moved here from Connecticut.  The restaurant has most of the requisite badges of Italian-Americanism: photos of family abound; very friendly wait staff.  All they are missing is the Sinatra soundtrack.

The defining quality of Italian-American restaurants is the red sauce.  Bambinelli's is slightly sweet for my taste but it has a good balance of flavors.  I usually get something with red sauce. But tonight I wanted something a little different, so I had the shrimp scampi, which hit the spot. The rolls that come out at the start of the meal are excellent. They are based on pizza dough but buttered and I think with a hint of cheese. We also had calamari, which was my taste of red sauce for the evening. No dessert tonight, but they have the usual complement of desserts, including cannoli.  A good cannoli is hard to find in this town, so grab one when you can.

Here is a 2013 update. This is my vegetarian lasagna. The cheese makes the dish satisfyingly rich but the lack of meat means it isn't too heavy, which lasagna can sometimes be. The pasta in the lasagna was just right. The sauce tasted great.

Bambinelli's Italian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Did I mention the pie?

I had breakfast again at the Silver Skillet with colleagues Bernhard Rinner and Sudha Yalamanchili.  My meal consisted of biscuits and gravy plus lemon icebox pie.  This may seem like an odd combination to some people---actually, it probably seems odd to most people.  But I like biscuits and gravy and I like their icebox pie.  Why not have them together?

Biscuits and gravy is emerging as a key test of one's tolerance for Southern cuisine.  Many people consider gravy to be disgusting physically and a heart attack waiting to happen.  Sauce is one thing, but many people who love sauce can't extend their sympathies to gravy.  I think one reason for this reaction is the thickness of the gravy, which makes it far too easy to visualize clogging up one's arteries like something out of a Roto-Rooter commercial.  When you throw in the sheer quantity of gravy that Southern cuisine demands and those without experience in the region simply recoil.  All I can say is they don't know what they're missing.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mezza

Last night, Ted Lee joined us for dinner at Mezza.  It's on Lavista in north North Druid Hills.  The food is nouvelle Mediterranean/Lebanese.  The format is tapas.  You will need to order several plates to complete the meal but you don't need to order everything at once. You can pace both the variety and quality as you go; everything arrives quickly. The quality is excellent.  A few favorites: fried eggplant; fried cauliflower; hummus deluxe, which includes ground meat; chicken and beef shawarma.

Mezza on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dusty's

I got to Dusty's today just in time.  Any later and I might have been trapped there by the snow.  Not the snow exactly, but the ridiculously bad driving of Atlanta residents with even the hint of snow.  One flake and everyone goes into Will Smith I Am Legend mode---shotgun, dog, donuts, bathtub.

Dusty's, located near Emory, is very reliable BBQ.  I don't think of their meat as extremely smoky, but it is very tender and juicy.  I usually get the rib platter.  Besides being good, it isn't too big.  Most BBQ restaurants seem to be in business to kill their customers---huge plates of food that come with a cardiologist's emergency number.  Dusty's can certainly serve big food, but most of their portions are human-sized. My secret pleasure on the rib plate is the hushpuppies.  Given the basic nature of a hushpuppy---fried dough---it's surprisingly hard to find at all, let alone find good ones.  The plate is also served with a single pork rind crisp, which is a great amuse bouche for the barbeque set.