Friday, August 28, 2009

Dreamland BBQ


Dreamland comes to us from Alabama. I've visited their home location in Tuscaloosa. It maintains the unkempt charm of a BBQ establishment; unlike many spots, its decrepitude is honest and earned. The ribs there are outstanding. So when I realized that they have several locations around Atlanta I had to compare.

As you can see, they do things the right way. It's easy for a chain to let standards slip as they proliferate, but Dreamland seems to have kept the food just as good while providing the sort of establishment that one expects to see in a strip mall.

I decided to try the combo platter. The sausage was the hit of the day---wonderfully smoky. Although I'm a rib addict, I plan to get them again. The ribs were outstanding. The green beans were very well done and had the mandantory bits of pork floating in them. The baked beans were similarly outstanding.

Dreamland Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

Slope's BBQ


Slope's BBQ is a local chain; I visited the Roswell location the other day. It's a modern place in that the seats haven't been worn out by generations of behinds, but it is a very classic BBQ spot.

My ribs were in the classic style, not the Fatt Matt's style that is common inside the perimeter. These ribs are of the tease-it-off-with-your-teeth variety. The fried okra was a little b it overdone but that might be due to the noon rush. The baked beans were very sweet and with a very nice bite---cooked just right.

Slope's BBQ of Sandy Springs on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Straits


I recently tried Straits in midtown for brunch. The atmosphere is upscale and elegant. Overall, it was a good day to sit outside.

The brunch menu is an unusal combination of Asian items and traditional American brunch. I decided to go quasi-Asian and order fried calamari. As you can see, the presentation was impeccable. I was a little disappointed in the taste, but perhaps that's me. I like my fried food to be just out of the oil. While my dish was certainly acceptable, I felt that it might have set under the heat lamp for a minute or two. But the calamari was crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, just as it should be. Straits Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Starlight Six Drive-In


I finally visited the Starlight Six Drive-In, Atlanta's last drive-in theater. The occasion was Turner Classic Movies' Summer Under the Stars series, in which they show classic movies at drive-ins. Last week's movie was "Bonnie and Clyde." I first saw this movie when it came out, but I didn't fully appreciate until now how well done it is.

Don't worry, I'll talk about food. This was overall the best time I've had at a movie in quite some time. Drive-ins are always more of an occasion. Many people brought lawn chairs and barbeques, so the drive-in was bathed in the scent of grilled meat. The concession stand was classic drive-in: popcorn, corn dogs, etc. I got the $2 popcorn-and-soda special. I had forgotten how the smell of the food fills your car---it's a much more sensory experience than a sit-in theater. Sometimes the simple pleasures are the best.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Manuel's Tavern


Manuel's Tavern is at Highland and North Avenue. It has a reputation for excellent ribs as well as being a watering hole for the Democratic Party loyalists. The place is steeped in character. Nothing here is new, everything is comfortable.

Chris Rozell, Justin Romberg and I all had a half rack of ribs. which lived up to their reputation. They weren't smoky, but they did have a fork tenderness that made you tug just a bit to pull them off the bone. Chris and I liked the sweet sauce but Justin thought it was a bit much. The associated fries are OK, but the star of the late is the ribs. Manuel's Tavern on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 17, 2009

Norcross: JR's BBQ


JR's BBQ is on Peachtree Industrial in Norcross. I've been there several times. It's open a surprisingly long time for a barbeque establishment, including breakfast. I'll have to try the breakfast some time.


On this visit, I had the BBQ sandwich. The sauce, which is a critical component of any sandwich, strikes a good balance between sweet and sour. I've had the ribs on other occasions, which I greatly enjoyed. This is somewhat upscale compared to the trailer-at-the-gas-station style of BBQ joint, but it is homey and down-to-earth.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Update: Nancy's Pizza


I was in Buckhead today in a pizza kinda mood, so I decided to give Nancy's Pizza a second chance. Overall, my experience was more upbeat than my previous report.

I ordered an individual pizza with pepperoni and mushroom. Even though I probably shouldn't have eaten quite that much, I wanted to order a fresh pizza to give poor Nancy a chance. This was a thin crust pizza, not the true Chicago-style thick crust. The crust has that slightly Bisquicky taste that I also associate with Pizzeria Uno; it must be a Chicago thing. I don't mind it and I even sort of like it, but it's very different from the New York style of pizza dough. I was a little disappointed with the cheese, which didn't contain enough mozarella for my taste. But overall, it was a pretty good pizza. It has nothing to be ashamed of. Chicago's Nancy's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

JCT Kitchen


I've had two occasions to go to JCT Kitchen: once with some College of Computing colleagues; later with my colleague Susan Shows of the Georgia Research Alliance.


Unfortunately, the first time through, I was so hungry that I forgot to take a picture of my plate. I was in the mood for meat so I ordered a steak. It was very well prepared, but I think I was in the mood for something a little more caveman-style. This is a sophisticated steak, as befits the style of the restaurant. At least I remembered to take a picture of the decor.


On my second visit, I decided to test their Southern cuisine, which is the real centerpiece of the menu. There's nothing more Southern than fried chicken. The crust was crisp and flavorful, the chicken was very moist. It came with macaroni and cheese rather than mashed potatoes. I am not normally a mac-n-cheese fan, but I found this side dish to be delightful. The cheese was rich and creamy; it provided more of a taste counterpoint than would straight mashed potatoes. JCT Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Bagel Palace Bakery

This review focuses on Bagel Palace's baking. We will consider their breakfast service another time.



Bagel Palace is in Toco Hill Shopping Center. Their bakery is very well known and for good reason. They provide a wide variety of sweets as well bagels. (I'm not a bagel expert but I think they're great.) This cake is one of my favorites. I think of it as a giant Hostess cupcake made with really good ingredients. The chocolate cake is double-iced with white and then chocolate frosting. The white icing is extremely sweet, but there isn't too much of it, so it provides a nice counterpoint. I think this cake tastes great but I love the look as much as anything. And their prices are very reasonable. This cake cost $15, which I think is a bargain given the evident quality and quantity of ingredients.

I haven't reviewed any caramel icing cakes here because there's only so much cake that I can eat. But I'd like to hear your thoughts on it. Caramel icing seems to be a very local phenomenon---is this just an Atlanta tradition or do you find it throughout the South?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Max's


Justin Romberg and I went to Max's, near Centennial Olympic Park, to check out their pizza. They boast the only coal-fired pizza oven in Atlanta. If you've ever had pizza from a coal-fired oven, you know the temptation. The high heat of these ovens gives the crust not only crispiness but some natural variation. That hint of crispy burntness every once in awhile is a marvelous texture.


Being a pizza snob, let me be slightly critical. I found this pizza to be good for Atlanta but not up to the standards of the best. (Lombardi's in New York, the first pizzeria in the United States, serves the best pizza I've ever had. Their oven is 100 years old---perhaps that's part of their secret.) The crust was appropriately chewy but seemed slightly assembly line, not artisnal. The toppings were fine but not wow; I wish that I could find some truly excellently spiced sausage in this town.

Don't get me wrong, this pizza is definitely worth eating. It might even be worth the $5 you will pay to park across the street. But don't cancel that trip to New York just yet. Max's Coal Oven Pizza on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Peasant Bistro


My colleague Mary Jean Harrold took me to one of her favorite places, the Peasant Bistro. It's across the street from Centennial Olympic Park and near the Georgia Aquarium. It's a moderately casual upscale restaurant. The decor is very tasteful but not overly fancy; think of it as well-heeled peasant.



The day of our lunch had been declared Worldwide Salmon Day, so we both had various forms of salad. Mary Jean had a salad with salmon, which she said was her favorite. I had the hot salmon. There was just enough crust to make it interesting but not too much; the sauce was rich and subtle. We didn't try dessert, unfortunately. Perhaps next time. Peasant Bistro on Urbanspoon

The Beautiful Restaurant



The Beautiful Restaurant is in southeast Atlanta. The promise of pie caught my eye as I drove by and so I decided to try it. But I'm hardly the first person to do so---several awards decorate its walls.


The Beautiful is a classic southern cafeteria. I decided to try the short ribs, which were fork tender an delicious. The collard greens were tangy as they should be. The cornbread dressing was very sweet and a perfect complement to the other two. Since the peach cobbler was on display, I decided to try it and save the pie for another visit. The filling was sweet but not too sweet; the topping was soft and rich from immersion in peach sauce. I couldn't finish my dinner, so I took the cobbler home with me and finished it later.

Beautiful on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 7, 2009

Ann's Snack Bar


Ann's Snack Bar is reputed to serve the best burger in America. News reports indicate that Ann is considering retirement, so Saibal and I rushed over to try her world famous Ghetto Burger before it's too late. A few suggestions for those making the pilgrimmage. First, block out enough time. It's well worth the wait, but there are only 8 seats. Second, don't go in before your turn comes up. If you try to go in before your turn, you will simply be asked to wait outside.


The fries came well before the burger was done. They were pretty good, particularly with the paprika sprinkled on top. However, Ann considers the burger to be the most important element of the meal. She recommends that you don't eat too many fries before your burger arrives so that you can properly appreciate it.


The Ghetto Burger consists roughly of two huge patties, two slices of American cheese, bacon, chili, lettuce, tomato, fried onions, mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise. They are prepared using a fascinating batch technique---a group of orders are taken at once and all the burgers are cooked simultaneously, just enough to fill the small grill. Each burger gets a great deal of attention.

This is truly a great burger. I think that the chili makes it, providing an distinctive flavor note, to use a pretentious term. The patties are cooked with a healthy coating of paprika, which also contributes to the distinctive flavor.

I finished my entire burger (and considerably faster than Saibal), but I didn't eat many of the fries. Ann forgave me---the burger is what's important.

Ann's Snack Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Decatur: The Cookie Studio

The Cookie Studio is near the Avondale MARTA station. The location itself is pretty low-key, but the food is great. I sampled the hummingbird cupcake. It's a very unusual combination: banana, pineapple, and a few other flavors. The cake was extremely moist and rich. The icing was similarly rich---it might have been a cream cheese icing but I could be wrong. Cookie Studio on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 3, 2009

Decatur: Southern Sweets Bakery

This is the start of a short series on cakes, thanks to my upcoming birthday.



On a recent trip to the DeKalb Farmers Market, I noticed a sign for Southern Sweets Bakery. It's a little farther away from Ponce than one might expect, so don't give up too early. It's buried in the middle of an industrial park. Despite the unglamorous location, it has great baked goods and serves lunch as well.



I decided to try a piece of red velvet cake, one of my reference dishes that I use to compare establishments. The photo doesn't entirely do justice to the size of the piece, which was really larger than I deserved. The cake fit all the classic requirements of red velvet cake: good moist cake that is satisfyingly, artificially red; and a real cream cheese icing. The side of the cake had a texture made of small pieces---it looked like pieces of white chocolate although it tasted like the cream cheese icing. It was very pleasing but not overly sweet or cloying. It wasn't cheap ($5.30) but the size and quality justified the price. Southern Sweets on Urbanspoon

Breakfast Face-Off: Waffle House vs. IHOP

I'm back...



While talking to my friend Catherine Conte, I realized an inherent contradiction in myself that I needed to confront. I mentioned that I absolutely wouldn't eat at IHOP (the International House of Pancakes, for those of you who have lived on Mars for the past 50 years) but that I have warmed up to Waffle House. She said that she hates Waffle House but likes IHOP. I realized that I had to give IHOP a second chance---these two chains really can't be that different. One reason that I've come to like Waffle House is simply that it's the hometown team.

I should explain how I came to hold IHOP in such low esteem. The final straw was in the mid-1980s at an IHOP in Bloomfield, New Jersey (as it happens, a few blocks from where the Sopranos' last scene would be filmed 20 years later). The food was so bad that my friend Bill Widen, a Wall Street lawyer, wanted to dine-and-dash, meaning not pay. I resisted that urge but I was deeply unhappy with the meal. This capped a feeling that had built up over several years. And not for any lack of chance for IHOP to prove itself. I've even been to the mother IHOP, the first restaurant on Lombard Street in San Francisco.



Which brings us to IHOP. My first impression was one of diminutiveness. The decor was, except for a slight change in color scheme, exactly what I remember from my IHOP visits in the 1960s. The booths, seats, and tables just seemed short to me, as if they had been built for a smaller generation of people. I thought about getting a waffle for a one-on-one comparison, but it is the house of pancakes, after all. I decided to go for the strawberry-banana pancakes with a rare treat of bacon. The bacon was extremely crispy, a little too much for my taste. The pancakes were fine. The strawberries were packed in syrup, despite being at the peak of strawberry season, but I really shouldn't expect anything else from a chain restaurant. So breakfast was perfectly fine, not bad even. I've been overly harsh on the big house all these years. Oh well...now I have one more choice at breakfast.



I resisted the urge to eat two breakfasts for a one-on-one comparison. (I did, however, make an accidental visit to the original Waffle House in Decatur.) IHOP does win the battle of decor, despite IHOP's diminutive impression. A single person can get a table at IHOP, whereas Waffle House etiquette demands that singletons sit at the counter. Tables are much better, particularly if you want to read the paper. However, I do find a hot, fresh waffle to be very appealing. The crispiness of a waffle gives it a dimension that a fresh pancake just can't match. So I'll call the battle a tie for now.

IHOP on Urbanspoon

Waffle House on Urbanspoon