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Always a line at Mealtime - Picture by TFL
Fat Matts Rib Shack has been around for sometime here in Atlanta. Here at TFL, we have been enjoying this old school joint since opening day. A classic bbq menu featuring big and meaty country style pork ribs and bbq'd chicken halves and quarters, Fat Matts is not your typical southern BBQ joint. Instead of smoking their meats, they slow roast and then finish on a wood burning grill. This imparts a smoky char that you can smell immediately upon arrival.
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Rocking good Blues on Most Nights - Photo by TFL
Fat Matts features different blues bands on most evenings, and for such a small place, the accoustics are managed nicely. Conversation is still possible, and sharing is easily done. Combo plates are the best place to sample both the ribs and the chicken. Sides are average at best except for the infamous "Rum" baked beans. These should not be missed.
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BBQ Chicken with collards, beans and Mac n Cheese - Picture by TFL
Of course there is the ubiquitous pulled pork sandwich rating above the average fare. Everything gets fired on the wood burning grill before serving ensuring all products have the nice char. The prices are very reasonable with the combo platters feeding two normal appetites.
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Country Style Pork Ribs - TFL
Fat Matts has some good southern pies for dessert, and several local beer choices. The atmosphere is family friendly, and the food comes fast and hot. The tables turn fast, and generally once you order, a table is readily available. Be sure to go around 8pm to catch the days live band, and be sure and use lots of napkins. This BBQ does not really fit into a regional style, but the sauce is tomato based with both sweet and spicy notes. All of the meat is "fall off the bone" tender, with plenty of smoky flavors. This place is a great starting point for a night baseball game, or a night out on the town. Quality food, and fair prices make this a repeat destination and live blues never hurts!
Fat Matt's Rib Shack on Urbanspoon
 
 
Page after page of 2k+ calorie dishes and the menu is still in the starter section. With entrees big enough to share between 2-3 people, Cheesecake Factory is just what one would expect at America's highest grossing restaurant chain. How they expect diners to actually order dessert requires a scientific miracle of displacement. There is however several alternatives to gluttony that will keep you just this side of pigging out and maybe even save room for cheesecake!
TCF BBQ Chicken Salad
BBQ Chicken Salad - TFL
With so many choices, picking just one dish is always challenging. On our last visit, we went during lunch, and wanted to make it back to the office without stopping at Brookstone for 30 minute siesta in the massage chairs. Clearly we needed to avoid the heavyweights like the shepherd's pie, and any of the pastas. The salads are big enough for two, and offer several choices including chicken, salmon, and vegetarian options. With loads of healthy ingredients, we chose the BBQ Chicken salad. While this dish appears in many various forms on dozens of menus, The Factory makes one of the best, and includes large pieces of avocado, and tender BBQ'd chicken.
The Cheesecake Factory on Urbanspoon
One of our favorite dishes anywhere, the Thai Chicken Lettuce wraps here are simply perfect. Chicken tenderloins are marinated in thai coconut spices and grilled. Served with whole boston lettuce leaves for taco like wrapping, the plate also includes perfectly marinated cucumbers, mung bean sprouts, julliened carrots, and sesame rice noodles. They serve the dish with three sauces, and fresh cilantro. While difficult to assemble and eat without wearing, the combination of all these ingredients creates a crispy, savory, rich and fresh lettuce wrap that is tasty and healthy - a rare find in Cheesecake Land !
Healthy Eating
Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps - TFL
Overall, The Cheesecake Factory makes some darn good food - especially for a factory! While the portion control here is non-existent, the quality control hits the mark on most meals. The cheesecakes are all very good, and the cocktails are equally humungous.

Here are our top five Cheesecake Factory Faves:

5. The fudge brownie cheesecake. Chocolate, cheese, and fudge never combined so tasty.
4. Salmon. Always fresh, and cooked to perfection - all preparations deliver.
3. Chicken lettuce Wraps. Healthy, savory, and plentiful (see picture).
2. Lunch Portions. Manageable sized portions of the Factory Favorites.
1. Avocado Egg Rolls. Hot and creamy, served with spicy sweet cilantro sauce - unique combination.

TFL Ranking 4.0 out of 5.0 Stars
 
 
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Perfect Dirty Martini
Atlanta's own Iron Chef competitor and victor, Kevin Rathbun, still holds court in the cozy neighborhood of Inman Park. With his version of tapas, Krog Bar, now having bottle service and Rathbun Steak being the new powerbroker gathering place one might assume the flagship restaurant would lose some luster. Nothing could be farther from the case with Rathbuns.
Rathbun's on Urbanspoon
Still serving up the favorites and not to miss; Mussells, Eggplant Fries, Lamb Scallopini, and the Day's open Ravioli. The tuna is always a raw plate option, and we recently discovered hand cut fries with blue cheese cream - cooked crispy to perfection.
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As per Usual TFL Procedures, Eating before Clicking !
The menu is always seasonal, with ingredients being sourced locally when possible. Short ribs appear in the winter months, brisket when the days become long and hot. Do not skip the grilled Veal Chop with charred local sweet corn and smoked gouda cheese.
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Food before Photo - How could we ever do otherwise
The Executive Pastry Chef, who is also a partner, creates some of the most affordable plates in town. Most less than $5, and three to be had for $10, make sure you ALWAYS get the Peanut Butter Pie. This is sure a tribute to Elvis.
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Delicious Desserts - Check. Duly Sampled - Check.
The first year Rathbuns was open, Esquire magazine named the restaurant as top destination - Nationally ! Since then, the food and service have been seemless and consistent allowing Keving to continue building his Empire. If you have never visited his first and namesake restaurant you should do so. This truly is one of Atlanta's finest dining destinations.

TFL Ranking: 4.6 out of 5 Stars
 
 
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Bakeshop by TFL
Another concept from the great genius of Bob Amick and Concentrics is the affiable Bakeshop. With Jonathan St Hilaire at the helm, this appears to be an owner operated French "style" bakery. Hilaire has been the pastry chef for Concentrics since the early 2000's beginning his career in Atlanta with the downtown Ritz. Well trained, and creative, he channels all of the right ingredients for Bakeshop.

Offering breakfast and lunch, with focus being on all things bread, Bakeshop is a fantastic addition to the mini food court at Peachtree and 8th street. Each sandwich is based on a signature bread, and named accordingly. The salads are fresh and seemed to be made to order on our first visit, but not seemingly so on the 2nd. Hmmm ?????

The bread and sweets are the star here, with additional menu items failing to impress. The sandwich meat appeared to be Boars Head at best, and Sysco Imperial at worst. The drink selection was inferior to the BP convenience store cooler - offering coke, and coke products in cans and plastic bottles. On one visit, we requested mustard only to receive two plastic sleeves similar to the mustard that comes with a Turner Field hot dog.

In the end we expected more from a local legend, but were never dissappointed with the baked goods and sweets. We only wish Bakeshop would take its baking intentions and apply to the rest of the restaurant. Most bakeries can not survive off of bread alone, and standing in the heart of midtown, Bakeshop might not be able to either. Get some artisan beverages, sides, and condiments to go with that fantastic bread !

TFL Overall Rating: 3.7 out of 5 Stars.

Bakeshop on Urbanspoon
 
 
Cedar Planked Salmon
Cedar Planked Salmon - Courtesy of Woodleywonderworks/Flickr
H.D. Pappas emigrated from Greece to America at the turn of the 20th century. Like most immigrants he brought a commitment to quality and service that provided the core and strength of our United States. 100 years later, his great-great grandsons still carry on that tradition in monster corporate style. With over 50 restaurants around the country, encompassing 6 or more different concepts, this family run company does it better than most. 

Pappas restaurant
Pappadeux in Norcross is sure to be one of their most proud achievements. Located on the urban sprawl of thoroughfare Jimmy Carter Boulevard, Pappadeux’s Seafood Kitchen brings in the masses, serves impeccably fresh seafood, and seems to hardly slow down between meals to tidy up. The wait can often extend beyond 45 minutes, the parking lot must hold 200 cars, and the restaurant itself must seat 350 at a time. They pack it out every night on a street littered with suburban sprawl, half vacant strip malls, Lavenderia’s, and Auto parts retailers. Clearly most patrons drive from afar to come to this Cajun style seafood mecca. TFL thinks when originally locating on JCB, the Pappas family saw a different future. No matter, this place brings in the +/- $30 a plate customer by the thousands. 

With all of this, one might believe at some point the food and service would be compromised. Not true at any turn. The fish is exceptionally fresh, prepared to perfection (nothing worse than over/under cooked fish), and served in massive portions. The prices are similarly massive in price, but once you see the size of the meal, few ever complain of being overpriced. The menu is deep and diverse with Lincoln log like cheese sticks and huge specialty drinks bringing Bourbon Street to middle America. 

At TFL, we put quality over all else. We would rather wait for two hours, sit on an IKEA bar stool, and bring our own cutlery to enjoy the best quality food available. We do not discriminate between Chain and owner operated, white tablecloth and finger licking BBQ or hand prepared cuisine and mass produced foods. We only want GOOD. With Pappadeuxs, fresh seafood, consistent quality and big fruity/festive drinks are the order of the day, and this place does it better than most. 

With out further ado, here is Pappadeux’s top five:

5. Oysters. If you like ‘em fresh, big, and cheap – this is your place. You can get a dozen raw oysters on the half shell for under $8. They make them fried (perfectly cooked), Rockefeller’d, Po’ Boy’d, and in traditional Gumbo.

4. Salads. The Caesar Salad topped with shrimp or oysters is fantastic. Tangy and smooth. The star of the salad options is the Greek (appropriate!) – 11 ingredients mixed right at your table, house made dressing, and salty feta cheese topped with a crunchy greek pepper is the best rendition we have ever seen !

3. Toppings. Several of the daily specials and regular menu items are topped with some sort of rendition of a cream based, cheesy mushroom/spinach/shrimp/crawfish/oyster combination. Try any of them – never disappointed.

2. Cedar Planked Salmon (pictured above). We know you have seen this at every seafood, steak, or grill type restaurant, but few do it better than Pappadeux. Topped with fresh herb butter, cooked to a perfect medium rare, and garnished with a roasted lemon – this is salmon heaven.   

1. Shrimp and Crawfish Fondue. Every successful restaurant does something better than anyone else. Here it is this $14 appetizer. Served with toasted garlic bread, and their ubiquitous cream sauce – this is a dish to NEVER miss. Order as your entrée, or split it with your table. This dish makes comfort food a destination!

TFL Overall Rating  4.2 out of 5 stars. 
Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen on Urbanspoon
 
 
Chinese Pizza
Chinese Pizza, Courtesy of Helga's Lobster Stew/Flickr
Food wars are nothing new to the industry. Ever since the beginning of the modern restaurant, there have been competitive and often tragic battles over popularity, and whose food is the best. McDonalds and Burger King, Chili's and Applebees, ChicFilA and ... well nobody there yet. TFL recently opined on the saturation of burgers, and would now like to address the parallel universe - Pizza.

Calling Pizza ubiquitous would be a disservice. As the picture above shows, even in the deepest parts of Asia, Italy's food ambassador has made it's way. Here in our beloved city Atlanta, Pizza has become a flat out armeggedon. Of course we have a plethora of Dominoe's, Pizza Huts, and Papa Johns, but who outside of a university campus (age) truly enjoys these fast food renditions. We also have adult chains, California Pizza Kitchen and several others that offer grown up toppings fired in wood burning ovens. Recently, however, there has been a flood of entries into our favorite category, the independent operator.

The hype on Atlanta Pizza reached an ear deafening crescendo with Antico Pizza Napolitana. This place must have the most brilliant PR firm seizing on all things social media. APN has had over 400 people extole their opinions on Urban Spoon alone. Their pies are ridiculously expensive (20-28$) and must either be carried out, or consumed in the kitchen tables, or one communal table outfitted with those over achieving brown paper towels one usually finds in the rest area rest rooms. Their claim to fame is noteworthy; authentic wood fired ovens reaching over 800 deg F, ingredients sourced directly from Italy, and certification from Italy's most prestigious pizza authority. Their website is even in Italian with an Italian domain (.it). San Marzano tomatoes are supposedly used, and buffala mozzarella is brought in fresh from the motherland. And the Pizza? Certainly authentic. When TFL first visited, the pies were delicious and cooked to perfection. Subsequent visits have revealed the restaurant is eating it's own hype. Word on the street is the fresh imported buffala has been replaced by a frozen domestic product, and the pizzas have become soggy and seemingly undercooked. We guess when the line is out the door, customers eager to drop $25 on a pizza and some branded bottled from the N GA mountains, you better move the product through the kitchen as fast as possible.

In the past year, there has been many other notable entries into the pizza war:

Varasanos. This guy made pizza in his home oven for ten years before opening his first restaurant. Again authentic, but the overuse of fresh mozzarella creates a soggy pie.
Max's of Atlanta. This is from the conglamerate Concentrics. Coal Fired, unique for sure, and great for our downtown scene.
Hearth. This is brought to you from the team that created Azios to be a more family friendly place (read suburbia).
Maddios. Again another location created by fast casual phenoms behind Moe's Southwest Grill. A Good Pie, that is made fast and fresh right in front of you.

We at TFL, have had a favorite pizza place that has remained unchanged for the past 5+ years.... Baraonda. This place is run by an Italian husband, and a Dunwoody wife (insert your own punchline here). We believe this is the best and most authentic pizza in Atlanta. The crust is always charred just right, crispy on the crust, toothy in the center. The sauce is perfection, light enough to not overpower, balanced perfectly between sweet and acidic. While the cheese is not buffala, it is a well made product. The salads and sandwiches here are great, but the pizza is the star! This same owners have recently opened Publik attached to the Fox Theater, and will soon open Baroni in Wolfgang Puck's old Express location in SoBu (South Buckhead). If they continue to offer the simple, fresh, and authentic fare in the new places as they have done at Baraonda, then success will surely follow.

FYI: TFL judges all pizza restaurants by tasting the simple cheese pizza (usually referred to as Marghareita), and several of the house created combinations.  We feel this gives insight to the authenticity, while allowing the creativity of the individual operator to appear.
 
 
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Pear, Walnut and Blue Cheese Salad - Bones
There was a time in the restaurant world that it seemed as every corner had a steakhouse, and there was no such thing as too big. The mother of all big, Fogo de Chao, will serve you pound after pound of gaucho steaks until you surrender your Brazilian "Poker Chip" to red and roll yourself to the valet. Then came the Steak/Sushi combo, the Steak/Game style, and let's not forget the ubiquitous Steak/Lobster(with crusteceans the size of a small automobile). While some of these have come and gone, others have come and will soon be gone, and then others have barely seen a blip in their year to year sales.

Here at TheFoodList, we prefer our steaks old school - we call this the Steak/Privilege category. There is no better example of Steak/Privilege than Bone's on Piedmont Road. For the past 30 years, Bone's has been serving up Prime Steaks, and dayboat fresh seafood like no other. In 2009, the restaurant's 30th year, Bone's was named best Steakhouse in the United States by Zagat.

It all starts at the door and the service. Returning customers are almost always greeted by name. Bartenders address you by surname, and your drinks and tab are always carried over to your table. The waiters (all male) wear tan jackets embroided with their name, and again address you by name. The wine list is sick: deep, extensive, current, and reasonably priced.

And then there is the food. The Steaks are hand cut daily, and aged USDA Prime. Finished with a spoonful of stock. The seafood is the freshest you can find in Atlanta, and the produce is sourced locally daily. After sampling everything on the menu several times, TheFoodList has narrowed it down to the can't miss. Start with the Lumb Crab cocktail and the Shrimp cocktail - ols school style, and spot on. Next move to the Ceasar or the house salad with granny smith apples and blue cheese(pictured). For the main course, Steak is king here, and there is no better cut than the NY Strip. Here they offer two sizes; both are cut and prepared to perfection, and the large size is plenty for two. The Crab legs are an excellent alternative, but why come to steakhouse? To complete the meal there is nothing better than the southern pecan pie with vanilla ice cream wisely outsourced from Nancy Cole's bakery in Decatur.

Once you try the best, those other fads and trends come and go hardly noticed. The best of the best do not get to the pinnacle of the chain without reason - same can be said for cruising through the recession with little or no apparent loss of business. Just as the Porsche 911 was hardly changed for 25 years, Bone's continues to dominate the Steakhouse food chain.

 
 
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First there was Christiane Lauterbach holding court. We knew right then and there this was a real Atlanta Food moment. Then councilman Hall cruised in on his bicycle. Shortly thereafter "hizzoner" himself, Mayor Kasim Reed appeared. NPR was present. Almost anyone of food significance made their way down to the Auburn Ave Market for the first ever Atlanta Urban Picnic.

There was farm 255 from Athens with a their lunch cart. Souper Jenny herself was pushing warm bowls of soup. L & M Pizza showed up with a wood burning pizza oven in tow.

And then there was the crowd. Having been a longtime Atlanta resident, this was easily the biggest non (jazz, MLK, etc...) festival gathering we have ever experienced at the Market. Grindhouse Killer Burgers had a line 50 people deep - and this was at their permanent counter inside the market.
 
All and all this was a smashing success despite the cold breeze and overcast sky. We saw numerous media filming, interviewing and documenting the newest food sensation. Maybe Atlanta will come of age once again and join other major metropolitan areas by embracing this burgeoning food/entrepeneur movement. We at TheFoodList.Org sure hope so.
Update 4.1.10
Souper Jenny goes on 11 Alive news and pleads for street food. Watch the video here.



 
 
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UPDATE 3.22.10 - Congrats to Hayley Richardson, and the Atlanta Street Food Coalition - Big article in the AJC on why Atlanta is falling behind the Food Truck curve. Read the ARTICLE HERE, and then sign the PETITION HERE.

Is the food cart revolution ever going to hit the Atlanta streets? There is tremendous amount of chatter on this subject, including Christiane Lauterbach elegant blog. I am sure that Twitter is absolutely the best way to read about this subject here in Atlanta, and the other popular trucks use Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites to narrate to their customers about locations, menus, and hours.

So in short order, we share our top 5 suggestions for food cart/truck ideas:

5. Tacos - Of course mexican is the starting point for any food truck community.
4. Sausages - Not just dogs, but Vegans, Chicken, Pork, etc...
3. Burgers - Could not pass this by; Grilled on charcoal - just like the backyard.
2. Fried Chicken - Southern style of course, the ultimate finger licking food.
1. Southern BBQ - This is practically the only trucks/carts that the city even remotely allows.

If you want to see food trucks in Georgia, sign this petition and visit the Coalition website. The goal is to reach 1,000 signatures - so SIGN NOW!

Thanks TFL

UPDATE 3.22.10 - Watch this awesome slide show from Time last week - showcasing food trucks from all over America; just not Atlanta :(
 
 
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For my Sunday Column, I made a visit to Sheik Burritos n Kabobs — a hilariously creative Persian-Southwestern fusion burrio restaurant. Yes, I just said that.

A culinary passage made to Jahanland

“This is our flag, ” says an animated Jahan Ostad, pointing to an image of a banner depicted on the incredibly bizarre and hilarious mural that covers a wall of his restaurant. “The Persian flags and the Mexican flag are the same! Both green, white and red stripes. Except the Persian stripes are horizontal, and the Mexican stripes are vertical. So ours are diagonal! And see what we have in the center?”

...........Continue reading Kessler at the AJC