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!
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.
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 !
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
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
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.
Decatur's Farm Burger
Some might think there has been a recent glut of burger joints to descend upon Atlanta. While TFL certainly agrees, getting a quality burger and excellent fries is not so easy. For some reason beyond us, we have Five Guys being the fastest growing franchise of 2009. We now have Doty's Yeah Burger looming, celebrity fave Flip, and Sweet Auburn's anamoly Grindhouse. We have yet to sample Doty's burger, hyped out over Flip, and a huge fan of Grindhouse - but still believing Houston's to be the best burger in Atlanta.
Into the burger madness enters Farm Burger, sister enterprise from Athen's Farm 255. Localist and sustainalist (is there such a word?), Farm 255's proprietors, much like are own Bacchanalia, take the farm to table organization seriously. Owning and operating a couple of local farms, Farm's owners provide the majority of beef, pork, and produce to their growing restaurant group.
Eating Right has never been Tastier
At TFL, we like to eat the best available. When we shop, we buy what looks best, not what we saw on TV yesterday. Burgers are no different. Locally sourced makes a huge difference in the burger wars. Once you have had freshly ground beef, cooked immediately, other burgers begin to resemble hockey pucks or worse. Farm Burger recognizes this as well; their house temp appears to be a nice warm medium rare (pic). Most other burger joints smash and flatten leaving no temp opportunity other than well done. This is what truly makes Farm Burger's product superior to most, and comparable to our benchmark - Houston's.
Garlic Herb Fries
And then there are the fries. For us, the fries are the lynchpin of the Burger restaurant. We don't really care how they are prepared, we simply want, in order of importance, Hot, Crispy, Seasoned, Creamy Centers, and served to maintain all of the above. We have yet to discover fries that compare to McDonalds except at the rare occasion when all the necessary steps are taken to deliver the exceptional french fry. Unfortunately, Farm Burger is no different. Offering fries, sweet potato, and onion rings - Farm Burger appears to not cook to order, and the end result is apparent. Soggy, luke warm, and sparingly seasoned - we hardly saw any parmesan cheese on our order, FB's fries need some work.
Bacon Cheeseburger with Housemade Pickles
At the end of the day, the burger at Farm Burger is one of Atlanta's best. The sides may need some work, but serving tall boy Miller's (the Champagne of beers) and Abita Root Beer, Farm Burger is here to stay and clearly an industry leader.
TFL Overall Rating: 4.1 out of 5 Stars.
Greasy, soggy, limp and pathetic - Picture by TFL
Five Guy's Burgers - picture by TFL
Five Guy's Burgers
were one of the first new chains to infiltrate Atlanta. While the concept was unique and refreshing, couple of years later, the burger is king, and Five Guys could be on the downslide. Appearance wise, 5Guys does it to perfection. Clean simple dining rooms, open kitchen, red and white tile to match the red and white sacks of Idaho potatoes. They even post glamourous reviews of their concept all around the restaurant. Offering patrons free peanuts while they wait for their meal is always appreciated, and the employees are all friendly and attentive. The menu is sparse and straight to the point - burgers, hot dogs and grilled cheese. Fries two ways, and fountain drinks. Dessert or shakes? We did not see any. Salads? Veggie options? None either. But we at TFL enjoy a niche operation specializing in one or two items that are unlike any tasted before. Unfortunately for 5Guys, they do not seem to have anything crave worthy.
So in a rare TFL action - we will now name the 5 worst things about this restaurant. Usually we can find 5 great or even acceptable things, but here we were actually dissappointed at every turn. Maybe when burger joints were few and far between the McDonalds and Burger Kings, 5Guys was something else - but in this day and age, your burger and fries better rock. When you can go to McDonalds and get a double cheese burger with still the perfect rendition of a french fry and a coke for $2.99, one better deliver far superior results to be able to charge 3-4 times that in price.
(these are in order from worse - 5 to inedible - 1)
5. The bacon. When you charge $2+ for bacon, please use thick sliced and naturally smoked. We can cook up oscar meyer processed bacon at home.
4. Dessert. Why no shakes? Maybe even some cookies? A brownie? 5Guys needs something to cover your grease laden stomach after eating here. TFL's suggests McDonalds Choco-Banana shake. Extra stop, but needed.
3. The grease. It is everywhere, and the smell lingers. At least use higher quality.
2. The burgers. Cooked to well done (but so is McDonalds), and mashed flat, these burgers are nothing more than grease patties with elaborate toppings. $6+ for a double is out right stealing. The buns at least are always fresh and absorbent - although we would prefer the absoprtion of juice as opposed to grease.
1. The Fries. OK so they give you 2lbs of french fries. BFD. We wouldn't care if it was 10lbs, cause they suck. We are of the group of crispy frie fans. Soft pillowy center is OK as long as the outside is crispy. When ever we go here, we ask for the fries to be WELL DONE, CRISPY, BURNT, DOUBLE FRIED etc... and they still come out limp, greasy, not a cripsy one to be found. But plentiful, oh so plentiful. They do charge over $2.50 per order.
To conclude, you can get basically the same burger with better fries for $3 vs $11. For this price, you are better off spending about $5 more (with a tip) and sit down at Houstons for a burger cooked anyway you want it (we suggest med rare)!
TFL Overall Rating: 2.1 out of 5 Stars.
Chinese Pizza, Courtesy of Helga's Lobster Stew/Flickr
Food wars are nothing new to the industry. Ever since the beginning of the modern restaurant, there have been competitive and often tragic battles over popularity, and whose food is the best. McDonalds and Burger King, Chili's and Applebees, ChicFilA and ... well nobody there yet. TFL recently opined on the saturation of burgers, and would now like to address the parallel universe - Pizza.
Calling Pizza ubiquitous would be a disservice. As the picture above shows, even in the deepest parts of Asia, Italy's food ambassador has made it's way. Here in our beloved city Atlanta, Pizza has become a flat out armeggedon. Of course we have a plethora of Dominoe's, Pizza Huts, and Papa Johns, but who outside of a university campus (age) truly enjoys these fast food renditions. We also have adult chains, California Pizza Kitchen and several others that offer grown up toppings fired in wood burning ovens. Recently, however, there has been a flood of entries into our favorite category, the independent operator. The hype on Atlanta Pizza reached an ear deafening crescendo with Antico Pizza Napolitana. This place must have the most brilliant PR firm seizing on all things social media. APN has had over 400 people extole their opinions on Urban Spoon alone. Their pies are ridiculously expensive (20-28$) 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.
First we want to state that we are smitten with all things Cliff and Anne. While they have diversified as of late - i.e. Abattoir
, Star Provision remains the most dear to TheFoodList.Org.
First and foremost, lunch should begin the begin. Do not try and walk through the store before you eat or at least order lunch, otherwise you will find yourself with a basket full of cheese and salumi. The sandwich menu is the heart and soul of the food, and one should always try, at least once, the Shrimp Po Boy and the Banh Mi (pictured).
Once you have satisfied your immediate cravings, you can focus on the bakery items. The cupcakes stare at you longingly, while the cookies are locked behind a glass jail. Skip the cakes, and free the cookies - go for the gingersnap or chocolate chip. If you are really hungry, add a side salad from the seasonal choices in the refrigerated case. Marinated mushrooms, beet salad, and cole slaw are regulars; seasonal fruit, legumes, and greens are offered according to availability. As most know, Clifford and Anne have a large farm south of Atlanta that provides many items for both the market, and their restaurants and whenever something is sourced from there, do not miss out.
After you have stuffed yourself beyond imaginations, proceed to the Bagdorf and Bronson coffee bar for a shot of espresso. Then enter Timthecheeseman's
cave. Included with all of the expected regulars, there are many handcrafted gems. Follow his twitter feed
for up to the minute arrivals and suggestions.
After the cheese comes the meat and seafood room. Start with Ahi tuna, sunchokes from the farm, throw in an Allen Brothers aged NY Strip, some Benton's Bacon, and some "cured-on-premise" salumi's. They also have lamb, veal, and chicken locally sourced and priced accordingly. Finish this room with some fantastic gray sea salt from France, and the best locally hand crafted soy sauce we have ever tried.Once back into the main area, collect some awesome picnic accessories, grab a loaf of fresh baked bread and your favorite bottle of wine. This should create the best home prepared meal you have ever attempted, and in turn the highest "one meal" grocery bill you have ever seen. To ease the guilt and create several meals from your visit, hit the refrigerated cases on the days that Fried Chicken and/or Asian glazed wings appear. Add the homestyle Mac n Cheese, and some cole slaw and you have another full meal. And no one will mistake that chicken for fast food. We think it is the best you can find in Atlanta, and they serve it cold.
Go often and frequently, and once in a while try the day's special sandwich. If the special is bay scallops or gulf snapper, do not skip. Again, $10 for a sandwich is expensive, but this is an academic example of "paying for what you get"!