After living in Atlanta for many, many years - with the birth of children, the call of the quiet suburbs beckoned. Nice spacious homes, big lawns, plenty of garages all created a new home that was equally enticing as the lure of constant traffic and sirens. However the food scene has always slacked behind our urban counterparts.
Eventually, someone decided to bring a little intown dining out to Peachtree Corners. Longtime food industry group, Lucky Dog and Associates, recently opened the fast casual concept Taqueria del Mar. Combing a menu of tacos, sides and entrees, Taqueria del Mar brings freshly prepared food, fresh seafood, and very low prices to a small corner in a shopping center next to Ingles on Peachtree Parkway. Order at the counter, and the kitchen prepares the food from scratch. Hit the full bar for some very tasty margaritas made with real fruit juices and cane sugars - not the glow in the dark versions you see at other "Margarita" bars around town. Feeling good about the stock market? Order the top shelf margarita and the grilled Ahi Tuna. The bartender squeezed fresh fruit right in front of us, while mixing in organic Agave syrup and our favorite tequila - Herradura. the Ahi Tuna came out grilled to a perfect medium rare, garnished with a fresh asian salsa with hints of Ponzu.
While the food was outstanding, the service was still getting it's legs. Some of the food came out after others, while some appetizers and drinks were late getting to our table. Overall, these type of things are to be expected in the first opening weeks of any restaurant.
Overall, the food was excellent, and once the service comes around to the level of the food, this should be a "go-to" destination for the west Gwinnett crowd.
Delicious Tuna Poke
Compared to the typewriter, the computer was a good change. Telephone to cellphone? Very good. Fossil energy to green energy? Again good. Ownership at Woodys Philadelphia Cheesesteaks in Midtown? Not Good.
Under the same ownership for the past +25 years, Woodys changed nothing. Not the menu, menu board, counter, tables, ordering que, and most importantly, preparation procedures. For as loing as we can remember, Dave and his counterpart at the grill would take your order, give you a ticket with a number, and then your cheesesteak would begin cooking. Ditto for the sandwiches, and shakes - all made to order and you just had to wait.
Where is the Beef? - TFL
FoodieBuddha Must Know Something - Alot of Beef, Courtesy of FoodieBuddha
As you can see from the above compared picture, the amount of beef per sandwich is changing. When we visited, no longer is each sandwich made to order - but instead beef seems to be prepared ahead of time, and not sliced paper thin. Dave, the old owner, would freeze each piece of beef, and then proceed to shave to the beef - a lot of work, but results were crave worthy.
Now it appears that to save time, and presumably to sell more sandwiches, much of the product is pre-prepared - to the seemingly delight of the man behind the counter. "Have you ever gotten your sandwich that fast?" he asked. "No" we mumbled in a minor form of shock. We were used to having to wait to order, wait longer to be served, and be grateful the place was open when we arrived. Now customer service is awesome, the hours extended, and days open are now 7 a week. All good changes, if the cheesesteak had remained undisturbed.
Why would you change the golden goose? Woodys had a reputation for being open only for lunch (and barely at that), 5 days a week. Service could be described as curt. But oh that cheesesteak. Worth all of the above mentioned hassle for a well crafted sandwich. Now the hassle has been lessened, but the sandwiches integrity has been destroyed.
The old sandwich would be prepared to order using fresh sliced beef, and plenty to fill the bun. Ketchup, mustard, and the special sauce would be added and then wrapped up and handed over. Hot and delicious. Not so much now. Beef is clearly less, condiments were haphazardly applied, and the onions were even undercooked.
On a further note, the drink cups have changed size to a smaller one, and even the butcher paper has changed. The kitchen has been updated, and now employees can be seen actually abiding by city health codes (i.e. Hair nets, proper food handling, etc..). Further more, other minor improvements have made the experience much more pleasant.
But why change the signature sandwich even one bit? After several decades as a fixture of Midtown - we believe the golden goose has left the coop, and the future ahead surely uncertain.
Dear new owner: Bring Dave back to install the old cheesesteak method and recipe - for sometimes change is not good !!!
Baroni - Courtesy TFL
One of the worlds most famous chefs failed. Wolfgang Puck is arguably the world's first celebrity chef, and certainly the first to capitalize on his name and endorse a seemingly endless list of food and food products. But sometimes even the best strike out. Such was the case with the only outpost of Wolgang Puck Express in Atlanta, located in SoBuck. Woodfired pizzas, fresh tossed salads, and international sandwiches just did not seem to fit the SoBuck tastes and after several years, Puck finally retreated.
Fast forward months later and in comes a veteran of the Atlanta restaurant scene. The same group who operates Barondi, and Publik House in Midtown decided that where Wolfgang failed to succeed, they could do different. Up goes the paper on the windows; dust, construction, and crews follow, and then opens their newest concept - Baroni.
Dining Room - TFL
While there was definitely something different, the place seemed eerily the same. It is as if the ghost of Puck would just not let go. The bar is in the same place. Check for the wood burning pizza oven. Check again for the minimilast decor, and European touches. Check for the pared down menu of wood fired pizzas, fresh prepared salads, and international sandwiches. Obviously the operators here thought Puck must have done something wrong other than the above mentioned similarities.
In one of our earliest review, we named Barondi the best and most authentic pizza in Atlanta. Several years later, we still stand behind this proclamation despite the influx of several strong contenders.
Replicating this format could not possibly fail. Or could it? (as of this publishing, no failure) On one of our first visits, the most delicious Italian bread was delivered table side. Olive oil, fresh ground pepper, and real parmesan cheese ensued and satiation was immediate.
Sorry Bread, no Fresh Pepper
Subsequent visits the bread morphed into poorly made pizza crust, and the pepper mill never materialized. We begin to think that Puck could have cursed this location for ever. But then we had the pizza. Thin, hot and with just the right amount of char - Baroni makes a mean pie. Fresh ingredients are evident with prosciutto sliced so thin, you could read the menu through it. Arrugula tasted young and fresh, and the olive oil was always top rate.
Yum - TFL
The Marghartia pizza was spot on most visits. The crust tended to be somewhat inconsistent, perhaps owing to temperature problems the entire restaurant had been experiencing. We will write that off as opening jitters, and move on.
Margharita Pizza - TFL
All things said, Baroni is a decent replication of the uber successful Barondi. Whether this concept will appeal to the Eugene loving SoBucks more than the Puck Express did will remain to be seen. This will certainly be a challenge, and there are few better operators in Atlanta. We wish Baroni the best, but will more than likely continue to visit Barondi when that Italian urge surfaces.
Fox Bros BBQ, Courtesy Fox Bros BBQ
BBQ can have many meanings to many different people. We will not even begin to dissect the many different styles and regions often cited in BBQ conversations. Instead we will simply state that Atlanta offers almost every style of BBQ known to man, and most are exemplary. There are shacks burning hardwood for over half of a century, and there are glistening new shrines burning wood chips and cooking in huge metal boxes with rotating racks and more sensors than the space shuttle. We are most certainly proponents of "old school" as long as food prep and handling is safe and clean. But as always, QUALITY is job one, and we will endure significant failure in all other areas of experience if the product quality exceeds (our ridiculously high) expectations.
Fox Bros Bar, Courtesy of Fox Bros BBQ
A recently new entry into the "sauce" is L5P's Fox Bros BBQ. Twins, Justin and Jonathan, began serving pulled pork sandwiches between band sets at Smith's Olde Bar in Midtown Atlanta. Cult status soon followed, and a location on Dekalb Ave was transformed into their first restaurant. Fast forward an entire 12 months, and we find Fox Bros packing in the crowds from open to close, winning numerous "best of" awards, being a featured product in Whole Foods, and creating some unbelievable hype.
Smoked BBQ Wings, courtesy of the bittenword/Flickr
In the case of Fox Bros, where there is hype, there is smoke. Hickory smoke to be precise. Located on Dekalb Ave, just outside of L5P proper and bordering Candler Park, Fox Bros consists of two buildings - the main, and the shack. With all of the traditional fare, Fox Bros steps up the game immediately with creative and delicious appetizers. Smoked chicken wings definitely make the list with sloppy wet buffalo/bbq sauces that hits on all notes. House made blue cheese dipping sauce is the perfect compliment to these smoky, spicy, sweet, and toothy wings - some say the "best of" Atlanta.
Fox Bros 'Burger' - TFL
The bbq cheese fries are also outstanding. Topped with cheddar cheese, chopped beef brisket, fresh jalepenos, bbq sauce and served with a side of ranch, these fries will satisfy even the most demanding eater. Tater tots, and various other meat, sauce, starch combinations are available and the pimento cheese (all the rage in Atlanta) is made in house.
There are racks of baby back ribs, smoked chicken halves, ubiquitous chopped pork sandwiches, and Texas style smoked brisket. All of these are excellent variations, and the brisket is the best we have had outside of Texas. Our favorite menu item is the "burger" (pictured). This is a pile of all that's good at Fox Bros. First chopped brisket is piled onto a big sesame bun. Next follows the house made pimento cheese, thick sliced bacon, pickles, tomato, and a generous slathering of jalepeno mayo finishes this masterpiece. One hundred times over your lifetime will surely add to your cholesterol problem but the occasional "burger" is nothing short of bbq brilliance.
Fox Bros is seemingly always crowded and this keeps the food hot and fresh. Saturday's feature a Flinstone sized smoked beef rib that sells briskly - go early! Sides are large and well made, the bar is fully stocked. The brothers Fox are relatively newcomers to the Atlanta food scene, but we believe they are here to stay and a bbq force to be reckoned with.(404) 577-4030
1238 Dekalb Ave NE
Atlanta, GA 30307
Crabcake Hoagie - TFL
Chef Todd Ginsberg has cooked in many a kitchen both locally and nationally. He has learned many different techniques and methods both classic in nature, and modern adaptations. With such a broad swath of talent and abilities, Ginsberg finally found the opportunity to open his own place, Bocado.
Approachable and accessible food and atmosphere make Bocado a hot destination in West Midtown. Sandwich "centric" at lunch, and locally sourced ingredients always being center stage, Ginsberg delivers fresh and perfectly prepared meals. Of course we had to try the burger - made with H&F buns - and was most enthralled with the fresh pickles. This seemingly old school approach (canning cukes) is suddenly the rage again with both Star Provisions, and Muss and Turner's offering house made pickles.
Perfectly Cooked, Gooey Cheese - TFL
We were dissappointed to find the short rib sandwich off the menu on all of our visits. Perfectly prepared short ribs is something difficult to prepare at home, and a dish we always try to sample when offered. The other sandwiches were unique and satisfying, and the burger hit the spot. Simplicity reigns supreme here, and all dishes allow the ingredients to shine.
Garlic and Herb Fries - TFL
Another litmus test we like to use in judging a restaurant's strengths is french fries. At Bocado, the fries are handcut and cooked to perfection (crispy outsides, creamy insides). We always get the garlic and herb option here, and it is one of the best versions we have ever tasted. Plenty of fresh herbs combined with freshly chopped garlic (read: not pre-chopped, pre-peeled or any other pre-prepared way that lazy chefs often fall back on) that was not overpowering like other versions around Atlanta.
We have enjoyed Bocado on each visit, and find the offerings much more authentic and original than many of it's neighbors. We hope to continue to see the Westside of Atlanta grow and succeed adding more destinations and residents.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Sweetwater Georgia Brown
Sweetwater was one of Atlanta's first micro brewers founded by two college buddies back in the mid 1990's. Slowly expanding, they moved from their original production facility on Fulton Industrial Blvd, to their current, state of the art facility in midtown.
As with most breweries, Sweetwater offers tours of the brewery Wednesday through Saturday starting at 5:30pm. Again as most brew tours do, Sweetwater offers 8 samples with each ticket. This configuration has created one of the most popular happy hour destinations in Atlanta. Crowds pack in the entrance, fitted out to feel like a very hip bar in metro Atlanta, and belly up to the bar for the extensive array of Sweetwater brews.
The Crowd, the Bar, and the Sun !
For $8, you receive a souvenier Sweetwater glass and 8 tickets. Each ticket can be redeemed for a beer of your choice from the many tap stations behind the bar. Each station is staffed by several eager Sweetwater employees helping the lines move quickly. They only fill the 20oz glasses 2/3 full, but even with that amount, 8 servings will make most beer afficiandos very happy. Some nights the brewery has live bands and cooking/food demonstrations. The night of our visit Publix was there handing out relatively nothing. With kegged beer only, the crowd looked one semester removed from the college frat scene. This was an excellent way to support the local business, enjoy an inexpensive happy hour ($8 won't even buy one martini in most buckhead establishments), and mingle with the young and the beautiful. You might even learn something about the brew business !
Terrine with Strawberries and Cocoa Nibs - TFL
Atlanta is extremely fortunate to have the chef duo of Anne Quatrano, and Clifford Harrison. This husband/wife team have given Atlanta some of it's best food destinations. They also combine an unrelenting pursuit of all things local; being one of the first chefs in the country to use their own farm just south of Atlanta to supply their flagship restaurant Bacchanalia
and provision market, Star
. Star, is an everyday market allowing the average diner to purchase arguably the finest list of ingredients in the Southeast. Bacchanalia on the other hand, consistently rated and voted the #1 restaurant in Atlanta, is a fine dining destination ideal for any special occassion.
Open Kitchen at Bacchanalia - TFL
Relocating on the westside of Midtown back in the late 1990's, Bacchanalia set the stage for what is now considered a full fledged neighborhood with eateries, shopping, and residential. Housed in an old supply warehouse, the interior is stark and minimalist. Entering through the market, the hostess greets you by name and the occassion specific salutation. With just a few free standing tables, the majority of the restaurants seating is along a beautiful banquet running the length of the rear wall. The bar area is backed by a glass wall showing the entire kitchen and staff with 8 bar stools that stayed ghostly empty.
On the night of our visit we saw owner and chef, Ms. Quatrano, expiditing food from the kitchen. We always like to see the proprietor on premise - shows committment to the concept. The rest of the staff were exceptional as well. Cocktails came mere minutes after ordering and were mixed perfectly and measured generously. With no bar customers to tend, the bartender did not have much volume to maintain and therefore had plenty of time to manage the dining room's orders.
Toasted Brioche Holder w/Terrine - TFL
And then there is the food. Using seasonal products, the menu changes accordingly and is designed to be ordered prix - fixe (priced fixed) for $75. Wine pairings are also available for each course and priced separately. One of the best things about Bacchanalia is that you can also order all items separately. This is the same of the wine pairings - order one glass, or each recommended pairing - whatever suits your tastes. The staff is very knowledgeable, and will mix and match food items and wine choices to your specific desires all with an unpretentious approach that is refreshingly unexpected in this type of setting.
Ahi Tuna with pickled Radish - TFL
Bacchanalia must have first dibs when it comes to the food chain in Atlanta. No other restaurant seems to get the most perfect cut of fish, meat, or cheese that Star/Bacchanalia seems to procur. The Ahi tuna appetizer was so fresh and buttery that it only needed a crispy pickled radish slice to accompany. The kuomoto oysters were briny and cold, topped with beluga caviar. Again simplicity reigned supreme, with the food being the star of the show.
Oysters topped with Caviar - TFL
TFL has eaten at restaurants from NYC to Paris to Rome, and Bacchanalia delivers one of the finest meals anywhere. The tasting of locally raised heritage pork was umami
heaven. Creamy stone ground grits served as a base for grilled pork tenderloin, house made andouille sausage, and braised belly. The sausage was smoky and spicy with a creamy texture never before experienced in a standard nitrate filled andouille. The tenderloin was clean in flavor, and with light seasoning. The belly was bliss - smoky bacon flavored with mouth melting crackling skin. Enjoying each bite of protein with a spoonful of cheesy grits was by far the highlight of the meal.
Pork Tasting Entree with Housemade Andouille, Belly, and Tenderloin.
The repeating theme of a meal at Bacchanalia is quality. The finest ingredients are sourced as regionally as possible and there is no tolerance of inferior products. The menu will be changed before integrity is relented. The lamb chops were the perfect example of locally raised minimally processed food. With very little gamey flavor, cooked to perfection, and again lightly seasoned - this was one of the best lamb preparations every sampled. Pure and clean lamb with little fat or greasy aftertaste.
Lamb Loin Chops with Fennel Slaw and Thyme Honey - TFL
With everything being prepared in house including the charcuterie and all baked goods, Bacchanalia delivers on every bite. The bread and deserts are phenomenal - and also available every day through Star Provisions. TFL usually singles out the top five items not to be missed at each specific restaurant. Unfortunately this time, every item sampled was worthy of the top five. When you have the privilege of dining in a restaurant of this caliber, one should trust the vision of the proprietors and follow one's preferences. Sometimes prix fixe menus are conceived to maximize profits; at Bacchanalia the menu is designed based on balance of taste, flavor, and satisfaction. Like driving the finest built automobile, a meal at Bacchanalia will transport you to a higher level of satiation.
Vahlrona Chocolate Cake - TFL
In the end, this is truly a restaurant for that special occassion. Flawless from start to finish, Bacchanalia serves ethical food that should only be enjoyed on occassion. Rich and luxurious, the meal hits on all tastes without experiencing gluttony.
TFL Ranking 4.8 out of 5 Stars.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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