The high ranking on Urban Spoon, the fine review in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, none of this adequately encompasses the way Benny’s Bar and Grill handles food and prepares meals. The kind of talk you can hear on the Food Channel, about how food can be “rich with flavor”, comes into sparkling clarity when you try one of Mike “Benny” Miller’s dishes. So don’t let the tough driving conditions, the menu on the outside, the rave reviews drive you away.
The restaurant is located at the site of the old Mellow Mushroom just south of Golden Corral, on Highway 78. Benny’s is a little north of the Highway 78 – Killian Hills intersection, and for those a little west of this restaurant, approaching it by heading down Killian Hills and north on 78 might save you some grief. There is some parking in front of the restaurant, but a lot more parking in the back of the building, down a ramp to the left.
Once inside, it doesn’t seem as cramped as the old Mellow Mushroom was. There is much better use of space and, it seems, a lot more places to sit and eat. The layout is graceful, but unpretentious. There are big screen TVs on the walls, a bit of bar seating, elegant tables and on the tables, no salt or pepper. I didn’t notice the lack of spices, Mike Miller pointed it out. And to be honest, I didn’t need it.
A description of the food might be a fusion between the kind of food California has made famous (more accurately, modern American cuisine) and Cajun/Creole cooking. If that’s too high falutin’, think of it as guys in a kitchen with Louisiana roots trying to make really good food while incorporating neat tricks friends from elsewhere have taught them. The results are a lot of original dishes, entirely the opposite of the chain experience.
On to the food:
The soup of the day was a gumbo, and gumbo can be a make or break experience in a restaurant with aspirations to deliver Louisiana favorites. The bowl was appealing when it arrived, with nice chunks of sausage floating in a rich broth. It looked great, smelled good, and it was delicious. It had a lot of flavor, and it managed it with just a tiny bit of heat, enough to let you know it was there.
I also had the boudin egg rolls, perhaps because a lot of restaurants that claim Cajun roots can’t even spell boudin. They were good, bits of sausage and rice in the egg roll. The rolls looked to be a bit unwrapped, and there was cheese, I think, melted into the portion of unwrapped roll.
I didn’t order an entree until I had eaten the appetizer and the soup and the jerk pork tenderloin was too much to resist at that point. And before I trip over superlatives describing how good it was, let’s just say it was exceptionally good.
The beer selection here is really well thought out, with a small number of beers that encompass a wide range of tastes. If you like light beer, you can get that. If you want an extra stout, you can get that too. If you’re like me and want something more like a brown ale or Anchor Steam, they have those as well.
For those wondering why I haven’t described the po boys or the desserts, they are very well covered by the AJC review, and I really want my wife, who has made me drive 90 miles for a good po boy in the past, to have her say first.
By the time I was into the pork tenderloin, Mike Miller came out, and we spoke for a bit. It’s impressive, his grasp of his craft. Prices in Benny’s Bar and Grill are also equally impressive. Entrees run 10 to 14 dollars, their famous po boys run about 9 dollars. You should be able to come here, have a salad and an entree, and beat the prices of every mid priced Snellville steakhouse, or even Ruby Tuesday’s. The desserts, which the AJC raved about, are also competitively priced with any low to mid priced chain.
Verdict: Exceptional food, exceptional value. This is original food, not cookie cutter stuff. The setting is appealing without being pretentious. Despite the informality, this is the kind of restaurant that would be considered an asset in any city I’ve eaten in, from Seoul, Korea and San Francisco in the east, to Manhattan, Philadelphia, and Boston in the west.
Benny’s Bar and Grill
3902 Highway 78
Update 10/27/2009: Benny’s has a letter posted on the front door saying it is temporarily closed.