Italian


You find it after a longish drive up Mount Vernon, past Chamblee Dunwoody and past Tilly Mills Road. On the left, near the corner of Jett Ferry and Mount Vernon is a L shaped strip mall, though it’s pretty large and dotted with individual separate stores. In any event, in this location, just about at the turn of the ‘L’, is 48th Street Market Italian.

Inside, it’s largely a store, a “provisions” style shop. There is plenty of wine. There are meats and really excellent looking breads. Towards the back, you can find prepared pastas and a counter where you can order sandwiches and salads. They had a muffelatta, of which I’ve only had the version associated with New Orleans. But I love a good one so I ordered this one to try. They have some excellent, if pricey chocolates as well. I ordered a bar for a coworker who loves dark chocolate.

Since this is a store first and an eatery second, space is limited. There are perhaps the equivalent of 16 tables that seat 4, the vast majority in Market Italian’s covered “outside” seating area. Most of these are two seaters scooted together to form 4 person tables. Coming of course at lunch there were plenty of people in work shirts drinking diet Coke. There aren’t so many wine drinkers in the noon time crowd.

The muffelatta is smaller than the New Orleans version, but with a delicate bread and the taste is spot on. Great meats, the “filling” that lines the sandwich is oh so good. My feeling, after taking my time with my sandwich, is that this place is a find. I haven’t been as excited about a sandwich shop in the Dunwoodies since I found Wright’s Gourmet. In its Italian specialty, it is superior to Alon’s and a lot more down to earth. While my wife is a bit uncomfortable in a place with the airs of Alons, there  are no affectations in this neighborhood Italian shop.

Given the quality, location is the only reason this place hasn’t been “found” yet.

Verdict: A find. High grade sandwich shop and store. Very highly recommended.

East 48th Street Market Italian
2462 Jett Ferry Road
Dunwoody, GA 30338

E 48th Street Market Italian on Urbanspoon

Italia Cafe is one of these places that has managed to acquire a serious following by word of mouth. It’s #4 on Urbanspoon’s Lawrenceville ranking, and a casual examination of that ranking would have led any reasonable person to assume it was a pretty good place. Some of the reviews, however, are positively bubbly, as if this is not just a good restaurant, but an exceptional one. Many of the writers are first timers, people who aren’t married to iPhones and making daily or weekly reviews. So what would a more experienced reviewer think of the place? I was curious.

Our first try to get to Italia was blocked by the popularity of the place. We drove up, parked behind a vintage Chevrolet in immaculate condition, only to find that there was no seating for three that night. So we came back the next day, for a late lunch. It’s a pretty restaurant, carved out of an old Kentucky Fried Chicken, with perhaps a dozen tables for four and six to eight tables for two.

We ordered drinks and antipasto, and while we waited bread was served, along with a basil pesto and a seafood based dipping sauce. I took a bit of the bread and tried both sauces. I personally favored the pesto. My daughter liked the seafood sauce.

Antipasto followed, along with a salad my wife ordered, their Italian. We ended up carving the salad into three, so we could all have some. Though ranch was served with the salad, our waiter offered balsamic vinegar and olive oil, which I happily took. That pairing is easy on someone with my food issues. The antipasto was very good, the mozzarella so light and mild it could have easily been mistaken for a softer cheese. The salad, with dark green and tender leaves, was an excellent starter.

Entrees soon followed. My wife had their frutti di mare, and my daughter their gambero. I had their lamb chops, myself.

Every dish was very good, and it wasn’t long before we were sharing items from each plate. My daughter snagged a chop and my wife was offering bits of seafood from her plate. The chops were tender, and the wine sauce a welcome addition to the meat. The pasta was nicely cooked, what little I could try. The green beans, the brussels sprouts, the vegetables on my plate were spot on.

Around this time, the owner, Giorgio, came out, said his hellos, and recognized us from the night before. He apologized for the lack of seating that night. I told him that he should be happy he’s getting such a good crowd at nights. Before the night was over we also met one of the chefs from the back. Service overall here is personal, focused, and intimate, with an owner clearly engaged in his own business. Our waiter also seemed to thoroughly enjoy what he was doing.

It didn’t take much to talk us into a dessert. We haven’t been eating many desserts as I’ve been dieting, but I’m nearly through with this one, and what would a bite of something creamy hurt? My wife chose their sfogliatella napolitana (I can pronounce that about as well as Ash can pronounce “Klaatu Barada Nickto”). It’s a kind of cream filled pastry, with flavors of almond mixed in with the cream. Even I had to have a bite, a small bite, of our dessert. In a word: delicious.

In trying to define what I like about Italia, these elements stand out. The atmosphere is very elegant. The dishes are not cheap, but neither are they expensive, given the quality of the food. The food offers terrific value for the dollar. Service is excellent. And the intimacy of the dining experience sets it apart from almost any other eatery in the area. It’s easily one of the best restaurants within 10 minutes of Snellville, and to be frank, in the northeast of Atlanta.

Verdict: A focused, intimate place, terrific meals, excellent service, an engaged owner. A blogger’s dream restaurant in many ways. Very highly recommended, perhaps exceptional.

Italia Cafe
139 S Clayton Street
Lawrenceville, GA 30045
(678) 629-3040

Italia Cafe on Urbanspoon

Getting to Italia

From Snellville:

Head down 124 towards Lawrenceville until you get to the intersection of Clayton Street and 124. Please note that Clayton Street becomes Grayson Highway right at this intersection, so if you see the Grayson Highway sign, turn left. Italia Cafe will be on your left in less than a block, so stay in the left most lane as you turn.

From Duluth:

From I-85 heading north, one way would be to take Pleasant Hill Road east from I-85, to Ronald Reagan Boulevard. You can take Ronald Reagan until it ends at 124 and turn left, but you can avoid a lot of traffic if you will exit at the Webb Ginn Road exit and turn left, under Ronald Reagan and away from Brookwood High School. Webb Ginn will cross 124 and this short cut will avoid most of the harsh traffic at the RR-124 intersection.

From Grayson and Loganville:

Get onto Highway 20, the road of many names, and follow it until it becomes Clayton Street.

From Suwanee:

I’d be tempted to take Sugarloaf Parkway from I-85 east until it runs into Highway 124. Take a left, and follow the Snellville instructions from that point on.

From Stone Mountain:

Take 78 to 124, and turn left. Follow the Snellville instructions from that point on.

Messina’s is a little hard to find. Head northeast along Highway 29 from the intersection of Beaver Ruin and Lawrenceville Highway. Go past the maroon sign of an Indian restaurant, pass the Hispanic place. And there it is, on the left, and hard to see. The building is much longer than it is wide, and doesn’t present a lot of face to the road. The sign is scarily short, in an age of oversized trucks and SUVs, and can’t be relied upon.

Though the AJC reviewed this restaurant in 2005 (and access Atlanta managed not to lose this review), I’m not sure it resembles the place Lori Johnston discussed after some five years. What I saw were  dark bare formica tables, showing clear signs of chipping and wear. Chairs were the inexpensive metal tube type you can pick up at Wall Mart or Target. The building seemed a little low roofed and a little small, a holdover from the days when the average home was perhaps 1,000 square feet in size. There are some nice features otherwise. The walls of the building are well maintained and the booths look nice, if a bit old. But this isn’t a place trying to win on looks.

It does seem to win the hearts of those in uniform. Two sheriffs were in the eatery when I arrived with my daughter. A gaggle of nurses soon followed.  The nurses must have ordered by phone, because soon after they sat their food arrived. Every plate I could see looked large, and the serving of fries was ample. That, at least, was an interesting sign. Otherwise, the clientèle were all over the board. Couples and singles, families, groups of men, groups of women, all combinations could be seen. Customers never filled the place, but they never stopped coming either.

I ended up ordering an Italian panini and my daughter got a gyro plate. She got fries, and I ended up with a side salad. There was very little to the side salad, just romaine lettuce and onions, and after the plain looks of the eatery and the rather plain salad, I was wondering if Messina’s was going to be a bust. Thankfully the sandwiches pushed aside that thought.

The panini I ordered was tasty, had a lot of flavor. My daughter’s gyro was huge. Half of it was about the size of my fist. She was very pleased with the taste and the sheer amount of food.

Service was decent. I can’t say it was much better than that. There were loud spills. People up front tended to be ignored at points. Staff could be slow seating people. The whole restaurant had the feeling of being a little understaffed on the day we arrived.

The cost of our meal was a nice surprise. Two of us were fed for about 14 dollars. None of what we had were the lunch specials, which were advertised at $5.25.

Verdict: Inexpensive food, with a lot of flavor. Recommended.

Messina’s Mediterranean Cuisine
4075 Lawrenceville Highway
Lilburn, GA 30047
(770) 935-9990

Messinas Mediterranean Cuisine on Urbanspoon

I really like Carraba’s Italian Grill. I like the service, which is exceptionally good for chains in its price range. I like the bread, fresh, tasty and excellent. Most times I get into Carraba’s and I can’t get past the spaghetti and Italian sausage, which are very good. I came here recently for lunch, because I was in the area. They started, as usual, with a very good loaf of bread.

Just to change the routine, I had a soup and sandwich this day. The combo included half an Italian panini and a bowl of their spicy chicken soup. My waitress, excellent, offered me the choice of chips or pasta with the entrée. I chose pasta, and when chips arrived anyway, soon a serving of pasta was on my table.

The soup was good, and had a hint of spice. The sandwich was crusty and tasty. I don’t think either was as excellent as the spaghetti and sausage, but I have a serious soft spot for a good sausage.

Verdict: Good Italian eatery. Excellent bread, excellent service. Highly recommended.

Carrabas Italian Grill
1210 Ashford Crossing
Atlanta, GA 30346
(770) 804-0467

Carrabba's Italian Grill on Urbanspoon

Note: Amy on Food has a recent review of Carraba’s Italian Grill.

My wife has taken a fancy to Fini’s Sicilian style pizzas and we’ve been there twice in recent days.This preference, of course, is expressing itself right in the height of the Antico pizza craze. Fini’s is just world’s closer, and it’s a place the family knows.  Drive to Highway 29, head up Lawrenceville Highway to Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road, turn left and eventually, Fini’s is on your right. Couldn’t be simpler.

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Fini's Sicilian slice. Crisp bottom, chewy crust, and delicious.

On one Sunday we tried to go to Fini’s and it was closed, so turning around the choices in the car were Umaido or Haru Ichiban. Haru ended up winning, and we went there. The menu at Haru Ichiban has changed since my last review. Robata grill items have been added, the special tuna combination is gone. It was a quiet Sunday and we were the last serious table to arrive. My daughter and my wife ordered udon. I ordered miso cod and grilled pike mackerel and my mother-in-law ordered salmon of some kind. We had chirashi sushi as a side. My mother-in-law’s chopsticks (back sides of them, as in FB’s cartoon) were in the chirashi routinely. Her comment, over and over again, was “oishii.”

chiraishi sushi from Haru Ichiban.

chirashi sushi from Haru Ichiban.

By the time our fish dishes were on the table, the salmon was gone, to be replaced with pike mackerel and my dish was given to my mother-in-law. We were half way through the fish before either of us noticed. We must have been hungry. I got a piece of the miso cod before it completely went away and it was the best thing I had that day, melt in your mouth tender, miso flavor permeating the fish. The pike was good, though the white flesh along the back and sides was the best part of the animal.

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nabekayi udon, in an iron pot.

grilled pike mackerel, or pacific saury. sanma in Japanese, kongchi in Korean.

grilled pike mackerel, or pacific saury; sanma in Japanese, kongchi in Korean.

Grilled foods. Miso cod and pike mackerel

Grilled foods. Miso cod and pike mackerel

I dropped by Buford Highway Farmer’s Market recently to look for Sichuan peppercorns and found, to my surprise, green mangos. I tried to call my wife but that didn’t work. I went ahead and bought a few. I knew she’d find a use for them. As for the Sichuan peppercorns, it looks as if they call them “red pepper corn” in BHFM, and they are currently on the lowest shelf in the Chinese section of the market, reasonably near the black and white peppers. So a question: I bought a pepper mill, to grind the Sichuan peppercorns. Is that how this spice is used?

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Green mangos and Sichuan peppercorns.

My copy of “Izakaya: the Japanese Pub Cookbook” has arrived. I’ve only had a chance to glance at it, not really read it thoroughly. The izakaya scene in Japan, and for that matter, in Los Angeles (also here) and New York, is remarkably diverse and trying to categorise the izakaya as a single thing or a single model, as some people have done, is a bit like saying there can only be one kind of pub. When the izakaya can go from vast commercial chains to three story Western influenced institutions to settings hardly more robust than a roadside stand, hardly anything epitomizes the izakaya “model”. I think the spirit of an izakaya can be captured, though, and thinking about it, I’m guessing that’s what Bill Addison meant in his recent Atlanta magazine review of Shoya. The spirit of the izakaya is what Mark Robinson is trying to illuminate in his tour guide of saki house foods.

Peter’s is a well respected restaurant on Chamblee Dunwoody, close enough to the Shops of Dunwoody to share a connected parking space with them. I had been interested in this restaurant for a while, but when I checked this place out in August, they didn’t have any lunch hours yet. They did, however, have a sign indicating that they were going to have lunch hours in September. So I came back recently, to once again check this place out.

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The inside is pretty. Nice wooden tables and booths dot the place. There are plenty of windows and between the windows are photos. Background music is big band jazz and the occasional Dixieland number. At lunch Peter’s has a single page menu, with salads and burgers and sandwiches.  Prices are mostly below 10 dollars, with a couple items around 12 dollars. Staff cooperates in handling their guests, efficiently tag teaming their patrons. As I was examining the menu the owner showed, and was talking to people on the other side of the room. There are some nice touches on the tables, such as the craft paper used to cover all the table tops, and this combined vinegar and oil container.

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It wasn’t long before my food arrived. I thought the beer battered sole with Italian slaw was going to be a plated filet of fish, but instead it was a sandwich (served with polenta fries, in this instance).

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The fish was mild and had a bit of crunch due to the cooking. The slaw added tart, the remoulade was noticeable but not overwhelming. The bread was good, adding a crunch and resistance when I’d eat. Good fish, good sides, good bread, great balance in the sandwich overall, the best sandwich I’ve had in a very long while.

Wow.

This was also the first polenta I’ve had in any form, and the light yellow fries with the soft interior made an interesting contrast to the crunch of the Italian bread in the sandwich.

Hopefully this new venture by Peter’s will draw a crowd, because the sandwich was excellent and my general service experience was every blogger’s dream in terms of a actively owned and actively, cooperatively staffed restaurant.

As I left, the owner dropped by for a couple words, apologizing for the sticky front door and the mess of starting up during all the rain. I don’t think, given the circumstances, he has very much to apologize for. If people find out about this place, the value for the money, crowds will come.

Verdict: I can’t speak for dinner yet, but excellent value given the quality of food at lunch. Very Highly Recommended.

Peter’s
5592 Chamblee Dunwoody Rd
Dunwoody, GA 30338
(770) 394-9401

Peter's on Urbanspoon

Notes: Peter’s had a excellent web site, but they appear to have not renewed the domain, so currently the site is down.

Fini’s Pizzeria Italian Ristorante has a formal address of 860 Duluth Highway, but more so, it tends to be on the Lawrenceville-Suwanee side of the Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road – Duluth Highway intersection. As such, you can’t really see it from Duluth Highway. So, if you want a rule of thumb on how to get there from the Duluth Highway side, you need to enter the strip mall with the Chipotles and the Carvels, and then follow the various “arrow” signs back to Fini’s.

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Once you get there, it’s pretty large and roomy inside for a suburban pizza place, walls a mix of plaster and brick, oil painting decorating empty spaces and fake gas lights on the walls as well. Fini’s has maybe 20-25 places to sit, counting tables and booths and this weekend night, they had plenty of customers. There were three groups of 10 or more, and one group of 7 to 8. From what I could tell, most were eating the pasta dishes, or sandwiches. We came here to try their pizza.

Fini’s has two kinds, a thin New York style and a thick crust Sicilian style. You can add toppings to a base cheese pizza or order one of their specialties. They also serve pizza by the slice. We ordered drinks and the antipasto appetizer, a vegetarian special Sicilian and the mondo meato thin slice.

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We liked the appetizer, especially the prosciutto slices. The other meats were good and I’ve never turned down a good olive or artichoke as an adult.

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The thin slice pizza had a pale flopper of a crust, though the toppings tasted good. Far better was the Sicilian, whose crust was far darker, and whose crust managed to be both crisp and chewy. And since the whole Atlanta metro area is absent a Pizzeria Uno chain, this sure makes a nice delicious alternative to Chicago style, and it’s reasonably close to Snellville.

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Verdict: Good food. In our experience, get the Sicilian pizza and ignore the thin crust. Highly recommended if you’re into thick crust pizzas.

Fini’s Pizzeria Italian Ristorante
860 Duluth Hwy
Lawrenceville, GA 30043
(770) 817-4747

Fini's Pizzeria Italian Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Dominick’s is a member of a small chain, and one location can be found on the corner of Main Street and Holcombe Bridge Road in historic Norcross. It’s in a pretty brick building with a small amount of outdoor seating, and doesn’t look as big from the outside as it turns out to be.

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I stopped to eat here once on the way home. I was taken back by the apparent cost after looking at the menu, as I initially thought a full order would be necessary. Some of the full order costs are pricey. I looked for a dish with Italian sausage, as I’m partial to it, and ordered their garlic bread, their house salad and their spicy chicken and sausage casserole. I asked my waitress what serving size would be enough, and she said that a half order would be plenty.

One thing to note at this point. If you’re sitting inside, though you’ll have plenty of room, you feel as if you’re sitting right next to the adjacent tables. Sound seems to carry inside, and it’s as if you’re one of many in an extended party line. Distraction came, however, in the form of a half serving of their garlic bread.

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I’ve never seen garlic bread quite like this. It’s a loaf of bread, as opposed to separated pieces of toast, has slivers of real garlic on top and is served with plenty of oil. It was a nice concept and was appetizing. Soon after the salad arrived, and then the entree.

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The entree was  a fine dish, with spicy Italian sausages and real spice in the marinara. I finished perhaps half of it, and took the rest home. As the AJC has noted, a half order is more than enough at Dominick’s.

Service is excellent at this location. I really liked my waitress.

Verdict: Fine rich Italian food. Enormous servings. If you like these kinds of dishes, highly recommended.

Dominick’s
95 S. Peachtree Street
Norcross, GA
(770) 449-1611

Dominick's on Urbanspoon

Figo Pasta is one of three restaurants in a medical facility on the corner of Hammond and Peachtree Dunwoody. As it was off in a distance, all I could see was “Fig”, so I was determined to find out what that “Fig” restaurant was all about. It was only as I drove closer that I could make out the ‘o’ and then the word ‘Pasta’.

Piedmont Heart Institute

Piedmont Heart Institute

Front of Figo

Front of Figo

Walking up to  the blackboard showed a list of specials, one of which was duck ravioli. I’ve been really partial to duck as the old Mandarin Gardens (now Manchuria Gardens) used to do a mean duck. So I figured I’d have a try at that.

Inside, what you do is decide what you want to eat, pay for it, and then they hand you a pepper grinder. You take the pepper grinder to the table of your choice. At that point people descend on you from all directions, and you suddenly have a table with plates, cutlery, water, salt, olive oil, bread, and very soon after, your drink.

Bread!

Bread!

It’s a decent bread. Even if it is not the kind of wild whole grain goodness you might get at a fancier place, it’s still bread nonetheless. A little bread and olive oil and some cracked pepper can go a long way as you wait for your entree.

At this point I had a chance to take a break and look the restaurant over. It’s very open. Tables are both inside and outside, the walls are largely glass, the space is airy, and the customers are dressed informally. You can watch the food being cooked. The preparation area is open, the staff is young and friendly and the service is good and attentive. Pretty soon after the entree arrived:

Duck ravioli

Duck ravioli

The pasta was decent, but not spectacular. I was expecting maybe some chunks of meat, some resistance, but the filling of the pasta was smooth and homogenous and really had no flavor that reflected “duck”. Or maybe it did, but I wasn’t tuned to it.

I spent a little time talking to my waitress, and was happy to have the time to do so. She told me that the pastas were all made at a main location and shipped to this one. A little web browsing shows that Figo Pasta is a chain of 8 restaurants in the Atlanta area. Making the pasta in a central location makes for a lot of efficiency in production. It also means that Figo, nice as it is, is really a kind of fast food restaurant. It’s just the fast food might be a little more wholesome at Figo than the 1000 calorie triple burger down the street.

Verdict: Nicely done fast food in a very pleasant setting. Good service. Recommended.

Figo Pasta
1140 Hammond Road
Atlanta, GA 30328
(770) 698-0505

Figo Pasta on Urbanspoon

This is going to be a short photographic survey of places to eat in Norcross, and not an exhaustive survey either.  The focus is Mojito’s, and we’ll show some images of some other interesting places to eat in Norcross along Jones Street.

The first image is Paizano’s. It’s a pretty restaurant, both inside and outside, and I’ve eaten there perhaps three to four times. My impression of their dishes goes from pretty good to really good.  Their antipasto salad is excellent. Service ranges from decent to good.

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Paizanos on Urbanspoon

The next image is that of Zapata, which we have reviewed before.

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The third is the Iron Horse Tavern. In terms of their food, they are essentially the same as the Royal Oak Pub, which I have reviewed in the past. I recall having Harp and the lamb tikka (very good) at Iron Horse.  Their service is good, and they may have a bit more space than Royal Oak.

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Iron Horse Tavern on Urbanspoon

The Norcross Station Cafe is a landmark in the area, being a converted railroad stop.

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Mojito’s is really what we were aiming for. I think this restaurant is beautiful myself.

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We ordered their beef empanadas. The habanero sauce that comes with this dish is really really good.

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These are Mojito’s sweet plantains. They are a little crisper than most, and my wife really likes that crunch.

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Cuban sandwich with black beans. The beans are richly flavored.

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Media Noche with yellow rice. Both the Cuban and Media Noche are full flavored sandwiches and highly recommended.

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A grilled Chicken sandwich with a side of congri. Not as good as the Cuban, but grilled flavor is clear in the sandwich.

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Yes, a bit heavy for lunch, but my wife was craving beef empanadas and this was as close a place as we knew to get them. If you know of places closer to Snellville, tell us about them.

Notes: You can get to downtown Norcross quickly if you use the access road that parallels I-85 on the west, Brook Hollow Parkway. Take Ronald Reagan to Pleasant Hill, Pleasant Hill to I-85 S. Exit I-85 S at Indian Trail and at the intersection, head straight, do not turn left or right. Stay on the Parkway until you reach Mitchell Road. Turn right on Mitchell and take the road until you can go no further. At this point you are in Norcross facing the fire station and are three turns from Peachtree Street (left, right, left).

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