modern American


Little Mexico is showing some interesting lunch specials on their blackboard.

We were able to take advantage of those recently. Shown below is their hot and spicy burrito. Ground beef, beans and rice, along with a spicy salsa mark this lunchtime choice.

The chile relleno lunch special is also a whole pepper, as opposed to a ring of pepper with a little beef poured inside.

Local Republic was a chef’s recommendation, a bar, and on Urbanspoon, it’s classed as a gastropub. On a bright spring day, I was able to head up Highway 29 and into Lawrenceville and try it out recently.

To note, ‘gastropub’ is a moniker that is controversial in this town, because of Meridith Ford Goldman’s negative use of the term in her review of Salt Factory Pub (named Red Salt at the time). And of course this represents a problem, because her review really never bothered to say what a gastropub was.

So what is a gastropub? If only a name chef is required, then HD1 is a gastropub. If only great food is required, then Ria’s Bluebird is a gastropub. And since no one has bothered to tell Meridith Ford that an absence can’t define, we’re more or less left with a critical status quo that has Holeman and Finch as a gastropub, perhaps Leon’s Full Service as well (but maybe Leon’s is just too 2010 to count anymore), and that Red Salt isn’t (because, of course, burgers disqualify you as a gastropub, unless you’re Holeman and Finch and only sell them when vampires are afoot).

What is clear is that Local Republic is an ambitious eatery for its place and location, that serving escargot in a bar is not typical fare, and that putting a nice little proto-gastro-eatery right across the street from McCray’s is also quite gutsy. The owner isn’t afraid to take risks; witness his excellent looking Johnny’s in Grayson. The location is cute, has its own parking (important for an eatery close to the square in Lawrenceville), and some good outdoor seating.

In terms of beer selection, Local Republic has ten craft beers on tap. The selection varies, and they don’t print a beer list. On a blackboard, they keep a list handy.

So, the question: is Local Republic a gastropub? Let’s talk about the food we had and get back to that.

Local Republic has some very attractive small plates, and that’s what we focused on. Yes, the signature dish here is supposed to be shrimp and grits, but that’s dinner fare and we had been nibbling before lunch began.

My daughter had their escargot. That was the most successful dish of the night. She liked it, and my sample was flavorful, buttery, earthy at times.

Escargot. Our favorite dish when we ate.

The salad was a delight, tender leafy greens, but not in any sense ambitious.

Chicken and sausage gumbo.

The gumbo was something of a quandry. Yes, it was good tasting, smoky, some complexity in the broth, but really didn’t “hit the mark” as a gumbo, and there was no spice, or heat, to speak of. I’d had a good gumbo recently at the Froghead Bar and Grill in Mississippi, with on point flavor and spicing. Local Republic’s fare isn’t anything like the gumbos I grew up on in Lousiana. Nevertheless, it was interesting.

Huge serving of mussels.

The mussels were an enormous serving, and the size of the serving presented a problem. The mussels were better when dipped in the broth that came with the seafood (milky, with bits of garlic in it), but there were so many mussels, you really needed 3 bowls, one for the mussels, one for the shells, and a third for the broth. Dry, the mussels weren’t as delicious as they were when dipped.

So, is it a gastropub? Personally, there weren’t enough “wow” moments to class this eatery in the same strata as H&F or Leon’s. A more appropriate comparison would be Salt Factory Pub. That said, any eatery with this level of ambition and execution automatically becomes a factor on the northeast side. Any foodie from Tucker to Suwanee to Lithonia would be well served by the trek to Lawrenceville Square to try this eatery out.

Local Republic
225 W Crogan St
Lawrenceville, GA 30046
(678) 205-4782

Local Republic on Urbanspoon

I managed to make it back to TBM recently. I never had indulged much in their appetizers, but this is one I do  like:

On the board are mushrooms, stuffed with sausage and parmesian cheese. Three Blind Mice may be the best restaurant within a few minutes of Snellville, and this creamy, delicious appetizer is one reason why.

Three Blind Mice
1066 Killian Hill Road, Suite 101
Lilburn, GA 30347
(770)-696-4139

Three Blind Mice Restaurant and Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

My first impressions of Ten Bistro were good. The food was respectable, the atmosphere something else, a sonic essay by Dave Brubeck in 5/4 time. Perhaps such a look is ‘meh’ to ITPers, but to the commuting/OTP crowd, this place stands out. I’d compare it most directly to an eatery on Canton Street in Roswell or perhaps Lilburn’s “Three Blind Mice“.

"The King" sandwich, with grilled veggies.

For cold winter days, this place is warm, soothing comfy. Inside, there is a long bar backed by an equally long extended table along the back, speckled in between by tables for two or four. There is art on the walls, real oils, with the gouges, scratches, and raised rough edges to prove it. With the sounds reflecting an authentic early 1970s groove, the menu itself has its share of puns and allusions to groups, singers or bands of the period. I haven’t been at dinner, or had their wines, it doesn’t really fit along my commute back home, but as a lunch place? It has a lot going for it.

Lamb sloppy joe with a bit of Perfect Ten salad.

One item I prefer, and try to work into my meals is the Perfect Ten salad. It has tender  greens, some artichoke, and shades of the old “Badayori“,  a bit of heart of palm. There are  useful grilled vegetables on the lunch menu, and  plenty of sandwiches. The clientele, if you listen carefully, are some of the most astute, smart people I’ve ever overheard, and I’ve had plenty of lunches in the cafeterias of the University of Pennsylvania. It’s attracting an erudite crowd.

Yes, I’m aware that some people have had mixed results with this eatery, but the owner is engaged, active, friendly, cordial. And when I started a long discussion with his staff about what music might set off his restaurant the best — seriously, where  in my 400+ reviews have I ever gotten into it about a restaurant’s music – he listened attentively. And yes, they need to sneak in a little more jazz into their 1970s mix.

It’s an upscale bar, better looking than most, more friendly than many, convenient to my work, so I bothered to find it, and it surprised me a little. Whether others find it as appealing, I can’t tell, but watching the good looking and active customers over repeated visits, I think this place will find its niche.

 

Ten Bistro
5005 Peachtree Parkway
Norcross, GA 30092
(770) 375-8330

Ten Bistro on Urbanspoon

One Eared Stag is Robert Phalen’s new venture, and after Holy Taco became, more or less, our go-to stop on the way to the Atlanta Zoo, I’d had this place in mind for a while. It’s a small restaurant on the corner of Hurt Street and Edgewood, across from the Inman Park Reynoldstown MARTA station. It’s also quite popular with the media. Becca Rodell praises Phalen significantly in a recent CL, and John Kessler speaks of Phalen’s “garage band mojo” in a  recent blog post.

It’s a good thing when people are comparing a chef to an experimental musician.

I came on a Monday, and I’m glad I did. There is almost no parking to speak of for this place, only street spaces. If  it ever becomes popular, people will be parking blocks up and down Edgewood and walking into the restaurant. It’s also effectively smaller than Holy Taco, because of the lack of useful outside seating.

The menu is enticing. I’m pretty sure it changes frequently. I was left debating over the mussels, or the lamb sausages. I spied a salad earlier, and it had some grilled vegetables. I wanted that. Lamb sausages won out in the end. Larger plates in this restaurant run into the 20s, and they feature plenty of starches. It isn’t the easiest restaurant for a diabetic, certainly not as easy as, say, Holy  Taco.

Panzanella salad.

Lamb sausage

Staff dress in black and service is good. The building the restaurant is houses in looks older, and there is some history to the place I didn’t quite manage to overhear.

I like both the salad and the sausages. The salad has quite a few grilled peppers. I just don’t get enough grilled veggies. The sausages had a “lamby” flavor – I’m sure that flavor is associated with lamb fat – that I really want from my lamb. The roasted almonds were quite tasty, and yet unlike the almonds you get in the supermarkets. I didn’t try much of the cream on which the sausages were placed. If I don’t know what it is, its carbohydrate potential, I just don’t eat it.

Short take: enjoyable restaurant. The One Eared Stag entirely resembles the buzz about it, as an innovative, creative culinary force. Bring a little cash if you want to fill  up here. Service is good, the food a pleasure, but the parking is going to be tricky.

One Eared Stag
1029 Edgewood Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30307
404-230-6177

One Eared Stag on Urbanspoon

In my wife’s lexicon, our meal at Empire State South has become “The Disaster”, a peculiar way to speak about a meal where of the 5 dishes we ate, 4 were nominally good and 3 were really good. But there were service issues and a difficult to navigate menu, which amplified the problems my wife often has in new restaurants. As for me, I knew upon reading the restaurant menu days before that it would present difficulties to someone such as me. This restaurant is a little too fond of sweets on meats, of putting jams, jellies and preserves on their proteins, and in general appears to design dishes for the carb loaders of the world. But I was thinking, get a salad, get an entree, what could go wrong?

The bottle of water at the table was a nice touch.

For one, this was the salad – the only salad – we had available to us:

Pretty, and my wife thought it tasty. But when she ordered it, she was expecting at least some lettuce and carrots, perhaps a tomato or two. Instead, she ended up with the beast that was soon dubbed the diabetic coma salad, and of course though she asked for the dressing to be put on the side, it was not. Staff, it seemed, weren’t paying that much attention to what she was asking for.

Entrees came, along with a side of collards.

Shrimp and grits. Really good, smoky flavor in the grits.

My daughter loved her shrimp and grits. This was by far the most successful dish we had. “The grits were a little smoky,” she told me. The smoked trout had a very mixed reception, however.

While I thought my trout to be a trout on a biscuit in terms of size, it at least delivered a ton of intense smoky flavor. My wife’s trout, on the other hand, was dosed in enough of a citrus dressing that it was spoiled for her. I believe the same dressing was used on the tomato next to the fish. Staff blunder #2.

The collards: again, a very small serving of food, but quite good, first rate.

We were offered desserts, but we found none of them appealing.

To summarize, our experience was mixed. The technical skill of this restaurant is high, and when they could deliver food, they did so well. But the menu choices leave much to be desired for someone who eats like me. As a result, I can only recommend this restaurant to certain types of people.

If you’re a foodie, of the kind for whom others can have your bagel when they pry it from your cold, dead hands, then run, don’t walk to Empire State South. For diabetics, people on diets, people with food issues in general, the menu, as I found it, is not for you and I cannot recommend this restaurant.

To note, I believe there are easy fixes to my issues, such as providing a simple house salad, shorn of carbs, or providing entrees with vegetable choices more akin to the “Super Food” item, seen here and here. But until I see them, I can’t recommend Empire State South in general.

Empire State South
999 Peachtree St NE
Atlanta, GA 30309
(404) 541-1105

Empire State South on Urbanspoon

Local Three is not the easiest place to find or park at, but thankfully the section of road this eatery is found on was delightfully free of traffic the day I managed to get there. Yes, it’s very pretty. Nearby is a small sandwich shop punfully named Local 1.5. As in many self consciously good looking places, the staff dress down a little, in a nice shirt, often an apron, and jeans. Abstract pigs from Muss and Turners adorn the walls, and pictures of Jeff Bridges in his role as the Dude in Big Lebowski are all over the place. There is a lot of light, and many well lit places to eat. There is a long bar, and probably plenty of great drinks here. I was just here for something I can eat.

I talked them out of the corn on this dish, but that's it.

Great roasted vegetables, thin sliced. Total explosion of flavor.

This is a place that borders on violating the principle of separation, which is to keep ingredients of different kinds well enough separated that someone with food issues can fix their meals. I spent forever getting the corn out of my arugula salad, and of course, succotash is the vegetable du jour of type 2 diabetics. That said, they have a rotating vegetable plate, and the vegetable sandwich was not only a complete delight, but beyond any doubt the best thing I ate all week.

Local Three Kitchen and Bar
3290 Northside Pkwy
Atlanta, GA 30327
(404) 968-2700

Local Three Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon

It’s a store and eatery with a modest front on a strip mall, a bit to the east of the intersection of Five Forks and Killian Hill Road and very easy to miss. The outside shows a bit of outdoor seating and pretty red stone. The inside is much larger than the outside appears, as this is a deep restaurant, with a long bar, some seats, a sofa or two, plenty of wine and a refreshingly casual air.  It reminds me,  in some small ways, of San Francisco’s City Lights bookstore.

It was a little confusing when I arrived, perhaps because there was a wine tasting going on, and I arrived in the  middle of it. Staff were worried about the people trying wines, so it took a minute or two before staff found me.

“Inside or outside?”

“The outside looks pretty, great light, let me eat  there.”

In retrospect that was a mistake. The light was fantastic, and it let me get some great food shots, but it was cold outside. I wasn’t dressed for it, and even after moving back inside, I never really warmed up the whole day, until I fell asleep.

Inside, though, I had a much better feel for why you might want to come to TBM, and I’d say it’s really friendly, very social, and a great place to talk and eat. There is an engaging owner/chef, Matthew, who has opinions but doesn’t come off as opinioniated, and a crew of regulars who seem happy to chew the fat. The bar is long and deep, and if you’re here to say your hellos, please find your way to the bar, shake the hands of staff and say hello to the owner.

There are six good beers on tap, and not just a wine list, but a fine beer list as well. The salad  I had was tender and the chunks of bread nice and crunchy. I ate too many of those, but they were a bit too tempting. The salmon was tasty and tender,  the skin was indeed crisp. Prices ran a couple dollars more than the local chains, but of course, you’re dealing with a single outlet small eatery.

So, if you’re eating just to eat, and you want a lot of food at a great price, then one of the local buffets will serve you well. There are plenty of those in the Snellville/Lilburn/Lawrenceville area. Small local restaurant with an engaged owner chef? Those are as rare as four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie. And while good social spots like Leon’s in Decatur and Holcomb and Finch are common inside the loop, a place with a smart owner, intelligent clients and a Cheers-like atmosphere are pretty rare in the ‘burbs, and this place appears to have all that.

Very highly recommended. Good food, stellar atmosphere, friendly and smart without any pretense.

Three Blind Mice
1066 Killian Hill Road, Suite 101
Lilburn, GA 30347
(770)-696-4139

Three Blind Mice Restaurant and Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

This weekend has been taken up with car repairs, air conditioning woes, and the beginnings of doing my taxes. But last weekend we managed to make it to the zoo.

There are a number of interesting eateries in East Atlanta and the Grant Park area. Holy Taco seemed about right for our crew. We had tacos there, some stuffed peppers, and a really good ear of corn.

My wife liked the corn a lot.

Holy Taco has a good habanero sauce and good pico de gallo

I’m partial to Holy Taco’s habanero sauce and their pico de gallo (I wish they had more salsas in general), their lengua tacos and the light breezy atmosphere. They have some interesting ironwork on the premises and it was perfect for a nice spring day.

Lengua, pork, and goat tacos

Holy Taco
1314 Glenwood Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30316
(404) 230-6177

Holy Taco on Urbanspoon

It was my birthday. I was looking for something new and different, yet comfortable enough that my wife could eat without any concerns. Amy on Food, no less, recommended this place to me. So after deciding the usual standbys had just been used once too often, this old recommendation occurred to me.

Getting there is easy enough. Get onto 78, drive into city, get confused several times by places you think look like the right turn, then miss Myrtle Street as your daughter calls out, “You just passed it!” Thankfully, the next block heads north too.

Parking is tricky. Our first pass at the parking lot (which is small), a single car was blocking the whole lot while trying to exit. We went a block south and turned around, only to miss two easy parking spots because of our turn. It was a bit of luck  then, that the Top Flr lot cleared by our second pass.

Inside, we waited in a narrow hallway for staff to notice us. People nearby were waiting, eating, or surfing on their Apple notebooks. To get to where we were going to sit, we had to climb up a narrow staircase to a second story room. Seating was comfortable but there wasn’t a whole lot of it.

There is a bit of lighting on tracks overhead, but not much of it. The rest of the light is provided by a single candle per table. The poor lighting led to troublesome photographs. I cleaned them up a bit but the price of doing that is loss of resolution.

Appetizers: we liked both of them. It wasn’t immediately evident the flatbread was a flatbread when we ordered it. It was popular nonetheless. The hummus was a huge hit with my wife.

Salads: The two were ordered were good.  Neither photographed very well.

Sides. Good. Kale was a lot of fun, a bit more leafy and chewy than spinach, but similar nonetheless.

The brussels sprouts were more of a casserole, but if you didn’t like the cheese much, you could pull most of it off the top.

The mac and cheese looked modest initially. Little scalloped shaped pasta were in a mild cheese sauce that at the very end become surprisingly spicy.

Entrees were mostly good. I say mostly because soy reductions are a really bad idea if you want to avoid salt, and the roasted chicken was served with a soy reduction. The lamb and duck we had were quite good. Actually, I’d call the lamb perfectly cooked, well spiced, and excellent.

duck

lamb chops

Overall, a great birthday dinner. Service was also really good. We enjoyed ourselves, and can pretty much recommend the whole experience.

Top Flr
674 Myrtle Street
Atlanta, GA 30308
(404) 685-3110

Top Flr on Urbanspoon

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