Grocery


My wife had been talking about this place a while, a Walmart that was going to be mostly a grocery. Time passes, and it opens up, at the corner of McGee and 78, perhaps five minutes drive from my house. The first available weekend, my family went.

The new grocery in town.

Inside, it’s nice and roomy, with some of the widest aisles I’ve seen in a market. Meat here is often “choice” grade (Patton’s is the place to go for prime), and steaks run about two dollars a pound cheaper than do the alternatives at Kroger and Publix. I looked at some other items: sodas seemed more expensive than Kroger/Publix, the frozen section was enormous, and the selection of certain sweets and snacks – ice cream, cookies, chips – almost disturbingly large. The beer selection, by contrast, was small and unimpressive compared to either Kroger or Publix.

Greens and veggies were housed in a small neat section. The store brand of greens was pretty good looking and had a decent share of “organic” alternatives. Store brand “organic” eggs were also available. Understand, this place was more interested in selling gallon buckets of cheap ice cream and family sized pizzas than being a Whole Foods clone, but good real food is here, if you’ll look for it.

Best buys to me seem to be the meats, and the frozen items. The store brand of canned goods had some shockingly inexpensive meat and seafood options.

While I was there, I was tweeting what I saw. The curious and ironic replies I understood, but not really the nasty, venal, Heather-esque responses (ironically, the cheap shots were coming from folks who describe their lives as “fabulous”). So a warning: my diet isn’t a joke and I have about zero tolerance for any amount of disinformation about food. Check your facts, please.

So let me say this: You can, if you shop this Walmart carefully, get good, cheap, healthy food, and foods that would fit almost any diet. It may pander a bit to the sweet tooth in all of us, but push come to shove, it’s a grocery store, one that’s immaculately clean, with large aisles, an interesting product mix, and I suspect, as time goes on, plenty of customers.

It’s in a small ‘L’ shaped strip mall anchored by an empty Vietnamese restaurant, and easy to miss, unless you see all three of the stores in a row. There is Kabab Hut, a store selling the hijab, and a Hilal grocer all side by side. You’re likely to see Iqra Imports first, a neat little grocery that advertises Halal goat and chicken  in Spanish and English. But to the left of Iqra lies Kabab Hut, about as underimpressive an outside structure as you might ever see. Plain? Yes, quite plain from the outside.

Inside, it’s much cleaner, neater, respectable. It’s set up much like the “mom n pop” Caribbean restaurants. There is a small refrigerator with cans of drinks. There is a bakery display. There is a low counter where you order food. There is a square hole behind the counter that peeks into the kitchen. There  are tables  – good looking ones, mind you – scattered about, with booths edging the eatery, and inexpensive hollow steel framed chairs by the tables. One flat screen television is on the wall, where ads for soft drinks and pretty models are intersperced with political broadcasts where the few English words are things like “colonialism” and “American imperialism”. Hey, I’m sure that’s typical and topical in Pakistan.

What’s most important to someone like me is that this isn’t a buffet at lunch, they’re serving hot meals. And since they’re serving food piping hot, you can get things you simply cannot get from a buffet, such as piping hot chicken 65.

Lamb kababs. More spice then their chicken 65, actually.

A good chicken 65. Like French fries, best when eaten piping hot.

I’m convinced the right chicken 65 vendor has a product prepped to go viral, that some aggressive clever entrepreneur, perhaps selling Korean-Mexican-Pakistani fusion food, is going to make it big with chicken 65 packaged like French Fries or perhaps Chicken McNuggets – throw a little sauce on there, make some chicken 65 tacos, put it all in a Twitter enabled van and sell in the right market. It will take off.

In the meantime, in order to figure out what I’m talking about, you’ll need to find the little Pakistani “mom n pop”s and look for dishes like these. Incidentally, chicken 65 is not what the Kabab Hut is about, it’s more about small traditional Pakistani meats and kababs. They have good looking breads for a dollar or so and the dishes run from $3.99 to maybe 5 or 6 dollars. You can eat like a king here for 10 dollars.

The spicing is .. pretty good. It builds. I thought the chicken 65 could have been hotter, but I never want to tempt a South Asian or a Southeast Asian to spice their local spicy. Usually “American spicy” is my perfect heat point. What the food has here is flavor, and a bit of sneaky spice that builds as you eat. I think the average Atlantan could handle these dishes, and I think it isn’t a fraud to those of us who want our foods a little spicier.

So try it sometime. There was a crowd here the day I arrived, one that grew larger as I ate. The locals know about this place, despite the appearance, and they’re eating here. No wonder. Good and cheap translates into any language.

Iqra Imports and Halal Meats
880 Indian Trail Road, Suite E
Lilburn GA 30047
770-638-7171

Kabab Hut
880 Indian Trail Road, Suite C
Lilburn GA 30047
(770) 925-4440

Kabab Hut on Urbanspoon

It’s in a L shaped strip mall on the corner of Indian Trail and highway 29, close to Taqueria Los Hermanos. Inside are foodstuffs, such as sprats, pickles, and chocolates. A good chunk of their goods are Russian, some are Slavic, some Polish.. I think.

There  is no seating to eat inside, else I’d have added this one to Urban Spoon.

Golden Key European Food and Deli
4760 Lawrenceville Hwy Suite A3
Lilburn GA
(770) 638-1101

In the small “L” shaped room where you order sandwiches, I’ve been eyeing Star Provisions‘ muffuletta. There is just one slice left and it’s a late lunch, so things are disappearing right and left. My wife expresses interest in an entrée item; item is gone from the shelves. As I point to the sandwich on the menu,  the last slice of muffuletta disappears. So I order Star Provision’s reuben instead.

Star Provisions is about one block south of the intersection of 17th Street and Howell Mill Road. You’ll know it by the collection of cars moving in and out of the lot and the apparent inability of there to be any parking spaces in that crowded environs. But understand, it’s more like a bee hive than a static entity, so turn in where everyone else is, and drive cautiously. An opening generally appears.

We have been there once, but far too late for any sandwiches. The sandwich shop was closed. So we headed back, to grab sandwiches and then pick up a new slice of high end cheese from Tim the Cheese Man.

The reuben was a rich sandwich, with excellent meats and good bread. Sauerkraut hung out of the sandwich as I ate. If I had been handed this on the streets of New York City I wouldn’t have complained.

The banh mi strikes me as an interpretation, rather than the whole unearthly goodness of the Vietnamese sandwich. The thing about good banh mi is timing is crucial: fresh bread drives the sandwich. Arriving even a half hour later affects the flavor of the sandwich, because the bread is older. This one, like the reuben, is being driven by excellent ingredients. My daughter, of course, loved her sandwich and the fatty chunk of pork she was eating.

This was an experiment on my wife’s part, the falafel sandwich. She gave me a small bite – emphasis small – of this ‘wich. The chickpeas were small round bits in my bite, not a paste. It was more akin to eating a clingy chunk of grain than, say, the creamy goodness of hummus.

My wife liked her pizza slice so much she was giving bits of it to my daughter. My daughter’s reaction was predictable: “This would be so much better with some pepperoni.”

Perhaps the only downside of this shop is location. Realistically, people from my neck of the woods can only get here during the weekends. That said, I’d suggest to people who love food, and just want to get lost in the rich visual delights of this shop – amazing eye candy here – should take the time to head south down I-85, exit at 17th street and then turn right.

Verdict: Perhaps the best known, best loved provisions shop in ATL, it does a fine sandwich. Highly recommended.

Star Provisions
1198 Howell Mill Road
Atlanta, GA 30318
(404) 365-0410

Star Provisions on Urbanspoon

Reviews of Star Provisions – there are many – include these: here, here, here, here, here, here, here. John Kessler’s readers discuss various banh mi options here.

I mentioned to my wife that I was interested in Star Provisions, and it got under her skin in a way that places to buy groceries seldom do. So after a hellish Saturday at work, I was taking off into the middle of town to find Star Provisions.

I get lost down on Howell Mill plenty, but this time a pair of cop cars marked the way. We turned into the lot, parked, walked inside. Roomy! I let my wife and daughter wander while I went to find Tim the Cheese Man.

Much fun. I ended up with the chunk of cheese above. The Cabot, like most high end cheddars, lacks the bitter tastes you often see in supermarket sharp cheddars. Tim was affable and patient, worth the 50 minute trip downtown. If you’re needing not a good cheese for your dinner, but the right cheese,  this is clearly a place to go.

We missed the sandwiches though. We’ll have to come back sometime.

One of the emphases of Michael Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food” was on unprocessed foods. The reason for this are the as-yet unknown factors in the Western diet that lead to the various diseases of modern civilization. As I suffer, after one fashion or another, from most of those diseases I’m interested in delaying or halting those problems myself. One of the things I’ve been trying to do is locate suppliers of grass fed meats, milk, eggs, butter and cheese.

One resource that Michael Pollan recommended is the “Eat Wild” site. This is a good site, which has a page on which you can find Georgia farms that sell their products into the local markets. Using the map, you can find, for example, Country Gardens Farms and Nursery in Newnan, GA. This farm will take orders to be delivered to the Peachtree Road Farmer’s Market (open on Saturdays). Their prices are competitive, and the farm is nearby.

It isn’t just nearby farms that affect the availability of produce in the Atlanta area. South of Atlanta proper and close to the Alabama border is White Oak Pastures, of Bluffton GA. White Oak sells grass fed ground beef to Whole Foods and also to Publix. I haven’t seen the beef at Whole Foods, and I haven’t seen it at any Publix in Snellville. I have seen it at the Publix in the Prado, in Sandy Springs GA. Cost for a pound of White Oak ground beef there is $7.00 a pound. Correction: I’ve found two kinds of grass fed beef at the Publix on the corner of Ronald Reagan and 124, in Snellville.

This lack of product also affects suppliers such as Organic Valley. If you look them up, they supposedly supply Publix too, but typically the closest I can get to their pastured eggs and pastured butter are Organic Valley organic egg whites. Availability just isn’t there. To note, the Eat Wild site thinks highly of Kerrygold butter (Irish cows evidently are largely grass fed). Kerrygold butter can be found in most Publix supermarkets. Presumably, the same benefits apply to the Kerrygold cheeses as well.

For those of us in Snellville, the upcoming Snellville Farmer’s Market will offer some access to a good local farm. On the Eat Wild map, there are five push pins west of Atlanta. The third of these, smack in the middle of the group of five, is Nature’s Harmony Farm in Elberton GA. They sell grass fed beef, chickens, and eggs. If you look in the right place on their web site, you can see that they plan to attend the Snellville market on the first and third Saturdays of the month.

Interesting online suppliers of grass fed beef include Hearst Ranch and Slanker’s Grass Fed Meats. Heart is a little more conservative while I find Slanker’s to be entertaining in their zeal. Slanker’s though, has some real cooking tips and therefore worth a browse.

I took my daughter and two of her friends to a movie, and afterwards they wanted to eat. Wendy’s, they said. It was a restaurant they could afford. One of the girls had an iPhone and pulled out the Urbanspoon app. It, of course, directed us to a Wendy’s ten miles away. No no, Steak ‘n Shake is closer. So we’re driving to Steak ‘n Shake and then pass a Wendy’s. So into the Wendys’s we go.

I’m of the mistaken opinion that a combo at Wendy’s is just fries and a drink. So I pass on a combo and order a chicken sandwich, a side salad, and a bottle of water.

The clerk looks at me and says, “Sir, that’s a combo.” Oops. I now recall that, from commercials long ago, but I haven’t been in Wendy’s enough to get it. Wendy’s has a very flexible combo concept. Now I get it. Yes, the combos are nice and the choice is convenient.

It was in my undergrad days when I first encountered Wendy’s. They spoke about how the burgers were “juicy.” No, they’re not juicy, they’re greasy. Wendy’s has some of the worst burgers on the planet.  However, Wendy’s is neat and clean. They have decent chicken sandwiches, decent chicken fingers, good salads, and their flexible combos are nice when you’re trying to avoid fries.

Steak ‘n Shake is, for me, a late night eatery, the kind of place you go after being with “the guys” till 2 in the morning. You can get into one of these and have a nice burger, maybe a shake, maybe some chili. They have shoestring fries that are decent, largely, and the cheese fries can be a lot of fun. In Snellville, however, the Steak ‘n Shake tends to be a teen hangout. It gets very loud, almost unbearably loud when the crowd shows. Because of the noise, I can’t recommend that restaurant. I’ve had better luck with the Steak ‘n Shake in Duluth, near Gwinnett Place.

The day previous I took my family to Alon’s on Ashford Dunwoody. Though I had been there several times, they had never been. And Alon’s is major eye candy. We had sandwiches and my wife shopped for small breads. They had interesting chocolates, interesting cheeses, and I paid a lot more attention to their olive selection than I had previously.

Happiness can be a roast beef sandwich at Alon's.

I’ve been playing with Weight Tracker ODS. It’s a nice little spreadsheet derived from the Hacker’s Diet tools, and I intend to keep using it for a while. It smooths out changes in weight, and predicts the rate of your weight loss, calculates your BMI, and keeps a running total of how many calories you’ve saved. It’s in the smoothing algorithm that I have some nit picks.

It’s an exponential smoothing algorithm and the first thing that becomes obvious on reflection is that it’s very sensitive to the first weight you enter. It seems to assume the very first weight is a very accurate weight and that isn’t always so. The algorithm doesn’t handle missed data very well. If you decide to extrapolate back a month on 3-4 measurements for the month the algorithm doesn’t handle that situation very well. It can only change so much per measurement.

Because it can only change so much per measurement the Weight Tracker curve will tend to be a lagging indicator of your weight. Most of the weight measurements you give it will be below the extrapolated line, as you’re in a weight loss situation. There may be useful psychological reasons for using such an indicator, but I did a heap of curve fitting back in the day. I’m used to lines that straddle data points, that minimize the sum of squared residuals. The curves don’t straddle their data and that just seems a little odd to me.

Wendy’s
1918 Scenic Highway
Snellville, GA 30078
(770) 972-4060

Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers on Urbanspoon

Steak ‘n Shake
1610 Scenic Highway
Snellville, GA 30078
(770) 978-8787

Steak 'n Shake on Urbanspoon

Steak ‘n Shake
2110 Pleasant Hill Road
Duluth, GA
(770) 623-8600

Steak 'n Shake on Urbanspoon

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