Miller Union is a farm-to-table restaurant, a product of a name chef (Steven Satterfield) and the boom in better eating at the  beginning of the teens of this century. Appearing roughly at the same  time as Bocado, it soon developed a group of dedicated  and worthy followers. Guys like Jimmy of Eat It Atlanta would make it a routine stop. And it’s always been on an invisible “wish list” of mine, one that wasn’t quelled a bit by the restaurant appearing on Tony Bourdain’s Atlanta show.

This was going to be my 500th review of an Atlanta restaurant. I wanted something appropriate.

I used a GPS to get here, but shouldn’t have bothered. The restaurant is on the left side of what amounts to a warehouse district, and the numbers “999” are distinct on the left as you approach. Parking is valet, cause there is none otherwise.  If you arrive early on a weekday, as we did, without a reservation, as we did, you’re likely to be seated outside. Thankfully, we had tolerable weather the day we arrived.

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Blueberry ginger soda, one of the home grown sodas at Miller Union.

The menu is small, selections are pretty straightforward. We ordered drinks, an heirloom tomato panzanella salad that we shared, an order of quail and an order of duck. The tomato salad was smallish when split in two, but went over well.

Half a tomato salad.

Half a tomato salad.

This is a pretty casual place, relatively slow paced. I think it was an hour and some minutes before we saw our entree. Staff are really good here. Excellent wouldn’t be an unfair evaluation. There is a lot of tag team waiting and multiple staff making sure everyone is comfy. But we were ready for food when it arrived.

Duck, nice and crusty. Squash was substituted for the regular corn.

Duck, nice and crusty. Squash was substituted for the regular corn.

Quail.

Quail.

I’d say we both enjoyed the meats. The duck was more solid than I’m used to, no layer of fat under crispy skin, but the crusty outside of the meat offered a pleasant contrast to the red interior. The quail was pleasing, but my partner would have been happier if the greens hadn’t been doused in balsamic-like dressing. The squash I had was excellent, grilled just enough to be tender.

Serving sizes were not large but big enough. No one felt stuffed afterwards, but felt we’d had enough food. The pace struck me, because I’ve been eating so many buffets recently. And after it all, felt it was actually worth the drive into town.

Miller Union is a spare graceful dining experience, not quite like any other I’ve had in town. It’s akin to the graceful relative who slips into town, shows you 3-4 hours of a great time, and then leaves, none the worse for wear. If you want food fast and enormous servings, this isn’t the spot for you. If you want to savor and relish the flavors you are exposed to, then this place will do you just fine.

Miller Union
999 Brady Ave NW
Atlanta, GA 30318
(678) 733-8550

Miller Union on Urbanspoon

The lunch buffet here is a syrupy mess, with beef, curries and chicken tikka. It’s inexpensive: a buffet and a soda cost less than 8 dollars. It can be, at times, hard to dig the meats out of the pools of broth, and access to one or another ingredient may be very dependent on whether the buffet is recently stocked.

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Beef nehari, beef karahi, and on the bottom of the photo, bagare baingan.

Still, it was good, with decent spice in some dishes. I especially liked the beef nehari. There was decent flavor in that dish. I wasn’t as pleased with the beef karahi, which seemed all bones to me. The bagare baingan was quite good, and at times, could really bring on the heat.

The mall Asma’s is located in is a halal hotbed, full of small places to eat. Further, in the mall, an Indian Chinese restaurant is going to arrive soon.

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I don’t recall convenient Indian Chinese since the one restaurant on Peachtree Industrial was around (back when Books Japan was on Peachtree Industrial, and in the same mall).

Asma’s Cuisine
3099 Breckinridge Blvd
Duluth, GA 30096
(678) 380-9548

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It’s a nice looking bar in a town full of nice looking bars, but one with a casual air, not as high strung as the bars along Ponce de Leon. With 16 taps of good beer, all described on a blackboard above and to the side of the bar, you can drink well here, and the food is entirely respectable.

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I had an Italian beef sandwich when I came, more than enough food for a pub. I like the place, wood and brick walls combine nicely to create a soothing atmosphere.

Melton’s App and Tap
2500 N Decatur Road
Decatur, GA 30033
(404) 634-9112

Melton's App & Tap on Urbanspoon

Barberitos is a smallish chain which started in Athens and grew. They deal in border cuisine, and are the kind of restaurant that insists they’re not a fast food chain. They call themselves quick to serve instead.

There is some basis for making this kind of distinction. They prep their foods every morning, and rather than using only generic ground meats in their preparations, they do grill steak, and you can get grilled chicken as well. The cheese they use is the Mexican white you’ll see at Buford Highway Farmer’s Market, not a big wheel of Longhorn cheddar. Salsas are fresh. Their chipotle hot sauce has a bite to it.

When I arrived, a little after 11 on a Saturday, they were still preparing the meats of the day, apologizing for their slowness – they had done a large catering event the night before, or were explaining what they put in their cheese dip. In a word, it seemed as if everyone knew what they were doing and were ready to explain it to anyone who showed. This is not ordinary in a fast food quick to serve restaurant.

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The items served here are, unless you’re selective, heavy on rice and beans. The quesadillas are not. They have a salad that’s acceptable if you’re avoiding carbs.

The salsa bar is appealing and the chipotle hot sauce has a kick to it.

The salsa bar is appealing and the chipotle hot sauce has a kick to it.

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Anyway, the salsa were enjoyable, the cheeses went over well with me. I thought I had a good, decent quesadilla here. Not blow you away but good enough. I probably liked the atmosphere here most of all, of a new restaurant starting its day, and how engaged the staff was and proud of the work they did. At this restaurant, it came shining through.

Barberitos
5610 Roswell Rd., Suite 110
Sandy Springs, GA 30342
(404) 943-1000

Barberitos on Urbanspoon

Bahama Breeze surprised me a little. I thought it was a singles bar, but turns out to be a casual food concept, with a lot of space, wicker furniture, reasonable if not ambitious eats. It affects a bit of island influence, but is hardly that. Food similar to what they serve here can be found in Cheeseburger in Paradise, Frontera’s, and some of the simpler dishes from Red Lobster.

The lack of ambition is heralded up front when the chef’s special the night I came was wood grilled fish. In fact, that’s what I had when I came here, a beer and their wood grilled salmon. Understand, wood grilled fish isn’t the special on most seafood places, it’s a central part of the repertoire. I can get a decent cedar plank salmon at Shucks in Loganville and theirs comes served on the plank of wood. Not so at Bahama Breeze.

Wood grilled salmon.

Wood grilled salmon.

That said, it was a good plate of fish. The salmon had a lemony balm, the vegetables were decent, the service was very good to excellent. The bar, where I sat, had wry understated staff, very likable. It’s a perfectly good restaurant as long as your expectations aren’t exceptional and you avoid any really ambitious dishes. Otherwise, your dining experience could end up like Chloe’s, here.

Last, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out how the driving habits of Bahama Breeze patrons affected everyone for some years. It was typical for Bahama Breeze patrons to stop in a no stop zone at the corner of I-85 and Pleasant Hill, waiting for enough traffic to clear so they could cut across three lanes of Pleasant Hill Road traffic in about 100 yards. Why they didn’t just continue on to the light, turn right and then do a quick 180 off a local lane, I never understood. But it happened so often and so frequently, it was easy to hate this restaurant. The recent redesign of the bridge and all the intersections nearby has eliminated a lot of these issues.

Bahama Breeze
3590 Breckinridge Blvd
Duluth, GA 30096
(770) 935-6509

Bahama Breeze on Urbanspoon

It’s an older chain and probably one a little under appreciated, given the existence of newer, fancier sushi joints. But sushi isn’t the reason I eat Japanese. I eat for the whole of the cuisine. And yes, if you’re the kind of eater who only eats sushi, and who needs his sushi served from gold bowls and only using the flesh of endangered species jetted in, then you and I have serious differences of opinion.

Entrance to the Ponce Sushi Avenue.

Entrance to the Ponce Sushi Avenue.

Some of the best sushi I’ve ever had was inari sushi, served hot and steaming, made fresh and seasoned just minutes before. It’s not all about the expense of the product. Rice is a modest grain, but it can be grand if handled with skill. The question is, which eaters can distinguish between pomp and circumstance and real skill?

miso soup and some seaweed salad.

miso soup and some seaweed salad.

Calamari. I'd have preferred salmon shio style, but evidently they don't serve it here anymore.

Calamari. I’d have preferred salmon shio style, but evidently they don’t serve it here anymore.

Mixed sashimi.

Mixed sashimi.

The one thing that has impressed me about the Snellville edition of this small chain is its authenticity and the ability to still eat a Japanese meal despite the heavy sushi (and sushi roll) emphasis. You see that breadth at the original as well. Things like noodles of various kinds (nabeyaki udon), donburi bowls, tempura and teriyaki, tonakatsu, agedashi tofu, Japanese pickles all are options at this chain. The foods they provide are not exhaustive, in the manner of a Haru Ichiban or a Shoya Izakaya, but they pass my mother-in-law test, meaning I could take my 100% Japanese mother-in-law to the eatery, and she’d leave happy. The average American can come here and know they won’t get a narrow, limited culinary experience.

All that said, I do prefer the Snellville location. The staff in Snellville are almost all Japanese. That wasn’t true on Ponce. I know the Snellville menu, and we have years of them in drawers in my house. When I ask for things that used to be on the menu in Snellville, I usually get them, rather than getting a “what planet did you come from” look from a Hispanic staffer.

Irony is, the newest member of this small chain is, in my opinion, more authentic than the original. That said, the original is still pretty darned good.

Sushi Avenue
308 W Ponce De Leon Ave
Decatur, GA 30030
(404) 378-8448

Sushi Avenue on Urbanspoon

PS: I’ll mention this again: for those food bloggers aspiring to talk intelligently about the Japanese meal, you simply must have Shizuo Tsuji’s book, discussed here.

The dish is called, modestly, mejillones, Spanish for “mussels”. But it isn’t just mussels. They toss in Spanish sausage, and bathe it in a tomato beer creole sauce. The sauce is chunky and a little spicy. It is delivered in a cast iron skillet, piping hot. Alongside the dish are strips of bread, to take this goodness and scoop. The result is one of the best servings of mussels – well, food of any kind – that I’ve had in the city.

Mejillones. Really excellent.

Mejillones. Really excellent.

Armando’s Caribe is a restaurant that serves largely two cuisines, Mexican and Cuban. There are hints of other cuisines here and there, a jerk chicken wing, but it’s mostly Mexican and Cuban, aiming for a tropical atmosphere. The staff are clearly Latin, and the restaurant collectively gives you the feeling that it’s the real deal.

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I also had the ropa vieja that day, a Cuban dish. Good, but not the mind blowing delight of their mussels. In any event, a restaurant that can put out a great dish and otherwise some good ones is worth keeping on the radar (for example, the old Checkered Parrot’s nachos). And with the mejillones at Armando’s, it absolutely qualifies.

Armando’s Caribe
3170 Peachtree Industrial
Duluth, GA 30097
(770) 232-9848

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