April 2009


By the time we were in the line for Paula Deen’s Lady and Sons, at 9:35am, the line stretched half way around the block and the front of the restaurant could not be seen. We had missed getting in for dinner the previous day, because of course we could clean up first and then walk over to it.  But by the time everyone was ready, there was no more seating to be had.

My daughter was really the driving force for this. She wanted to go, and badly. When we got our hotel room, we asked in the hotel office where it was located. We were told it was at the corner of Congress and Whittaker (an easy walk from the Riverfront).  For Lady and Sons, unless you have a party for 10, you have to line up and get your reservation in advance in person.

So we came back to the hotel room and plotted. We ate the continental breakfast the hotel offered and then realized that my wife takes her time dressing, and that the rest of us had better get seating. So, we made it into the long, long line, worked our way to the front, grabbed the second of the two time slots that were left (11 am or 1:45 pm) and then went back to the hotel to kill time and play tourist on the Riverfront.

When they give you your reservation, they tell you to line up 15 minutes before your appointment, but we showed up maybe 1:20 or so. They took our name, and told us to go into the waiting area through the gift shop. Now, if you’ve ever been to the Riverfront of Savannah, you’ll see Paula’s face, via a magazine or curio, in every single shop. And in Paula’s gift shop, it’s a Paula Deen flashback on steroids, because there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of items, all with Paula’s face (or sayings) on them. Thankfully our stay in the waiting area was short.

We were seated in a 3rd floor corner on the back side of the restaurant, where we had a window, a lengthwise view of a bar, a view of several nearby chairs and stools. The window view would have been better if they weren’t doing construction on the adjacent block. About 20′ in front of us was a large metal wheel. When we asked where it came from, the waiter said the restaurant was a converted hardware store.  Even though they were using the old elevator, they weren’t using the old pulley anymore.

Our waiter was excellent. We all chose the buffet because for all of us, it was about the southern vegetables.  And there was absolutely no disappointment in them. My daughter’s verdict on the macaroni and cheese was that it was “awesome”. The black eyed peas, in my opinion, could have stood alone as a dish by themselves. Yes, they were that good. The collard greens were also really really good. I went back for seconds, and my plate was basically half peas, half collards. My wife was taking her time with the green beans, and my daughter came back with the mashed potatoes. The chicken was also very good, but the vegetables were to die for.

The buffet is ended with desserts, either peach cobbler, banana pudding, or butter cakes. They were all good, though my wife wished she could have gotten a larger dessert portion. I understand her feelings, but the buffet was all you can eat and people were really eating. And $13.99, for the amount of food served and where it was served, is actually a pretty fair price.

Menus for this restaurant are online.

Verdict: This is one restaurant that is everything it is cracked up to be. Really good meats, vegetables to die for, excellent service. I don’t say many restaurants are exceptional, but this one is, without qualifications.

Lady and Sons
108 W Congress St
Savannah, GA 31401
(912) 233-2600

Lady & Sons on Urbanspoon

Savannah Things To Do on raveable

Tip:

If you line up in the morning, you can get reservations for lunch or for dinner. No need to wait until the evening to get dinner reservations.

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Because of the kinds of jobs I do, I’m always looking for something that is cheap, filling, good, low sodium, low glycemic index, requires little refrigeration, and microwaves easily, to serve as a “good lunch”. And although I’m very happily omnivorous, I’m conscious of the kinds of themes that Michael Pollan touches on in the books, “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food“. I’m equally aware of the kinds of issues that Mark Bittman touches on in “Food Matters“,  in the article “Vegan Before Dinnertime“,  and in what I regard as his best article, “Putting Meat Back in Its Place.” And I believe this “more plants, less meat” trend is attracting attention not because it’s outrageous, but because it makes both sense and dollars and cents. In the case of the “good lunch”, interestingly, these disparate themes merge. Vegan dishes tend to have all the traits I’m looking for, and I can control the salt content if I cook it myself.

Kashi makes a number of prepared products, some of them good, others really good, but they also make a 7 grain cereal mix:

Kashi 7 grain pilaf.

Kashi 7 grain pilaf.

With 2 cups of water and a cereal packet from the box, you can make a nice hot cereal in about 25 minutes.

Uncooked kashi, with 2 cups of water

Uncooked kashi, with 2 cups of water

I was thinking I didn’t want just cereal, and it would be a shame to waste those nice grains. So I decided on a stir fry. To note, there are very few Kashi based stir fries in the blogosphere, and this one from the Plain Cook site is more complicated than I wanted.

Total time required: ca 40 minutes.

Ingredients:

1 package Kashi 7 grain pilaf.
2 cups water
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, sliced finely
2 stalks of celery, sliced thin
1 poblano pepper, sliced thin
1 red bell pepper, diced
some green onions
2 cloves of garlic, sliced thin.
ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of olive oil.

So, we put the kashi in a pan once the water is boiling and simmer 25 minutes. In my case, it wasn’t quite done at 25, there was still some water, but I had started and ended the first 25 minutes with the pot covered. I’m much more likely to leave it uncovered after 10 minutes or so, if I do this again.

Prepare the vegetables as the kashi simmers and just before the kashi is ready, add olive oil to a pan and heat the pan on high. Once the pan is hot enough, add vegetables, and reduce the heat to medium.

Vegetables, ready to stir-fry.

Vegetables, ready to stir-fry.

Let the vegetables cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring, waiting for the onions to begin to turn translucent. At this point add the kashi and let it cook for about 3 minutes more. Afterwards, put the stir-fry into serving bowls and season to taste.

A kashi stir-fry. Season to taste.

A kashi stir-fry. Season to taste.

The recipe above serves about 3-4. In practice, kashi is a bit stickier in the pan than quinoa, so my suggestion is transfer it into microwave bowls (that portion you’re preserving for lunch) as soon as you can.

The vegetables I chose were simply those I had around. You can substitute as you wish (cubes of zucchini would be good here, and I’m personally fond of baby bok choy).

My first encounter with any kind of Columbian food in the Atlanta area came as Patacon Pisa’o was built on the ashes of an abandoned Del Taco on Jimmy Carter in Norcross, east of I-85. I stopped one day while heading home and found they sold fried plantains, which my wife loves. After a while we found other dishes, such as the empanadas they served, or arepas, small corn tortillas, thicker than the Mexican kind, on which they heap different meats. It was a welcome change when we wanted something inexpensive and a little exotic.

Patacon Pisa'O on Urbanspoon

A word of warning: though I’ve eaten at Columbian restaurants, I hardly know the cuisine. A lot of what I’ve learned has come at considerable trial and error. For those who want to know more, Maureen McCarty has done an excellent review of La Casona, a restaurant near Buford Highway, and she describes many of their dishes in detail. Eat Buford Highway (an Atlanta blog, highly recommended) has a fine review of Casa Vieja, off Shallowford Road.

First Impression of Cositas Ricas

Cositas Ricas is in a strip mall on the north side of Pleasant Hill Road, about half a block before the Racetrack gas station and a block or so before Lowes, as you’re traveling east from the I-85-Pleasant Hill intersection. It’s small, with just a few tables inside, a ‘L’ shaped counter, a cooler for drinks, a rack on the counter that has empanadas, and a flat screen TV tuned to a Columbian television station. There was a young man in the store, minding it, with his mother working in the back.

I was hardly the only customer in the place. There was a man waiting for takeout when I entered. There was a couple that came in as I sat, and finally, there was a young lady, mostly on the phone, who ordered the bandeja paisa, and then was trying to get a slightly different kind of banana with her food.

I was offered a menu and it took a minute to note that the dishes were listed in Spanish in black, and in English in red.  Since I had no clue what the restaurant offered, I was groping, but I picked up on the arepas and asked for two of them, one a ham arepas and the other chicken (arepas con pollo). I had a smoothie style drink (jugos con leche) using a blackberry base as well. The smoothie was excellent, and of the arepas, the ham one was ok, and the chicken one was pretty good. The chicken arepas was spicier, offered more meat, and had more flavor.

I asked for a take out menu, but was offered a card instead:

Cositas Ricas uses a card to advertise their offerings

Cositas Ricas uses a card to advertise their offerings

As this is a first impression, I’ll offer no verdict on the place. It’s just opening. But for those who are adventurous, drop by on a Saturday or Sunday. That’s when you’ll get the richest menu and the most offerings here.

Cositas Ricas
960 Pleasant Hill Road, Suite E
Lawrenceville GA, 30044
770-806-0120

Cositas Ricas on Urbanspoon

It can be scary what a bachelor (or in my case, a husband in a family with a working wife) can do if they master a few techniques. I don’t cook many different foods, but quinoa is very easy to prepare and tastes good even if it’s plain. Quinoa salads are one popular way to prepare foods with this pseudocereal, but I’ve been fond of a recipe.. no, more a way of cooking that the blogger Feed Yourself demonstrated and I like to use. Although Feed Yourself called it a pilaf, it’s really more of a stir-fry.  This time the point was to make something good tasting out of vegetables I had to cook or let spoil. Oh yes, and also leave enough behind to do lunch the next day.

Ingredients:

4 ounces quinoa (rinse if necessary)
carrots, several of the “bite” sized pieces, diced
celery (rescued pieces), equal to about 2 stalks
1/3 large red onion, diced.
4-5 mini bell peppers, halved, deveined and deseeded, and then thin sliced
2 cloves of garlic, thin sliced.
2 sprigs each, oregano and thyme.
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce (optional)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil.

Get a 2 quart saucepan and add quinoa and the cup of water (and some soy if you want), cover, heat until simmering,  ca 15 minutes, when the water is gone. Set the quinoa aside. Prep the veggies you need. To note, the combination of onion, carrots, and celery is common enough it has its own name. And in my case, the onion had sprouted, the celery had bad spots, the peppers were showing their age, and the oregano and thyme were almost dry (but smelled so good it was a shame not to use them). I cut the bad pieces out and threw them away.

Put one tablespoon of oil in the frying pan, let it heat on high (I like a drop of water in the pan, to tell me when the pan is hot enough to use. The drop will boil off and that’s your sign). Add vegetables, and turn the heat down to medium. Stir until the onions just begin to change color, about 5-7 minutes. Add quinoa, and the leaves of the spices. Stir for a minute or two, so the quinoa is nice and warm. Pour into a bowl, season to taste, and serve.

Two servings of a quinoa stir fry.

Two servings of a quinoa stir fry.

Notes: on the blog Pink Spots, there is a very nice looking pineapple cashew quinoa stir-fry. The blogger Au Naturel has a recipe she calls an Asian quinoa stir-fry. The blogger Fat Free Vegan has a nice recipe she calls vegetable fried quinoa. The blogger Adventurous Eater likes adding a bit of egg to her quinoa stir-fry.

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
Snellville, GA
(678)-209-0209

Benny's Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Update 10/27/2009: Benny’s has a letter posted on the front door saying it is temporarily closed.

Frontera is a best of breed restaurant, the very best of the “Atlanta style” Tex Mex restaurants. They serve good food and they have generally good service, with this particular restaurant having better service than many. They are fast to the table with crisp, warm chips and they serve two salsas, one red and one a browner chipotle sauce. The chipotle salsa is, in a word, excellent.

Being an “Atlanta style” Tex Mex means they have a staple set of dishes that do not change from restaurant to restaurant, chain to chain. You can get a Speedy Gonzales here, the numbered combinations, the Crazy Taco. But they do it with more of a twist than the others. Their chicken seems to be spicier, more flavorful than their competition. You can get the Crazy Taco (Taco Loco at other joints) at dinner as well as lunch. They have a very nice burrito al carbon, and they are, to their credit, expanding their menu, adding dishes (generally in the $12 range), looking for keepers. Because of this, they do tend to be a little more expensive than Poblano’s.

Some nights there will be a musician in the restaurant, playing for tips.

They are located on Highway 78, just over the hill to the north of the Highpoint Road – Highway 78 intersection. Frontera’s is next to a Ruby Tuesdays and the newly opened Albatross Bar and Grill.

Verdict: Highly recommended. Good food, sometimes very good. Service is very good and perhaps exceptional, considering how hard it is to get good service in Snellville.

Frontera Mex-Mex Grill on Urbanspoon

We’ve been traveling a bit – the first vacation devoted to something other than relatives in some years, mostly up and down the Atlantic Coast. The best of the restaurants we ate at was Paula Deen’s Lady and Sons, but I’ll reserve that for a separate review. The others I’ll concatenate here, and also update the boonie pepper status, as they have sprouted.

boonie pepper sprouts.

boonie pepper sprouts.

The details:  The seeds were soaked overnight in water, and the Jiffy Peat pellets were watered with warm water with a little hydrogen peroxide. I added a tablespoon of 3% to 370 ml of water, but I suspect that’s really too much (I’ve seen a teaspoon in a pint or quart recommended). The seeds have been incubating 13 days in a 12 pellet Jiffy peat container, sometimes in the sun, but the last 5 days just near a window, no direct sunlight, using Park Seed’s windowsill heating strip.  The window sill was getting so cold it was counterproductive, whereas warm and near some sun seemed to make more sense to me. If I can get 4 good plants fully grown, I’m in business.

We went up and down the coast the past few days, going as far north as Myrtle Beach, SC and as far south as Tybee Island, GA. We touched on a number of interesting places to eat, but as we’re largely a Atlanta area blog these will be minireviews.

Myrtle Beach

Myrtle is not a pure white sand beach, but a light brown beach. It’s long and large, with hotels as far as the eye can see both north and south. Hotels were advertising prices as low as $27.00 a day. There is a lot to see and do, but mostly my wife wanted to watch waves. There was a restaurant near our hotel, called the Pier. If you walked to the pier just north of this one, there was another restaurant there named Pier 14 (getting original here). My wife ate at the Pier. There were decent shrimp in her po boy but the bread was spongy.

A balcony view of Myrtle Beach.

A balcony view of Myrtle Beach.

South Carolina Ginger Ales

I’ve been fascinated by spicy ginger ales ever since I saw a special by Charles Kuralt where he visited a ginger ale manufacturer in Blenheim SC. I know now that Vernor’s has a bit more bite than generic ginger ale, and that if I can get Stewart’s ginger beer (also described here and here), then I can have a nice spicy treat. But what I ran into in a Piggly Wiggly in Myrtle Beach is Blenheim’s Ginger Ale, which in the version I had started smooth and ended with a really nice kick (I wonder what C. Kuralt drank?). For those interested in the comparison between the various ginger ales, there is some discussion of it on Yelp.

This ginger ale has some kick to it. Now if I could find the red cap version..

This ginger ale has some kick to it. Now if I could find the red cap version..

Crabby Mike’s Calabash Buffet, 290 Highway 17 N, Surfside Beach, SC

The nicest thing about Crabby Mike’s buffet is the way they treat people while waiting to get into the buffet. The DJ outside, along with a stack of hula hoops, is really a nice touch. It allowed impatient children of all ages to burn off energy and enjoy themselves while waiting for their meal. Once inside, the menu has no price for the buffet, other than “market price”, so I suspect their prices go up and down as crab and fish become more or less expensive. We were charged $23.99 each for our buffet.

Crabby Mike’s is really big, with three or four step tiers to the restaurant, and in the middle, 7 large islands with food on them, a wall side kiosk where you can get all kinds of fried and grilled fish, and then desserts along one wall. There was a lot of space devoted to snow crab legs and crab clusters, and one section devoted entirely to crab claws. Crab legs and clams seemed to go really fast. They had a mixed collection of clams and mussels and the mussels were enormous.

The food? Mostly good. The snow crabs were saltier than I expected, but certainly edible. My wife went back for seconds on crab. My daughter stuck to the crab claws when she could, because it wasn’t as crowded. There was a lot more seafood, a lot more southern style vegetables than the typical Atlanta based Chinese and crab buffets, but in some respects, the ambience isn’t any different. Some people were in there eating nothing but crab (and throwing half of that away).

The most surprising items I had at Crabby Mike’s were their apple stix. I wasn’t expecting the rush of cinnamon when I bit into those at all. I enjoyed those a lot.

Verdict: Recommended. The food is good, and Crabby Mike’s will make your wait painless.

Crabby Mike's Calabash on Urbanspoon

Sticky Fingers, 341 Johnny Dodds Road, Mt. Pleasant, SC

We knew about this restaurant before we ever saw one, due to their excellent Habanero Hot sauce, which partly replaced our use of the Texas based Stubbs BBQ sauce. We had eaten there once, while staying in Charleston, and we ate there again while driving south along highway 17. This section of highway 17 is just south of the land of the sea grass baskets, little kiosks littering the road selling hand made woven baskets.

The food at Sticky Fingers was good. They have excellent sauces, their chicken fingers are more fist sized than finger sized. Sticky Finger’s ribs are tender but there really is little if any smoke in them. There are better ribs at Mad Dogs in Conyers.

Verdict: Recommended. Meats are good, but the excellent sauces are really the star of Sticky Fingers.

Sticky Fingers - Mount Pleasant on Urbanspoon

Tybee Island

We had climbed the lighthouse before, but never really found the beaches, until this trip. It’s not as developed as Myrtle Beach, not as many things to see and do, but the beach is whiter, if smaller, and when we were there, the waves weren’t as bad and the weather was warmer.

AJ”s Dockside Restaurant, 1315 Chatham Ave, Tybee Island, GA

If you get far enough south on Tybee, this restaurant can be found by driving as west as you can. That’s how I found it, that and a peek at their Urban Spoon page.  The Urban spoon reviews recommended arriving just before sunset, as the view is excellent, but we had no such luck.  AJ’s has inside and outside seating, and I suspect during the spring and fall that the outside seating is the way to go. AJ’s is an honest to god hole-in-the-wall restaurant, as the inside seating is in line with their bar, while outside seating spills off onto a pier nearby.

My daughter and my wife had AJ’s po boy. I had a cup of their crab stew, and a crab burger, where instead of beef or chicken, you get eight ounces of crab meat patty on your burger bun. My wife substituted a house salad for her fries. That substitution came at no cost.

The short of it? Everything was good, but while I liked my crab burger (the patty was twice the size of my bun), I loved the crab stew. It was thick with crab meat, rich with cream. I told my wife if we come back, I’m getting a bowl of the stew. The salad had perfectly ripe tomatoes, the shrimp on the po boys were good, and the bread on the po boys was both fresh and a little toasted, as opposed to spongy.

The menu for AJ’s is available on their web site.

Verdict: Recommended, good to very good. We’ll have to get a bowl of the crab stew when we come back.

Aj's Dockside Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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