May 2009


Pure Taqueria isn’t your Dad’s Taco Bell. It isn’t your Mom’s Del Taco. It’s a shockingly good place to eat, with food that looks as if it could be on the menu of any fine restaurant. Pure Tacqueria is also in the process of becoming a chain. They openly promote franchise opportunities on their website, and there are two  locations now, one in Alpharetta Georgia and one in Woodstock Georgia. This review will cover the Alpharetta location.

I came during a lunch hour recently, and the first thing I noted was the total lack of parking at the site. There are about 10 parking spaces by the restaurant. About 1 block down Roswell Street, there is public parking, and plenty of it. And I’m thankful for that, because I then seemed to be in a foot race with 6-7 other people to get into Pure.

Once there, since there was one of me, I was quickly seated. People with larger groups were taking longer this day, maybe 5 minutes or so. Once seated, I had waitstaff asking for drinks almost immediately. To note, the look of the staff is pretty casual. The waiters, bartenders and cooks are dressed in T-shirts. And although the eatery is built from an old wooden frame house, the tables and chairs are of a modern, clean design.

The menu is a single laminated sheet, with one side reserved for drinks and the other a list of foods. Food here isn’t cheap, nor is it expensive. Appetizers run from $5 to $12, and entrees run from $8.50 to $15.00. A typical entree is about $10. Tacos, which run about $10, come 3 at a time at that price. I called my coworkers (this was a work day) and took orders. As for myself I was going to eat there, and ordered the Pescado Veracruz.

Chips came quickly. They were a little thicker than some corn chips, but dry and crisp and tasty. The salsa that came with it was bright with cilantro and moderately spicy. I can see some Atlantans complaining about the heat in this salsa, but I loved it, myself.

The Pescado Veracruz surprised me. I was expecting a fish dish, not fish surrounded by 8 mussels. The look of the meal was fantastic. And the taste was there too. I love mussels, and the fish was really fine as well.

As far up Highway 400 as this restaurant lies, Pure Taqueria isn’t convenient to Snellville. But there is a buzz about this place. It’s currently the #1 restaurant as ranked by Urban Spoon, and throughout lunch, there were people coming into the place. For those who work along “IT corridor” during the days, or have time on weekends, this place would be a worthwhile investment in time.

Verdict: Great little restaurant, really good food and a casual air. Highly recommended.

Pure Tacqueria
103 Roswell St
Alpharetta, GA 30o09
(678) 240-0023

Pure Taqueria on Urbanspoon

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Boonies:

I had long moved my heating strip to the row of coke bottle greenhouses, and yet a couple weeks later, another boonie pepper seed from floralys sprouted. This makes a germination rate of 6/12 from floralys and 5/12 from pepper pilot.  I don’t know how statistically significant these germination rates are. I was a raw beginner when I started this boonie pepper project, and I’d say sheer inexperience was a bigger factor than vendor.

Blog focus:

The focus of this blog, from the beginning, has been food *near* Snellville. The range of the restaurants has been creeping outward, usually to spots reasonably close by, such as Zapatas or Mojitos in downtown Norcross, or Quoc Huong on Buford Highway, or to the wonderful French restaurant in Suwanee, Cafe Gourmandises (really, just a slight detour on the way to Mall of Georgia). What I’m discovering is that to be taken seriously by certain rating systems, I’m going to occasionally go out and rate restaurants these particular ratings agencies think are hot, because the ratings of my blog are affected by this. It is disappointing to some extent, but I don’t intend the main focus of the blog to change. Just, I’m wanting readers of this blog to understand that when I review that 4.5 star restaurant south of the airport, two hours from Snellville, I’m doing it to prevent this blog from being treated as a backwater.

For those who wonder about my Snellville commitment, it comes from trying to give Snellville Eats, the original Snellville food blog, their due when they post reviews. It comes from making sure I have Snellville reviews on a regular basis.  I have three reviews already written of restaurants in or very near Snellville. I’m waiting for Urban Spoon to post one of the restaurants on their Snellville page before putting them up on my web page.

Urban Spoon:

To talk a little about Urban Spo0n: the reason I added their links to my reviews is that they are a portal to iPhone and Android users (evidently, the app can be hosted on blogs as well). Urban Spoon is a startup that launched without venture capital, was recently purchased by IAC, and is an ad-driven enterprise (i.e. they make their money by people placing ads with them). Their iPhone app, is, as they describe:

Urbanspoon on the iPhone is part Magic 8 Ball, part slot machine. You shake your phone and it finds a good nearby restaurant for you. Keep shaking it until it comes back with something you want to try. We use the iPhone’s accelerometers to pick up the “shake”, find restaurants near you through GPS, and then skew the results towards restaurants that are highly regarded on Urbanspoon.

To note, there are over 2 million copies of this application downloaded currently. And 2 million potential viewers is too much to ignore.

Best of Snellville

It has been close to four months since I started this blog, and I thought I would speak about the most interesting and best things I’ve found so far in and around Snellville.

Best restaurant in Snellville is Benny’s Bar and Grill, and it’s not close. Benny’s is one of a kind, and the next best sets of restaurants are chains. And though I haven’t reviewed City Slickers (chain) and Provinos (chain), yes, I have eaten at both places. Benny’s is far and above better than the others I’ve been to.

The best four restaurants I’ve eaten at while blogging are covered in the Exceptional category on this blog. To name them, they are Haru Ichiban, Lady and Sons in Savannah, Benny’s and Cafe Gourmandises.

Best casual dining in Snellville, with an emphasis on beer and wine is probably Urban Flats. My family went there recently on a busy Saturday afternoon, and the food was good, and the service was notably good.

Best new shopping has to be Mother Nature’s Market in Snellville. Best place nearby to buy inexpensive meats is probably Lilburn International Farmer’s Market. Best place for fine wines and beers is Niko’s.

This is a period of coupons and bargains, and the best buys in prepared food are probably in the various fast food restaurants around town. For the time being concentrating on restaurants I’ve reviewed, then I’d suggest the best buy in food near Snellville are the tacos at Tacqueria Los Hermanos in Lilburn, and the patties at Tastees and Golden Krust. Otherwise, notable is the inexpensive single at Carvel Ice Cream, perhaps a dollar cheaper than other premium ice cream vendors. Outside the general Snellville area, the various shops that serve banh mi (such as Quoc Huong) on Buford Highway are a good prepared food buy. For $2.50 a sandwich, and discounts starting when you buy three of them,  and a six for 5 price special everywhere, you can feed a family of 6 for $12.50. You might also check out the small shops that abound in the various International Farmer’s Markets in town.

The best food buy, period, are peas, beans, and whole grains. These are inexpensive and available many places. You can get a pound of pearled barley (not really whole, but easy to cook) at Publix for less than a dollar, and steel cut oatmeal many places. The best general purpose source of whole grains in Snellville is Mother Nature’s Market. Other resources are noted in my “Shopping” tab, which focuses on whole grains.

As far as opinions go, I’ll state mine, but I’m not wedded to them. If you wish to add your choices below, feel free.

Good barbecue is worth a bit of a drive, even in lousy weather. My wife was talking about barbecue, wanting barbecue and I was wanting to not take any chances.  It had been raining off and on all day and I didn’t want to travel too far. But traveling for ordinary food and traveling for barbecue are two separate things.

Fox Bros BBQ was close enough to Little Five Points to make me worry about parking. Fox’s lot has been described in a couple blogs as “chaotic”. But my wife hadn’t had good ribs in ages, it was a holiday weekend, and the opportunity was worth a little risk. I used an online mapping service, obtained directions to the restaurant, and we dove into the middle of Atlanta down highway 78.

I almost ran past the place, and luckily slowed down in time to make the second entrance. Once we did, a car signaled that it was about to leave, and we waited, waited, and got a spot in a totally crowded parking lot. Once in the restaurant, they told us it would be a 15-20 minute wait. Clouds were overhead, and as we waited outside, I kept glancing at the sky, hoping it wouldn’t rain.

Fox BBQ is a place with a formidable reputation. When the AJC published an article about the Atlanta BBQ club, the “kill a tree” version had pictures of the club founders at Fox BBQ. When the AJC recently asked who had the best BBQ in Georgia, Fox BBQ was easily in the top 10, without a single complaint. Creative Loafing has reviewed Fox at least three times.  There are multiple bloggers who have commented favorably on the place (reviews are here, here, here, here, and here).

Once we were seated, things began looking up. We got drinks and I made sure to order the fried pickles. Drinks and pickles came quickly and my wife ordered the half rack of ribs ($13.95). I ordered the 2 meat plate ($14.95), with beef brisket and pulled pork, and my daughter ordered a pulled pork sandwich ($7.95, if I recall correctly). So we then tried the pickles and they were surprising, surprisingly sour and suprisingly good. I wouldn’t have believed the flavors would work with the ranch dip either but they did. Even my daughter, who was a bit aloof initially, made sure she had her share of the pickles.

When the entrees arrived, amidst the sound of rain and the flash of lightning, I knew we wouldn’t finish them. The serving size was enormous. But we tried each of the meats in turn. The pulled pork had a real crust, had a smoke ring, and was melt in your mouth tender. The brisket had a smoke ring and had real smoke flavor. The ribs, sometimes described as dry, were smoky, tender and juicy all at the same time.

The sides were excellent. Great baked beans, great collard greens, a good jalapeno corn bread, and the green beans were mixed with a little tomato and a little heat. The fried okra were okra split lengthwise and then coated in batter and fried. They were all excellent, and about the only place I could compare them to locally would be the sides at Matthews Cafeteria.

The whole meal was, to borrow a baseball phrase, a home run.

Service was excellent and the busing of tables incredibly fast. My wife loved our waitress and she’s usually the hard one to please. And yes, we took home food from every plate on the tables. We couldn’t finish any of it (well, I finished my pulled pork, but that’s it).

Verdict: Highly recommended. Great entrees, excellent sides, service was top notch. Absolutely worth the drive from Snellville, even in the rain.

Fox Brothers Bar-B-Q
1238 Dekalb Ave
Atlanta, GA 30307
(404) 577-4030

Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Carvel Ice Cream is a small ice cream shop in the same strip mall as New Jersey Mike’s and Niko’s. And since I had never had Carvel’s product before, and I’ve been wanting to try as many ice cream shops in Snellville as I can, this was the first stop on the Ice Cream Madness tour.

Carvel Ice Cream is the brain child of Tom Carvel, who was selling ice cream as early as the 1920s. Over time it became a chain, largely focused on the east of the United States. In recent years it became the property of Focus Brands of Atlanta Georgia, who have pushed the ice cream chain into 49 of the 50 United States. Hence, these days, we can get Carvel ice cream in Snellville.

In addition to ice cream, the store sells a number of what they call specialties. Specialties include sundaes and smoothies, shakes, and more exotically named ice cream based treats such as carvelanches (a shake variant), arctic blenders and carvelettes (blends of ice cream and other flavorings), and a variant of a sundae they call a sundae dasher (the bananas foster dasher simply looks delicious).

This store, the manager told us, has been here since 2004.

The store is peppered with ads both inside and outside, and just inside the store, immediately on the left, is a short version of the Carvel story. This day there were flavors of ice cream and sherbet available, but some of the presentation cases were not working and therefore empty. We were stalking ice cream these days, though, and not a ice cream birthday cake.

The best looking ice cream in the store to my eyes was their Chocolate Volcano, which had stripes of vanilla and chocolate and just looked good. I had a single cup of the ice cream, and after trying it, found that there were tiny bits of chocolate embedded in the ice cream as well. That was a nice touch. My wife had a cup of their lime sherbet and my daughter had their strawberry cheesecake ice cream.

I judged my ice cream to be creamy and good. It wasn’t as creamy as a super premium ice cream, but certainly flavorful and enjoyable nonetheless. My taste of the lime sherbet and the cheesecake ice cream also showed good flavor in a cool creamy product.

Verdict: Recommended. Nice little ice cream shop, good ice cream, and a slice of history within Snellville.

Carvel of Snellville
2050 Scenic Highway
Snellville GA, 30078
(770) 985-2011

Carvel Ice Cream & Bakery on Urbanspoon

Cafe Gourmandises is strikingly friendly, and it seems Christophe Houy and Jennifer Allen have all the time in the world to explain what they offer and what is unique about their food. We came on Memorial Day, on a day where they were largely “cleaned out” by a previous customer. There was no bread for sale. Trays that would contain baguettes and honey bread lay empty when we arrived.

The restaurant is on the far end of a strip mall in Suwanee and it’s easy to miss. We passed it once before turning around to come back to it. Inside, the floor and tables are clean, spare and modern in style. There is a fine bakery cabinet, glass, lighting and chrome, half empty this day. Towards the back is a stand up refrigerator with soft drinks and on the walls, a nice collection of still lifes.

I wouldn’t have known about Gourmandises but for a bang up review by Chow Down Atlanta, and my wife had been collecting articles out of the newspaper talking about the fine French bakery in Suwanee. We started discussing going there early on Memorial Day. It was promising. My wife usually cannot eat in French restaurants at all, because she doesn’t like the ingredients found in many rich sauces (e.g. milk, cream, cheese, butter). But the cafe was, among other things, a bakery, with a focus on bread. Bread and my wife get along wonderfully well.

When we walked in, they had some food choices and some specials in chalk up on a blackboard. When my daughter saw that escargot was an option, she suddenly became really happy about coming here. My wife chose a turkey sandwich and I had one of the daily specials, a filet mignon crusted in peppercorns. Filet mignon was something my mother would make back in the 1960s, wrapping it in bacon. And filet mignon was a little tricky to cook, because if you didn’t give the meat enough fat, it would end up tough. So yes, I was curious. And the price was reasonable, about 15.00, if I recall correctly.

As we waited for the food, the restaurant began to fill up a bit, and I heard Jennifer explain to the others that there were “no crepes, no croques, and no lamb”. It wasn’t long though before Christophe brought out the food, warning my daughter not to touch the metal plate with the escargot. “It’s hot,” he explained. My wife’s sandwich was huge, so much food I knew she would share it. And the filet mignon was spot on, tender, juicy, and a perfect medium rare. It was crusted in peppercorns and covered in a tasty gray sauce. It came with fries, the fries mixed with a bit of herb.

My daughter loved her escargot and they were finished before I could ask for a taste. Herbs were stuffed inside the shells, and on top of the hot metal plate was a layer of salt. As I expected, my wife shared about half of her turkey sandwich with the rest of us. My daughter swallowed half of the remaining sandwich and I finished off the rest of it. The bread was great, crusty, tasty and at least as good as its fillings.

Despite being low on baked goods, they still had an ample supply of sweets. My wife got a lemon meringue tart, and my daughter their lemon dome. I got a dessert they call a “Pleasure”, which has alternating layers of chocolate and light filling. The top was caramelized, and had a stripe of chocolate bits down the middle of the top.

All the desserts we tried were top notch. The lemon tart had a subtle creamy lemon flavor, the dome was a stronger lemon flavor, with a candy crust on the outside. What I remember of the “Pleasure” were the really intense chocolate flavors that dominated.

Afterwards, we meandered into the historic district of Suwanee (beautiful houses and churches, worth the couple minutes to get there) and then slipped back to the Interstate down Suwanee Dam Road. It was a terrific early afternoon jaunt, and the fantastic food just set the tone.

Verdict: Friendly, unpretentious, exceptional food, exceptional flavor, exceptional value.

Cafe Gourmandises
686 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard
Suite 200
Suwanee, GA 30024
(770) 945-6599

Gourmandises on Urbanspoon

Tip:

The easiest way to get to Cafe Gourmandises from Snellville is to head west down Pleasant Hill, head north on I-85, head west on Sugarloaf Parkway until it ends, and then turn right and head down Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. If, say, you want to make this a modest detour on the way to the Mall of Georgia, just head north a bit from the Cafe and turn right at Suwanee Dam Road. It will take you back to I-85.

Matthews Cafeteria is in a low lying, single story building along Main Street in Tucker, next to the railroad tracks. A decade ago the building, the cafeteria and its food was a landmark in Tucker and it retains that status to this day. These days, having been featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives”, it has suddenly acquired a fame it didn’t have before. And I have to be grateful for Matthews new ‘rock star’ status, because without it I couldn’t have convinced my wife to go back there and try it once again.

We were lucky: the line merely began right by the trays and silverware this time. It’s not uncommon to see the line out the door. As in a classic cafeteria, you get to choose what you want to eat. It begins with salads and desserts, proceeds through to the entrees, then sides, then drinks. I had the chicken pot pie, my wife and daughter had the fried chicken. My accompaniments were turnip greens and green beans, my wife had green beans and carrots, my daughter mash potatoes, gravy and fried okra. Serving size, for the most part, varies between large and extra large. The chicken breast my wife received was enormous.

The seating inside is plain, red and white checked tablecloths on tables that easily seat 4. Need more space? Scoot some tables together. The food? I think their sides are excellent, and they are made in the southern style. I tried every side we ordered and they all were very good. The pot pie was extremely good, real chunks of chicken (and the occasional small bone) in the serving. I had a bit of fried drumstick, also good. The desserts suffer a bit compared to the excellent entrees and sides, but overall, the food is quite good.

Afterwards, I was stuffed.

Verdict: Highly recommended, excellent food, exceptional value, if you can get there during their regular hours.

Matthews Cafeteria
2229 Main Street
Tucker GA 30084
(770) 491-9577

Matthews Cafeteria on Urbanspoon

PS — For those who wonder, the episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” that features Matthews can be found on Youtube. And Wayne Wolf, a food blogger who started about the same time I did, has a nice brief review of Matthews.

Penang is in a strip mall about a half block south of Chamblee Tucker Road on Buford and far enough into a corner to be impossible to see from the road. I wasn’t even looking for it, I was trying to find Lee’s Bakery,  but Amy on Food reviewed this restaurant recently, it was late and I was hungry.

This has been an award winning Malaysian-Thai restaurant since 2000. The Zagat rating of “Excellent” in 2007 is on the wall as you enter. In my case, it brought back memories of a Malaysian coworker, who would occasionally would share food with me. I couldn’t eat what she ate. It was simply too hot. She’d make a milder version that was more edible for an American.

Inside Penang is quite pretty. There is a lot of wood in the restaurant, murals on two walls, good looking tables, and a real attempt to evoke a Southeast Asian feel. Penang is roomy inside, with plenty of elbow room between tables. Service was, in my estimation, very good.

After a brief look at the menu (which is large, over 100 items), I ordered the beef Penang Satay and Kari Ayam, a curry with chicken and potatoes. The Keri Ayam arrived first; the satay took a while to cook. And while the Kari Ayam was good, the satay was beautiful and delicious, grilled meat flavors mixing with the beef marinade in ways that accented both.

Though both dishes were marked with a pepper on the menu, and they had flavor, I didn’t find either especially hot. The curry had a hint of it. I don’t recall any heat in the satay at all. I’m sure you can ask for more spice if necessary.

Verdict: Recommended. Good to excellent food, beautifully presented. Fine service. Heat may disappoint if you’re a spice lover.

Penang
4897 Buford Hwy # 113
Chamblee, GA 30341
(770) 220-0308

Penang on Urbanspoon

Fine reviews of Penang can also be found here, here, and here.

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