June 2009

The Brick Store Pub has a formidable reputation, and I had expected it to be large, cover a whole block perhaps. Instead, it’s a rather small and compact bar in downtown Decatur, with a modest downstairs and a small upstairs. The famed red brick is on the left; the wall on the right of the pub is a dark grey. There aren’t many seats and this place is known to be hard to get into. I was lucky to scoot into the bar seating downstairs.

The downstairs bar is shaped like a ‘U’ and there are 15 beers on tap. It isn’t the beers on tap though, that this place is famed for. It’s the enormous beer list, categorized by region of origin and seemingly endless. And it doesn’t come cheap; a $30 beer isn’t that hard to find in this pub. I stuck to the beers on tap, starting with a Smuttynose brown ale.

The food? I had a couple plates, a smoked turkey sandwich, with a side salad, and their shepherd’s daughter’s pie, with a pasta salad. The turkey sandwich was a little small, but tasty. The greens were excellent, mixed in with some yellow raisins and sunflower seeds. The shepherd’s daughter’s pie was a strip of mixed meats, covered with thinly sliced potatoes. It did not have the distinct lamb flavor I’ve had in other shepherd’s pies, but it was good tasting nonetheless. The pasta salad wasn’t bad, but paled compared to the other three dishes.

The bartenders are friendly, unpretentious, know their beers, and seem to know their customer’s names. Service is slow to seat people, but pretty good once seated.  The people in the bar were exceptionally friendly that night.  I shook my share of hands, spoke with out of town visitors. I ended the stay with a hefeweizen, the glass so large I felt I was looking up at it. In short, I had a great time here.

Verdict: Good food, phenomenal beer selection, totally deserving of its reputation. Very highly recommended.

Brick Store Pub
125 East Court Square
Decatur, GA 30030
(404) 687-0990

Brick Store Pub on Urbanspoon

Notes: To get to the pub from Snellville, take 78 until it becomes Scott, Scott to Clairmont, south on Clairmont to Ponce De Leon (turn left onto Ponce). The little ‘U’ shaped road that Brick Store Pub is found on is immediately on your right after the turn. If you wish to park nearby, plan on looking for parking at least a couple blocks before you get to Ponce. Free parking is hard to come by in downtown Decatur.

On Father’s Day we went out twice. The first time was to Benny’s Bar and Grill for their brunch. I had never had their brunch before. We had their mussel appetizer (really good), a bowl of their gumbo (fantastic), and I had a tilapia wrap. My wife had a chicken sandwich, with marinated grilled chicken, and my daughter had a omelet.  It was all good, and too much food for lunch really. We all took leftovers. And I found out how much my daughter liked my wrap when I took it for lunch on the Tuesday after, and she had already taken a large slice of it. For dinner we went to Destas Ethiopian. I’ll review that restaurant later.

My doctor has laid down a gauntlet in terms of my eating, and it’s going to be hard to meet. The deal is, no red meat, no soft drinks that aren’t diet drinks, control portion size, and start an exercise program and stick to it. I start exercise programs all the time. Sticking to them is the hard part. The point is to lower my weight, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and if possible, prevent the onset of adult diabetes. There were some ugly sides to my last blood test, and though I didn’t starve the way I should before that kind of test, it is better take precautions now.

Simply put, I’m not going to be able to give up red meat. But what I think would work better actually, is giving up almost all meat for lunch. While the difference in cholesterol between fish and red meat is something like a 20-30% difference, the difference between animal and plant products is a 100% difference. Plants have no cholesterol at all.

The best diet I was ever on was later popularized as the Subway diet. You don’t need to eat Subway sandwiches to do this. Just limit calories at lunch to 400 or less, don’t snack, eat normally at dinner, and exercise moderately. My last successful diet, about 10 years ago, was exactly this. I lost 20 pounds doing this and relatively painlessly.

An easy way to accomplish a vegan/vegetarian lunch at my work is to make heavy use of Kashi’s frozen entrees, such as their Black Bean Mango and their Ranchero Bean offerings. Both are vegetarian, if not vegan (Sara from Innocent Primate suggests that many Kashi entrees may have honey as a sweetener. Please check). Both are under 400 calories.

Popular Atlanta sandwich shops often have a vegetarian option. Alon’s has a Tuscan sandwich and Wright’s Gourmet in Dunwoody has a vegetarian sandwich they call Glenda’s Garden. Finally, I’ve cooked both a quinoa and Kashi stir-fry before. If worst comes to worst, then I can do it myself (though I need some way to figure out calories per serving).

In terms of boonie peppers, I couldn’t be happier. The outside plant simply shed all its bad, nasty looking leaves and it now looks extremely healthy:

Potted boonie pepper growing outside in Georgia. It looks fantastic!

Potted boonie pepper growing outside in Georgia. It looks fantastic!

The inside plants, in 2 liter soda bottle greenhouses, are doing extremely well. To reiterate, take your plant once sprouted, get a peat pot, add about 1 inch of soil. Put the sprout in the peat pellet into the pot, cover with soil. Place in a greenhouse made of an empty soda bottle cut in two, with a few two inch vertical slits (can be done on either half, really. I split the top half). Water immediately with an indoor strength fertilizer; assemble greenhouse and place on handy sunny window sill; repeat watering as needed (every 1-2 weeks). Don’t worry about excess; it will drip into the bottom of the greenhouse and help keep the plants moist. To keep them warm through the cool Georgia spring on the window sill I had them on, I was using a heating strip. Heat + fertilizer + greenhouse = steady reliable growth.

Many of those will be moved outside sometime during July. They are looking that good, growing that well. My tomatoes, on the other hand, aren’t growing well. I believe I’m going to have to find a new plot for them, some place with more sun. The only tomato to fruit there so far have been Sweet 100s a few years ago.

Longhorn Steakhouse is a well established chain in the US, roughly equivalent to Outback or Texas Roadhouse, that serves steaks, chicken, and seafood in a clean modern setting.  I’ve been to various Longhorn Steakhouses many times, and all in all I prefer Outback slightly, because I think Outback’s entrees are a little cheaper and their service is a little better. I have friends I hold in high regard, however, who hold exactly the opposite opinion. I suspect the difference between the mid priced steak houses is mostly a matter of personal taste.

There are two Longhorns in Snellville,  and this review covers the one at the corner of Web Ginn Road and Highway 124, in the open mall known as Avenue Web Ginn. This is a Snellville location, though just by crossing Web Ginn Road, you are then in Lawrenceville.

When this restaurant first opened it was packed and impossible to get into. The wait was well over an hour and the receptionists were unable to accurately estimate time. I left lines for this place at least twice because a “half hour” wait stretched into an hour or more.

The lines have calmed down in the meantime, and my daughter and I came recently during lunch. We were seated quickly and a waiter was with us shortly. Drinks were rapidly served and we both ordered salads, my daughter a salmon salad and I had the 7 pepper sirloin salad, medium rare.

In the meantime, we were served Longhorn’s bread. It’s a round loaf, as opposed to the elongated loaf of other stores, and it was already sliced, a handy convenience. Longhorn’s bread is quite good.

Both salads were good. My daughter’s salmon was cooked, as opposed to undercooked, and while my salad ended up with medium well steak as opposed to medium rare, the steak was quite good and full of flavor. At points I thought the 7 pepper crust was a little potent, but in a salad with steak, blue cheese, balsamic dressing, and a pepper crust, there will be some strong flavors.

I found the service to be good, but not great. They seemed surprised when our glasses were empty. Some of that could simply be the time we came. Lunch isn’t as hectic as dinner.

Verdict:  Recommended.  Very good steaks, good seafood, good service.

Longhorn Steakhouse
1350 Scenic Highway
Snellville, GA, 30078
(770) 972-6552

Longhorn Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

If you have been to Little 5 Points, then it is hard to miss the Vortex Bar and Grill. The flashy colors, the skull surrounding the entrance, the huge sign proclaiming the bar to be the home of “Atlanta’s Best Burger”, all come into play.  And if you take the hype a little too seriously, it would seem as if you would be stepping into a Raider’s Nation on steroids. The truth is both a little calmer and a lot more pleasing to the senses.

Once inside, almost every surface that isn’t brick is painted in black, true. Then that surface is covered with .. stuff. Stuff like old vintage posters and photos, tee shirts, license plates, old toys, plastic sharks, alligator snouts, road signs, a skeleton riding a motorcycle. I was a bit fond of Maxwell, the .. cat (you have to be there to understand the context).

But otherwise what you have is a very functional bar (with around 20 beers on tap), lots of tables, a lot of room. I’m 6 feet tall, and I felt I could stretch out here and not bump into staff or neighbors. The bartender was efficient and friendly, and staff dressed informally. There was live music this day, and rather than being a Spinal Tap clone with amp hiked to 11, he was playing a far more ordinary guitar.

The patronage seemed to be of every race, creed, and color. People were friendly, chatty. There was a man, Chris, walking around, talking up the company he works for, New Belgium Brewing, offering samples. I ended up with a bottle of Fat Tire Amber Ale, and yes, a little lighter than my usual drink, but very good. A hat tip to New Belgium and Chris for promoting their product.

To the food: I ordered a Red Brick brown ale, some fried zucchini and a Ragin’ Cajun burger. Burgers are reasonably priced, given that they are half pound burgers. They also cook to order. If you ask for a medium rare burger, that’s what you get. The zucchini chips were thin sliced, covered in a brown batter and crisp. They tasted good plain or dipped into ranch dressing. The Ragin’ Cajun had a spicy pepper sauce on it. I threw on some Gulden’s brown mustard.. I thought it needed a bit more of a hit. The burgers are tall, by the way, close to four inches high once you stack it all together. It was a fine juicy burger. It’s easy to see how they contend for “best burger” in this city.

I didn’t have the nachos, but the couple next to me did. It’s an enormous plate of food.

Verdict: Informal and irreverent, Vortex does well with their signature burgers. Highly recommended, if you’re over 18 and a moderately sane adult.

Vortex Bar and Grill
438 Moreland Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30307
(404) 688-1828

Vortex Bar & Grill (Little 5 Points) on Urbanspoon

To get to the Vortex from Snellville, take Highway 78 to Scott, take Scott until it merges with Ponde De Leon, take Ponce to Moreland Avenue (please note it will be Moreland on the left, and Briarcliff on the right). Turn left at Moreland. When the stores turn psychedelic, start looking for the Vortex on the right. Please note on weekends you may have to pay to park in that part of the world.

The blog cinco2seis has a nice review of the Vortex’s largest and most heart stopping burger, the Double Coronary.

The Royal Oak Pub is next to the Quiznos and near the Atlanta Bread Company in the mall near the northeast corner of Abernathy and Mount Vernon Roads. It’s tucked in the back, and you have to brave traffic from Chik Fil-A to even reach it from the Mount Vernon side. However, if you do, the service is friendly and efficient, a bit of “Cheers” in Atlanta, and the food can be good to very good.

There are six of these restaurants, all run by the Dunwoody Restaurant group. These restaurants share a common menu, and similar look. Upon entry to the Royal Oak, there is a suit of armor that greets you to the left, with menus in hand.  Inside walls are made of brick and stained wood, and the front of the bar is “papered” in framed Guinness commercials from the past. There is bar seating, tables, and a few booths. Seating is roomy enough when the bar is mostly empty to half packed, but it can get tight in the pub when the place is packed.

There are 5 good beers and 1 hard cider on tap. There are dozens of different beers in bottles, and more tapped bottles of vodka and bourbon than I can count. The food? There is an online menu, which gives you an idea of the scope of their offerings. I’m partial to the nachos here. I like their Mediterranean salad, though the Hong Kong steak salad is a little better. All the salads, sandwiches, nacho plates, etc tend to be large plates of food. If someone leaves the Royal Oak hungry, it’s because they didn’t like the food or weren’t eating.

The “Doozy” is a good solid burger, though I like it better with the onion things scraped off. Fries are thick, meaty, and actually look like Texas fries. And I bet if you ask nicely, you can still get a “pot of fries” (delivered in a clay flower pot), if you need more. The Royal Oak has a decent array of sandwiches, and recently added a gyro I believe.

And since this is labeled an English pub, there are some English dishes. You can get a good shepherd’s pie here, bangers and mash, a good Irish stew, or a plate of fish and chips. There is a lot more lamb on the menu than most places, and this was the place I realized that I really like lamb.

They will have daily specials here, and it can simply be a riff off a stock menu item, a soup with a unique twist of flavors, or perhaps the chef is testing a dish to be added to the menu. The menus here are seasonally rotated and the chefs of Royal Oak do try to find food that their customers will like.

Service here is generally good, and grows far better if you let the staff get to know you. It’s more common than not for a regular to have his drink on the bar top before he gets half way to the bar. This is a place that really knows its regular customers and tries to please. Now, to note, staff is lean and everyone short of the head chef buses tables in here. If the place is a mess, the Royal Oak staff deals with it. But otherwise, service can get as good as you want it to be.

Verdict: Friendly, “Cheers”-like bar with good to very good food, good to great service. Absolutely recommended.

The Royal Oak Pub
1155 Mount Vernon Highway
Sandy Springs, GA 30338
(770) 390-0859

Royal Oak Pub on Urbanspoon

The DeKalb Farmer’s Market is the grand daddy of all the large markets in this city, and huge doesn’t begin to cover it.  It’s at the corner of Laredo and Ponce De Leon, and the entrance to De Kalb is one of the four ways you can go at that light.  The parking lot is about a block in size and as large as the lot is, it is equally as large inside. Once inside, there is a vast array of vegetables, about as ordered as any market could be, with the produce marked by country of origin, name, and with a drawing of the produce to boot.

The wines, two aisles of them, are separated by country of origin and type. In between the wine are stacks of beers, everything from Miller Light to Belgian ales. Grains and beans? Just to look at two examples, they had red, green, yellow, brown, and French green (a smaller variety) lentils, along with whole mung beans, and plenty of dals. Quinoa? Not only did they have the white and red varieties, but also wild black quinoa, not seen anywhere else that I’ve looked. Nuts and candied fruits are available in large quantities, neatly sealed in plastic bags.

They have good breads, and one thing I bought the day I was here was a sack full of whole wheat rolls. They were tasty and chewy once I got them home, just perfect. Just past the breads and vegetables is the fish section, which in my opinion is the very best part of this store. When my wife is after the freshest fish she can get, she comes here. She comes here because of the selection of live fish, and the ease with which this place can clean those fish. Perhaps something compares in this city, but I haven’t found it yet.

Meats are past the fish, and they serve a startling variety of product. Besides fine beef, you can get rabbit here, quail and cornish hens, duckling, goat from Australia, and lamb from Colorado. You can get bison, if you want it. A selection of fine cheeses is nearby, slices off large wheels, and the dairy section, also nearby, has items unavailable anywhere else.

Before I do nothing but sing praises to this place, I’ll note a few downsides. It is full of people and often cramped here, more so in the smaller aisles. There are shoppers who park in those narrow aisles with their flock of full grown kids for eternity it seems, blocking everything. If you take a cart inside, PUT SOMETHING IN IT IMMEDIATELY. If you do not, your cart will be taken. Though this is an international market, with international vegetables, it is not a particularly good Asian market, and Asian staples like Asian (often called “Korean”) yams just aren’t here. Go to Super H Mart for those kinds of goods. Meats tend to be pricey and if you want cheap meats, a market like Lilburn International Farmer’s Market is a better choice.

Still, there is nothing like it in the city, and it comes with the highest of recommendations.

From Snellville, perhaps the fastest way to this market would be to head down 78, then south on 285, and take the Ponce De Leon exit westward. An alternative path is to take 78 to Scott Boulevard, Scott down to Clairmont Ave. Head south, and take Clairmont until it ends at Ponce De Leon (hang a left when Clairmont ends). If you get forced left on Commerce, just keep going. It runs into Ponce De Leon as well.

Shoya Izakaya is currently the sole occupant of a shopping center that soon will be the home of a large Super H Mart, and as I drove up to it early in the evening, there were, I estimate, perhaps 40 to 50 cars in front of the eatery. There were so many I tried to get a photo (I didn’t get them all, I needed a wider angle lens). And after I watched 2 more people walk into the eatery I thought I had better join them, because it looked to be getting packed.


I was, it turns out, lucky. It’s a beautiful restaurant inside, but it’s a little small for the crowds they’re now getting, a little cramped. There was space at the sushi bar, and they seated me there. Though crowded, it was quite amiable, and staff were doing their best to manage the crowd.

After a bit of time, I was able to talk to a waitress, and I ordered 4 items to begin: oshinko (pickles), ankimo (monk fish liver), ikura oroshi (I wasn’t 100% sure of what this was initially, but I wanted to try it — ikura sounded familiar), and yakitori (chicken kebabs), cooked in sea salt. Later I ordered bbq eel (unagi kabayaki), and beef ponzu ae.

An izakaya is a bar, a place to drink, but in America, they’re becoming more akin to tapas bars. Shoya is an example of this style. The menu covers six pages in English and Japanese, and the menu is perhaps two and a half feet long (longer than my forearm – I checked). There are a dizzying array of choices, and that doesn’t even begin to cover the offerings of the sushi bar.  The menu items are, for the most part, inexpensive. The serving size is small. The idea is to let the customer try many different things, rather than settle on just one thing and eat that. I have to admit it’s a totally seductive proposition, and in the process, I forgot the one thing that would have centered the meal, and that is a bowl of rice. Unfortunately, that’s something I’ll have to fix on another visit.

The first thing I received was the ankimo, and in many respects it was the most surprising thing I had. It’s not at all like the liver of a land animal, and the product was creamy, molded into a oval shape. The ankimo was delicious, one of the best things I had that day. The ikura oroshi came next, and I liked it quite a bit. Basically it’s salmon roe over a bed of shaved daikon, and I really like salmon roe. Oshinko came next, with pickled carrot, daikon, cucumber, mushrooms, beans, and bits of pickled ginger. It was quite good, but would have been better with rice.

The yakitori arrived a few minutes later. It was lighter in color than the yakitori I’ve been having, and the salt added tastes I hadn’t had before. It was very good. The BBQ eel arrived next. I’ve always liked unagi, and this was no exception. I found it a bit hard to cut with chopsticks, and gave up finally,  and used other means to bring it into edible size. The last dish, perhaps the biggest dish I had all night, was the beef ponzu ae. It’s been noted in other blog reports that it is really good, cool thin strips of beef mixed with a light brown sauce and full of perfect green leaves.  I’d say it was among the best dishes I had that day.

Service was good, all things considered. The restaurant had people waiting almost from the time I was seated until I left. People remarked that they could have used more staff, and I suspect that’s true. All in all though, I had a great time. I’m sure I’ll be back.

Verdict: If Japanese tapas appeals to you, then this place is very highly recommended.

Shoya Izakaya
6035 Peachtree Road
Doraville, GA 30341
(770) 457-5555

Shoya Izakaya on Urbanspoon

Notes: There exist previews and reviews by John Kessler, Gene Lee of Eat Drink Man, and Foodie Buddha. Chow Down Atlanta has also weighed in on this eatery. Last, but never least, Amy on Food has an elegant report on the food of Shoya Izakaya.

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