July 2009

Mitra was a recommendation by Mike Miller of Benny’s Bar and Grill. He told me, “The restaurateurs know of this eatery, but it would be good for your readers to discover it.” So I spent some time checking it out. The site was interesting (though they seriously need to turn their online menu into a PDF file), and was just intriguing enough to bite. We decided to go on a weekend, as the drive is otherwise a problem during the week.

With the exception of the very nice waterfall motif on entering the restaurant, it’s very unassuming on the outside.


The inside, however, is one of the best looking, most romantic places I’ve seen.  In terms of a date restaurant, among places I’ve reviewed, only Varasano’s Pizzeria comes close. The lights are low, the music is good, appropriate, and contemporary. I caught my daughter singing along at points, when otherwise she’s usually plugged into an iPod. There is inside and outside seating; outside is under fans if I recall correctly.

Service was good throughout. We were tag teamed all the time, two waitstaff watching the table generally. Our main waitress was just excellent. We really liked her. We ordered drinks, and very soon bread came to the table. Along with the bread was a bit of light pink cream cheese. The bread was excellent.


The bread was soon followed by the two appetizers we ordered, ceviche and calamari.


Ceviche on the left, calamari on the right.

I had a particular interest in the ceviche because in my wife’s culture, they have the very closely related dish named kelaguen. And it was a confusing dish at first, because we kept wondering where it was. It turns out they want you to use the banana chips as a kind of ad hoc spoon.


The ceviche was good. The calamari was good as well, thin rings and crispy. The sauce was kind of lost to us; we would have preferred the calamari plain.

In terms of entrees, we ended up ordering Mitra’s paella, their grilled salmon, and their jalapeno lime sea scallops. The paella and the grilled salmon arrived first.



The paella was the favorite dish of the meal. The yellow rice especially was pleasing, as it acquired a roasted flavor from being cooked with all the other ingredients. It was bold, it was rich, it was delicious. The salmon, though a perfectly fine dish, wasn’t successful for a couple reasons. The first is my wife is a well done eater and this salmon was undercooked for her. The second was that she was expecting the plain quinoa to have the same taste as Holy Taco’s quinoa salad. It didn’t. It was perfectly fine quinoa too. My wife told me that if we come back, she’s getting the paella next time. And I ended up eating what was left of her dish.

The scallops came out a little later, and I had ordered this dish not because of the entree, but because the sides looked fantastic.


And that’s pretty much how this dish was for me. This is not to say the scallops weren’t good. They were very nicely done, and prepared it seemed with a lot of verve and skill. But to be honest, if Mitra had a “sides” plate, akin to Watershed‘s vegetable plate, I probably would have ordered that, hoped for some chips, and been one happy camper. The salsa was excellent. The green tomatillo sauce had only one flaw:  there wasn’t enough of it. The yellow rice was good, but since the yellow rice in the paella was superb, it was getting short shrift by the table.

Verdict: Good entrees, great appetizers and sides. Highly recommended in general, exceptional if you’re on a date.

818 Juniper Street NE
Atlanta, GA 30308
(404) 875-5515

Mitra on Urbanspoon

Because of construction, Mitra is tricky to get to these days. It might be best to call ahead for instructions on how to get there. Valet parking is nearby, cheap ($3.00), and recommended.

The closest Kroger to me is the one at the corner of Five Forks and Oak Road, just south of the Five Forks exit on Ronald Reagan Boulevard:


And no matter what people think of other elements of Kroger, these stores have had a good wine and beer selection for some time now.


New to Kroger is the Mix a Six idea, where you get to pick what you want in your six pack and take that home with you. I have to admit, that perked up my interest in their products immediately.


Also new at Kroger are products from New Belgium Brewing. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting to see “Fat Tire” in my neighborhood supermarket that quickly. It was just a month ago when a New Belgium representative was giving away free samples at the Vortex.


So give kudos where kudos are due. The mainline supermarkets can be innovative. And this is to the benefit of those of us on the edge of town, in suburbia and exurbia, and not within range of specialty stores.

3050 Five Forks Trickum
Lilburn GA 30047
(770) 978-9264

I usually don’t get involved in telling other men how to dress, since for me, a t shirt is a fashion statement. I used to have a favorite T shirt, a list of beers on a nice grey tone background, the text in the shape of a stein, and I wore that thing until the holes in it had holes. But I do make exceptions for things that glow, and especially, things that are worn that glow in dimly lit, pretty, romantic restaurants.

I really don’t care for it when men wear LED laden Bluetooth receivers in restaurants. For one, they are supposed to be paying attention to their dates, not drawing attention to themselves. This is a time when they can set their iPhone, their Palm Pre, their HTC Dream, to vibrate.  As they turn their heads, people are reminded of the Bill Gates parody of the Borg.

So please, either take it off, or get a small square of electrical tape and cover that bright blue LED.

Sweet Tomatoes (also Souplantation; evidently there has been some kind of merger) is perhaps the most successful chain restaurant in Atlanta focusing on the soups and salads market. These are restaurants where people line up to get a plate full of lettuce, carrots, celery, and other sliced vegetables, plus dressing perhaps, as the focus of the meal. There are a few Sweet Tomatoes in Atlanta, but not too many. Unlike McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken, they seem to expand slowly and selectively. The closest one to Snellville that I know of is the Duluth restaurant, close to Gwinnett Place. This review will largely focus on that location.

Over the years Sweet Tomatoes has expanded their repetoire to include prepared salads.   These will be at the front of the line, before any other vegetable choices can be made. At the end they now have chicken strips you can add, for a small fee. We tend to ignore these, because one of the staple soups of Sweet Tomatoes is their chicken soup, which has much the same meats for free.

I’ve eaten here so often that I’m liable to forget something in my familiarity with this place. If it happens please forgive me. But once you’re through the line you have an abundance of other foods at your disposal. There are usually 5 or 6 soups, of which chicken soup and a chili are staples and the rest rotate. There are muffins, small cornbreads, foccacia, whole grain breads of various kinds, and usually a sourdough bread. There are slices of melons available, usually watermelon, cantelope, and honey dew melon. There is frozen yogurt, with sparkles. There are usually three different pastas served, usually in rich alfredo style sauces.  There was also a bowl of chocolate chip cookies this last time I went.

Some things to note about the Duluth location: the fancy flavored lemonades are available, but you have to ask waitstaff to get some of those. Otherwise it’s mostly soft drinks in the main drink island. Seating: there are a lot of booths, and some tables in the middle. The restaurant can easily handle dozens of patrons.

Verdict: The best and closest of the soup and salad chains, and highly recommended.

Sweet Tomatoes
3505 Mall Boulevard
Duluth, GA 30096
(770) 418-1148

Sweet Tomatoes on Urbanspoon

Pappadeaux, for me, has always been a surprising restaurant. I spent my teens in Louisiana, and my father lives there to this day. I was in Houston during the 1980s, during the formative years of the Pappas family’s growth, and other than the fondness my major professor had for their establishments, I don’t recall a thing about them from those years. Perhaps the joys of Ninfas and access to real delis at the time (delis were novelties for those of us new to cities) overshadowed what the Pappas family was doing. Perhaps it was that finding decent Cajun in Houston just was not that big a deal. Spicy food was easy to find, if not in Houston, then surely in Galveston or Kemah, where the newly arrived Vietnamese guaranteed easy access to lots of freshly harvested shrimp. Seafood was available, spicy, and cheap.

So fast forward to the late 1990s and not only is Pappadeaux in Atlanta, it’s in town with a kind of popularity reserved for Internet millionaires and pop stars. The first time I tried to get into the Norcross location, it took 45 minutes to just get to the bar. And what’s also amazing – because I didn’t see this coming either – is that the food was actually good, compared to most things that pretended to be Cajun in Atlanta. And I’m not sure which surprises most, that a Greek family from Houston can so dominate the Atlanta Cajun scene, or that so many Atlanta restaurants would rather commit ritual seppuku than spice their food appropriately.

I’ve had my share of bad Cajun dishes recently, and I’m still trying to get that taste out of my mouth. So a trip to Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen was in order:


By the time we park, there are two free slots in the parking lot and I’m going, “OMG, we’re going to have to wait an hour.” But the receptionist just smiled and assigned us table #94. So we go weaving through the thick crowd and get seated in a nice but dimly lit part of the restaurant (I apologize for the dimness of my photos). We had plenty of space where we sat, but it seemed cramped at times, with all the staff moving about. But pretty soon we had drinks, and we had also ordered appetizers.


left: red beans and rice. center: fried alligator. right: gumbo.

left: red beans and rice. center: fried alligator. right: gumbo.

For appetizers we selected red beans and rice, Pappadeaux’s crispy fried alligator, and a bowl of their seafood and andouille gumbo. All were really good. Now my daughter loves shocking her peers with the meats she’s eaten, so she pretty much finished off the alligator by herself. The red beans and rice had chunks of sausage in it, and some spice, that built nicely as you ate. The seafood gumbo had more things in it than I can remember, but shrimp and sausage and oysters and fragments of fish do come to mind. It’s one of the richest bowls of gumbo I’ve had in this city, though the flavor and spicing is a hair behind Benny’s excellent gumbo.

For entrees my daughter ordered the pasta mardi gras and my wife and I ordered crawfish etouffee.

pasta mardi gras

pasta mardi gras

crawfish etouffee with dirty rice.

crawfish etouffee with dirty rice.

Both dishes were excellent. I’ve had chefs in the city tell me that Pappadeaux’s dirty rice is good, and yes, that went over well too. The only gotcha was both wife and daughter filled up so much on appetizers that we took, to a first approximation, two whole plates of food home.

Service, if I haven’t said, was top notch. I loved our server this day.

Verdict: Huge restaurant (> 150 tables) that serves up reliable Cajun dishes in really large quantities. Great Service. Highly recommended.

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen
5635 Jimmy Carter Blvd
Norcross, GA 30071
(770) 849-0600

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Other locations include:

10795 Davis Drive
Alpharetta, GA 30004
(770) 992-5566

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen on Urbanspoon

2830 Windy Hill Road
Marietta, GA 30067
(770) 984-8899

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Chequers is an exceptionally good looking restaurant at the corner of Perimeter Center Parkway and Hammond Road, just south and west of Perimeter Mall and next to the local Fuddruckers. The inside of Chequers is also appealing, with waitstaff dressed in white shirts, black ties, black vests, and knee length smocks. Blackboards seem to sprout from everywhere, and a ton of wood is used to give a luxurious country club experience. This quote from a reviewer at Citysearch sets the tone appropriately:

Luxury reminiscent of New York’s Union Station reigns at this neighbor to Perimeter Mall. Mirrors extend space into infinity; stained glass gives off a soft glow.

Entrance to Chequers Seafood Grill.

Entrance to Chequers Seafood Grill.

Lobster specials during Happy Hour.

Lobster specials during Happy Hour.

Inside,  I was with a large group and we were more worried about food. They had a fistful of fresh fish choices. Our waiter announced that halibut had become available and sea bass no longer was on the menu.  Others in the party wondered about Chequer’s cioppino, and yet others puzzled out the details of keeping their food kosher. We all ordered. I ordered a cup of gumbo because I like gumbos, and also their rainbow trout, in part because it was a North Carolina product (hence close), and because I’ve had good luck with trout at seafood restaurants.

A good gumbo, flavorful and nicely spiced.

A good gumbo, flavorful and nicely spiced.

A nice grilled trout.

A nice grilled trout.

The gumbo was a pleasant surprise, with bits of sausage, fish, tomato, and okra floating in a nice dark broth.The spicing was what I like, rich and full with enough pepper to let you know it was there.  Others had a lobster bisque, a pretty soup with a light brown to tan color. None of it was waiting in bowls by the time the entrees arrived.

I was generally pleased with my trout. It was white, and most trout I’ve seen has been pink. Diet, I’m told, controls the color, and this was a tender, tasty chunk of fish. Googling on pink and white trout turned up a charming New York Times archive from 1884. If our 19th century cousins are to be believed, color has little to do with the flavor of the fish.

Service, if I haven’t said, was very good to excellent.

Verdict: A very good seafood restaurant that delivers the goods. Good to excellent service. Highly recommended.

Chequers Seafood Grill
236 Perimeter Center Parkway Northeast
Atlanta , GA 30346
(770) 391-9383

Chequers Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

This first is a dinner deal at Rice Sushi Bar and Chinese Cuisine, in the Publix mall near Five Forks and Killian Hills Road:



Next, the Cici Pizza near the Wall Mart in Stone Mountain has a 3.99 lunch special, that should be going on at least until school starts:


Finally, Bonefish Grill has a dinner for 2 for 18 dollars a person (1 shared appetizer + a salad per person and an entree per person). Though that’s $36.00 for two people, considering that the entrees alone average $15.90 by themselves, there is some money to be saved with this deal.

Havana South Restaurant and Bar is just off I-985 and exit 4, to the west maybe one block, just south of Buford Drive. I’d call it a little place but it isn’t small, really. My recollection is a bar, and maybe 10-15 tables and booths. However, this not-so-large restaurant does a lot of things right, including its outsized effect on your taste buds.

Entrance to Havana South.

Entrance to Havana South.

We dropped by for lunch. After a few minutes with the menu, I chose the black bean soup and a Cuban sandwich, and my daughter chose their masitas puerco. Maduros (sweet plantains, fried) came with the Cuban.

I have to say, the more I have black beans, the more I like them. They are earthier in flavor than kidney beans or pinto beans, and Havana South’s bean soup did not disappoint:

Black bean soup.

Black bean soup.

My daughter’s dish contained large chunks of marinated pork, a side of black beans, and yellow rice.

Masitas Puerco

Masitas Puerco

The serving size I’d judge as large. The pork was really good, crispy and chewy on the outside, soft, hinting of the marinade inside. Everything on her plate was the opposite of plain. The beans had flavors that just baking won’t give, hints of onions and other influences I couldn’t entirely tease out, but mixing well with the dark flesh of the beans. I thought her beans were even better than my bean soup. The yellow rice came across the same way, a full body of flavors, more than just something simmered in a pot.

The Cuban I liked as well.

Cuban sandwich and maduros, fried sweet plantains.

Cuban sandwich and maduros, fried sweet plantains.

The sandwich was made with good quality bread, and had a nice balance between the pork and ham. The pickles and cheese only added to the flavor mix and the serving size was large. The maduros were good and sweet, though I know my wife, who likes most things well done, would prefer her maduros a little crunchier.  That said, I’m pretty sure I could take her here.

In short, the meal was great. The only thing I’d do differently if I came back again is get the side of black beans. In my opinion, they’re better than the soup.

Service was very good throughout the meal.

Verdict: Quality food with flavors that surprise on almost every bite. Staples done exceptionally well. Very highly recommended.

Havana South Restaurant and Bar
4060 Buford Drive
Buford GA, 30518
(678) 546-2252

Havana South Cuban Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Chow Down Atlanta has an excellent review of Havana South. You might think she’s praising Havana South too much, but in my judgment, she’s actually on the mark.

This is going to be a short photographic survey of places to eat in Norcross, and not an exhaustive survey either.  The focus is Mojito’s, and we’ll show some images of some other interesting places to eat in Norcross along Jones Street.

The first image is Paizano’s. It’s a pretty restaurant, both inside and outside, and I’ve eaten there perhaps three to four times. My impression of their dishes goes from pretty good to really good.  Their antipasto salad is excellent. Service ranges from decent to good.


Paizanos on Urbanspoon

The next image is that of Zapata, which we have reviewed before.


The third is the Iron Horse Tavern. In terms of their food, they are essentially the same as the Royal Oak Pub, which I have reviewed in the past. I recall having Harp and the lamb tikka (very good) at Iron Horse.  Their service is good, and they may have a bit more space than Royal Oak.


Iron Horse Tavern on Urbanspoon

The Norcross Station Cafe is a landmark in the area, being a converted railroad stop.


Mojito’s is really what we were aiming for. I think this restaurant is beautiful myself.



We ordered their beef empanadas. The habanero sauce that comes with this dish is really really good.


These are Mojito’s sweet plantains. They are a little crisper than most, and my wife really likes that crunch.


Cuban sandwich with black beans. The beans are richly flavored.


Media Noche with yellow rice. Both the Cuban and Media Noche are full flavored sandwiches and highly recommended.


A grilled Chicken sandwich with a side of congri. Not as good as the Cuban, but grilled flavor is clear in the sandwich.


Yes, a bit heavy for lunch, but my wife was craving beef empanadas and this was as close a place as we knew to get them. If you know of places closer to Snellville, tell us about them.

Notes: You can get to downtown Norcross quickly if you use the access road that parallels I-85 on the west, Brook Hollow Parkway. Take Ronald Reagan to Pleasant Hill, Pleasant Hill to I-85 S. Exit I-85 S at Indian Trail and at the intersection, head straight, do not turn left or right. Stay on the Parkway until you reach Mitchell Road. Turn right on Mitchell and take the road until you can go no further. At this point you are in Norcross facing the fire station and are three turns from Peachtree Street (left, right, left).

Jen’s New York Deli: at the corner of Five Forks Trickum Road and Oak Road, across the street from the Rite-Aid pharmacy is this little hole-in-the-wall. Unlike most chain food at this corner, this is a Lawrenceville original, in a location that might as well be part of Snellville. Open essentially for breakfast and lunch, Jen’s Deli offers bagels and good, inexpensive sandwiches for people on the go.

The outside of Jeni's Deli

The outside of Jen's Deli

The inside is small, with just a few chairs and tables, and there is a really nice mural, a take off on old movie posters from years past, opposite the steel cabinets stuffed with bagels and meats.

The walls of Jen's Deli are covered in a mural of movie images.

The walls of Jen's Deli are covered in a mural of movie images.

If this deli lacks anything relative to the bigger sandwich shops closer to the perimeter, it’s the prepared foods a shop like Alon’s might have. But what it has is good, and inexpensive. A sandwich and coke costs less than $7.00, for example.

A grilled ham and cheese with slices of banana pepper, from Jen's.

A grilled ham and cheese with slices of banana pepper, from Jen's.

Verdict: If you’re in the area, give this place a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Jen’s New York Deli
875 Oak Road
Lawrenceville, GA 30044
(770) 978-7653‎

Jen's New York Deli on Urbanspoon

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