July 2009

Cafe Sunflower is a pretty vegetarian restaurant in the strip mall on the southwest corner of Hammond and Roswell Road, near one of the last intersections on Roswell before reaching the 285 loop from the north. We went there recently for lunch, a coworker and I, in part because I’m eating a lot of vegetarian foods for lunch, and in part as a change of pace.

It’s pretty inside. I wish I could say more, but all I remember are the nice tables and solid wooden chairs, the kind that just seem to fit. The staff seemed largely Asian and was quite efficient.  Service overall was good.

We had soft drinks. I had their stir fried vegetables with tofu, my partner had their special, a stuffed pepper, full of quinoa. Of the two dishes, the stuffed pepper was quite spectacular looking, a mountain of quinoa with a slight brown cast to it. I asked him what he thought of his dish, on a scale of 1 to 5, and he rated his a “5”. He had never had quinoa before, and he liked it a lot. I liked my dish, full of vegetables and lego sized chunks of tofu. I was confused by the rice, both short grain in size but chewy as brown rice is. Looking at the menu after the fact, it must have been a short grain brown rice. I’m more used to long grain brown rice.

Verdict: All in all, I liked it. I almost had their three bean chili, and someday I’m coming back to try that one. It looks good, and I assume any vegetarian or vegan, or just someone like me, can find what they want at Cafe Sunflower.

Cafe Sunflower
5975 Roswell Rd NE
Atlanta, GA 30328
(404) 256-1675

Cafe Sunflower/Sandy Springs on Urbanspoon

I’ve spoken about Benny’s Bar and Grill at least three times previously, and I wanted to do it once again for two reasons.  First, I wanted to capture the place in images. I hadn’t done that before. The second reason was that I had an ordinary crawfish etouffee elsewhere. It was, like too many frustrating plates of Cajun in Atlanta, missing the point. The dish had good ingredients. The dish had a roux.  But the etouffee had no real spices to speak of, and when online grocery stores can say of an etouffee:

A proper etouffee will be orange-colored, with a hint of brown. It should be spicy, as it’s main spice ingredient is cayenne pepper, and saucy enough to form a thick gravy for the rice. However, take note that it is not gumbo, and should not be served like soup. The gravy in etouffee is much thicker than the roux of a gumbo.

you have to ask just what people are thinking when they serve underspiced food.

Further, if you look in Donald Link’s excellent Cajun cookbook “Real Cajun“, you find that he uses eight sources of ‘heat’ in his etouffee. He uses a poblano pepper, a jalapeno pepper, and paprika. He also uses ground white pepper, ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, and cayenne pepper. This is before he adds hot sauce to taste. He doesn’t use a huge amount of anything. The peppers are there to let you know they are there, to tease and cleanse the palate, to make you ask, “Just what flavor is coming next?”

Anyway, I needed something to remind me of what serious spicing is all about, so a visit to Benny’s was truly in order.  Mike “Benny” Miller, for better or worse, has the spicing of his food down cold.

The outside of Benny’s is modest:

Outside of Benny's

Outside of Benny's

The sign may be the first thing you see.

The sign may be the first thing you see.

Once inside, I started with a beer. They were out of most of their draft beers, but they still had Guinness draft. Guinness draft is lighter than you might expect and very drinkable. If you can handle Harp, Pete’s Wicked Ale, or Sam Adams, you should be able to handle Guinness:

Guiness - lighter in taste than the color suggests.

Guinness - lighter in taste than the color suggests.

That was followed with a salad

Vinagrette on the side.

Vinagrette on the side.

Then a bowl of Benny’s excellent gumbo.

The gumbo has flavor that builds with every bite.

The gumbo has flavor that builds with every bite.

The entree was Benny’s excellent jerk spiced pork tenderloin.

Rich with flavor. Somewhere around here I'm finishing my 2nd Guiness.

Rich with flavor. Somewhere around here I'm finishing my 2nd Guinness.

The dessert was a pair of Key Lime sticks. I’m sure the dessert was overkill.

Worth every minute of exercise they'll cost.

Worth every minute of exercise they'll cost.

The restaurant was pleasantly full, with a church group meeting inside.  I was able to speak to Mike a bit, all much appreciated. He’s a gracious host, knows food far better than I ever will. His theory on heat is to get the hottest pepper possible, and then add ingredients that add flavor (shallots, garlic, etc). Flavor, to Mike Miller, is more important than pure ‘burn’.

Benny’s Bar and Grill
3902 Highway 78
Snellville, GA
(678) 209-0209

Delicious Kabob is a modest restaurant on Shallowford Road, just a bit north and west of the Buford Highway-Shallowford Road intersection. This eatery has been on the hit list of a number of food bloggers this year, including Jennifer Zyman, Jimmy of Eat It Atlanta,  Amy of Amy on Food, and certainly not least, BuHi of Eat Buford Highway. My wife was complaining she didn’t hadn’t had any good Chinese in recent days, and I suggested this place, because it seemed it would be a little different and perhaps we’d find some new (and spicy) food.

For some reason I thought it would be closer to the intersection than it was, and heading up Shallowford from the intersection placed Delicious Kabob on our left once we found it. It’s in a strip mall, and parking is plentiful there.

Once inside, we knew we were going to get kabobs, and so we got the squid kabobs (on Buhi’s recommendation) and we also got chicken kabobs. My wife ordered a chicken lo mein dish, and my daughter their lamb stir fry. I ordered (based on Jennifer Zyman’s recommendations) the Szechuan crispy fried beef with chili and peppercorns.

The squid kabobs arrived first, and then the crispy fried beef, and then the chicken kabobs. I snapped off one shot of the crispy fried beef before my wife stared me down in that “don’t take any more” look. But it’s a terrific looking dish:

The crispy fried beef was the hit of the meal.

The crispy fried beef was the hit of the meal.

The squid kabobs were excellent and spicy, nicely seasoned and a lot of fun to eat, as they were perfectly cooked. The chicken kabobs, by contrast, were a little undercooked, perhaps rushed. The lo mein was a decent dish, but paled in comparison with everything else. The lamb stir fry was pretty good. The crispy fried beef was by far the hit of the meal, a total home run so far as the family was concerned. Despite the huge size of the servings — diet busting in size, to be sure — there wasn’t any beef left by the end of the meal. My wife said to our server, “That’s what I’m getting the next time we come here.”

The cost of the meal, given the serving size, has to be regarded as inexpensive. Each of the entrees could have fed two people easily. That some things worked and some things didn’t is manageable. Trying to get both squid (must be cooked quickly) and chicken (should be allowed to cook thoroughly) kabobs is a mistake we simply won’t repeat. The things that did work were so good we’ll be coming back sometime.

The service was good for the most part. At the end our server seemed to forget we were there and we were left hanging waiting for a ticket. We eventually did get one, but on the owner’s initiative, not our servers.

Verdict: Good Chinese food served in diet busting portions. Decent service. Highly recommended.

Delicious Kabob
3640 Shallowford Road
Doraville GA 30340
(770) 457-4948

Delicious Kabob on Urbanspoon

Sushi Avenue on Scenic Highway in Snellville is the third restaurant in a small Atlanta chain that began with the original restaurant on Ponce De Leon and was continued with a second restaurant in Decatur Square.  It has been around at least since 1997, and though by almost all measures is a popular restaurant, it hasn’t been visited by any media or bloggers in some time.

The chopsticks wrapper shows the origin of this Snellville restaurant.

The chopsticks wrapper shows the origin of this Snellville restaurant.

What we saw today was a place that had newly opened, and was conveniently located on Scenic Highway just opposite the large mall that houses O’Charleys and Texas Roadhouse. The new “Grand Opening” sign simply cannot be missed.

Front of the restaurant.

Front of the restaurant.

Upon entering the eatery, you enter a longish room, with 4 booths to the left, a sushi bar in front of you and a bit to the right. To the immediate right, there are a couple more tables and there are also a few tables past the sushi bar. We were seated at a booth, and given a large menu, as well as a sheet which had a few dozen sushi choices, both nigiri and various rolls. Both staff and chefs appear to be Japanese.

From discussions on Citysearch and Yelp, I expected a very limited menu, but that’s not what I saw. There are dozens of dishes available at Sushi Avenue, including things most hibachi restaurants would never have. There is yakitori, for example. There are three different kinds of gyoza. Edamame is available. Donburi of various kinds can be obtained. You can order tonkatsu, and chirashi sushi is also available. For those looking for something other than garden variety teriyaki meats or tempura, I’d strongly recommend perusing Sushi Avenue’s specials.

My wife ordered a tempura and chicken teriyaki plate. My daughter was dying to try donburi, so she ordered the oyakodon. I ordered otsukemono (Japanese pickles) and their salt grilled salmon, a couple sushi rolls and some nigiri. It wasn’t long before the pickles, miso soup and a couple small salads arrived:

pickles on the left, salads and miso soup on the right.

pickles on the left, salads and miso soup on the right.

The pickles were good, the miso soup was good, the salads were good. Soon after the salt grilled salmon showed up, followed soon after by the sushi.

Salt grilled salmon, the hit of our meal.

Salt grilled salmon, the hit of our meal.

Rolls and nigiri from Sushi Avenue.

Rolls and nigiri from Sushi Avenue.

The salmon was the hit of the meal, firm but tender and it tasted great. The sushi was good as well. The maguro (tuna) nigiri was blessed with a thick slice of tuna, richly red. And soon after those two came, my daughter received her donburi and my wife got her tempura.



Chicken teriyaki and tempura.

Chicken teriyaki and tempura.

I only got a taste of the donburi after a while, but my daughter ate too much for it to be a bad dish. My wife’s dish, she really enjoyed the tempura but the teriyaki was just okay. She told me after the fact that she probably should have gotten the nabeyaki udon along with some tempura. She also said with a contented smile, “We can take my mom here.” As my mother-in-law is full blooded Japanese, that is fairly impressive praise.

To summarize, this was a very good meal. It wasn’t a perfect meal, but a very good meal. What impressed me was the breadth of the menu and the authenticity of the experience. I’ve talked about what makes a Japanese meal in America authentic before, and that’s when a Japanese restaurant gives you enough real choices to have some sense of the quality, breadth and character of the cuisine. It’s not about the Brookwood High roll or the Super Duper Snellville Roll in the end.  And it makes me wonder if Sushi Avenue, in all its guises, has been seriously underestimated.

Verdict: Good food, good sushi, good service, with a diverse enough cuisine to deliver an authentic Japanese experience. Highly Recommended.

Sushi Avenue
2118 Scenic Highway, Suite F
Snellville GA, 30078
(770) 985-1800

Sushi Avenue Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Red Salt is an exceptionally friendly place, and even after reviewing dozens of restaurants, this one stands out in this regard. Red Salt is a pub, modeled in red brick and wood, lots of wood, especially wooden cabinets with wine and beer. The roof is open and peaked, with piping peeking through thick wooden slats. There is bar seating and a lot of stuffed booths, in black it seems. Bartenders do know people’s names and conversations seem to take off around well known regulars. It’s hard.. no, it’s impossible not to be dragged in to the amiable chat here.

It’s an easy place to miss heading north on Roswell Road/Atlanta Street, as the road forks into Canton and Alpharetta Street and traffic tends to force you to the right. For this reason I’d suggest studying a map, because Norcross Street is going to be your friend if you’re redirected. I’m not at all certain about the best place to park for this pub. I found a small amount of public parking a half block south of the pub. Please be warned.

Please also note that the menu online and the menu in the pub (some of it on large blackboards on the brick wall inside, and also printed nicely) are not the same. If you’re making plans based on the online menu, your food might not still be served once you arrive. The beer selection is good, but not fantastic. If you want 20 different Belgian beers, that’s the Brick Store Pub. If you want 40 brews on tap, that’s McCray’s. This place merely has several good beers on tap. Beer or wine may be part of the reason for coming, but really, this place is for food and conversation.

The food, the dishes I could sample, were all good. I really liked the she crab soup I tried, darker and browner than the soups I’ve had in the Low Country. It came with a bit of bread for dipping. The soup was rich and tasty, and it was fun spooning some of the soup onto the bread and eating it that way. I tried the Red Brick salad, and this one, advertising heart of palm as well as avocado, was a tad disappointing. Maybe the old Badayori spoiled me, as they would have 3-4 inch chunks of palm in their palm salad, and these were small bits, all cut up. The avocado seemed to be no more than a tablespoon or two, really. Nonetheless, it passed any taste test of mine. The greens were garden fresh.

They had a good looking trout on the menu and blackboard this day, but I decided to try the shepherd’s pie. The presentation of this dish was excellent, on a thick wooden board and in a small cast iron skillet. The potatoes were covered in cheese, and the taste of the lamb really did come through. In the broth of the pie I saw mushrooms and corn, and I suspect onions, though I couldn’t find them. By this time company and the Blue Moon ale was having an effect. I regretted having to leave, as this really is a place to linger, and have small talk for hours on end.

Verdict: Scratch the surface and you have an exceptionally friendly neighborhood bar with some nice food. Highly Recommended.

Red Salt Pub
952 Canton Street
Roswell, GA 30075
(770) 998-4850

Red Salt on Urbanspoon

Thanks to the recommendation of Barney of Urban Spoon, I am now the proud owner of a Canon SD Powershot 1200 IS.  The camera was purchased because of its small size, its optical image stabilization, and its performance without a flash in low light. With it, you can get food photos such as this one, from the Snellville Ruby Tuesdays:

Turkey mini burgers and a potato, from Ruby Tuesday in Snellville.

Turkey mini burgers and a potato, from Ruby Tuesday in Snellville.

Or this one, of the front of Albatross Bar and Grill, on Main Street in Snellville:

The front of Albatross Bar and Grill, Snellville GA

The front of Albatross Bar and Grill, Snellville GA

Yes, I’m pleased with it. It’s emotionally awkward to take photos of this kind, just I know that there is a huge difference when I can see what I might eat, as opposed to just reading about what I might eat.

As readers may know, I’ve been trying to go onto a diet, exercise and lose weight, and this Wednesday I woke up and my knee wasn’t working properly. It hurt to move. I didn’t have very good balance, it hurt to do much of anything other than lie on my bed with my knee pretty much straight. Bending my knee hurt. So next day, I went to the doctor and she told me I probably have torn cartilage in my left knee. So it’s ice and an anti-inflammatory drug for now. CVS has this cool device for icing legs, consisting of a wrapper and a package full of gel that you freeze:

This thing works really well for icing joints.

This thing works really well for icing joints.

I go back on the 30th of July, to see if I’ve been healing. I can say getting to the doctor was smart, because ice and drugs have markedly improved my mobility. Just, I have to figure out how to keep an aerobic component to my workouts when I can’t push my knee anymore.

All my boonie peppers are outside now. 6 of the 7 look good, the 7th plant is a roll of the dice for now.

potted Guam boonie peppers.

potted Guam boonie peppers.

Driving along Scenic Highway, north of the Scenic Highway-Highway 78 intersection, there is a strip mall with a vitamin shop, a Radio Shack, and now, a soon-to-be-opened sushi shop:

Sushi Avenue in Snellville, GA

Sushi Avenue in Snellville, GA

They have posted hours, but I wasn’t able to go inside.

Sushi Avenue Hours

Sushi Avenue Hours

I’ll let everyone know more as I know more.

Marble Slab Creamery is an ice cream chain that resembles Cold Stone Creamery in their interest in providing not ice cream, but mixtures of ice cream with other products, called “mixins”. This makes their introductory products a bit more expensive than say, Carvels, as their one scoop “Original” runs about $3.50 (with one “mixin”). Like Cold Stone Creamery, there were only about 15 ice cream flavors available that day. Also like Cold Stone Creamery, they have a very cold stone slab on which they mix ice cream with whatever bit of goodness you choose. Notable however are the list of “tested” mixes already available. These “Tasty Creations” were combinations of ice cream and one or two additional mixins from the “Original”.

It was mid day when I went with my daughter. She ordered a Peanut Butter Crunch ‘Tasty Creation’ on a waffle cone and I ordered the ‘Tasty Creation’ White Chocolate Raspberry Swirl, also on a cone. There was a line that day and it took a while to get there, but our server was both efficient and gracious and the final product quite good. She was low on White Chocolate that day, so used some Sweet Cream Ice Cream to make up the difference. Personally, I really didn’t notice. Caramel, chocolate, and raspberry flavors dominated in my cone, and my daughter’s cone had the nutty flavor she craved.

The cones were melting quickly once we got outside; and serving size is large. So we ate what we wanted, discarded the rest. It’s good ice cream, and a nicely done mixin concept. They also offer smoothies and ice cream cakes, and you can cater their services as well.

Verdict: Very nice ice cream based products. If you’re willing to pay the small premium for their Tasty Creations, it’s well worth it.

Marble Slab Creamery
1690 Scenic Highway North
Snellville, GA 30078
(770) 982-1049

Marble Slab Creamery on Urbanspoon

Desta Ethiopian Kitchen is in a collection of shops on the corner of Briarcliff and Clairmont Road. It’s a block south of the I-85 – Clairmont Intersection, and on the right as you’re heading south. It’s not easy to see, more on the Briarcliff side of things. When you see what looks like parking, pull off the road and look for it.

There are at least three other Ethiopian restaurants in the area as well. Desta is in a separate building, and you may see the drive through before you see the rest of the restaurant. There is outdoor and indoor seating, and a decent amount of parking by the restaurant. Inside, it’s quite an attractive restaurant, if small, and there are both tables and booths to sit in.

I came here on a Father’s Day, after having argued the merits of 2-3 other places. I had eaten Ethiopian food about 22 years ago, in a restaurant in Philadelphia. On that day, the food was laid on a huge chunk of the Ethiopian bread (called injera, and made with the grain teff) and the food placed over the bread. Injera is spongy, and it is intended to be used as a utensil. We tore up bits of our plate of bread, scooped up the food, and ate it. From what I could see in the newspaper, the arrangement in Desta was going to be a little different.

We ordered chicken, fish, and lamb tibs, and my wife was also curious about their lentil stew. So we ordered a side of that. When the food came, the dishes were served on long rectangular trays, maybe 3 inches wide and perhaps 12-14 inches long. All the meats and fish were cut into small chunks, to be easy to handle. Each dish came with a house salad on the side. And in shallow grey pans came the pale brown injera, rolls of it, as long as the palm of your hand and the roll perhaps an inch to an inch and a half thick.

My wife ended up asking for a fork.

My daughter and I took to the bread easily, and tore off chunks of it to eat the food.  The stew came with a spoon, and I’d pour some of the stew into a chunk of the bread and eat that as well. My daughter loved her fish, which was mild and a little crunchy. My wife liked the chicken quite a bit (it had a yellow color to it and seems to have been nicely spiced) and I liked the lamb dish I chose. We had differences of opinion about the lentil stew. My daughter and I liked it, my wife wasn’t as happy with it.

One thing that is easy to do at Desta is underestimate how much food you’re really eating. The injera ends up being a lot of your meal, and so what seems like a small serving can end up quite a large one. As a consequence, we took home food from every plate that was served to us, along with about six rolls of the bread.

Given the quantity of leftovers, the meal was shockingly inexpensive. Service was generally excellent.

Verdict: Delicious ethnic food served in a way that doesn’t shock as many first time Americans. Highly recommended for those looking for something new.

Desta Ethiopian Kitchen
3086 Briarcliff Rd.
NE Atlanta, GA 30329
(Inside Williamsburg Shopping Center)
(404) 929-0011

Desta on Urbanspoon

Update: Amy on Food’s nice review of Desta features some excellent photos and a review of the foods she tried.

Chonas Mexican Grill is a popular Lawrenceville restaurant, family owned and operated, that sits in a strip mall at the entrance to Discovery Mill, near I-85 and Sugarloaf Parkway. I found this restaurant by glancing at Urban Spoon and reading the user reviews. What I saw looked pretty interesting. We were looking for a place to eat on a Sunday and when Gourmandises turned out not to have Sunday hours, we tried Chonas out.

When you step inside, in front of you is a full service bar, with several seats. To your right is the rest of the restaurant, with about a dozen booths and maybe twenty or so tables. When we arrived, a party of 17 was being served and so a lot of tables were pushed together. There are at least 4 wide screen televisions around the room, so if you want to watch sports and eat, you certainly have that option.

The first thing to note about the menu is that about a third to half the dishes at this restaurant are classic Atlanta Tex-Mex. This means if you want your combinations at dinner you can get them and a Speedy Gonzales is available at lunch. From that point forward, however, this restaurant is treading new ground, with some original dishes. They had an insert with dishes not on the menu, things like mango shrimp and a variety of dishes featuring milanesa steak (a thin sliced steak).

There are some other good looking dishes on their menu.  Their specials are interesting, their seafood specials all look good, their fajita plates are enormous, and my wife couldn’t resist trying their sinaloa beach tacos. I had their milanesa sandwich, and my daughter decided to go with a traditional #9 combination.

Chonas has a good red salsa, with a hint of cilantro and a hint of spice that, as my wife noted, “can catch up with you.” Chips are dry, free, served early and often. Service throughout was superb: attentive, efficient and not cloying. When I forgot my glasses, staff came out and ran us down in the parking lot to return them.

The food was served relatively quickly, given the other large party. The Sinaloa tacos had mostly chunks of marinated grilled chicken, with a sauce (on the side) they called a tomatillo sauce (though it was very dark red), and also a pico de gallo and lime slices on the side. The tomatillo sauce tasted strange to us, so my wife used a combination of the pico, lime juice, and some of their good stock red on her tacos. The result was really pleasing, she said.  She gave me a taste of the pico, and it was a fine salsa. The milanesa sandwich was large and thin, with lettuce, avocado chunks and the thin steak was a nice medium to medium rare. The bread was suprisingly good, as well. I liked my sandwich, a pleasing change of pace.

My daughter didn’t realize until after the fact she had ordered a ground beef enchilada. She’s been spoiled with the steak burritos from Taqueria Los Hermanos and probably thought she had ordered steak. So the enchilada was just ok to her. The beans and rice she liked. My wife commented that their spanish rice was “a little different, and better than usual.”  I didn’t try it, so I’ll take their word for it.

In terms of the Mexican food ecosphere, this restaurant’s closest comparison would be the Agavero Cantina in Lilburn, but arguably, this place has a small edge in terms of new and original dishes.  It’s a good restaurant if you’re in the area, good value and it’s worth trying their new dishes. That it’s close to a popular mall doesn’t hurt either.

Verdict: More than just Atlanta Tex-Mex, this place serves fine Atlanta staples but also a lot of original food. Highly recommended.

Chonas Mexican Grill
Discovery Mills Mall
1820 North Brown Road, Suite 10
Lawrenceville, GA, 30043
(678) 847-0072

Chonas Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Of interest: the web site for Chonas features a ton of coupons, including 2 for 1 meals and 99 cent kid’s meals. It’s the kind of place to make a bargain hunter proud.

Total Wine is an expanding chain with 3 locations in Georgia, and after almost driving past the place I decided to check it out. This will be a very brief review, as a blogger with a *good* camera needs to haunt this place.  It’s located near Perimeter Mall, and this one is just about opposite the Super Target on Abernathy Road.

What I saw: It’s large, with about 5 aisles, 2 of them so wide that stock was being placed between the aisles. One middle of an aisle had a lot of good beer (I’m no judge of wine), such as Abita brands and a nicely priced 24 pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. In yet another aisle they have dozens, perhaps hundreds of individual bottles of beer in a mix-and-match arrangement, and opposite some relatively exotic six packs such as Smuttynose brews. If you like alcohol and are in the Perimeter area, this is a place to check out.

One of the neater things they feature is a small canvas sack with six slots for beer or wine:

Total Wine's canvas bag has six slots, to keep nice beers and wine.

Total Wine's canvas bag has six slots, to keep nice beers and wine.

I certainly was impressed enough to buy one of the bags (and a couple nice beers).

Total Wine and More
Perimeter Square Center
124 Perimeter Center West
Atlanta, GA 30346
(770) 395-1678

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