January 2011

Girls, model pretty and impossibly thin, are chatting with their boyfriends. Young gay men are conversing, voices so silvery I look up, expecting to see a girl.  Young serious Asian males with razor thin eyeglasses are sipping tea, looking as if they should be in a revolutionary Parisian coffeehouse of a previous century.  Asian families of fifteen or twenty are celebrating a birthday.  These are typical clientele of Man Chun Hong, a well respected and popular Chinese eatery in Doraville. It is well known for good food, great noodles, and huge portions.

It’s also a difficult eatery to puzzle out. Those huge portions make it much harder to explore the large menu – or menus, as they have an American-Chinese/Korean-Chinese menu and then an authentic Chinese menu here. So recently I came here with my family, in part to show them Man Chun Hong and perhaps, to explore their foods a little deeper.

Mussels from Man Chun Hong (American menu)

Lots of coriander and cumin in this lamb (Chef's Special, Chinese menu)


It’s in the same strip mall as the celebrated Woo Nam Jeong, almost next door to it, and just south of the “L” shaped mall that houses Sushi House Hayakawa. The parking lot is small and narrow, a little tricky to navigate.

Ordering has been a little different each time. My first time it was the American menu without question. Second time, I was handed the American menu and senior staff then countermanded what my waitress did, and gave me the Chinese menu (both menus are in Chinese and English). When my family arrived, we received the Chinese menu without question (Soon after, the wait staff were trying to speak to my wife in Chinese).

Man Chun Hong starts meals with kimchi, as an appetizer. A spinach and tofu soup soon followed. My wife loved the soup.

We also ordered dry fried green beans. Those were a hit.

Entrees this time were a fish dish recommended by our waitress, a beef dish similar to the lamb, and my wife asked for something with “chicken and plenty of vegetables, but spicy”. There was some negotiating there.

“Do you want any specific kinds of vegetables?”

“No, just plenty of them.”

Having just finished the Fortune Cookie Chronicles I was silently wondering whether my wife would end up with broccoli in her dish. She did. But the richness of the spicing, and the variety did please my wife. She ended up with something she liked a lot.

My daughter chose a beef dish, after flirting with the lamb I had ordered. We all had mixed opinions of it. My wife vastly preferred her chicken. My daughter liked other dishes more. I thought there was nothing wrong with her beef, though I thought the coriander and cumin of the lamb dish I had previously had more ‘zing’.

I had a spicy fish soup, mixed with plenty of vegetables. I had picked and unpicked foods several times. We were walking through the possibilities, and this is where we stopped. When tasting, phrases that come to mind: spicy, fishy, oily, good, too much too eat. It made great leftovers.

We had plenty of leftovers.

Verdict: A blogger favorite, Man Chun Hong is a versatile restaurant with a big reputation for excellent noodles. Highly recommended.

Man Chun Hong
5953 Buford Highway
Doraville, GA 30340

Man Chun Hong on Urbanspoon

Notes: Other reviews of Man Chun Hong are here, here, and here.

O’Charleys is a classic chain steakhouse, offering good steaks and good service at reasonable prices. It’s not a chain I frequent often, but one I keep as a reserve. I’ve had good luck here with prime rib, with chicken entrées, with dinner salads. This day I tried a burger, as a change of pace.

Rolls are served with the meal. They’re small, light and tender.

There are a series of specials at O’Charleys, including a $5.99 lunch special. I didn’t go there because the choices were too limited.

For a small additional fee I could get a side salad. I’m not sure why any chain charges more for a side salad than French fries. Lettuce just isn’t that expensive.

I asked for a medium rare burger, and received a medium rare. The top bun was crusty and delightful. The bottom bun was soaked clean through with burger juices. No matter, not like I eat the whole bun anyway.

Service was, in my opinion, very very good.

In summary, just because I don’t go here often shouldn’t stop anyone else from going here. There is very little to differentiate the mid range steakhouses. O’Charlie’s is one that has served me well in the past, and could serve you well too.

2049 Scenic Highway
Snellville, GA 30078
(770) 736-3231

O'Charley's on Urbanspoon

Little Thai is on the corner of a strip mall, roughly on the southwest corner of Sandy Springs Circle and Johnson Ferry Road, in the same mall that houses Brooklyn Cafe. It’s a pretty eatery, and this elegance and grace is perhaps its best attribute.

Service is good here. The staff are both charming and quick to suggest alternatives. The menu is small but useful. There are 6 curries, not 60. There is one entry for penang curry, for example, and several options for meats.

Little Thai has a fair number of noodle dishes, and of course, coconut milk is featured prominently in the cooking. I found a dish I thought I could manage, their Ocean Seafood, a variety of seafood in a spicy basil sauce.

Though rated “two peppers”, I’d have rated it one on my personal scale. The spicing here is, as another customer noted, “spicy but not too much.” Toned down to Atlanta tastes? Perhaps, but there are worse fates than having a moderate level of spice.

I liked the staff at Little Thai. They managed to be serene, helpful, funny, graceful. If what you’re wanting is 50 minutes of serenity before heading back to the office, some good food, a chance to relax, this eatery, off  the beaten path of Sandy Springs, can deliver.

Verdict: Serene, pretty, graceful. A small set of good useful dishes. Recommended.

Little Thai
220 Sandy Springs Circle
Sandy Springs, GA 30328

Little Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

This blog has well over 500 entries these days, but to review some entries – more essays really – that have seemed to persist and draw continued interest over the years:

Hot Pepper Dreams (cultivating Boonie Peppers)

A Better Exchange Calculator

A Brief History and Survey of the Texas Sheet Cake

So What Happened to my Yu Shang Shrimp?

Chamorro Themes at Thanksgiving

The Fajita: What is it? Where did it come from?

Let’s offer a fajita ngram, as this is yet another food fad.

Pastured meats, pastured eggs — where can you find them?

Hotness Factors and Urban Spoon: Is the blog leaderboard fair?

Looking for a great black bean and corn salsa.

Just how nutritious is a cup of edamame?

Perhaps not everyone’s favorites, but feature some interesting photographs:

Barking Rocks Wine

Brooklyn Cafe

Village Burger

As reviews go, this one is a personal favorite

Wasabi House, Dunwoody Georgia.

Are there any older articles that you liked? Feel free to comment!

Normally when I put plants in soda bottle greenhouses, I keep them upstairs (warmest spot in the house) along a window sill. This time we’re going to try moving them into the basement by the boonie pepper, because we’ve set up timed lighting there. The light intensity is better and it’s a little cooler. I’m catching hints that once sprouted, tomatoes might grow slower and better in a cooler environs.

The larger plant is the Japanese eggplant my daughter insisted I save. It’s not weathering over as nicely as the pepper.

I can’t be 100% certain because I’ve forgotten which side of the container I planted boonies. But given the original spouts were straight and all my others are crooked, I suspect this is the first boonie pepper sprout of the season.

Other than that I’m adding a mix of heirloom seeds and a Burpee hybrid this season.

Digging around the Internet, from a post on Gardenweb, I find this interesting comment on heirloom tomatoes near Atlanta:


Here is a list of excellent performers for your area:

Big Beef (hybrid but very productive)
Arkansas Traveller
Mule Team
Marianna’s Peace
Eva’s Purple Ball
Cherokee Purple
Kellogg’s Breakfast (light orange tomato!)

The most heat tolerant are near the top of the list. The very best flavored are closer to the bottom.

On another Gardenweb thread, there was a Loganville, Georgia planter. An except from this post goes:

Arkansas Traveler has produced well for me in Loganville, GA. Big Beef is reliable and a heavy producer but not among my top favorites for taste. Brandywines are so different, regular leaves, potato leaves, pink, red, etc it is hard to comment. The yields are usually relatively small but the right Brandywine has amazing taste. Aunt Ginnys Purple has done well here. Creole takes the heat and I like the taste.

I’ve already planted more plants than I have pots for. It’s time to stop and assess how much work I want to do this year.

To note, if  you’re looking for locally raised heirlooms, this company has been recommended by growers from Gardenweb. The Tasteful Garden are growers on I-20 between Birmingham and Atlanta. Their web site is delightful.

It’s pretty and it’s serene. The World Peace Cafe is a vegetarian haven more or less across the street from Whole Foods, on the north side of Hammond near the intersection of Roswell Road. I came in the area for lunch one day, while craving Chinese. But Canton Cooks was closed, and this place seemed appealing.

Their menu doesn’t immediately let on to the vegetarian nature of the foods, as they mention peace burgers and all. But you’ll eventually get it. I had a grilled vegetable sandwich, as my luck with those is good. They tend to have plenty of umami, and tend to be filling.

The tea is quite good, but it has fruit overtones, which for me means sugars. I had one glass and switched to water.

Staff was casual and pleasant. The restaurant is built on the side of a hill and is two stories tall. If you drive onto the road behind the eatery, you’ll be parking on the upstairs side. You’ll need to go down the stairs to the lower side of the building to order. Once you do, they give you a flag and you sit until food is delivered to you.

Had to finish the book!


Verdict: Serene pretty eatery with good vegetarian sandwiches. Highly recommended.

World Peace Cafe
20 Hammond Drive, #302
Sandy Springs, GA 30328
(404) 256-2100

World Peace Cafe on Urbanspoon

After digging a little more,  it turns out that Jennifer 8 Lee, of Fortune Cookie Chronicles fame, has a web site and the web site has a blog. At first glance, it’s much more fragmented a view than her far ranging book, but there are nuggets to be dug out of her posts. For one, she’s using Google ngrams to trace food trends through word usage, an idea that, when I saw it, struck me through as if an arrow had been driven through me.

Let’s take a quick look at a food fad. The one that first comes to mind is sushi. Did you know that in American English, the word “sushi” is now more common than the word “burger” or the words “apple pie”? Hey, I can show you that in a Google ngram. Switch the idiom of English you’re analyzing a bit,  to British English and you’ll see  different results. The chop suey fad disappears, for one, as does interest in food circa 2002-2003.

Interested in peppers? Checking out various pepper names shows a spike in interest in the word “tabasco” roughly about 1930. The word “jalapeno” takes off roughly about 1980, “habanero” about 1990. If you check out American and British English, you’ll see very different levels of interest, and a marked decline in interest among the British starting around the year 2000.

Obviously this kind of analysis isn’t restricted to foods. You can look at fabrics and plastics, or the effects electronic devices have on our language. That said, you can still compare “salsa” to “ketchup” and “granola” to the various Chinese foods that Jennifer Lee spoke about in such depth.

In the small “L” shaped room where you order sandwiches, I’ve been eyeing Star Provisions‘ muffuletta. There is just one slice left and it’s a late lunch, so things are disappearing right and left. My wife expresses interest in an entrée item; item is gone from the shelves. As I point to the sandwich on the menu,  the last slice of muffuletta disappears. So I order Star Provision’s reuben instead.

Star Provisions is about one block south of the intersection of 17th Street and Howell Mill Road. You’ll know it by the collection of cars moving in and out of the lot and the apparent inability of there to be any parking spaces in that crowded environs. But understand, it’s more like a bee hive than a static entity, so turn in where everyone else is, and drive cautiously. An opening generally appears.

We have been there once, but far too late for any sandwiches. The sandwich shop was closed. So we headed back, to grab sandwiches and then pick up a new slice of high end cheese from Tim the Cheese Man.

The reuben was a rich sandwich, with excellent meats and good bread. Sauerkraut hung out of the sandwich as I ate. If I had been handed this on the streets of New York City I wouldn’t have complained.

The banh mi strikes me as an interpretation, rather than the whole unearthly goodness of the Vietnamese sandwich. The thing about good banh mi is timing is crucial: fresh bread drives the sandwich. Arriving even a half hour later affects the flavor of the sandwich, because the bread is older. This one, like the reuben, is being driven by excellent ingredients. My daughter, of course, loved her sandwich and the fatty chunk of pork she was eating.

This was an experiment on my wife’s part, the falafel sandwich. She gave me a small bite – emphasis small – of this ‘wich. The chickpeas were small round bits in my bite, not a paste. It was more akin to eating a clingy chunk of grain than, say, the creamy goodness of hummus.

My wife liked her pizza slice so much she was giving bits of it to my daughter. My daughter’s reaction was predictable: “This would be so much better with some pepperoni.”

Perhaps the only downside of this shop is location. Realistically, people from my neck of the woods can only get here during the weekends. That said, I’d suggest to people who love food, and just want to get lost in the rich visual delights of this shop – amazing eye candy here – should take the time to head south down I-85, exit at 17th street and then turn right.

Verdict: Perhaps the best known, best loved provisions shop in ATL, it does a fine sandwich. Highly recommended.

Star Provisions
1198 Howell Mill Road
Atlanta, GA 30318
(404) 365-0410

Star Provisions on Urbanspoon

Reviews of Star Provisions – there are many – include these: here, here, here, here, here, here, here. John Kessler’s readers discuss various banh mi options here.

Always a go to place for good plants, good fertilizers and good advice, I have to say that Pike Family Nurseries made my day when they actually had peat pots, and peat pellets in stock right when tomatoes should be planted in this zone. They also have a good looking selection of seeds, including some heirloom plant varieties.

Pike Family Nurseries
6100 Lawrenceville Highway
Tucker GA
(770) 921-8880

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