March 2011

The Atlanta barbecue scene is badly underestimated, it appears, even by bloggers who blog in this city. From this perspective, it’s merely a boring repetitious set of chain eateries, whose products are predictable and monotonous, and whose only differentiating factor are the sides or perhaps the sauce.

I have news for ya’ll: this also is Atlanta barbecue.

Stuffed with barbecue

See that dumpling? It comes from Canton House, the famous dim-sum place on Buford, and yes, it’s full of barbecue.

In this city, perhaps you didn’t know, but the Koreans have barbecue, the Chinese have barbecue, and the Vietnamese add barbecued meat to their banh mi.

meat on the "barby" at "Iron Age"

Honey BBQ from Ming's BBQ


Since the work barbecue itself comes in part from the Taino people of the Caribbean, it also appears that the Southern style of cooking meat is also a direct descendent of the Caribbean barbacoa.

That suggests strongly that jerk chicken, from Jamiaca and smoked, is also a style of barbecue.

Tastee's (Snellville) jerk chicken: Is this a kind of barbecue?

Is it or isn’t it? I’m not claiming barbecue expertise. I’m merely a student in this genre.

What about pastrami? It’s a smoked meat, isn’t it? How closely related is pastrami to barbecue?

Even restricting the point of view to “Southern barbecue”, I’ll note that there are two common ways to prepare meats in this “style”, and that is to smoke the meat indirectly (leads to a smoke ring and great smoke flavor), or to broil the meat and then finish it on the grill (grill lines, and fall off the bone tender). The latter is indeed favored by chain restaurants. It’s easier, and you’re in no danger of running out of product around 3 pm in the afternoon. They’re easily distinguised, by the presence or absence of smoke rings on the meat.

"Steve's Sampler" from Big Shanty Smokehouse

Getting back to Texas style barbecue: using Robb Walsh’s book as a reference, I counted 6 kinds of Texas barbecue. Using the same source, the Wikipedia counts four. Looking over various Wikipedia entries (like this one on US barbecue, and this one on Texas barbecue), the Wikipedia missed the Caddo Indian style (not common anymore), and I counted the Southern Texas style perhaps twice. So, four styles are extant currently. To note, as Robb Walsh says:

When visitors from Carolina and Tennessee come to Texas, they are generally astonished to find that we eat a lot of pork here as well as beef brisket. That’s the problem with the beef generalization. Yes, we barbecue beef – but we’re fond of other meats.

I know this to be true, for when visiting relatives in Granbury, Texas, I had some good pork ribs over in Glen Rose.

Pork ribs from Glen Rose TX. The smoke ring is clearly visible on these ribs.

If you talk to bloggers who actually smoke meats in their spare time, they’ll note a merrily promiscuous character to Atlanta barbecue. The city doesn’t appear to care what is good, it just adopts any style that tastes good. So I’ll reiterate the question that comes to me after all this:  just how many different kinds of barbecue can you count in this city?

While researching Golden Key, there was an interesting blog I’ve uncovered, called “Russian Food and Dining.” They’re gathering information from everywhere. Masha evidently is in San Francisco, arrived in 2002, and is gathering information about Russian groceries and Russian eateries in a single location. It has the look of a small shop WordPress blog (a look I certainly don’t dislike). The blog author seems responsive and this looks like a resource for anyone who couldn’t tell a pickle from a pirozhki.

It’s in a L shaped strip mall on the corner of Indian Trail and highway 29, close to Taqueria Los Hermanos. Inside are foodstuffs, such as sprats, pickles, and chocolates. A good chunk of their goods are Russian, some are Slavic, some Polish.. I think.

There  is no seating to eat inside, else I’d have added this one to Urban Spoon.

Golden Key European Food and Deli
4760 Lawrenceville Hwy Suite A3
Lilburn GA
(770) 638-1101

On a night when I ended up lost in Atlanta and finally just gave up and stopped, ironically the place I stopped was exactly where I was trying to be. Not that I’m any kind of regular along Peachtree Road, but the one thing that did stick in my head was the name of Linton Hopkins and then that Eugene sign. So I stopped there, and only when I glanced to the right in front of the valet did the Homer Simpson “duh” lights start blinking off and on.

Take home: to find Holeman and Finch, find Restaurant Eugene and turn there.

Holeman and Finch is a small restaurant, and inside, the tables had filled. I had to find seating near the bar. It didn’t take too long before seating at the bar was available, though I was stuck on one of the more extreme corners in the place. No problem, really, as this place had some of the best bartenders I’ve ever had  the pleasure of serving me (really, only the crew at Leon’s in Decatur compare). Food? Well, think about a legal sized sheet of paper full of small single spaced menu items, of the kind that make you wish for 12 year old eyes. The back is equally full of drink options.

I started with kale and collards. Both were good, but I  thought the the kale was flavored more interestingly. To note servings are relatively small, and the dining here is akin to tapas style.

I also had some cheeses. I’ve always been a sucker for the palette cleansing character of a good blue, and this cheddar started mellow and had the rich lingering flavors a good sharp should, without any bitter aftertaste.

That was followed by some of the biggest clams I’ve ever had. Great broth, both creamy and full of bacon flavors, though to really enjoy it, I had to ask for a spoon. Unfortunately, that awesome chunk  of bread was mostly wasted with me.

I ended with a crunchy gentleman, an impish description for a ham n’ cheese on flavor afterburners. The ham was potent and the cheese was both on the ham, around the ham, and infused into the bread of the sandwich. Remarkable. I never got to see the famed H&F burger, but if the burger is half as amusing as this item, yes, I can see why there is such a fascination for the burger.

Any regrets? Mostly that work and  the day ahead didn’t allow me to stay longer. I outlasted two groups of people to my right, but the third was by far the most interesting and most down to earth. Excellent staff, food with plenty of subtlety (and, at times, a sense of humor), and a great ambiance made for a terrific night. No wonder people speak so highly of Holeman and Finch.

Holeman and Finch
2277 Peachtree Road
Atlanta, GA 30309
(404) 948-1175

Holeman & Finch Public House on Urbanspoon

It’s full of shrimp and chicken, with a spicy tomato sauce as a base.

I couldn’t eat the starches provided with it, but I didn’t care.

Great little lunch entree.

Mambo’s Cafe
5950 North Point Parkway
Alpharetta, GA 30022

Mambo's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Large chunks of lobster and Alaskan king crab swim over the top of this enormous bowl of seafood soup. It was a gift, to my daughter, for making an unexpected ‘A’ in school.

Not everyone was as thrilled with this dish as my daughter was. My wife felt it a bit too salty. But with serving sizes so large we were bound to take food home, no one went away hungry.

Marietta Diner
306 Cobb Parkway
Marietta, GA 30060
(770) 423-9390

Marietta Diner on Urbanspoon

It’s a  great little article in the New York Times, a comparison of heirlooms versus hybrids, and why it’s not that 19th century special that some  little old lady used to grow in the Poconos that’s good for you, but perhaps more the Atkinson tomato that was grown by Auburn professors just a few years ago in a climate very similar to that of Georgia. Heirlooms are best, this article suggests, when adapted to the microclimate in which you garden.

On the southwest corner of Singleton Road and Indian Trail, on the Indian Trail side of the road, there is a small strip mall. In it is Tortas Gigantas, whose bright sign has been catching my eye as I’ve been commuting home. Indian Trail has evolved culinarily. A lot of chain eateries are gone, and it is a diverse ethnic mix of Vietnamese and Hispanic places that are replacing what was there.

Inside, it’s small, neat and clean, perhaps 7 tables total. You order at a counter top and wait to receive your food. They serve a lot more than just tortas (literally “cakes”, but in this context, “sandwiches”). Tortas Gigantes advertises itself as “La casa de la King Torta” or “home of the King Torta”, but they also serve tacos, burritos, quesadillas, flautas, and fajitas. They don’t serve many vegetables. You’ll need to head to a farmer’s market for those.

Nothing is expensive here. I had the Texana Torta, a mix of beef, chorizo, and cheese. It’s a huge sandwich. I ate half of it, scraped the filling away from the bread and finished that as well. There was a salsa bar next to the Coke dispenser (out of ice), and in that bar were some great looking grilled jalapeno peppers. I took one of those too. Needed the veggies.

This is a classic inexpensive Mexican eatery of the kind that have been popping up at least the past five years or so.  The tacos at this place run $1.50 and I promise would be more tasty and flavorful than any you could get at the large chains. Popular here were  the lengua tacos. I saw plenty of men ordering and eating them. There was a steady stream of men,  in soft shirts and jeans, ordering food here. On the walls were televisions, showing  the Hispanic equivalent of Judge Judy, ordering law down on people with “WTF?” expressions.

As for me, it was a good meal for less  than $9.00. Chalk one positive for the ethnographic shift in Atlanta. If you can embrace the change, it’s a win for the tummy and the pocketbook.

Tortas Gigantes
1175 Indian Trail
Norcross, GA 30093
(678) 805-8792

As of 3/2011, open until 10pm every day of the week.

Tortas Gigantes on Urbanspoon

Another review of Tortas Gigantes is here.

Located at the corner where Jimmy Carter and Holcombe Bridge separate, in the very space that used to house C. K.’s Pizza, is a modest Caribbean eatery, named Caribbean Fiesta. In places like this, I can usually have one of their meats and a safe vegetable, usually the cabbage. So that’s what I did this day.

They serve a wet jerk here. The jerk chicken was tender, and it was easy to see the grill marks and smell the smoke in the meat. Taste? Quite good. The man who served me was also diabetic. We ended up sharing war stories before I sat down and ate.

Caribbean Fiesta
3375 Holcomb Bridge Road
Norcross, GA 30092
(678) 205-2539

Caribbean Fiesta on Urbanspoon

I seemed to have surprised my waiter when I ordered mookunji godenguh. He warned, “This is a very traditional dish.” I’m not sure entirely the purpose of the warning, but I told him that I didn’t care. What I didn’t tell him was that a mackerel and kimchi stew sounded just about perfect: small oily fish and plenty of vegetables was entirely all right by me.

The dish looked fantastic:

And in retrospect I should have taken a photo of everything, not just the dish. They pay a lot  of attention to color at Woo Nam Jeong, and the array of food is always visually appealing. The taste? The spicing here seemed really on, the fish was moist and delicious, the kimchi really hit the spot. This was easily  the best dish I had in many days.

Woo Nam Jeong
5953 Buford Highway
Atlanta, GA 30340
(678) 530-0844

Woo Nam Jeong - Stone Bowl House on Urbanspoon

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