Back in the days before stir frying was common, there was the eating event called “Mongolian Barbecue.” I can’t speak for civilian culture. I grew up around Air Force bases. Mongolian BBQ was A Very Big Deal at officer’s clubs well into the 1980s. I’ve seen my share of generals making monkeys of themselves in front of hula girls on Mongolian barbecue night.
I’m trying to decide if that wasn’t a historical anomaly, 1950s culture projected forward, akin to someone still doing limbo dancing and singing folk songs on ukeleles. In any event, fast forward to the 21st century, and now you have the New American Stir Fry, as exemplified by Chow Baby. And the advertising is so slick that someone like me doesn’t catch the hint, that this new fangled from-Mars style of eating is the old chrome plated drive on brick road Mongolian BBQ repackaged for a generation for whom the phrase “Mongolian BBQ” evokes real Mongolians serving authentic dishes.
There are three of these eateries around town, 2 of them called the Real Chow Baby and one called Big Chow Grill. And they are similar, yet not, to the chain Genghis Grill. For one, Chow Baby has the feel of a small chain. It’s not as slick or as packaged. It knows the Atlanta landscape and Where You Have to Be to Count in the Atlanta Food Universe (places like Howell Mill Road, instead of Mall of Georgia). Staff are well dressed and plentiful, and when “Billy Jean” by Michael Jackson pops up on the omnipresent, loud speakers, staff will dance to the music.
This article will be talking about the Ponce De Leon location.
Ok, the deal. You get two bowls, one for meat and one for veggies. Fill your bowls up with what you want, and if you’re me, avoid the wet sauces as they’re full of sugars. You get a swizzle stick as well, and you’ll put that stick into your bowls when you leave your food to be stirred. You’ll write some identifying scribbles on the stick, so staff can find you. Then leave the bowls in the queue for staff to grill.
Staff then cooks the food on a round grill. After it is prepared, staff gets the cooked food back to you.
There are some important, small details that made this a better experience than alternatives, such as Genghis Grill. The lines are shorter, once you’re in the restaurant. This may not be true at Howell Mill but it is true at Ponce. Lines for Genghis at Mall of Georgia can take 45 minutes to navigate, mere minutes here. They serve brown rice at the Ponce location, and my wife was able to get a small bowl of it beside her grilled items. They have basil as an option here. You would be surprised how much flavor a couple basil leaves add to a stir fry.
Downsides? There is complimentary valet parking at the Ponce location. I’m old fashioned, I like to park my own cars. I know why they do it here, it’s cramped, but I’d rather park myself. This location can get crowded easily, so it’s best to arrive early. Otherwise, it’s a better managed Mongolian experience than any other I’ve had in this town, and it’s pretty convenient to those of us living along highway 78. It’s certainly a reason to go into town, visit the Fernbank and then head down Ponce for a bite to eat.
The Real Chow Baby
782 Ponce De Leon Ave NE
Atlanta, GA 30306
The Real Chow Baby
1016 Howell Mill Rd NW
Atlanta, GA 30318
Big Chow Grill
1 Galleria Parkway
Atlanta GA 30339
P.S. – I highly recommend Marie Let’s Eat’s review of these restaurants.