January 2012

Zapatas is a good looking restaurant on Jones Street in historic Norcross, one whose major claim to fame are the molcajete dishes they serve, dishes served in a hot stone mortar. I had never been able to get there for lunch, though, something that clearly had to change. Recently I showed and tried some of their lunch options.

I find many of their lunch options to be heavy with carbs, not entirely optimal for a diabetic, or just too heavy in calories in general. If I were to recommend one, though, I’d recommend their tacos. With two, they also can serve beans.

Barbacoa and pastor tacos, with frijoles charros

Tacos are 2.50 each. Two tacos with beans cost 6 dollars. Zapatas has a large glass window open to Jones Street and the T shaped intersection nearby, making it very suitable for both eating and people watching in the early afternoon.

Please note that the going rate for tacos near Norcross is between a dollar and a dollar fifty, so if you’re going here to eat lunch, you’re paying for the ambience, the looks of the restaurant, the location, the service. And yes, Zapatas delivers all that. I saw plenty of businessmen in pairs, businessmen hovered over their portable devices or laptops – Zapatas has free wifi – or engaged in conversation with their peers.

The salsa is good here, tasty and bright with the flavor of fresh cilantro.

Overall? Recommended for lunch, but watch for the carbs.

15 Jones Street
Norcross, GA 30071
(770) 248-0052

Zapata on Urbanspoon

There is an article by John Kessler in the January 22, 2012 AJC that’s making the rounds. His comments concern drawing premature conclusions about food, one that segues into a critical commentary about the one meal review, and one, that from my reading of the elements and circumstances, appears to be a critique of the one meal review in general. In it he complains about Foodie Buddha, something that has become a rite of passage for professionals in the Atlanta area. Foodie is a contrary reviewer, fond of locating new restaurants and reviewing quickly. Foodie’s unfamiliarity with journalistic tropes, awkwardness with words and unconventional points of view make him an easy target. And because FB doesn’t write for a living, any verbal contest between Kessler and FB is combat between a soldier and an unarmed man.

I want to get back to the one notion in the article that disturbs me. It’s the idea that the professional, multi-visit review is the norm, and the one meal review something peculiar and disturbing. I’m not sure how that evolved. The “Average Joe” isn’t rich. He may just have a few dollars in his pocket. He’s hardly about to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars exploring the whole of a menu of a restaurant, particularly one he doesn’t like very much. His judgments are made on the spot, on the basis of the information in front of him.

It’s only in the world of the paid reviewer that people go back to bad restaurants. Everyone else avoids them after the first bad experience, and in a wired world, people now talk about those experiences, often in full caps, often with photographs of the offending meal. It’s a change from the era when print newspapers alone were how people obtained in-depth information, and it’s not one that certain components of the restaurant industry are comfortable with.

Nevertheless, the expansion of information resources is going to accelerate. How many different ways can people find out about a restaurant in this city now? Newspapers, radio, television, food sites, one of the 150 Atlanta food bloggers, and forums all serve an eating public. The modern era, dominated by people talking about their meals, their experiences, substitutes great breadth for depth. There is nothing wrong with that.

What has to change is how people read articles. A blogger’s article, based on a single meal, is just a single point of view. So is a user experience posted to Yelp or Urbanspoon. A newspaper’s professional review is considerably more in depth. And all of these need to be taken collectively as a whole, not read separately and used without context.

It is important, I believe, to calibrate the bloggers you might read. You need to read enough of their work to see how their tastes match with yours, how their experience rings true to your own, how well they describe a world you understand. If a blogger isn’t talking to you, find another blogger. If a blogger isn’t reliable, cut the value of his review down a notch or two. If a few bloggers think in ways you understand, and then show you a few things you may not have experienced, then perhaps you’ve found a fit, and someone worth following.

I have to thank John Kincade, of 680 the Fan, for this tip. A picture of a pretzel went viral on the internet. My cousins found the picture and started talking about the shop, and in that way, I found out that one of my first cousins was making pretzels in the greater metropolitan area of Atlanta.

What the fuss is all about

So, be warned: this is hardly an anonymous critical review. I know Stephen and Jill pretty well. Jill is a daughter of my uncle Thomas. She’s smart, spunky, independent. Stephen I know as a loving and devoted father. But we’re not tied by the hip, so until now, I didn’t know they were pretzel makers. That I remedied this morning.

The pretzels are made on site.

The pretzel oven

The shop they run is called the Pretzel Company. They used to be associated with a franchise, but no longer. Their products (some are shown on their Facebook page) are their own creations. They started making pretzels that had NFL themes, and the one of the man in prayer has now gone viral.

Prices are reasonable. You could have lunch here for around 5 dollars.

spicy pretzel sausage and a larger pretzel

The Pretzel Company also does Ga Tech themed pretzels

I’m hardly a pretzel guy, so I’ve taken some home to my wife, who learned to love pretzels while working in Center City, Philadelphia. She’d leave work, get a pretzel with mustard, and walk over to John Wanamakers to listen to the organs play. She had a huge smile on her face after tasting one of Steve and Jill’s pretzels. My expert approves.

For those of us with carb limitations, they have a kolache-like pretzel stuffed with sausage. I had one. The outer crust is light and crispy, the inside, between the sausage and the dough, is a white cheese. The sausage is gratifyingly spicy, and if it were close, I’d probably be coming here fairly often. A sausage pretzel and a diet Coke would make a fine fast lunch.

To get to the Pretzel Company, exit at Windward Parkway (exit 11), head west to Main Street, turn right. Go past the Fry’s and you’ll see a mixed bag of small strip mall stuff on the right. If you see a Kohl’s, turn in, as you’re a little past the Pretzel Company, but can still get to it.

If you’re coming from, say, Snellville, then have some of their pretzels, or their wrapped sausages. Once you’re done, head down to exit 10 off 400, and head east along Old Milton Parkway. You’ll pass some great groceries on the way home (Whole Foods, Super H) and can shop your way back to Snellville.

The Pretzel Company
13087 Highway 9 North
Milton, GA 30004
(770) 475-6649

The Pretzel Company on Urbanspoon

Atlanta Things To Do on raveable

It’s close to the intersection of Spalding and Holcombe Bridge, a nice restaurant on the southeast side of the intersection in a strip mall full of restaurants. It’s neat and clean inside, has plenty of sushi options, and if you’ll look hard – sushi and rolls tend to dominate the lunch menu – you can find things like donburi and shioyaki. Because of my diet, shioyaki is a staple these days.

saury shioyaki

eel and octopus sashimi

This isn’t a location I could have reached from my old work location, but being more on the Holcombe Bridge side of things, suddenly I can get to this site. I was pretty happy I could.

The saury was a sweet fish, tasty, but it’s a whole fish and better when cleaned. Both the eel sashimi and the octopus were satisfying. Sushi Mito can get comfortably full at lunch. There are plenty of patrons, including native Japanese.

I didn’t show at dinner, but Chloe, of Chow Down Atlanta, has a review of their dinner scene, and the Constant Gobbler has a nice photo montage of their dinner. As a lunch spot though, this place has a lot to recommend it.

Sushi Mito
6470 Spalding Dr
Norcross, GA 30092
(770) 734-0398

Sushi Mito Japanese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

If there is a phrase I’m going to grow sick of, and fast, it’s “butter-drenched” in connection with the foods that Paula Deen promotes. The notion that Paula Deen grew sick with type 2 diabetes because of the fat in her diet strikes me as ludicrous. This whole bent by journalists, to assign blame, and in particular to assign blame to a single component of the “Southern diet”, is a kind of hysteria, and the worst kind of journalism.

Look, for the average type 2 diabetic, it’s not about the fats. It’s about the carbs. It’s also about, these days, immunology, as articles in Nature Medicine hint at type 2 diabetes being an autoimmune disease. In these depictions, it is about internal accumulated fat, the consequences of overgrowing fat cells, and the specifics of how a body reacts to the death of those cells. People grow an immune response to their own glucose uptake proteins. Their own body destroys them, leading to insulin resistance. Course, that’s only part of the story. Another part is the loss of insulin production as well. And this biochemistry isn’t entirely understood.

But, you see, to blame a plate of pasta, or the accumulated biological consequences of living, with its attendant genetic components, just isn’t as dramatic as the phrase “butter-drenched”. And in the porn of language, journalists are angering those of us who have to live the lifestyle of the type 2. They’re not talking to us. They’re not even listening to us. They’re just trying to shock an audience of diabetic illiterates.

Still Waters is just to the left of the Main Street cinema, a “chic barbecue joint”, one that moved from Grayson into Snellville in order to get more space for customers. Consequently, it already had a customer base. It was also ‘found out’ the day it arrived in town by Mike Stock, of 285 Foodies, and so already has the approval of a significant component of Atlanta’s food community.

I came around lunch one day, curious. It already had its share of followers on Urban Spoon, and any place that Mike approves of deserves a closer look. Entering, you could smell the smoke of the place, and so I ended up ordering their three rib sandwich. It was decent, ribs having a smoke ring and a hint of smoke flavor, but wasn’t a heavily smoked product.

Later, Anthony came out, the chef/owner, and we spoke quite a bit. In that, this is not the ordinary review. He showed me samples of his more heavily smoked meats, his pulled pork and his brisket.

The pulled pork clearly has a bark and the brisket is the best, most richly smoked, of Anthony’s meats. If there is a smokehead in you, you could do far worse than Anthony’s brisket.

Still Waters fills a void in the Snellville restaurant scene. I don’t know of any other places nearby with traditional barbecue, seriously smoked, and comfortable seating. The closest might be Lilburn’s Spiced Right, and it’s not as nice inside as Still Waters.

Still Waters
2133 East Main Street (Highway 78)
Snellville, GA 30078

Still Waters Restaurant & BBQ on Urbanspoon

The nature of this eatery reveals itself at the dessert counter, where the Napoleans are unlike any I’ve seen since my days in West Philadelphia. The desserts are enormous, and look fantastic. The desserts, the pared down menu, the character of staff here: efficient and no nonsense, suggests this is a real New York style eatery. That’s notable, because 100 places might claim New York roots, and perhaps 5 actually manage to pull it off.

I had a sausage sandwich here. I’m not able to eat the pizza, for which I can give a qualified optimistic note: the bottoms of crusts are satisfyingly brown, and when I asked people who were eating pizza here, they seemed to like it. This won’t satisfy the crust hounds of the Atlanta food world, I know, but some discerning foodie who can eat a slice or three does need to prowl this place and render judgement.

In speaking with customers, they would mention Northeast or Midwest roots, and generally praise the “sauce” here, the marinara. And that seems to be how it works here, to do a few simple things well. Northeast pie places tend to be that way: a few ingredients, a very well done crust. It’s far more easily said than done.

Gino’s NY Pizza
5975 Peachtree Parkway
Norcross, GA 30092
(770) 263-7000

Gino's NY Pizza on Urbanspoon

My first impressions of Ten Bistro were good. The food was respectable, the atmosphere something else, a sonic essay by Dave Brubeck in 5/4 time. Perhaps such a look is ‘meh’ to ITPers, but to the commuting/OTP crowd, this place stands out. I’d compare it most directly to an eatery on Canton Street in Roswell or perhaps Lilburn’s “Three Blind Mice“.

"The King" sandwich, with grilled veggies.

For cold winter days, this place is warm, soothing comfy. Inside, there is a long bar backed by an equally long extended table along the back, speckled in between by tables for two or four. There is art on the walls, real oils, with the gouges, scratches, and raised rough edges to prove it. With the sounds reflecting an authentic early 1970s groove, the menu itself has its share of puns and allusions to groups, singers or bands of the period. I haven’t been at dinner, or had their wines, it doesn’t really fit along my commute back home, but as a lunch place? It has a lot going for it.

Lamb sloppy joe with a bit of Perfect Ten salad.

One item I prefer, and try to work into my meals is the Perfect Ten salad. It has tender  greens, some artichoke, and shades of the old “Badayori“,  a bit of heart of palm. There are  useful grilled vegetables on the lunch menu, and  plenty of sandwiches. The clientele, if you listen carefully, are some of the most astute, smart people I’ve ever overheard, and I’ve had plenty of lunches in the cafeterias of the University of Pennsylvania. It’s attracting an erudite crowd.

Yes, I’m aware that some people have had mixed results with this eatery, but the owner is engaged, active, friendly, cordial. And when I started a long discussion with his staff about what music might set off his restaurant the best — seriously, where  in my 400+ reviews have I ever gotten into it about a restaurant’s music – he listened attentively. And yes, they need to sneak in a little more jazz into their 1970s mix.

It’s an upscale bar, better looking than most, more friendly than many, convenient to my work, so I bothered to find it, and it surprised me a little. Whether others find it as appealing, I can’t tell, but watching the good looking and active customers over repeated visits, I think this place will find its niche.


Ten Bistro
5005 Peachtree Parkway
Norcross, GA 30092
(770) 375-8330

Ten Bistro on Urbanspoon

Michael Pollan uncovered a gem of a url on twitter, a nice article on the chain Trader Joe’s.

Kindle notes:

From the 21st Century Principal, 7 suggested Kindle apps.

Don’t know what a Blackberry microUSB charger would do plugged into a Kindle? This article by Voltaic Solutions will give you a really good guess. Voltaic is focused on solar solutions, but since one of the solar solutions is only supplying 600mA (BB chargers tend to give 700-750mA), you can now estimate. It’s the best article on Kindle charging I’ve found so far.

If you’re like me, you’ll find that you pick up free cookbooks of various kinds. I have a Mexican cookbook, a Belgian cookbook, and an Scottish-Irish cookbook, all acquired at no cost. I also received Mark Miller’s “Tacos” for Christmas, “The Japanese Grill” by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat, and a Mark Bittman book, “Kitchen Express”.

Quick notes about the books: Mark Miller does very detailed work when he writes, and the book’s lovely photos are better seen in print. I’d honestly prefer his book on chili peppers in a Kindle version, but that hasn’t been converted yet. “Tacos” has, along with the taco recipes, about a dozen salsas, so it’s a nice complement to his salsa book.  One of  these days I have to try his lamb tacos, whose photo is true food porn.

I like the Japanese grill book so far, though it has a prose style stolen from late night Ron Popeil ads. It reads way too much like ad copy, which is a shame, because the information in the book so far has been interesting. Mark Bittman’s book focuses on simple fast recipes, and is a working collection of formulas, more or less, as opposed to recipes you must follow to the letter. He’s encouraging improvisation here.

The "kill a tree" versions of Mark Miller's books are also highly recommended.

Also to note,  I have Malika Harrichan’s “Food Lovers’ Guide to Atlanta” in a Kindle edition. It’s well suited to the Kindle, a fast easy read. I went end to end with it in about 3-4 hours. You also don’t have to worry about your copy disappearing when you’re actually on the road.

A Kindle “must” for the food blogger has to be Jennifer 8 Lee’s Fortune Cookie Chronicles. Because the “kill a tree” version is easily lent, keeping a virtual copy around means you don’t have to grub for it when looking up  references for blog  articles.

The original impetus for my Kindle purchase was the absence of lockable space at a new work location, but since, it has acquired more than just work related texts.  NeoCal Light, a free calculator, can do volume and weight unit conversions (i.e. tablespoons to cups). Mapquest can locate your position to within a block using the local wifi hotspots as landmarks.

Free wifi is almost everywhere. Most yogurt shops have it, IHOP has it usually, AT&T stores have free wifi, and McDonalds uses the same format as the AT&T hot spots (i.e. log into one, and you’ll log into all of them). Roughly half the eateries I’ve been to have free wifi (some that don’t  — their staff can’t figure out how to get it to work properly). Even the Kroger at Five Forks and Oak Road has free wifi.  Chains tend to have it more often than do “one off” eateries.

Chinese in out of the way places.

Every small town this holiday season we passed through had a buffet, even in rot gut East Texas towns whose residents couldn’t pronounce Szechuan if they were paid to do so. I suspect the buffet style is now being taught in New York City to Chinese immigrants — that is, if the whole format hasn’t migrated back to Fujian province, the land where  your Chinese waiter likely came from.