February 2012

I’m doing this because some “critic” on Urban Spoon screwed up – as in, “I’m unable to read the menu of the restaurant I’m reviewing” style screw up. After someone  said that shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash were not to be had at Iron Horse Tavern, I went ahead and ordered the dishes there.

Shepherd's Pie. If you're a diabetic, scrape off the potatoes on top.

Bangers and mash. Couldn't have the potatoes but the sausages were good.

Now, to be sure, the manager here tells me that shepherd’s pie may be going off menu in a bit – The Dunwoody Restaurant Group routinely changes their menus, often seasonally, so what is available can come and go. That said, the menu I ordered from had been in place for a year and a half, time enough for people to get it right.

Iron Horse Tavern
29 Jones Street
Norcross, GA 30071
(678) 291-9220

Iron Horse Tavern on Urbanspoon

El Rey Del Taco is a place with a well established reputation for good Mexican cuisine. Recently, BuHi had another of his open invitation get togethers at this eatery. This, the 285 Foodies crowd latched onto, as a respected forum couple was moving to Oregon. Mike Stock and company needed an opportunity in which to send these two off. That’s the background for this review, which won’t be very traditional.

Mike Stock and Lorenzo? I believe, in the focus. The back of BuHi's head to the left. Not a great photo but captures the mood of the day.


Nearby tacos, mixed meats.

Mixed special. Barbacoa de chivo on top, lengua towards the bottom. Jalapenos were pickled and pretty mild.

I recall a lot of conversation, and beer, and having a “mixed special” plate, including lengua and barbecued goat meat. Meats were good, lengua having good flavor without tasting “boiled”, goat flashing a bare hint of wild gaminess. That’s the thing that should attract your attention here, a versatile display of meats in use. Yes, Bliss praises it for getting the little things right. Buhi can go into depth about each and every dish. But good meats, affordable prices, amiable staff and product that’s not sitting, but moving from kitchen to table, all should clue you into a place worth exploring, and a menu you can’t exhaust in a trip or two.

What do they have? Besides tacos and specials, the menu lists burritos, tortas, quesadillas, shrimp dishes, fish dishes, specials of various kinds, fajitas I believe, and combinations. The menu is large, and as long as you’re not looking for Tex-Mex yellow cheese dishes, you’ll have plenty of choices here.

El Rey Del Taco
5288 Buford Highway
Atlanta, GA 30340

Taqueria El Rey Del Taco on Urbanspoon

There are cuts of meat known as restaurant cuts, because they are tough when not handled properly, but have plenty of flavor if cooked in the right way. Among these cuts are hangar steaks, flank steaks, skirt steaks, and flatiron steaks. The flatiron steak is well described here, and as the local Kroger has been offering this cut for 6 and 7 dollars a pound, I was curious how well it handled via sous-vide.

Kroger sells this steak in 1.5 pound sealed packs. I bought one, sliced it roughly into 4, vacuum sealed the meat, and froze it. This particular example sealed the most poorly; you can see some air in the pack. This will tend to make the plastic float. Just take the pack and shake it a little, once unfrozen, so the air pushes one end of the plastic up and the steak can sink into the pool of water. You don’t need total immersion, just temperature equalization, but in my case, a little shaking allowed the whole of the steak to go under water.

Five and a half hours later, 30 seconds of sear a side, some spices, and the steak looked like this. There was some chew, some mouth resistence, but no toughness. The steak was pleasantly tender.

A new Del Taco now occupies prime Snellville real estate, the old location of Fazoli’s, roughly at the corner of Ronald Reagan and 124. It is, if Tone to Atlanta can be believed, the largest extant Del Taco anywhere. I heard somewhere that it’s the first Del Taco in the state of Georgia since their bankruptcy, and it has enough buzz that Grant Goggans came out, ate, and gave a very lyrical, impressionistic review of the restaurant.

Back of the Del Taco

It’s crowded, this Del Taco, lines circling the building, men outside with electronic pads because the drive through electronics aren’t working. The press of people for a chain whose best selling point is as a counterweight to Taco Bell, a Burger King to Taco Bell’s McDonalds, is fascinating, in a human train wreck kind of way.

I wasn’t able to go in the beginning, though by the time I made it with my daughter, my wife and daughter had already been three times. Inside, the lines that snaked half way through the building, the smell of burgers and french fries, were clear reminders that this isn’t even close to authentic, it’s a classic American attempt to side-step any sign of ethnicity in ethnic food.

Food as wrapped and delivered

Shrimp taco. Decent shrimp, but too much mayo for my daughter's tastes.

Does that meat look grilled to you?

The food comes to you in little aluminum bundles, perfect as missles in a high school food fight. Yes, designed to be taken home, as opposed to appreciated on the table. That’s the only reason I can come up with to explain how unappealing their tacos actually are. Grey wet meat with almost no visible sear dominates their tacos. But if you taste the meat, then yes, something was grilled at some time.

I knew coming in, it would be good. I had a bite of one of my daughter’s tacos before showing, and it was quite tasty. The taco above was quite good as well. And I’m left a little mystified, as how they could grill anything and come up with a taco that looks like it spent most of its time in a pot of boiling water.

I think I’ll leave that one to the fast food philosophers, or the french fry poets.

Meats? Essentially two choices here, chicken and steak, with fried fish as one seafood option and fried shrimp as another (they do have that fried thing going). No tortas, but burgers are possible. I recall quesadillas, as well as a meatless option.

Hot sauces turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Both their sauces and their salsas are good, better I think, than the food they grace. DelScorcher, their medium sauce, has some bite and the hot salsa has some richness to it and balance.

It’s also going to be open 24 hours, so this Del Taco helps fill a void in the Snellville life style, as most of the restaurants around here tend to close by around 9-10pm.

In summary? Very typed, lots of buzz, lots of press and crowds currently. Food doesn’t look very appealing to me, but better tasting than it looks. They have hot sauces whose packets are worth hoarding.

Del Taco
1895 Scenic Highway
Snellville, GA 30078
(770) 978-0361

Del Taco on Urbanspoon

Note: The wifi here not only does not work, the signal from the nearby McDonalds is stronger in the store than is Del Taco’s own wifi signal. It would be best to bring a mifi or a tethered phone when you come.

I’ve spoken about Johnny’s NY Style Pizza before, and really didn’t expect to be talking about one of these restaurants again. But Terrapin Beer Company (@TerrapinBeerCo) sponsored what they called a Tap at the Grayson Johnny’s, and as it was just a drive down Webb Ginn Road and turn right for 1.3 miles, yes I went.

The Johnny’s is a little past the Kroger on Grayson Highway, and is impressively built. Plenty of glass and nice brick make this one of the best looking Johnny’s I’ve ever seen. As I was there to drink and eat, I spent most of my time at the bar. The bar top is three sides of a square, seats perhaps 15-20. There are tables clustered around the bar, where you can also eat and drink.

I liked this bar, as it’s friendly, very Cheers-like. They have 24 beers on tap (8 were devoted to Terrapin product this night), plenty of them quality beers, and the bartenders (there were a pair of them this day) were engaging. Terrapin staff were in the mix as well, talking with customers, handing out swag.

Terrapin's Wake N Bake Coffee Oatmeal Stout, in a tulip glass. A richly flavored beer with significant bitterness from the coffee.

Terrapin is a local brewery, headquartered in Athens, GA. Terrapin’s product, aimed at the craft beer crowd, is very American in character, tending to higher ABVs, plenty of hops, plenty of flavor. Beers such as their Hopsecutioner are very well received, and accessible. I can find Hopsecutioner at my local Kroger.

At times, though, their enthusiasm leaves people like me a little concerned. It wasn’t that long ago selling most of Terrapin’s product in Georgia would have been illegal. Being sessionable is something you see a lot of experienced beer heads concerned about.

I spoke a bit with Justin Gwin late in the day, a manager with Terrapin, about a lot of things. To some extent, I asked about Terrapin’s philosophy, a bit about their site, whether they give tours (they do, on Wednesdays through Saturdays). He tells me that they’re considering a beer with 4.5% ABV. That’s not DING’s definition of a sessionable beer, but certainly one closer to the mark.

In terms of food, I had Johnny’s meatball sub and some wings. The sub was up to standard, cheesy, meaty, with a good marinara. The wings were good, the hot buffalo sauce a milder hot. I’d show a photo but all the food photos ran bad this day, just my luck.

It was an interesting crowd overall. I got a food tip from a chef who works at Bonefish Grill, I saw the owner of this Johnny’s in the distance, the Terrapin staff were friendly  and talked knowingly of their product.

Verdict: One of the prettiest Johnny’s I’ve seen. One of the best local bars I’ve seen, in terms of how they treat customers. The food otherwise is up to Johnny’s standards.

Johnny’s New York Style Pizza
2023 Grayson Highway
Grayson, GA 30017
(770) 962-9181

Johnny's New York Style Pizza on Urbanspoon

On the same day that Chow Down Atlanta has a birthday, this blog does too. Chloe’s blog is a full two years older than mine, started before blogging food in the ATL became common. There were perhaps 20-30 food blogs of some consequence in my first several months. Now the count is closer to 150. Some of these blogs have already come and gone, the most notable of these in 2011, perhaps the Constant Gobbler.

The best news story for me over the past year has been Atlantic Buffet Sushi and Grill. Readership of the article has eclipsed all my other articles. Though people hardly vote this place up, interest in their food just doesn’t go away.

Oxtail soup in preparation at Tastee's, in Snellville. Jamaican is well represented by Tastees.

I recently picked up a hit or two from this article on Chowhound, and was, well, underwhelmed. People in Snellville can’t recall Gary’s Bistro or remember Three Blind Mice? People would rather eat Indian in Decatur rather than good Mexican in Lilburn here, or the small taquerias in Snellville proper (here and here)? How many restaurants inside the loop compare to the restaurants in Duluth, or John’s Creek, or Gourmandises in Suwanee? How many of you have had the sausages at Euro Gourmet Grill in Lawrenceville? Or for a more traditional (and heralded) restaurant, Matthew’s Cafeteria in Tucker?

Jamaican and the other Caribbean cuisines are underrepresented in the writings of food bloggers, but are a great source of rich flavors at low prices. Things like jerk chicken, pates, roti should be in every eater’s repertoire.  Tastees in Snellville has good Jamaican food, and Ionie’s in Grayson is also representative. And if you’re into Cuban, why not check out Havana South in Buford?

I’m not about to complain much about the quality and choice around Decatur. It has some fine restaurants. But interesting choices radiate in all directions from Snellville, not just “into the city”.

Surprisingly tender, almost too tender.

It was a good meat hot, a better meat cold. It makes great steak sandwiches, when sliced about a quarter to half inch thick. But as much as I like it, I agree with the poster here that perhaps 30 hours would be a better time.

Though there is a certain chain restaurant that has most of the press (and traffic) these days, another much smaller chain has slipped into Snellville. Alvarado’s Mexican Food is on 78, a little south of the 78-Scenic Highway intersection, a little past the Just Brakes, and very easy to miss. It’s the second in a chain, the first being in Doraville. It’s surprisingly neat inside, with a menu above the counter, and on laminated, brightly colored takeout cards.

Menudo is served on Saturdays and Sundays. Alvarado's is also running a breakfast burrito special.

The fare is largely  authentic. Standard sized tacos run a little higher than most taquerias, around $2.19 (though the card says mini tacos are available for $0.99 each). You can get tortas, quesadillas, burritos, and breakfast items. There is a sauce bar, with good picked carrots and jalapenos, a mild red sauce (I could drink it without any issue) and a more zesty salsa verde.

I had three tacos when I went. The fish taco was mild and tasty. The carnitas taco was full of a “pulled pork” style meat, and also good. The lengua ran a little more chewy than most lengua, but it had taste, and lacked the “just boiled” flavors I’ve had in places before.

Alvarado’s Mexican Food
2597 West Main Street
Snellville, GA 30078

Alvarado's on Urbanspoon

Alvarado’s Mexican Food
5944 Buford Highway
Doraville, GA 30340
(770) 655-6987

Alvarado’s on Urbanspoon

If you’re wanting to start seeds, for planting at the beginning of April, this weekend is the perfect opportunity to do so. I’m not likely to do so this year, as I’d like to concentrate on my boonie peppers.

Most of my low temp gear arrived last Tuesday, and I used Tuesday night to calibrate it. Yesterday I did some steaks using the gear. One calibration run, and 4 steaks later, these are the notes that I have. I’m using an Auberge controller, and a Hamilton Beach 8 quart slow cooker as the base. Since the vacuum sealer hasn’t arrived, I’m bagging food in freezer Ziploc bags for now.

Auberge controller, 8 quart slow cooker. Socket has a circuit breaker.

Calibration with this setup takes about 5.5 hours. Yes, it is worth it to calibrate your device. By calibration, there are a couple steps you’ll want to do.

1) Take ice (plenty of it) and let it melt halfway into a large container. Place the probe in the ice water bath. Best to use meltoff water instead of adding your own, as ice-water baths with tap water won’t be temperature equilibrated.

2) Follow the instructions to calibrate PID parameters with a pot full of the amount of water you’ll use for cooking. In my case, it took perhaps 5.5 hours for the system to figure out what the correct PID parameters were.

With this setup, and in using a PID controller, as opposed to PD controller, there will be overshoot for a couple hours. In my experience, the overshoot is about 2 degrees, with it settling in to accuracy around the 3 hour mark.

In terms of safety, this is a pleasing setup. The water could probably hurt you if you immersed your hands in it for a length of time, but brief fingertip exposure to 131 degree water doesn’t hurt. You can easily handle the lid of the slow cooker without harm. The Auberge defaults to a timed setup. Once the time is met, the device shuts off power to the slow cooker. I made sure to plug into a wall socket with its own circuit breaker, so any electrical short would flip the socket breaker.

Steaks? One thing I have found out is that with a thin steak (circa 0.5-0.75″ thick), one minute of sear on both sides can easily turn that medium rare steak into a medium well steak. 30 seconds of sear per side after the fact preserves the cooking much better. Since steaks can go anywhere from 2-6 hours (I do not recommend cooking steaks for less than 2 hours), adjusting your controller to compensate for the overshoot seems reasonable.

2.5 hours with Auberge controller at 131. Mostly cooked at 133 for that period. 30 second sear each side.

Beer Advocate: I don’t know much about these guys, other than second hand exposure to the collateral damage they’ve done to people they’ve kicked off their forums (oh yes, and delete years of info these beer hounds have collected forum wide). Now, after decades of exposure to every forum “wizard” there is, many with serious delusions of grandeur, I have no tolerance for the self appointed dictator types. But as it’s their forums, and not mine, why am I mentioning this?

It’s because the Beer Advocate folks don’t stop at tossing people out of their forums. They then proceed to taunt the people they’ve tossed off their forums on Twitter. And in that lies the crux of the tale, the reason the generic food blogger needs to be informed.

Don’t go. Don’t get involved. Start a beer blog instead. You might get 1/100th the comments on your pages, but you will be read, and you will be much happier about your treatment. And if you have to do the forum routine, strongly consider Rate Beer instead.

One final beer note: The early months of the year, winter, tend to feature stronger beers, such as barleywines. Sierra Nevada comes out with Bigfoot, and Sam Adams comes out with Griffin’s Bow. I’m not a fan of extreme beers, but Bigfoot is worth some trouble, and I suspect Griffin’s Bow will be as well.

Next Page »