March 2013


Chai Pani is a newcomer to the Decatur food scene, one featuring Indian street food, and for the time being, very well received. It occupies the space in Decatur that Watershed vacated, the one next to Farm Burger. If you’ve not been to this part of the world before, please note it’s useful to take along ten or so quarters. A lot of the parking close to this restaurant is metered, and parking adjacent to the building hard to come by.

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Outside.

Inside.

Inside.

Mango lassi.

Mango lassi.

The style of service in this restaurant changes depending on when you arrive. If you go during lunch on a weekday, it is counter top service. You help yourself to drinks, cutlery, and a number is placed at your table for delivery. At night and on weekends, they have staff take your order at the table.

Okra fries. Recommended in general, reminiscent of good fried okra. Good for those with carb limits.

Okra fries. Recommended in general, reminiscent of good fried okra. Good for those with carb limits.

One thing I’ll mention up front is that this isn’t the easiest place for a diabetic to be. Most dishes are heavy in starch, and wraps and rolls tend to contain rice. All is not lost. The chicken burgers and lamb “sloppy joe”s are workable entrees and as a not-so-starchy side, I’d recommend Chai Pani’s okra fries. There are, of course, large dinner salads, that in our experience, are good.

Bhel puri. Puffed rice, chickpeas, flour crisps, onions and cilantro.

Bhel puri. Puffed rice, chickpeas, flour crisps, onions and cilantro.

Corn bhel. Also really tasty.

Corn bhel. Also really tasty.

The real draw here, are the chaat, the street snacks, a kind of eating I’ve not run into before. When I took my daughter and the bhel puri arrived, she said, “I’ve seen this served in a cone on television”. Both bhel puri and the corn bhel are reason enough to come here. A plate of this, some roti, a soda and a couple samosas would leave my wife happy as can be.

Sloppy Jai (lamb sloppy joes). The shoestring fries are excellent.

Sloppy Jai (lamb sloppy joes). The shoestring fries are excellent.

Chicken burgers, again, with those excellent fries. My wife finished the fries off.

Chicken burgers, again, with those excellent fries. My wife finished the fries off.

If there’s one consistent effect when you come here and eat, it’s that there is an amazing “first-bite-wow” effect when eating here. Americans aren’t used to hot Indian spices. They get the majority of Indian food from buffets, where all the aromatics have been steamed off the food. But here, with almost every bite, you get a hit of fresh spice, recently ground or cracked, and often cooked in oil or ghee to release the aromas and the flavors. This “hit” is what is so intoxicating about this place, especially when you first bite into a dish you’ve never tried before.

Kathi kabab roll, and bowl of daal., The daal runs a little thin.

Kathi kabab roll, and bowl of daal., The daal runs a little thin.

Papadam, a hand sized spicy cracker. The  other bread offering is roti, a tortilla sized unleavened bread.

Papadam, a hand sized spicy cracker. The other bread offering is roti, a tortilla sized unleavened bread.

Samosa.

Samosa.

What can we recommend? Almost everything seems good at this point. I wasn’t as pleased with the kabab wrap because it had more rice than I could handle for a meal, but the grilled chiken was excellent. Sloppy Jais I think everyone should try. The more timid maybe can go with a chicken salad, a samosa or two, and one of the bhels. Spend as much time as you can with their chaats, because those really are the star here. And oh yes, the beers here are good, with half a dozen respectable craft beers available.

I’m coming to think this is a great place to be introduced to Indian food. Have a friend who is a little picky? Take them here first, before throwing them into the whole of Indian cuisine. Yes, a tandoori chicken spot isn’t a bad first time spot either, but those are often mom and pops with a hole in the wall ambience. This place is clean, brightly lit, fun. Worst case, your friend has a glass of wine or a beer, nibbles at a chicken burger, downs some fries and maybe have a bite or two of a chaat, all in good fun.

Chai Pani is very highly recommended.

Chai Pani
410 West Ponce De Leon Ave
Decatur, GA 30030
(404) 378-4030

Chai Pani on Urbanspoon

The Oak Street Cafe is an “in” thing for a group of Roswell foodies, to the point they claim for it “Best Burger in Town” honors. On top of that, a coworker of mine loves the place. I can’t visit him without him asking me to try it. So I did.

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To get there, head north on Roswell Road, and start watching street signs after you pass Spiced Right. At the corner with the Krispy Kreme, turn right. Oak Street Cafe will be a block or so down on your right, at the first strip mall you see on your right.

Oak Steet Cafe is pretty inside, lots of wood, plenty of space between tables. The service is counter style. You go to a counter, make the order and sit. No number cards, they remember where you sit. Staff are in black Ts and jeans, a good look. Clientele were, for this lunch, largely female and largely well dressed.

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The burger was fine, made well, and I can see where the claims of best burger come from. The product quality puts it there. But it was grey meat with a hint of pink when I ordered a medium rare, and that loses a point on a five point scale for me. If I could get more consistent doneness, then yes, I’d be happy to reconsider.

I’m told by my friend that there are large crowds for Oak Street’s brunch, that lines can extend outside of the eatery. It’s a small eatery, less than 20 tables, perhaps, and I can easily see a line forming here.

Recommended, especially suitable for a mixed sex casual lunch.

Oak Street Cafe
45 Oak Street
Roswell, GA 30075
(770) 594-1300

Oak Street Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saint Patrick’s at Murphy’s? I’d love to say this was meticulously planned, but it was more of a Saturday whim executed on Sunday than a fully thought out excursion. We were originally looking for a eatery in Inman Park, but many of the famed steakhouses there are closed on Sundays. And Murphy’s — where is that? Isn’t it a little east of Decatur, sort of near where the original Alon’s sits? And isn’t it a steakhouse mainly, formal dining and such? And since we didn’t know, we made reservations early on Sunday, just to be sure we could get into the door.

Grilled artichokes.

Grilled artichokes.

Okay, so we map the site and from a Snellvillian perspective it’s really close to Little Five Points. From Ponce de Leon and Briarcliff facing west, head one more block west, then turn north on Highland Avenue. That really crowded corner, about 0.6 miles down the road, with all those eateries? That’s Virginia, the corner of which names the Virginia Highlands. Funny how going to eat can teach you new geography.

The road on the way there is full of bars, and on this day, full of people wearing green and having a good time (note to academic self: look up growth of adult holidays such as Halloween and Saint Patties). On the corner itself, there are plenty of restaurants whose names I recognize (note to blogger self: must come back). It’s a casual section of town, and on this pretty spring-like eve, folks were out walking their dogs in ways I’ve only seen in around Taqueria Del Sol in Decatur, and oh yes, the aforementioned Alons.

There is complimentary valet parking, and as small and crowded as the roads are around here, please use it.

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Before we went, we had downloaded Murphy’s menu, and targeted some small dishes and an entree or two. Murphy’s menu is versatile and the prices, overall, are excellent given the quality of the food. I was a little shocked. In many respects it’s cheaper than Buckhead Diner. The median price point for entrees is probably high teens, with no more than 3 dishes this day over 20 (iirc, Murphy’s changes menus seasonally). Things like calamari and mussels are closer to 10 than 20 and Murphy’s burger, dinner version, runs about 15.

Walk in the restaurant and we were soon seated. We were in the dining area, and large French style doors were open to the outside, as the weather was suitable for that kind of display. Otherwise we were greeted with loudspeaker feedback, as a singer was getting set up to play. At this point the restaurant wasn’t full. Soon staff arrived and we ordered drinks and appetizers. Oh yes, on the way in, a green chalkboard had announced specials, one of which was lamb stew.

“I claim dibs on the stew!” said my daughter.

As the music starts, the lilt of Irish accents floats over from the nearby table, whose men are formally dressed and whose women are wearing green. And oh yes, the cute ten-something daughter is sitting in dancing getup, while smiling and posing for pictures.

And somewhere around now, after I’m half way into my beer for the night, it strikes me that on Saint Patrick’s, I’m listening to a lady sing Irish ballads, surrounded by well dressed folks with distinct Irish accents, in a famed Atlanta restaurant named Murphy’s, along with wife and daughter. How iconic is that? It was, to a first approximation, pure accident. I just wanted a nice place to eat.

And if the food had been mediocre, then yes, this would have been something of a downer, but nothing we experienced in our stay at Murphy’s did anything to dent the reputation of this eatery. The artichokes were excellent, the broth in which the mussels sat was superb. It didn’t hurt, all the tasty bits in the broth as well: bacon, onions, thumbnail sized potatoes. Murphy’s mussels are inexpensive, and perhaps the best version of this dish I’ve had in this city.

Sometime around now Irish soda bread appears.

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We had Irish soda bread muffins at Sweet Tomatoes the day before, so we had some idea what to expect: a mildly sweet bread with some raisins. This bread was superior to the muffins at Sweet. The bread wasn’t as hard or dry, and the hints of spice we caught that night in the bread just wasn’t there in the ST product.

Lamb stew - tasty.

Lamb stew – tasty.

Vegetable plate.

Vegetable plate.

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Tender ribeye, perfectly cooked.

The lamb stew was tasty, hints of tomato and spice, and a real lamb flavor. The ribeye we ordered was a perfect medium rare, and was tender, even if it didn’t look like the inch and a half thick slabs of meat my dad would grill on lazy Louisiana afternoons. My daughter and wife stole all the potatoes on the ribeye. The only downside of the evening came with the ravioli that accompanied the vegetable plate. My wife just didn’t favor the filling.

Around this time, the Irish tunes became more dancelike, and young girls began to dance to the tunes of the singer. Families would come up with cameras and phones to take pictures of their daughters, and the more dancelike, marchlike tunes reminded me of Garry Owen, and one of the scenes from one of the most historically inaccurate and yet delightful moves I’ve ever seen (General George Armstrong Custer was neither this prescient, nor this good looking):

 

Desserts:

We won’t say too much about these as they were excellent. We had a white chocolate creme brulee, an everything-from scratch banana pudding, and a cheese plate. Hard to go wrong with cheese, especially blues for me, as it reminds me of moments when I would bring a chunk of blue and some pumpernickel to Vallhalla at Rice, to eat after my bartending shift was over.

White chocolate creme brulee.

White chocolate creme brulee.

All from scratch banana pudding.

All from scratch banana pudding.

Cheese plate. That slice of blue was key to my happiness. Bread was crusty and good.

Cheese plate. That slice of blue was key to my happiness. Bread was crusty and good.

 

Thoughts: a terrific meal, timed just about perfectly for us. We saw some of the day’s revelry but were never trapped in it. The food was excellent, the extras were on point, and now I realize that Murphy’s can be encapsulated in the two Vs: versatile and a great food value. In terms of the atmosphere, it wasn’t the more formal steakhouse we expected, but more, as Urbanspoon puts it, bistro eating.

Murphy’s
997 Virginia Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30306
(404) 872-0904

Murphy's on Urbanspoon

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The best thing about Baby Jane’s might be their stuffed salmon patties: thick as the tip of my thumb, as round as a quarter, browned and a little toasty. They were breaded salmon goodness, evoking memories of sucking the last little bit of flavor out of a stuffed crab.

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Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, chicken fried steak, salmon patties.

Or it might be Baby Jane’s cheesecake, rich and delicious.

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Almost everything we tried was good; one exception was the brussels sprouts (overcooked, really impossible to avoid in a buffet). If you stuck to vegetables that can handle steaming over a period of time (greens, cabbage, corn), then the veggies were entirely satisfactory. The meats? There was plenty of fried chicken, but they also had good pork chops, a good fried fish, and the aforementioned salmon patties.

My wife, something of a picky eater, went back three times for plates of food. Drinks here are huge and often refilled. Staff were a pleasure.

Baby Jane’s Home Cooking
2054 Main Street East
Snellville, GA 30078
(678) 502-7055

Baby Jane's Home Cooking on Urbanspoon

O’Shucks is the sister restaurant to Oyster Bay, found just off Highway 78 heading towards Athens. The emphasis is on sustainable seafood, especially oysters and shrimp. It’s a smaller restaurant found in a strip mall named Old Loganville Square, next to a pizzeria. Given the crowds we saw on a Tuesday night, O’Shucks is rather popular.

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As we went to Oyster Bay for lunch, we tried O’Shucks for dinner. We started with fried oysters, and a cup of she crab soup. Fried oysters were tender and tasty, the she crab soup delightful and rich.

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I had a cedar plank salmon, my wife and daughter had po’ boys. My po’ boy photos are lacking, and as the same po’ boy is served at Oyster Bay, you might check out that review for a better photograph. The salmon had a hint of crustiness, and was a pleasure to eat. Po boys were devoured.

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My daughter rates the fries as exceptionally good at O’Shucks. They’re crusted, the way some fast food restaurants do it. Staff were dressed in black, efficient, cute.

Despite some eater reports to the contrary, these restaurants are clearly affordable. There are plenty of seafood and other options in the $7.50 to $11.00 range, good value for this kind of eating.

Yes, we’ll be back, especially as my wife can’t eat meat on Fridays these days. This place, and Oyster Bay, are good enough to be part of the regular rotation of seafood eaters within a reasonable drive of their locations, as an original and casual alternative to Red Lobster and Bonefish Grill.

O’Shucks
3939 Atlanta Highway
Loganville, GA 30052
(770) 558-1617

O'Shucks on Urbanspoon

Tip: Oyster special on Wednesdays.

Oyster Bay Cafe is a restaurant found on Lawrenceville Square, whose focus is fresh sustainable seafood with plenty of oyster and shrimp options. Classed as a gastropub on Urban Spoon, I’m not sure I see that. To me, it evokes an Atlantic Ocean seafood shack, perhaps crossed with a little Vortex style kitsch.

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The Inside is bigger than it appears from the outside.

The restaurant is long and thin inside, and bigger than it appears from the outside.

We came for lunch, were feeling a little cautious and not hungry enough to push the dinner offerings, so my daughter went with a bacon shrimp po boy and I got a shrimp and fish fried basket, broccoli instead of fries. We had 6 steamed oysters to start with, tender and good.

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Later our plates arrived.

Fish and shrimp basket, with slaw.

Fish and shrimp basket, with slaw.

Bacon shrimp po boy, paired with some excellent fries.

Bacon shrimp po boy, paired with some excellent fries.

The fried fish was well cooked, dry, hot, and tasty. The po boy was good. My daughter leaves food she doesn’t care for, but she took what she couldn’t eat home, including the fries. Fries at Oyster Bay have a light crust (I think I’ve tasted similar at Checkers), and she liked that crust a lot.

Staff here are good, homespun and chatty, a fine complement to the food.

Oyster Bay has a sister restaurant in Loganville, O’Shucks. We’ll be reviewing that restaurant in a later post. But for now, know that a good inexpensive seafood option is available in Lawrenceville, and if you’re close, I suggest you go often.

Complementary review: The 285 Foodies thread on this restaurant.

Oyster Bay Cafe
125 West Crogan Street
Lawrenceville, GA 30045
(770) 910-7521

Oyster Bay Seafood on Urbanspoon

Tip: 60 cent oysters on Tuesdays.

It’s a pretty watering hole, Cinco is, and a good place to stop with the guys, or a girlfriend, take in the atmosphere, enjoy some modest eats. The deal with Cinco is that they start with good ingredients, and deliver a solid, not brilliant, product.

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Braised short rib enchiladas are an example of what they deliver. Cinco is clearly dealing in border cuisine (Tex-Mex, Tejano, what have you), as opposed to authentic Mexican cuisine.

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Pretty chips basket.

Pretty chips basket.

It’s a companionable place, and as stated, really good looking.

Cinco Mexican Cantina
1500 Peachtree Industrial Blvd
Suwanee, GA 30024
(678) 541-0645

Cinco Mexican Cantina on Urbanspoon

PS – Chloe’s review of five years ago is still a good description of this place.

Just to the left of the main entrance of the Mall of Georgia, a Real Chow Baby has opened. This is a welcome addition to the Mall of Georgia dining scene. It isn’t the first Mongolian stir-fry to open in this area, but as the other one suffers from serious crowding (45 minutes from the order before you can get to the food, sometimes), having another alternative eases the crunch.

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I think real Chow Baby calls their style of eating “new American stir fry”, but in my generation it was called a Mongolian barbecue, often seen in USAF officer’s clubs, but usually as a rare special, perhaps once or twice a year. In the Air Force renditions, it was also accompanied by hula girls, a local singer, and a real attempt to embarrass whatever ranking officer was attending.

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There are no hula girls at this location, just a lot of good veggies, decent meat selections, good staff. The look is a bit more open than the stir frys we have visited. Perhaps the mall itself – adding plenty of glass along the front – gives the restaurant less of a club-like atmosphere.

Talking to staff, this restaurant has been open about two and a half months.

Real Chow Baby
3333 Buford Dr, Suite 2022
Buford, GA 30519
(678) 730-2880

The Real Chow Baby on Urbanspoon

The new Watershed is next door to a Uncle Julio’s, a good thing, as Watershed itself isn’t that easy to see, or for that matter, all that easy to get to. We went recently to try their brunch. It’s a solid brunch offering, perhaps not as over the top as some other brunches we’ve had. It’s a little more ordinary, a little more sedate.

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Biscuits were excellent, my wife ordered more after receiving her first.

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Seafood melange, a mix of seafood in a bowl that otherwise had a brown gravy and grits, was also pretty darned good. No one in the family are grits eaters, but were were eating those.

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Perhaps our favorite was the smoked trout salad, with rich smoky flavors in the fish and plenty of tender spinach.

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With it being brunch, we really didn’t get to the kinds of dishes that made Watershed’s reputation initially. That said, service was excellent, and the restaurant is beautiful, certainly suitable for a date.

Watershed at Peachtree
1820 Peachtree Road
Atlanta GA 30309
(404) 809 – 3561

Watershed on Peachtree on Urbanspoon

Buckhead Diner has a way of reminding people what a good dining experience is all about. The little things: asking your name as you enter, whether you have reservations or not, of then using that name in every conversation staff has with you. There is the uniform, with tie, that all staff wear. There is the constant graceful service that follows being seated. There is the manager, who makes sure your meal was right for you. There is the way, when you have food issues, the staff and chefs will work with you to get the whole meal just right. Metaphorically, Buckhead Diner is a fine vintage automobile, reminding people that yes indeed, some folks know how to put together a well oiled machine.

The other thing a reader needs to understand is that it’s easy to read glowing reviews of Buckhead Diner and think, “There is no way a mere diner can be that good.” I’ll suggest that, just as the green of the tropics, so green you might think the photos are retouched, that no, most reviews of Buckhead Diner are actually pretty sober affairs and the superlatives are in fact earned. This isn’t your neighborhood IHOP folks, this is about as close as anyone in Atlanta can get to a walk-in fine dining experience.

Amazingly thick and rich.

Amazingly thick and rich.

We’ll start with the milk shake my daughter received. It was so thick that if you dropped a quarter on it flat side, that the quarter would float and not sink. It was so good my daughter wasn’t able to drink most of it, as my wife started stealing bites of it routinely.

Buckhead Diner's fried chicken, perhaps the best entree we ordered.

Buckhead Diner’s fried chicken, perhaps the best entree we ordered.

There was the fried chicken, sold only on Sundays and Wednesdays, that when my daughter took a bite, she could help but say, “OMG, so good!” And I’m sure the more cynical of my readers are saying, “Chicken? Give me a break!” But the deal is, Buckhead Diner marinates that chicken. It isn’t the packaged bird from Kroger rolled in panko, it’s something supercharged to another flavor level.

Chiki thai calamari. Grteat tasting, though the sauce was more a classic sweet and sour  style than recognizably Thai.

Chili thai calamari. Great tasting, though the sauce was more a classic sweet and sour style than recognizably Thai.

Are there things to complain about? Sure. For example, we had Buckhead Diner’s chili thai calamari, and though the calamari was good, and the mix of peppers, octopus, breading and sauce tasty, the sauce itself more resembled the sweet and sour sauce found in any generic American-Chinese restaurant, as opposed to a distinctively Thai style flavoring. My daughter wasn’t altogether fond of the cheese used on their mac and cheese. But you have to get down to this level of detail before you can begin to find fault with the food.

table breads.

table breads.

Under the pepper, portobello, and asparagus is a fine bit of lamb.

Under the pepper, portobello, and asparagus is a fine bit of lamb.

Other things of note. It’s easy to forget the bread they bring to the table, but the breadsticks and small jalapeno cornbreads are worth some time and trouble. My entree was a lamb shank, braised until it was fork tender, served with vegetables and a brown sauce. The serving was considerably smaller than the bowl it came in, but tasty and still tasting like lamb.

Serving sizes are ample and we didn’t have room to get to the desserts, which are highly thought of.

Some notes on pricing. I think burgers start around 12 and go up, dinner salads around 15. A main dish may start about 16, tend to be 18-22, and the most expensive thing I saw was a fine steak around 30 dollars. Given the quality and the almost anytime access, I think the food here is reasonably priced. But I would suggest that, for those who use plastic to pay for meals in this price range, to bring enough cash to tip the staff in cash. They’re worth it.

Buckhead Diner
3073 Piedmont Road NE
Atlanta, GA 30305
(404) 262-3336

Buckhead Diner on Urbanspoon

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Access from Snellville: Google Maps suggested an excellent route to this diner, one easily summarized. Take 78 into town until the N Druid Hills split and head down N Druid Hills. Turn left when you reach LaVista Road (there will be a Steak N Shake on the left). Take LaVista until it becomes Lindburgh and turn right when Lindburgh intersects Piedmont. 1.2 miles later on your right you will see Buckhead Diner. Don’t be surprised if you see Fogo De Chao first, as it’s a taller building and nearby.

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