American


Surprisingly delightful, S & P isn’t the easiest restaurant to find. Tucked into a corner of the Burlington strip mall on highway 78, roughly across the road from Fisherman’s Catch, this may be the best new restaurant of the “no fanfare” variety I’ve found in a while.

In the mall with the Burlington store.

In the mall with the Burlington store.

The inside is pretty. There are plenty of tables in this American-Caribbean hybrid, and sayings and art dot the walls of this attractive restaurant. Behind the counter is a flag of Jamaica, and patties and desserts are available on the countertop. There are at least two menus available here (and I’m guessing three), as I’ve had items off their breakfast and lunch menus.

Breakfast is a mix of American favorites and Caribbean specialties. You can get pancakes, or two eggs, or salt mackerel, if you wish. For breakfast I had their liver, and the mild, tasty meat was good enough to give me the “best thing I’ve eaten all week” vibes.

S & P's liver. Genuinely tasty. Highly recommended.

S & P’s liver. Genuinely tasty. Highly recommended.

Lunch offers a variety of appealing Caribbean items (jerk chicken, curries, goat, ox tail, jerk wing appetizers, etc). Their jerk is a wet jerk, with an aromatic beginning and subtle heat. In fact initially I thought it had no heat at all, and then it grew on me.

Jerk chicken, peas and rice, kale. All very good.

Jerk chicken, peas and rice, kale. All very good.

Staff are polite and pleasant. The food is good. It’s a small independent restaurant. This one is immediately in the conversation about best Caribbean near Snellville, and further, has to be considered in the “Top 10 spots to take a family” near Snellville.

S & P Hot Pot Restaurant
4051 Highway 78
Lilburn, GA 30047
(770) 676-9484

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I really enjoyed the Wrecking Bar. Nice location, pretty inside, good waitstaff, good food, superb beer, to be considered in any “best of” pub list in this town. I came because they honored Atlanta’s own curmudgeon, DING, of Ding’s Beer Blog. DING is a pain to local brewers, at times curt and insensitive, but he’s a sharp guy (author of some well respected books on chemistry) and in general, for things he’ll bother to fight about, has a reasonable point of view. The Wrecking Bar actually made a brew, 3.7% ABV, an English Bitter that because of its low alcohol content, is classed as a session beer (DING’s position on session beers is nicely stated here). This is, as far as I know, the only time a blogger in Atlanta has had a beer named after him. What’s more, it’s a beer worth drinking over and over.

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Other than the DING, I had their stout and their porter, both good beers. Both are drinkable and not in the overkill category a lot of brewers seem to aim for these days.

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The food? I had a bratwurst, their kraut and a pastrami sandwich. The sandwich was gooey and full of great meat, but ran a little oily. Had the bread been dry I’d have been happier. That said, I’d suggest they have some ambition in terms of their food, I was certainly happy with what I ate. A pastrami has the problem of being a big sandwich with really juicy meat. A number of pubs I eat at have issues making a dry pastrami.

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It would be hard to understate the quality of the atmosphere in this bar on a lazy weekend. It comes close to perfection.

It’s very clear this place is aiming to be the best in town. It’s *almost* there. A little more work on the execution of dishes and it will be there, with superior small brews and food to remember. The combination of great beer, some serious food ambition, and a terrific location make this a must stop for any foodie who fancies a pint now and then.

Wrecking Bar Brewpub
292 Moreland Avenue NE
Atlanta, GA 30307
(404) 221-2600

Wrecking Bar Brewpub on Urbanspoon

PS – Easy to miss, from the road the Wrecking Bar looks like a Colonial mansion or part of a palatial golf course. The columns of the 18,000 foot structure are easy to dismiss when driving by. But to note, the ground floor is for events. The bar is in the basement, with the entrance on the side. Jon Watson has a fine discussion of how this building was renovated, worth reading.

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

 

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.

Zoe’s Kitchen calls its cuisine “Mediterranean inspired comfort food”, but arriving at lunch hour peak to the Dunwoody location, you’ll find very little comfort in the dining experience. It is a nightmare dealing with the crush in the parking lot, the crowd in the eatery, the dirt and filth spread by overuse of the facilities, loud out of control children, dirty cramped tables shared with strangers. Since Zoe’s is a chain, I suspect they think making people eat under these conditions is a good thing, but given the alternatives in the area (isn’t Joey D’s Oak Room just across the street?), you have to ask yourself what kind of masochist you are to even brave Zoe’s.

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That’s the lunch hour rush view. Step back a bit, let the rush pass, and suddenly, private seating opens up, the efficient staff quickly clean and free space, and you can get a glimpse of what the dining experience could be when the appropriate number of folks are occupying the space. And what it is is a very mixed dining experience.

Ambience: First of all, let’s lead by saying the Dunwoody Zoe’s is pretty. It has some nice tables, nice chairs, real plates, real knives and forks. There is plenty of glass with a north side view. The eatery is much wider than it is deep, and for someone wanting some sunlight while they eat a huge bowl of salad, it has plenty of offer.

One of the best things about Zoes are the marinated beef kabobs.

One of the best things about Zoes are the marinated beef kabobs.

To the food: I had steak kabobs, grilled vegetables, and a small greek salad. The kabobs were good, with large chunks of tender, tasty marinated beef. Other items on the kabob were lacking, thin slices of vegetables that didn’t really satisfy. The grilled vegetables were a mixed bag, lacking the umami you would expect from a mix containing as many onions and mushrooms as it did. The broccoli seemed undercooked compared to the much softer vegetables in which it was found, and the texture change was jarring.

The greek salad was full of tender green leaves, and otherwise, nothing really to speak of. It lacks the flavor you would expect from a more serious attempt at Mediterranean cuisine.

If you can avoid the crush, there is some food value in Zoe’s, especially the meats. But nothing else about the food quality rises much above fast food levels, and as fast food goes, Zoes is a pricey option. It really isn’t competitive in quality with, say, the filet mignon sandwich that Joey D’s serves next door, and Joey’s is an infinitely more comfortable place to wait.

Take home: There is enough virtue in this restaurant to review it. There is not enough virtue to recommend it in a eatery rich environment like the Perimeter Mall area. There are a fistful of better dining experiences within two blocks at this price point. If you love kabobs, large servings of fresh, tender, uninspired greens, or the vague hint of ethnicity that Zoes evokes, feel free to go. If one of these appears in a suburban dining hell, there may not be a better, more restful option. But if you’re in the Perimeter Mall area and considering this restaurant, for heaven’s sake, avoid this place during the lunch rush.

Zoe’s Kitchen
1165 Perimeter Center West
Atlanta, GA 30338
(770) 512-8637

Zoes Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Hammock’s is a cozy place, living in repurposed space, and with nothing really like it nearby. In terms of having a deft versatile menu, it compares well with No 246, which we recently reviewed. It’s not as exotic a menu as 246, but has both tapas style dishes and main courses, and plenty of variations of oysters, clams and shrimp.

It’s really good looking inside and could be used for a variety of purposes. You could eat a burger, get a brew and watch some sports – they have a large screen or two. You could eat light, exploring the various seafood options this restaurant provides. And it is upscale enough for a business lunch or a sales presentation.

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Staff here have been excellent when I have visited, one of the strengths of this restaurant.

Hammock’s Trading Company
7285 Roswell Road
Sandy Springs, GA 30328
(770) 395-9592

Hammocks Trading Company on Urbanspoon

Going to this place was like stepping into my past. I recall a time when I was in grad school in Houston, in the 1980s, where, if someone really wanted to treat you, they would take you to this chain. The one we knew of was in the River Oaks district, near a Chili’s and not that far from the River Oaks theater. It was fantastic. And when we moved later to Orlando FL, the local Black Eyed Pea was one of the hardest restaurants to get into.

Move forward some years and in Atlanta, Black Eyed Peas weren’t all that good. Service was terrible. Food might be good, but who could tolerate the lousy waiters of the time? It wasn’t too long before all of these in the ATL were converted to Folks restaurants.

Evidently there was a bankruptcy in the chain at one point, and staff at this Black Eyed Pea said that there had been some staff loss to Denny’s, that the improvements in the Denny’s you guys have seen came at the expense of BEP. Hey, I can’t confirm it, but merely can report it.

decent fried pickles.

Chicken fried chicken was excellent. Good green beans. Fried okra weren’t crisp at all.

So, was it as good as we rememberd? Well, entrees, yes. Sides ranged from very good to a very ordinary serving of fried okra. Service was excellent, and the chicken fried chicken my wife got was transporting.

Maybe this chain will grow again. We’ll see.

Black Eyed Pea
7979 Belt Line Rd
Dallas, TX 75254
(972) 490-1932

Black Eyed Pea on Urbanspoon

The Arena Tavern is a bar that does plenty of business with sports talk radio. Advertisements and promotions with the local radio stations are a major parts of this small chain’s identity. And when I saw the 790 the Zone truck in front of the bar, I changed plans (even after lunch) and stuck my nose inside.

Yes, I’ll go inside if a local radio station is talking with bar customers.

This bar and Marlow’s Tavern are close by, and “the book” on these two is that the Arena is a better place to watch a game and Marlow’s has the better menu and food. My experience here suggests that might not be as clear cut a choice as in the past.

Catfish Bites. These things were fantastic. If I was blinded and told these came from a high end traditional all you can eat catfish spot, I’d have believed you. Tender, moist, perfect crust and flavorful.

Some of the best crust on cheese sticks I’ve seen in a long, long time.

I only ordered appetizers because I had already eaten, and besides, the rep for Arena was that it was the lesser of the two large taverns for food. And what I received were two of the best appetizers I’ve had in a long long time.

Crusts on the catfish bites were really good. Crust on the cheese sticks was about as good as any I’ve ever had. The cheese sticks alone are better than anything I’ve ever had at a classic wings n sports chain, and reason enough to drop the wings n sports chains and come here. That doesn’t count the catfish bites, which were as good a bit of catfish I’ve had in ages.

The beer selection is large, not huge, but there is plenty of most things for most tastes. There were good craft beers, good Georgia craft beers, good English, Irish and German brew, and plenty of American light lagers. Dozens of beers were on tap, and dozens more in bottles.

Having said all that, the Arena a roomy bar with plenty of wide screen TVs, with large roomy tables on which to watch those televisions. Yes, it’s a spot to watch games, and listen to sports talk. Further, Arena has rather surprising appetizers. Consequently, the culinary competition between this restaurant and Marlow’s is closer than the generic consensus suggests.

Arena Tavern
2000 Satellite Boulevard
Duluth, GA 30097
(770) 623-4585

Arena Tavern on Urbanspoon

Update: fixed typos.

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